A Shipping Container Learning Lab To Launch African Kids

Here at EarthTechling, we’ve always been fans of the shipping-container. Big, recycled and ubiquitous, we’ve featured all kinds of structures that incorporate them, from tiny houses made of just one to boxy residences (and even offices) composed of many. Now we bring you a smart new design built around the shipping container called the Launchpad, which comes with a big mission: to help children and teenagers from African communities virtually connect with mentors from around the world.

Designed by the green pros at Perkins + Will for Infinite Family, a U.S.-based nonprofit, the Launchpad is a prototype computer lab where young people in Africa can communicate with mentors via face-to-face interaction via high-speed Internet and video phones. Founded by Amy Stokes, Infinite Family focuses its efforts on connecting communities ravaged by HIV/AIDS in South Africa with employees and volunteers from 58 countries who teach, discuss, challenge, befriend, and encourage vulnerable adolescents through Internet mentoring. The Launchpad is intended to create a safe, comfortable, environmentally friendly setting for both kids and electronic equipment.


image via Perkins + Will

“One of the keys to successful mentoring is to have a place that is conducive to a good experience—a place that mentees want to go. Our LaunchPad is that place,” said Stokes, in a statement. “I thank Perkins+Will…for making all of this possible. They donated their time and services to create this wonderful facility on a pro-bono basis.”

The architectural illustrator behind the project, Mike Kane of Perkins + Will, was born in South Africa and had this to say about the non-profit:  “Infinite Family’s pioneering work is an imaginative and far-sighted way to bring 21st-century technology, crucial skills, and global awareness to young people in extremely challenging situations.” Kane donated his time and knowledge to the project along with former Perkins+Will Senior Designer Scott Schiamberg, now Visiting Scholar at MIT School of Architecture.

The LaunchPad was designed to offer Infinite Family and the kids it serves a strong, secure, ready-made structure that is energy-efficient, self-sustaining, and as environmentally sensitive as possible. Crafted from a 40-foot, repurposed shipping container, it features a wall of recycled water bottles that serve as a thermal mass to provide cooling inside. A solar-shading canopy located on the roof helps to reduce solar heat gain, and significantly moderates interior temperature. (This canopy was also designed to accept solar energy panels, should, say, Sungevity care to throw in on the cause.) The Launchpad’s windows are strategically placed in for optimum orientation to the sun and prevailing breezes, based on building’s orientation, providing natural daylight and ventilation.
Launchpad 2

image via Perkins + Will

The interior space of the Lauchpad is divided into a combination of open-plan and cellular spaces, allowing for both group interaction and private video conversations between the mentee and mentor. Laptop computers are provided here instead of desktops, as they require less power and produce less heat. The structure is also able to operate off grid for unpredictable periods of time, thanks to battery-powered back-up storage banks that power computers, lighting, and cooling (and, we imagine, could operate in conjunction with a solar power system as well).
Infinite Family’s first Launchpad-based mentoring laboratory opened in August 2012 in the township of Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, South Africa. The non-profit hopes to build and deploy additional learning labs across South Africa and eventually Sub-Saharan Africa, with a five-year plan to open 100 LaunchPads capable of serving more than 11,000 mentees a year.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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