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Photograph: Hopeful prospects for a sun-baked youth

Jan-Carlos Kucharek

Vocation, enabled by skills and experience, drove Toby Pear to NGO Article 25, and work in ‘one of the most beautiful countries’, Niger

Homework, Hampâté Bâ, Niamey, Niger, 2022.
Homework, Hampâté Bâ, Niamey, Niger, 2022. Credit: Toby Pear

According to Toby Pear, senior architect at architectural NGO Article 25, the African state of Niger not only has the world’s highest fertility rate but one of its youngest populations. Its 28 million people survive on less than $700 per capita, which puts it very near the bottom of the global GDP index. Its heat-seared, landlocked geography in part accounts for its dire economic circumstances.

‘There’s barely any primary industry to speak of, apart from the uranium ore, which former colonial power France controls,’ explains Pear. Perhaps that’s why he adds, ‘but it’s also one of the most beautiful countries I’ve worked in.’

After ‘intensely rewarding’ classroom-building in Mumbai as part of his diploma in Maurice Mitchell’s ‘Architecture of rapid change and scarce resource’ unit at London Met, Pear returned to work in India. Part III and money security needs drove four good years at London practice Jestico+Whiles but his vocation, new technical skills and earlier hands-on experience led him to architecture charity Article 25.

Inspired by the heat-busting ‘double roof’ designs of Francis Kéré, Collège Amadou Hampâté Bâ, in Niger’s capital Niamey, is a thing of beauty. Air flows between its metal skin and brick ceiling vaults cut classroom temperatures by around 8ºC but while Pear loves the metal form, he has grown pragmatic. The roof’s cost, while low, is not viable at scale and he concedes that concrete is likely to yield the savings he needs. Meanwhile, red Laterite walls and brick vaults deliver a stunning effect for next to nothing. Excavated from nearby by masons from Burkina Faso, Pear says they worked out where the seam lay purely from which plants were growing on the surface and how water ran off it; a singular, primal beauty in the sourcing as much as in the end result. 

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