14+ Foundation is Spreading More Than Education

A rendering of a new school in Mwabindo Village designed by Selldorf Architects.
A rendering of a new school in Mwabindo Village designed by Selldorf Architects.

Melding architecture, art and activism, the nonprofit 14+ Foundation, based in New York, opens schools in Zambia that provide more than an education. Their inaugural facility, Chipakata Children’s Academy, launched in January 2015 and the 240-acre campus has already become a vibrant hub for the community, providing arts-based programs, technology initiatives and economic opportunities in addition to its curriculum, which was designated a program of excellence within the Zambian educational system for grades one through six (14+ has added a grade every year with plans underway for a preschool and a university).

Co-founded by Joseph Mizzi and Nchimunya Wulf, 14+ recently broke ground on their next school in Mwabindo Village designed pro bono by Selldorf Architects. “I knew Joe from serving together on the board of the Architectural League and remember quite well the day he shared photos of 14+ Foundation’s first project,” says Annabelle Selldorf. “I was really impressed by the project but also by Joe’s incredible passion and personal commitment—he has a quiet but unrelenting drive that motivates us all. I knew right away that I wanted to get involved.” Cultured sat down with Mizzi, an arts patron who serves as president and COO of Sciame Construction, to discuss educational empowerment, strategies of culture-making, and Selldorf’s architectural vision.

14+ Foundation co-founder Joseph Mizzi

What is the model for the schools? Joseph Mizzi: It’s a true community school in the sense that we serve seven villages and it’s a free education, free everything. We feel it is important for us to hire the teachers, manage the school, oversee the curriculum and ultimately create a network. Community initiatives are run out of the school, so we make it accessible 24/7. Our theory is to start injecting the core curriculum with good teachers and a proper class environment—our class sizes are 25 to 35 children—provide meals, have medical, and then build from there.

We wanted two things. First, a community that needed a school. If you have a six-year old child who’s malnourished, walking 4.5 miles to sit in class a couple of hours with 60, 70, 80 pupils in a classroom, and then walking 4.5 miles back, they’re only getting a certain level of education. The other thing we wanted were communities that wanted this. Because if you study work in Africa, the continent is riddled with projects that were well intentioned but are giving somebody something they don’t really want or need.

How did your collaboration with Annabelle Selldorf come about? There’s something nice about our Architectural League connection and her firm’s reputation. I always admire Annabelle’s work so it was a pretty easy choice. I find with whatever component of what we’re doing both parties have to be really enthusiastic about it. That’s been our formula.

Chipakata Children’s Academy in Zambia

What is the design concept for Mwabindo? It’s open to the community, allows for protection from the sun and rain, and the site plan lets people pass through from the road to the various school and community buildings. What we learned from the first project was that if there’s a tree, people would gather at high density to get a little shade or protection from the rain. Selldorf’s building carries over from where we started. The canopy is raised and is 25,000 square feet, which is significant. The idea is a gathering function and a series of stand-alone classroom buildings, which are built out of brick.

The design concept is to use local materials. The people in the community make their homes out of bricks so they know how to use that but we’re also teaching them a new technique. We ordered this machine to manually press brick that will stay with them. It could be a longer-lasting business. One of our models is always to create jobs. We work directly with our community. To me that’s critical. It would be impossible to do the work without their cooperation.

You’ve accomplished a lot in four years. What’s next? We’re only making schools that we feel comfortable being responsible for forever. We could develop this model for what communities need. What we’re seeing that makes a school successful is not just education but also nutrition, healthcare, community needs and providing local economic benefit and job training. We could have—for a lot less time and a lot less money—just brought a school to a community and left. But that’s not a sustainable model.

So many people want to help, and in different ways—money, services, their talent. If we could be the conduit for that, we could produce this at a much larger scale.