Mackintosh School of Architecture leads a design workshop in Blantyre – exciting new development for the MalDent Project

Partnership working is key to international development activities and we have been extremely fortunate with the MalDent Project to have established a network of enthusiastic, multi-skilled collaborators. That network developed another arm recently when Mwapatsa Mipando and I met Chris Platt, Professor of Architecture at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art (

On Tuesday 3rd September I headed to Glasgow Airport to meet with Chris and two of his senior students, Ciara Durkin and Breffni O’Brien. We were heading to Blantyre for a site survey of the College of Medicine campus and a stakeholder workshop – all set up to inform a design brief and costing exercise for the new teaching facility that will house the clinical components of the Bachelor of Dental Surgery course.

We travelled via Dubai and Johannesburg.

The smiling faces of Ciara, Breffni and Chris at Dubai Airport – the journey was going well at this point…!

Complications to our journey began after we landed in Johannesburg. First, the A380 from Dubai taxied too far towards the terminal building at the gate and we needed to wait for 20 minutes until a tug arrived to push us back to the correct position for the doors to be opened. We were seated at the back of the plane, so it took a long time to disembark and our connection was quite tight. After passport control we ran to the Malawian Airways desk, to be told that the flight on which we were booked was not available! After some extended phone calls by the ground staff, we were finally given boarding passes for a plane to Lilongwe and then an onward connecting flight to Blantyre.

The Malawian Airlines Being 737-700 that took us to Lilongwe

As a result, we arrived at Blantyre Chileka Airport several hours later than planned, but remarkably so did our bags!

Chris and I with our bags safely in tow at Chileka Airport

We were driven to the Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel by a College of Medicine driver, arriving at about 6.30pm. After a quick shower, I headed downstairs for a meeting with Dr Nedson Fosiko, Deputy Director of Clinical Services at the Malawi Government Ministry of Health, and Dr Peter Chimimba. We had a very positive discussion about the oral health policy development activities that are planned through the MalDent Project, and now have a clear way forward to commence the work.

With Drs Nedson Fosiko and Peter Chimimba after our meeting at the Mount Soche Hotel

Chris, Ciara, Breffni and I then had dinner together in the hotel and turned in early for some much-needed rest.

The next morning, after breakfast, we were collected by a College of Medicine driver and then headed to the College Library for a meeting with the Principal and Peter Chimimba.

The Principal provides some background about the College of Medicine campus layout, informed by views from the windows of the top floor of the library

The Principal laid out the history of the project and the need, now, to create a design and establish a costing for a new facility in which to deliver clinical dental teaching. Later in the morning we were joined by Peter Creaser, an architect from a local, well-established practice called MOD Architects. This company has worked on many projects at the College of Medicine through the years and Peter and his colleagues have extensive knowledge of the campus.

Peter and Robert from MOD Architects, Annie, Peter, Chris, Ciara and Breffni  in discussions led by the Principal.
Peter Creaser describing some of the key features across the site of the College of Medicine campus

After these initial discussions in the Board Room, we enjoyed some refreshments and general discussion…

The Principal enjoying a chat over coffee and biscuits with Ciara and Breffni

… a group photo

Boardroom group
A photo with the new BDS pull-up banner – the course now a reality.

… then all headed outside to walk around the campus, armed with a site plan and Peter’s local knowledge. Chris, Ciara and Breffni took notes and many photographs for future reference.

Chris in discussion with Peter and Robert from MOD Architects

Breffni and Ciara provided excellent support for Chris during the site survey.

Breffni’s architect’s scale ruler came in handy!
Annotating the site plan

Once the walk-round was complete, Chris, Ciara, Breffni and I went back to the hotel for a quick lunch. We were then collected and taken to the Polytechnic, which is part of the University of Malawi, to visit staff and students at the School of Architecture:


We were welcomed by the Head of the School, Ike Phiri, and introduced to a number of his staff colleagues and students. There was great enthusiasm for our visit and for their invitation to the stakeholder meeting the following day.

Chris presented Ike with a copy of the MacMag, which is an annual publication from The Mackintosh School of Architecture.

Ike receiving his copy of the MacMag from Chris

I was also delighted to meet Grace Phiri Zimba, the Estate and Development Officer for the Kamuzu College of Nursing, which is about to merge with the College of Medicine to establish the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences. Among her qualifications, Grace has a BSc in Architectural Studies from the Polytechnic. Grace is inevitably involved with the  establishment of the new dental teaching facility on the Blantyre College of Medicine campus.

With Grace Phiri Zimba at her alma mater

Just before leaving we took a group photo and during the discussions that went on as people organised themselves for the shot, Ike mentioned that he had done his Masters degree in Dublin, Ciara and Breffni’s alma mater!

An unexpected connection – Ike, Ciara and Breffni all studied in Dublin

Just after the photograph was taken, Dave Rodocanachi from The Dental Warehouse in Johannesburg (a Henry Schein company) arrived. He would be providing expertise from a dental equipment perspective at the workshop the following day. Whilst Chris, Ciara and Breffni headed back to the College of Medicine to check out the venue for the workshop the following day, Dave and I headed back to the hotel and had a discussion in the bar based around a PowerPoint presentation on the equipping of a dental outreach teaching facility in South Africa which is currently in the final planning stages. There were a number of relevant learning points for the workshop the following day.

In the evening we were joined by the Principal for dinner at 21 Grill on Hannover. It was a good chance for many of us who would be participating in the workshop to get to know one another better. Peter Creaser from MOD Architects sat next to me and it was fascinating to hear about his career as an architect, starting in Lincoln but culminating in many years spent in Africa, particularly Malawi.

A lovely evening in 21 Grill – crocodile starters for several of us!

The following morning we set off from the hotel at 8.30am to set up for the workshop, which was held at the Research Centre at the College of Medicine campus.

Dave, Ciara, Breffni and Chris arriving at Chimutu House to prepare the meeting room

Once the tables were laid out it was a matter of waiting for the many stakeholders to arrive and for the work to start. 

Pens, paper and water – ready for action

Whilst waiting for the event to commence …

Dave taking Chris, Ciara and Breffni through the plans for a new dental outreach centre in South Africa – generic points of interest for the forthcoming workshop

… and Chris spent time speaking with Peter Creaser and his business partner Patrick from MOD Architects:


It was a very successful event. Chris first described how he had become involved in the MalDent Project and about his own background …


… before explaining the purpose of the workshop and how the day would be based around four tasks undertaken in small groups, with feedback delivered after each task.

Peter Creaser looks on as Chris explains to delegates how the workshop is structured and what it aims to achieve

The initial task aimed to identify the main themes that delegates believed to be important for consideration during the design of the building. These themes would then form the basis of the following three tasks, examining specific issues in increasing detail. The work undertaken is best described in pictures:

Group discussion
Group A discussing its views on the main themes that should be covered during the day in Tasks 2-4

After each piece of group work, a spokesperson fed back for 5 minutes:

IMG_0525 cropped
Ciara feeding back on the views of Group A following Task 1

Chris made notes as each group fed back to the delegates:

Group B feedback following Task 1
The Principal uses the campus site map to illustrate part of the feedback from Group C

After Task 1 was completed we broke for coffee and a group photograph:

Group photo
Enjoying the sun during a coffee break between Tasks 1 and 2

During the coffee break, Chris identified and wrote up the main themes that had emerged from Task 1 on a flip chart. This was slightly refined following discussion with the delegates. The themes were then allocated to individual groups who would work on them during Tasks 2 and 3.

The themes identified after Task 1

After Task 2 and feedback we enjoyed lunch, when the discussions continued on many fronts:


One of the advantages of the College of Medicine campus is the vista of the mountains and distant scenery, that can be viewed from so many angles. This was mentioned during the workshop as a feature that should not be forgotten when the new building was being designed.

View from the balcony of the Research Centre

For the final task we were asked to consider which of the three possible sites we would choose to erect the new building and to submit some relevant drawings. I found the latter particularly difficult, but Ciara was well versed in the concept and produced six drawings for Group A with no difficulty whatsoever.

Patrick busy drawing for Group C
Breffni feeding back on the drawings she had completed for Group B
Ike and Chris in discussion over the drawings from Group D

By the end of the day, we had accumulated a very large number of feedback sheets:

When the meeting closed, Breffni and Ciara photographed all of the sheets. The hard copies were left with Ike who will use them for a design exercise with his architecture students at the Polytechnic. Chris, will work from the photographs of the sheets.

Ciara and Breffni busy photographing the feedback sheets

At the end of the event the Principal, Patrick from MOD Architects, Chris and I sat down to discuss the next steps. The outputs from the workshop would be used to inform a design brief, which in turn would allow a schedule of accommodation to be created and a cost estimate to be made.

Discussing the next steps ...

We returned to the hotel, totally exhausted but very happy with the outcome of the day. After a couple of celebratory drinks in the bar, shared with Peter Chimimba, we had dinner and retired early in preparation for the start to our journey home at 5.15am the next morning.

Our driver arrived on the dot at 5.15am and everything went smoothly at Chileka Airport. It had been a whirlwind visit, packed with activity. As we headed out to the plane on the tarmac in the early morning light it was hard to believe how much had been achieved in just two days – an immensely successful outcome. 

Heading home – now well informed and ready to develop the design brief




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