Perkins+Will, in partnership with Infinite Family, has designed LaunchPad, a prototype computer lab where young people in Africa can communicate with mentors via face-to-face interaction thanks to high-speed and high-tech capabilities.
Perkins+Will's design for LaunchPad offers a strong, secure, ready-made structure that is energy-efficient, self-sustaining, and as environmentally sensitive as possible. The structure is crafted from a 40-foot, repurposed shipping container, and features a wall of recycled water bottles that serve as a thermal mass to provide cooling inside. A solar-shading canopy is located on the roof to reduce heat gain from the sun and significantly moderate interior temperature; the canopy is also designed to accept solar energy panels. Windows are strategically placed in locations that respond to site conditions for optimum orientation to the sun and prevailing breezes, which provide natural daylight and ventilation.
The interior space is divided into a combination of comfortable open-plan and cellular spaces, allowing for both group interaction and private video conversations between the mentee and mentor. Laptop computers are provided instead of desktops, as they draw less power and produce less heat. The structure is also able to operate "off the grid" for unpredictable periods of time, thanks to battery-powered back-up storage banks that power computers, lighting, and cooling, and ensure continuity in the event of extreme weather conditions.
The first mentoring laboratory opened in August 2012 in the Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg, South Africa, and is equipped with high-speed capabilities and high-performance technology, courtesy of Internet Solutions and BT. Committed to the success of the next generation, Infinite Family 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.
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 program not only offers support to the mentees, but also enables them to acquire necessary interpersonal and computer skills, as well as confidence and self-reliance-all of which can significantly impact their future career prospects and lives.
"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," commented Perkins+Will's Mike Kane, the South African-born architectural illustrator who 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. "Perkins+Will is honored to have been able to design a safe and efficient space that responds to its environment and to contribute to the realization of the first prototype. We look forward to the continued expansion of Infinite Family's success."
Rendering: Courtesy of Perkins+Will
Photo: Elske Photography