For a School in Nairobi, Furniture That Functions

Design for Communities is an organization that provides beautifully simple furnishings made for a primary school in Kenya's capital.

For a School in Nairobi, Furniture That Functions

This article is part our special report on Milan Design Week 2023.

Giacomo Moor's furniture was designed with one simple principle in mind: simplification.

He argued that benches, tables, and beds should be made from local materials at low cost, durable, and able to be easily replicated using basic tools.

The result is a collection of furniture that has been designed with functionality in mind. It's sturdy, made from wood parts that interlock and can be assembled without high-tech machinery.

The designer explained that once the boards are cut, the only tools you will need are a square, chisel and pencil.

The simplicity of the furniture will be evident when it is displayed in the 'Design for Communities' exhibition, which opens on Tuesday, during Milan Design Week, at the headquarters of Assab One. This nonprofit supports artists and designers to develop experimental projects.

Design Week is an event of high-end goods, polished and made with precious materials for a pricey audience. The furniture of Mr. Moor will be shown in its natural state, with benches and bunkbeds made from unfinished wood. Visitors can also see the sparse wood elements as deconstructed pieces to learn how they are made.

Four photographers will display photos of the designer developing his work in Mathare, an area where he was based.


Mathare, one of Nairobi's oldest'slums', is a sprawling metropolis, with densely packed houses, unpaved roads, and buildings made of exposed concrete blocks and tin sheets. The photos will show this in vivid detail.

The designer was invited to go there by Live in Slums in Milan, an organization that supports social enterprises in urban poor areas. The designer was assigned to create furniture with local residents for the Why Not Academy primary school, which Live in Slums has been helping develop since 2012. Mr. Moor explained that the two-story structure has classrooms but also a restaurant and dormitories for families in need of temporary accommodation.

The aim was to create prototypes that community members could make themselves using only limited resources.

Mr. Moor determined that the furniture should be simple and restrained without any decorative or superfluous touches, which would require intricate milling. The designer who is well-known for his delicate shelving, chairs, and lighting made of wood chose the abundant eucalyptus in the area as his primary material.

He made sketches of the objects in Milan and then took them to Kenya where the pieces were finished on site. He said, 'It's been a very, complex experience.' Nairobi is a tough place.

The key to their design is the standardization of beams, posts and other components that are fitted together by a series sequential joints. This old-school carpentry method relies less upon hammers and nailing and more on arranging pieces in a way that they can support each other on their own. The bottom pieces are connected by slots cut out in the panels and the top panel snaps on to hold everything in place.

He said that no glue was needed to keep the legs firmly on the ground. Just a few screws were enough. The furniture is also easily disassembled, so that if a part becomes damaged due to weather or usage, it can easily be replaced.

Davide Fabio Colaci organized the Milan exhibition which will show the furnishings. They are practical, efficient, and answer a real need. The photos taken by Francesco Giusti and Filippo Romano as well as Mattia Zoppellaro, Alessandro Treves, illustrate this context in a colorful way.

In a video last week, Mr. Moor stated that his plan to have people in Mathare autonomously fabricate his pieces was progressing well. Locals have completed work on a number of tables and benches. The immediate needs of 300 students at the school are driving them to replicate his design.

He said, 'It's really simple and sleek, but still beautiful. That's amazing.' The exhibition 'Design for Communities" will be on display at Assab One in Via Privata Assab from April 18 to April 23.