Why Autodesk is heading to Rwanda

Over the next two weeks 10 Autodesk employees will be in Kigali, Rwanda, as part of the company’s Employee Impact pro bono programme. BIM+ spoke to field marketing manager Carrie Raynham to discover what the project aims to achieve.

What is Autodesk heading to Rwanda to do?

We are partnering with MASS Design Group, a not-for-profit design studio with offices in Boston in the US and Kigali, Rwanda. Since its inception in 2008 MASS has worked to create a new practice of architecture that promotes dignity, opportunity, and justice. Their projects are located throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Haiti, and in the US.

In September, MASS launched the Africa Design Center in Kigali. The ADC is a fellowship program that trains and empowers the leaders who will design a more equitable, just, and sustainable Africa.

Our goals for the fortnight will be:

  • To train the MASS Design Group staff and ADC fellows on human-centered design and Autodesk tools.
  • To find methods to improve collaboration and communication between MASS Design and local construction contractors.
  • To build better community links with local organisations that could add to the holistic design and construction process, such as Water for People and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

What do you aim to achieve in the country?

Our aim is to build capacity in our partner organisations and help them better achieve their missions. A 2015 World Population Prospects report from the United Nations states that Africa will account for 25% of the world’s total population by 2050, which presents an opportunity to use design to tackle the social and environmental issues presented by this massive population growth.

There are a number of design and engineering organisations in these regions that are using technology in unique ways to do just that. Through our work, we want to help increase skills in collaboration, innovation and design thinking. We will also help make connections between innovative design professionals and organisations in the Kigali community.

Is this just a glorified sales trip?

No, not at all! Autodesk launched the Autodesk Foundation in 2014 to align the company’s philanthropic giving with our core business and expertise in design and engineering. We support the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.

This pro bono project is a two-week intensive experience to not just share our tools, but use our technical and design thinking expertise to build organisational capacity in our partners. Employees across Autodesk from different disciplines attend the trip to provide a variety of skill sets and perspectives.

How do you implement BIM in areas that are not digitally enabled?

BIM is not just about technology – it’s also about process and people. As we’ve seen from UK projects, often the latter are the most important to realise the benefits of BIM. In the office and with the right training, architects and engineers at MASS Design can use the latest software to design in 3D. Once it gets to the construction site those 3D plans often get translated to 2D drawings, as there is limited usage and coverage for mobile technology. This is a situation that probably sounds familiar still on many UK construction sites today.

One of the many benefits of this project is that we will have the opportunity to explore these challenges in more detail, and understand how the “process” and “people” parts of BIM can be used to overcome them.

What do you expect that we in the UK can learn from the trip?

For us as the volunteers there are going to be immeasurable learning opportunities – both in cultural and personal skills as well as professionally. For the wider AEC community, I think we’ll be exploring many interesting challenges that are not so dissimilar to those we see in projects in the UK. For example, we’ll be looking at how building designs can be better communicated to construction contractors.

This can be a common area of frustration for both parties in all countries: construction contractors are irritated by instructions that have clashes and missing detail, while designers can be concerned that their original design isn’t built in the way that they originally envisioned.

To compound this challenge, in Rwanda we’re working in an environment where many lay contractors may not read very well. If we can help MASS Design find a solution that is so simple that it can be conveyed beyond language barriers, that will be a lesson I think that many in the UK would also be interested in.

What are you most excited about?

On a personal level, I’m really looking forward to gaining a more global perspective on my work, and benefiting from the chance to work with diverse customers who are really making impact in the world.

Honestly, I think that I will take away so much more from the experience than I’ll have been able to give, and I can only hope that our team contribution over the two weeks will have some small ongoing benefit and impact on the amazing work that our partners are doing in this fascinating part of the world.

Image: Derejeb/

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  1. This is going to be a very good step forward for an African developing country like Rwanda and other East African countries

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