Unique design wins school ‘greenest in world’ award

A vegetable garden at Uaso Nyiro Primary school in Laikipia on December 3, 2013. The school won international award of 'the greenest school on Earth 2013'. Photo/JOSEPH KANYI

What you need to know:

  • Laikipia institution feted for water harvesting plan that has changed lives of pupils and the community

Uaso Nyiro Primary School is different from any other learning institution in Kenya.

The school in Segera, Laikipia County, has the usual linear block of classrooms but what stands out is a circular building comprising four classrooms, two offices, a store and a 150,000-litre underground water reservoir-cum-courtyard.

It is this block that has propelled the school to international fame.

On October 16 this year, the US Green School Building Council, a non-profit organisation committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings, named Uaso Nyiro the “Greenest School on Earth 2013” for its innovative water bank building.

The recognition earned the school a $5,000 (Sh430,000) grant.


However, the award ceremony could not be held in October as officials of the Green School Building Council could not come to Kenya due to a travel advisory by the US following the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall on September 21.

Earlier, the school had been named a finalist in the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge for socially responsible design. Segera is no different from other arid regions with inadequate ground and surface water sources.

Here the rains come but do not quench residents’ thirst for clean water for domestic use and for irrigation due to lack of water harvesting technology.

“Class attendance used to be poor as pupils suffered from diseases such as skin rashes and stomach aches from bad water. They also spent a lot of time fetching water,” said Ms Evelyn Njogu, a senior teacher.

But this changed after the school came up with a design that harvests and stores rain water. This innovation has been celebrated to be the ultimate solution in any arid region in the world.


The simple but unique classroom design is capable of collecting almost 350,000 litres of water a year when the rains are good.

To come up with integrated water harvesting classrooms, the architects split the typical linear blocks into two and reconfigured them into two parallel blocks with a courtyard.

This means the classrooms became square blocks with increased surface area for rain water harvesting.

The classrooms were ringed with a perimeter wall that created three arched small gardens for food cultivation, mainly vegetables for use in the school kitchen.

Beneath the courtyard is the underground reservoir that collects enough water for the 700 pupils and the community.

The roof is pitched to maximise the rain water collection surface and direct it to the underground reservoir.

Solar-powered machines pump the water from the reservoir to clay filters that purity it.

The building, which was constructed using locally-available materials, opened its doors to pupils on November 24, 2012.

“Class attendance has dramatically increased and our pupils are empowering the community by teaching residents what they have learnt about health, nutrition and water,” head teacher Patrick Mwaura said.

With Laikipia county receiving an average of 600mm annually, it is estimated the Uaso Nyiro building’s roof could harvest around 315,000 litres and about 160,000 litres when the rainfall is low.

In case there are above average rains, the roof can harvest up to 475,000 litres.

The school started in the late 1990s at an old building colonial building.

“There were insufficient classrooms and different classes would share them,” a parent in the area, Mr Paul Ndung’u, recalls.


When the community donated land, Ol Pejeta, a neighbouring wildlife and cattle rearing ranch, built the first four classrooms.

Improvement of the learning environment raised enrolment which prompted headteacher Mwaura to approach Seitz Foundation, a NGO that runs Segera ranch near the school, for assistance to build four more classrooms.

He also sought assistance to acquire a plastic water tank to store rain water from the roof.

He had in mind a typical linear classroom block with a large plastic water tank fed by gutters. But the school’s benefactors had a different idea.

“We decided to come up with a plan that took into account various solutions to the myriad of challenges facing the pupils and the community,” said Mr Njenga Kahiro, the Laikipia programme manager for Seitz Foundation.

That’s how the idea the Uaso Nyiro water bank school was borne.

The award-winning building was conceived and designed by PITCH-Africa, a US-based organisation.

The concept of the Uaso Nyiro water bank building is being replicated in other parts of Laikipia.

The Samuel Eto’o Laikipia Unity Football Academy, which is under construction, has borrowed heavily from the concept and perfected it.