Arch + Eng, Art, Design, Social Impact

Meet Patrick Muvunga | Opportunigee

Patrick Muvunga, designer, builder, community organizer, artist, and mentor to hundreds of other residents through the organization he founded, called Opportunigee, escaped persecution from his native Congo, along with thousands of other displaced people. As a curious designer, he is committed to turning Nakivale Refugee Settlement into a canvas for his prototypes and art. It has become a place to express his passion for designing unique constructions such as plastic bottle houses, geodesic domes, and even an amphitheater.  Patrick creates incredible buildings as art using geometry and mathematics of triangles and pulling these facets together. 

Learning from Buckminster Fuller he considered himself a “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist” and Patrick Muvunga embodies this identity. Once Patrick was exposed to geodesic domes he was determined to make his own version of them. After building several models made from shish kabob sticks and tape he made a 30- foot dome welding metal poles together. The covering was made from waste plastic and fabric which he compressed into chicken wire mounted on a wooden frame filling the triangle-shaped gaps in the dome. He and his team then plastered the inside with mud and cow dung and cement on the exterior. He has since made several different domes from different locally available materials. 

His latest experiment is making domes utilizing the standard-issue wooden poles the UN gives to newly arriving refugees. These trees/poles are difficult to quickly turn into a shelter often leaving refugees outside in the elements for their first few nights. These are the people that Muvunga is committed to helping make their transition less stressful. He has designed an adjustable hub that can be used to join 4,5 or 6 poles together to make a variety of different sized domes, with various frequencies. With the custom hubs, a structurally sound shelter can be completed within one hour. 

Muvunga’s design is a lightweight, easy-to-assemble dome which encloses more space without intrusive supportive columns than other structures built with the UN provided poles. What is little known about Fuller’s dome is what inspired this unique way of distributing stress within a structure. Fuller gained a lot of understanding from nature by analyzing how nature’s geometric patterns can be applied to the design of structures, creating wide-ranging possibilities and he applied this understanding in his design of the dome. 

“There is so much scarcity in Nakivale, so it’s crucial to maximize materials as well as create a more efficient and immediate support for new arrival refugees,” says Muvunga.

Buckminster Fuller also speaks of biomimicry and Patrick Muvunga has a nature-inspired company called “Caddisfly Construction” in Nakivale. He is intrigued by the caddisfly and how it uses materials around it to create shelter in harsh environments. Patrick upcycles waste to build shelters out of plastic bottles,  jerrycans, and UN supplied tarps filled with dirt. 

“Accounting to some estimates in the Guardian, there could be 1.2 billion people displaced due to climate change by 2050, so we must begin, one hub at a time,” says Muvunga.