Holcim Foundation


Sustainable reconstruction in the shadow of a volcano

A participatory project in Cabo Verde is rebuilding a community on the edge of new lava flows

This Holcim Awards prize-winner is fulfilling a double mission: rebuilding infrastructure following a powerful volcanic eruption and strengthening ties within a village community affected by the destruction.

At 1700m above sea level on the island of Fogo, the village of Chã das Caldeiras is the highest community in Cabo Verde. Established in 1917 within the crater of the active Pico do Fogo volcano, it was destroyed when the volcano erupted in 2014. Despite the threat of recurring eruptions, the inhabitants of Chã das Caldeiras are determined to resettle the area and are assisted by the government and non-profit organisations Atelier Mar led by Leão Lopes and M_EIA. The project will create an educational complex, housing, and vital infrastructure, and will also equip the inhabitants with construction techniques and transferable skills to ensure resilience in the face of future challenges.

A community-led educational project

The school project was initially launched by the mothers in the community and was integrated into the government’s plan for reconstruction. Completed in 2020, it consists of a kindergarten, a school building, a canteen, a teachers’ room, a washroom and storage facility, and two administration buildings. Up to 60 children can be taught there from pre-school to the end of primary school. The multi-purpose complex also serves as a community centre for meetings and vocational training focusing on tourism, agriculture, sustainable housing construction, and food processing technologies. With the school already operational, the workers who are building the remaining infrastructure are fully integrated into the community and can benefit from the social hub within the school.

A sustainable design

Sustainability lies at the heart of the project in terms of both design and materials. Basalt has been selected as the principal construction and insulation material, in conjunction with a small amount of concrete. With an abundance of this volcanic rock already on site, carbon emissions linked to transporting construction materials are dramatically cut, ensuring a low carbon footprint for the project. Passive cooling and ventilation systems, as well as water-catchment, filtering, and storage infrastructure ensure both optimal thermal regulation and self-sufficiency in an area that is not connected to electricity or running water.

Contributing to scientific research on a unique environment

This project, which is partly coordinated by the University of Cabo Verde’s Department of Architecture under the guidance of Leão Lopes, is also an opportunity to test new building techniques and new models of community development. Everything that is built in Chã das Caldeiras is constantly being put to the test by nature: in November 2020, for example, a 4.9 magnitude earthquake occurred and challenged the structural integrity of the educational complex under construction. The entire village is now part of an ongoing research project that enriches local understanding of the island state, while offering its inhabitants training in sustainable construction that can be applied in many locations.

Read the full interview:

“Living with the Volcano: rebuilding erupts in Cabo Verde” in Sixth Holcim Awards

Last Updated: July 24, 2022
Article Details
Cha das Caldeiras, Cape Verde
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An educational facility for the reactivation of community life in Chã das Caldeiras, following destruction by lava flows.

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