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THINK LOCAL, ACT GLOBAL?

“Think Global, Act Local” goes the saying.  And it’s usually true that we most effectively impact positive change at the local level.

But can local thinking yield global action? Sometimes the opportunity arises where one can act globally, or, more accurately, act across the globe to impact another locale. Such is the case with my firm’s work in the rainforests of Madagascar.  Our Western New York region has a stronger connection to the conservation work underway in this biodiversity hotspot than you might think, and a recent improvement in a Malagasy village has been made possible by the efforts, passions, donations, and labors of many players based here.

The story begins for me in 2006 when a world-renowned primatologist affiliated with Stony Brook University, but with roots in Avon and connections upstate, hired my firm to work in the land of lemurs, Madagascar, where she’s been active for decades.  We designed- and five years later are building- NamanaBe Hall, an environmentally-attuned, locally-sourced, four-story, Conservation Research-and-Outreach Center at the edge of a national park.

That’s a surprising enough link between a small upstate architect and an African island nation. But while working on that project, we recently completed a second project a few miles down the road – the Maison des Beaux Arts de Ranomafana. While the Centre ValBio (CVB) where our main project is based, has become a major employment base for nearby residents, the Maison des Beaux Arts now serves as a marketplace in the nearest village where craftspeople and artisans create and sell their products.

The mayor of Ranomafana, Razanakoto Léon, is a forward-thinking citizen. A few years ago, CVB announced plans to add NamanaBe Hall to their rainforest outpost. The mayor approached us, as well as CVB’s director and the aforementioned primatologist Dr. Patricia Wright, with a novel proposal: he would waive the permit fees for the construction, in exchange for the design and construction of a new marketplace in the village. His project would improve commerce in his village, and leverage the skills and international attention focused at the Centre ValBio.

In order to keep the cost of this undertaking down, our design challenge as architects was to use as much “waste” material from the main construction site as possible in constructing the marketplace.  After inventorying available supplies, we designed the structure to use two types of leftover bricks from NamanaBe Hall – one became the water table, and the other filled out the upper walls. Excess granite became the concrete slab base.

But the best part was the roof. The roof structure– a series of pyramidal modules separated by gutters – was made completely from the four stories of scaffolding that had been used to support the formwork for the concrete floor levels of the other building! The load-bearing capacity of the scaffolding helped determine the size of each module. Meanwhile, the leftover formwork itself (wood planks that hold the concrete in place until it sets) became the marketplace’s roof sheathing.

Here’s where the local connections come in: We agreed to donate our design and construction administration services. Additionally, CVB donated building site materials. As if the connection between our regions was not enough, to fund the remaining materials the project received donations from one of our Western New York clients (who became interested in the project after we introduced it to them!).

It also benefited from the fundraising efforts of Seneca Park Zoo docents in Rochester who now annually hold a “Party Madagascar” to celebrate the cause. The ‘Lemur Lager’ they sell there is brewed at Honeoye Falls’ Custom Brewcrafters, another local partner. So clearly it is not hard to Drink Locally and Act Globally.

But if you want to go even further to help strengthen the bond between our region and one of the world’s most bio-diverse and threatened locations, that’s not hard either: Go to www.ictetropics.org and click the Donate button.

Rick Hauser