The University of Nottingham is constantly looking to the future and asking questions around what we can do differently to reduce our impact on the planet and how we can work together to make concrete changes. One such project is design+build, which takes place within our Department of Architecture and Built Environment. Thanks to your donations to Cascade, University of Nottingham students are experiencing a global view of education and making a difference to others along the way.

Students on the 2019 build


The design+build (DB) studio is a network of teachers, makers, designers and students who work together to learn, question, and create. The DB studio works alongside long time partners The Thušanang Trust, Education Africa, and Studio 8Fold.

For over a decade now, students from the university have been building crèches in South Africa, empowering communities, and delivering improved facilities for early childhood education centres. 2020’s build was on hold for a few years, and this year it’s back.

The 2022 build is called Malahlela. It’s taking place in Limpopo, South Africa. The plan is to construct three rooms for 30 school children. The crèche will include a kitchen, an administrative space, two classrooms and an outdoor teaching space. The design will incorporate inexpensive, locally available materials.

Malahlela foundations, 2020 

This project is a big responsibility for students to undergo. Architecture is a notoriously demanding course, and this project requires a huge amount of extra work as well as sacrificing their own time during the holidays. In their feedback, the consensus was that students who participated in the design+build project said it was “an experience of a lifetime” and the “best thing I did at university.”

University staff are just as committed. For them it’s not just a matter of overseeing a project. Some of them have been working with The Thušanang Trust for years to ensure that the buildings are constructed and maintained responsibly. They also work with communities to deliver the crèches.

Sustainable approaches to architecture are at the heart of the build process. The team utilises local materials to keep the carbon footprint low and the timber is grown, milled, processed, and finally installed within 50 kilometres of the site. What really makes a difference, though, is that the project delivers access to education and reduces inequality.

Pete Russell, who is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture and Built Environment and has worked on crèche builds since 2017, says “We’ve got to make sure that our students recognise their privilege and their place in the world. And this project does that better than any other school of architecture.”

Thanks to your generous donations to Cascade, these projects have empowered students to make a difference to communities in South Africa, develop their skills and knowledge, and crucially, enable thousands of children to receive an education. 

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