Mapping Rwanda is an on-going research project focused on compiling information on the resources that shape building cultural in Rwanda; the availability and impact of these resources; and the networks  that these resources engage with throughout Rwanda and it’s surrounding geopolitical region.

This project combines data from various sources, ranging from anecdotal accounts to studies from outside institutions. This research was initiated by GA Collaborative in 2008 after we visited the country for the first time. During  that visit we were asked to help design housing strategies for villagers of Masoro who had little or no access to basic shelter. We began by examining what resources the village, district, country, and region had - in terms of materials, skills, infrastructures, funding, and governance. Our initial findings lead us to expand this research into an academic setting with students from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and 2010. 




Reaching the limits of what we could communicate graphically, this growing set of data  was then transferred into GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and CAD ( Computer Aided Drafting/Design) files which would allow us to combine multiple data sets to find connections we were unaware of, gaps in the systems we studied, or opportunities to generate alignments  between these various sets.  

Ultimately these were used to investigate strategic design scenarios for building in Rwanda, helping us to understand the complexities of the country and region  and better communicate our findings. The results of this research have directly affected building and fundraising efforts for projects in Rwanda including the Masoro Village Project and the On Purpose Project. Part of our mission is to understand the the flow of materials into and through the country and how choices we make as designers impact the financial and environmental costs of any building project GA Collaborative might under take.


PART 01 | Materials 

Our research began by visiting constructed sites and documenting building materials and techniques.  These included architectural , landscape, and infrastructural sites.  We included both traditional and modern materials and techniques. This collection of sample building assemblies (materials + techniques) gave us a better understanding of the technical knowledge base that has developed in the country and a better sense of what materials were available.  This research also generated certain assumptions that we would then need to test. They included: frequent material use = higher material availability, material over use = material abundance, low quality construction =  less access to training, and so forth.  In the end these assumptions all became questions of material/technological costs, not all of which we could answer:

Raw Material + Processing:  what are the financial costs to acquire and process the raw materials used to form the material?

Import/Export + Domestic Transportation: What are the financial costs of getting the material to a construction site?

Environmental Impact: How much energy is consumed in the production, use, and maintenance of buildings which employ a specific material?

Infrastructural + Usage: How much does it cost to support the use of buildings constructed using the material? What is the type of energy consumption of a building when compared across building materials, forms, and techniques?

Labor: What is the cost to build with a specific material? This includes the wages of a construction worker plus the training costs associated with utilizing  new or unfamiliar materials and techniques.  

Together these considerations either promote or hinder the flow of materials and knowledge (in the form of skills and practices). We saw the cost/flow paradigm as one that we could begin to understand better by mapping  (at least in part) Rwanda in these terms.


PART 02 | Networks

Material + Construction + Energy costs constituted one area of research; How those materials and construction techniques performed in different conditions  became a second. The environmental conditions within Rwanda vary significantly. Aptly nicknamed,  land of a 1000 mountains, Rwanda’s topography fluctuates between peaks and valleys with deviations in altitude of 3500 meters (11,483 ft.) within  a land area  of 26,338 km² (10,169 miles²),  less than that of the state of Maryland in the United States.  This topographical variation packing into such a small area means that one encounters many difficult building sites, transportation routes, and environmental conditions. From seismic activity to climatological patterns, no two building context are the same. Along with testing our assumptions on material costs/flows, we wanted to incorporate as much geo-behavioral information as we could find.  

During the spring of 2009 we incorporated this research project into a studio taught at the University of Texas, Austin.  As  precursor to the studio project, a community center in the Ruhondo District of Rwanda, students worked with us researching  data in the following categories:


  • Topographical
  • Climatological
  • Geological
  • Energy + Infrastructural
  • Import/Export
  • Institutional + Cultural
  • Building Material
  • Agricultural
  • Education + Information
  • Transportation
  • Governance

The resulting data was then embedded into vector-based maps (Mercator Projection). Along with students we developed a few graphic parameters and palettes and used that language to visually connect various data sets.  Students used this data to develop studio projects that were responsive to the material/environmental conditions of the district, country, and region.  GA Collaborative built upon this research combining it with our own mappings and bring them together into the graphics shown in part here.  


PART 03 | Models

Parts 01 + 02 (material/technique examples + mappings) gave us a better understanding of the Rwanda from the point of view of a spatial designer. To access this information in a spatial environment, we next transferred this information to a geospatial information model - ArcGIS. With research funding from GA Collaborative and the University of Texas, Austin we worked to develop each of our 2 dimensional maps into a single geospatial model.  With multiple projects beginning in rwanda along with our on-going research, a geospatial data model would be a more effective host for the data collected.




  • Preliminary Research: 06.2008 - 01.2009

  • Mapping: 01.2009 - 03.2009

  • GIS + CAD Data Maps: 06.2009 - 06.2010



  • Rwanda, Africa (subject) / Research Conducted in Kigali, Rwanda + Austin, Texas



  • Research

  • Graphics

  • Data Collection


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  • Data Mappings: $5000



  • Michael Leighton Beaman
  • Zaneta Hong
  • James Setzler
  • Yutaka Sho

Research Assistant:

  • Gerby Marks

Student Collaborators:

  • Alex Gilliam
  • Amber Leigh Dudley
  • Changwook Kim
  • Danny Saenz
  • Everett Hollander
  • John Paul McDaris
  • Melissa Hargis-Villanueva
  • Nina Wilson
  • Nikita Payusov
  • Ce Tang


  • GA Collaborative





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  • University of Texas, Austin

  • ESRI


  • University of Texas, Austin
  • GA Collaborative



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