EWB Netherlands helps set the stage for Liberia’s first art-house theater

December 11, 2018
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Following two recent civil wars and the Ebola crisis, Liberia is now in the midst of recovery and rebuilding. This west African country is home to 4.7 million people and began as a settlement of freed and free-born slaves who left the United States in pursuit of freedom and prosperity. Today, young people in Liberia are pursuing opportunities to improve their lives and their country.

“As a result of the civil wars, not only the physical infrastructure, but also the cultural infrastructure was damaged,” explains Joost de Bont, an architect with the Engineers without Borders – Netherlands (EWB-NL) Kriterion Monrovia project.

Jobs are scarce – especially for young, inexperienced graduates. That’s one reason why a group of students in Monrovia, the country’s capital city, began to dream of an independent cinema operated entirely by students.

“The young students that founded Kriterion Monrovia want to create a better future for themselves and their country,” Joost says. “By creating this place and managing it themselves, Kriterion Monrovia will pave the way for the regeneration of Monrovia as a city as well as its culture.”

engineering students in Monrovia sit in a classroom listening during a workshop held by EWB-NL
EWB-NL conducts a workshop with engineering students in Monrovia

Film inspiration

For more than a decade, the Kriterion Monrovia team has travelled their country, organising movie screenings in local communities. The students noticed that the novelty and excitement of films relaxed and inspired people.

The students envisioned a cinema which could also serve as a cultural hub, with space for art, music, debate and social gathering in their capital city. Additionally, young Liberians could fund their studies and gain experience by working in the cinema.

Kriterion Monrovia raised tens of thousands of dollars to turn their dream into a reality. They also teamed up with the Young Urban Achievers (YUA), a Dutch NGO. When it came time to find a suitable location for the cinema and create a building design, YUA asked for assistance from Engineers without Borders – Netherlands.

“Working on the art-house cinema building in Liberia is a very exciting task, full of new discoveries and lessons,” says architect Emilija Juodyte. “The motivation and energy of the Kriterion Monrovia team makes me believe in the importance and the future of this project.”

A dream becomes a design

The EWB-NL team recently delivered the concept design for the art-house cinema. The building will be constructed close to the national university, a location fitting for a student run project. Emilija and Joost also visited Monrovia to study the building site, hold workshops with stakeholders, and learn about local building techniques.

EWB-NL and Kriterion Monrovia measure the future site of the art house theater
EWB-NL and Kriterion Monrovia measure the future site of the art house theater

This information gathering was instrumental in the team’s ability to create a design which pleased all the stakeholders. Joost also attributes the team’s diverse backgrounds with their success. “We really developed this project in a collaborative way, not only with the client and other stakeholders involved, but also very much with the different disciplines in our team.”

EWB-NL team members contributed expertise in project management, structural engineering, architecture, and even the entertainment industry. “I think in the process we managed to involve everyone in every single part of the project.”

Setting the stage

The building concept incorporates local design elements such as commonly used decorative breeze blocks in the facade. It will also include a solar panel system in the building to power the building as much as possible. The team says the solar energy capabilities are “a wonderful addition in a sun-drenched city where power blackouts are very common.”

The Kriterion Monrovia team has a long list of possibilities for the building’s use beyond film screening – such as event and conference space, exhibitions, offices, and a bar. The EWB-NL engineers and architects who have worked alongside Kriterion Monrovia describe their partnership and work on the project as inspirational and transformational.

The EWB-NL design concept illustrates the various possible uses for the Kriterion Monrovia art-house theater main hall. 

“The building will be the ‘stage’ for cultural exchange within the city, something that they have been working on for many years now and can be proud of once it is fully running. The perseverance and persistent motivation of the Kriterion Monrovia team, to chase their dream, is something that we can all learn a lot from.”

Although the concept design is complete, the work of EWB-NL continues as they support their local partners in Liberia throughout the building process. You can help their efforts with a financial contribution to the Kriterion Monrovia project.

We appreciate EWB-NL Kriterion Monrovia team members Hoessein Alkisaei, Joost de Bont, Emilija Juodyte, Paul Schijfsma, Swaraj Sharma, Jorn te Lintelo, Diana Schaap, Louis Lederwasch, Ana Tisov, Johnny Long, and Austin Osazuwa for their hard work and dedication. Interested in joining Engineers without Borders – Netherlands? View our latest vacancies.

EWB-NL concept design for Kriterion Monrovia front facade includes breeze block elements common in Liberia
EWB-NL concept design for Kriterion Monrovia front facade

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