In 2011, Joseph Mizzi found himself in Zambia, the landlocked nation in southern Africa. As a volunteer for World Bicycle Relief, he was part of a mission to provide schoolchildren with wheels to alleviate their sometimes hours-long commute on foot. But the builder in Mizzi—he is president of New York-based Sciame Construction—had other ideas. “I thought, rather than give them bikes to travel the long distances to school,” he recalls, “why not build more schools?”

Additional Content:
Jump to credits & specifications

Upon his return to the States, a chance meeting with Zambian-born Nchimunya Wulf, and a later introduction to her family's village, strengthened Mizzi's resolve and helped solidify plans for locating the first school. Together, he and Wulf cofounded the 14+ Foundation to build schools in rural African communities and to improve the education of children over 14—the age when local kids often drop out. The not-for-profit's Chipakata Children's Academy, with its atypical white walls and floating roof, opened in Zambia in January.
The three years between founding 14+ and completing Chipakata were spent assessing the community's needs (14+ donated a large grinding mill for the corn harvest, for instance) and providing the infrastructure required to make a high-quality building possible, including constructing 5 miles of roads and a small bridge. Mizzi himself made more than 10 trips to Zambia during this time. Back in New York, he and a team of volunteers organized multiple fundraising events, including auctions with the support of such friends and clients as artists Julian Schnabel and Rashid Johnson and musician Solange Knowles.
Mizzi also enlisted colleagues on The Architectural League of New York's board of directors—including architects Susan Rodriguez and Frank Lupo and engineer Nat Oppenheimer—to help with the school's design pro bono. Regular meetings at Sciame's Wall Street headquarters turned into weekly charrettes in which the group researched local materials and construction, selected a site (a level area on the land granted to them, otherwise mostly rolling hills), and developed a master plan and design for two school buildings (the second to be built during the next phase of construction), a pavilion, and five teachers' housing units.
The new primary school, which serves seven villages, mimics the local language of bar-shaped buildings (typically earth-colored), but pulls the bar apart and raises the roof to create indoor/outdoor spaces and a second story with covered open-air classrooms. “These were two simple things to accomplish to get so much more from the building,” explains Rodriguez, a principal at Ennead, which also provided design support through Ennead Lab. “These are people who live at ground level—most had never been on a stair before.”
Independent architect Fabian Bedolla moved to Zambia to manage the construction process, in which villagers were employed to build the mostly masonry structure. For the steel columns and roof trusses, Oppenheimer tweaked the structural design to base it on steel components available in Lusaka, the capital city 60 miles to the west.
While the initial intent was to forgo electric lighting completely, with daylight for the classrooms coming from clerestory and slit windows or the open sides, the design team quickly realized that the building would become a community hub, used by adults for meetings and classes in the evening. A rooftop photovoltaic array provides power for supplemental lighting, computers, and for charging cellphones.
With over 180 students enrolled and the first semester complete, the school has already begun transforming the lives of local residents, who were at first “polite, shy, and a tad suspicious,” says Mizzi, who also provided the schoolchildren's uniforms and recently attended the academy's first student awards ceremony. “When we started 14+, we established our model as a nonprofit not just to design and build schools, but to operate them,” he says. “I welcome that responsibility.”


Formal name of building:

Chipakata Children's Academy



Chipakata, Zambia


Completion date:

January 2015


Gross square footage:

20,000 sf


Total project cost:

$1 million (including infrastructure)



14+ Foundation



Various architects


Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:

Design principals: Susan Rodriguez (Ennead Architects), Frank Lupo;

Design team: Randy Antonia Lott (MDEAS Architects), Fabian Bedolla (on-site project architect), Hiroko Nakatani (Ennead Lab), Mehonaz Kazi



Structural Engineer: Pro-Bono Design Principal - Nat Oppenheimer, Robert Silman Associates


General contractor:

Construction Manager: 14+ Foundation, Inc. - Fabian Bedolla



Rob Duker



Nat Oppenheimer (Robert Silman Associates)



20,000 square feet



$1 million (including infrastructure)


Completion date:

January 2015


Structural system

Structural Steel: Blue Steel & Timber



Metal frame: Steel Doors and Windows: Amalgamated Steel Engineering Co.


Interior finishes

Paints and stains: Plascon



Classroom Furniture: Shonga Steel Limited