Malawi schools

  • Each school is constructed from local materials and costs £15,000 (US$25,000) to build.
  • Inside, the new design is 3C cooler than Malawi’s existing school buildings and has improved daylighting.
  • The project was commended in the 2010 British Construction Industry Awards.

Working with architects John McAslan & Partners, Arup designed a low-cost prototype that could be used to help meet the need for 17,000 new schools across Malawi.

Low-cost school buildings

The Malawi government wants to every child to have a primary school education. To achieve this ambition, school buildings must be low-cost.

Access to sophisticated building materials and techniques is limited in Malawi. Budget restrictions often mean that schools are too hot, too dark, and lack community facilities.

Arup designed a low-cost classroom block for 170 children. Crucially, it was easy to construct in a country that has very little infrastructure, such as roads or power supply.

Pragmatic and sustainable design

By the end of 2009, four prototype schools had been built for just US$25,000 each – the cost of a typical school building in Malawi.

Arup delivered a sustainable, performance-based design that was very lean, robust, cheap and easy to build.

The schools were built mainly with local construction techniques and materials, such as timber and stabilised soil blocks. They are also designed to run without electricity. They harness natural daylight and ventilation to create a comfortable learning environment, which is typically three degrees cooler than existing school buildings.

The flexible classroom blocks include three interconnected indoor spaces as well as two generous covered terraces. The outdoor areas create a sense of connection between the schools and the families they serve. This helps to encourage parents to send their children to school and establishes the new buildings as focal points of the community.

The Arup Cause

Arup’s pro bono work designing a low-cost prototype for Malawi schools was funded by the Arup Cause. Thanks to this support, the firm’s international development specialists and engineers have used their skills to create a design that helps alleviate poverty and fosters sustainable development.

The project was commended in the international category of the 2010 British Construction Industry Awards.


  • Children play outside the school building

    To allow every child in Malawi a primary school education, buildings must be low cost.