Kalabash Academy

Kalabash Academy

Kalabash Academy

Kalabash Academy is a non-profit organization based in Portland that seeks to transform communities in West Africa through education, sports, and wellness. The organization recruits youth in West Africa to attend a school that prioritizes both education and athletic ability, providing students with multiple career opportunities and pathways out of poverty.

For their first campus, Kalabash Academy has secured a central site in Conakry, Guinea that meanders through several neighborhood blocks and terminates with direct beach access. To balance the needs of the varying program elements, the design team located the public amenities at either end of the site with the academic facilities at the center. A wellness center off the beach will provide a source of income for the academy as well as basic healthcare to students. A regulation-size soccer field at the northeast end of the site can host visiting exhibition matches with space for bleachers and food vendors.


For the central Academy buildings, the design drew inspiration from the geometry of a soccer ball and the organizing strategies of traditional African architecture. Given the informal arrangement of traditional villages and to a lesser extent the city of Conakry, an organic approach to site planning felt most appropriate. Communal spaces and dormitory pods are arranged in a tessellating hexagonal pattern around a central gathering space to create a campus with layers of privacy, instilling a sense of community and enclosure for safety. This cluster of buildings arcs its way along a naturally occurring storm drain, which will be revitalized with native planting to provide a green backbone to the academy as it meanders to the waterfront. Classrooms are arranged around the central gathering spaces to foster connection and creativity while further defining the campus perimeter and entry portico. The academy forms a link between the regulation size field, practice pitch and futsol court beyond. The wellness center wraps itself around the futsol court to energize the internal spaces around the game while creating outwardly focused spaces to the public right of way and beachfront.


Passive sustainability design features help shape the formal design of the academy and wellness buildings. Large detached roofs deflect solar heat gain while allowing air flow below for natural cooling. These roofs are canted inward to capture rainwater and give the buildings their striking form. At the academy these rainwater collection hubs are punctuated by large planters that double as shaded seating areas to gather and relax. At the wellness center the rainwater is diverted to a green roof above the futsol court that provides further respite from the heat. Operable windows are utilised to provide cross ventilation and solar shading, which further reduces heat loads on the building while providing privacy screening and texture. Natural and locally sourced products such as aluminum, wood, and brick have been selected where possible to reduce the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing and transportation of materials. From the outset this project aimed to be more than just a soccer academy and will benefit the neighbourhood and city beyond.

For the students at this academy, soccer is their lifeblood and ticket to greater prosperity. The architecture of Kalabash Academy reflects the dynamic link between nature, traditional culture, a sprawling city, and a beloved sport.

Up Next