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Building Resilience through Community Empowerment and Sustainable Spatial Actions

Empower marginalized and vulnerable communities to truly reshape the provision and quality of learning environments in low-income settings.

Photo of Marco Taranta
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Our idea has evolved significantly over the course of this process. Through the use of OpenIDEO’s toolkits and tips, we revised our proposal to make it fit the ECI challenge and we tailored it to the US market. We have enhanced the learning experiences kids gain from their active involvement in the design-build process, but without jeopardizing those of families and communities. Other refinements occured through our user-centered research at a Danish nursery, which brought significant improvements of design aspects to make our superadobe building even more child-friendly. We have indeed embraced the idea of designing and building structures that sort of resemble children’s dens/shelters, which were shown to have a greater impact on children’s learning experience as well as their level of involvement. We have also become aware of the impact that active play can have on children’s physical and cognitive development. Finally, through the feedback given by our mentor and other ECD professionals, we learned that our project is versatile enough to have an international appeal and to be applied in contexts other than emergency.

Name or Organization

Emergency Architecture & Human Rights (EAHR)


EAHR is based in Copenhagen (DK). Our projects are currently being implemented in EU, MENA, and S.A.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD


  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Through our solution, we combine low-cost, sustainable spatial actions and empowering processes to create accessible, child-friendly spaces in low-income settings. We leverage the undeniable advantages of the superadobe technology to develop a training program that involves co-design approaches, skills development and capacity building to strengthen community resilience. With locally-sourced, natural materials and communities' active participation, barbed-wire and earth bags are transformed into remarkable works of architecture that have a plethora of applications under on shell.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Our project aims to educate and encourage values of craftsmanship, sustainable development and collective making by engaging children, families and whole communities in the design and construction of innovative/flexible learning spaces. We forward a sustainable building technique that facilitates empowerment within unprivileged and vulnerable communities: the SuperAdobe (SA), which enables the construction of simple but advanced spaces through the use of basic building principles and unskilled work. Although SA has mainly been used to create personal housing, with our approach it becomes an empowering and collaborative process that: (1) expands and enhances children’s learning experiences (2) helps build stronger and resilient comunities (3) fosters respect for nature and the environment (4) helps revitalize poor neighborhoods. Children of all ages take part in the early stages of the design through play activities such as form finding, drawing, and model testing. As we move forward in the process of making, they undergo workshops to familiarize with basic concepts of architecture such as space, light, materials, and structures. This will give kids ways and capabilities to effectively observe and evaluate their surroundings and improve their senses and spatial perceptions. We will also develop design-build toolkits, a training-of-trainer and capacity building program for families and communities to make the process sustainable, repeatable and scalable.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Our idea seeks to solve physical and psychosocial issues related to early childhood development and children's role in shaping their built environment. More specifically, we seek to solve: (1) the lack and untimeliness of available child-friendly learning spaces and experiences (2) the lacking parent and community participation in establishing safe, nurturing and inclusive environments (3) the improper features of current built environment in low-income and vulnerable settings.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

In response to the growing body of evidence on the benefits of a child- friendly and -oriented built environment, we developed a solution that place children and youth at the very heart of our considerations. Through their active participation in the making process, we help create learning spaces and experiences that are inspiring, enjoyable and practical, which in turn lead to a more liveable and inclusive environment for the whole community. Our solution addresses the physical, social, emotional and educational needs of pupils as well as those of their families. Accordingly, we promote spaces and activities that: Encourage exploration, creative play and innovative learning; Enable healthy and active lifestyles; Increase children’s self-esteem and feeling of independence; Address children and families concerns about safety; Promote outdoor and nature exploration; Improve the skills of families and communities. We achieve this by leveraging the many advantages of the SuperAdobe (SA) technology: a form of earth bag architecture developed by architect and CalEarth founder Nader Khalili. Using long sand-bags, barbed wire, on-site earth and just a few tools, Khalili came out with a simple, fast, low-cost and sustainable building technique that integrates traditional earth architecture with contemporary global safety requirements. SA buildings are indeed proven to be resistant to natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and fire. This revolutionary building system has also been published by NASA, endorsed by the United Nations, featured in countless media outlets, and awarded prestigious prizes. SA buildings have the advantage of providing thermal mass and insulation, depending on what the bags are filled with. When filled with soil they provide thermal mass, but when filled with lighter weight materials, such as crushed volcanic stone, perlite, vermiculite, or rice hulls, they provide insulation. SA helps gain 4 to 5 degrees in the winter and lowers the temperature by 6 to 7 degrees in the summer, compared to traditional buildings. Furthermore, the SA technology fills a unique niche in the quest for sustainable architecture. Since the bags can be stacked in a great variety of shapes, they have the potential to dramatically reduce the need for common tensile materials, especially the wood and steel that are often used for making roofs. This not only saves extra money and energy, but also helps save our forests. Moreover, the bags can be filled with local, natural materials, which significantly lowers the embodied energy associated with the manufacture and transportation of building materials. The fill material is generally completely non-toxic and will not release dangerous fumes into the building. The material is also extremely durable, which allows the structures to be used, with little maintenance, for more than 25 years. The project will unfold over multiple stages: 1. NEED ASSESSMENT We start studying the built environment and entering into dialogue with the local community to develop a sound understanding of the technical, societal and cultural concerns impacting on the architectural design process. At this stage, the youngest kids are involved through play activities such as form finding, drawing, and model testing. The insights gained are then used to inform the final decision regarding the type of spatial intervention (e.g. recreational and community spaces, pre-K classrooms, street furnitures, or natural playgrounds) 2. DESIGN & LEARN By using various workshop formats, we promote collaborative designs that enable the local creativity to unfold within the given surrounding. Families and communities undergo capacity building workshop on SA design and construction. Likewise, children of all ages take part in workshop to familiarize with: (1) basic rules of geometry and its structural performances; (2) materials consistency and its performance through testing; (3) outdoor and indoor design aspects; (3) natural lights and ventilation systems; (4) engineered spatial qualities and (5) the values of collective working. 3. BUILD SA buildings can be built by unskilled labors in a matter of days or weeks, depending on their size and the number of people involved in the construction process. The buildings are proved to be extremely durable, but they are not necessarily a permanent construction and can easily be dismantled in just a few hours, and the material can of course be reused. 4. REPLICATE In parallel to the previous stages we will develop trainer-of-trainer, design and construction toolkits to enable communities to become SA builders themself and replicate the whole process. We also aim to develop and spread an educational model - both in terms of curricula and learning spaces - to help improve and innovate current ECD programs in the US.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The main beneficiaries will be children of all ages, who will benefit from having an innovative learning experience and a safe environment where to unfold their full potential. Equally, families and communities will benefit from having a built environment that is more liveable and inclusive. The latter group will also gain valuable skills and extensive knowledge of SA design and building, which can be used in different settings as well as in their careers. Lastly, we believe that the resulting toolkits and manuals can be beneficial for a a wide variety of stakeholders such as local municipalities, child care organizations, primary and secondary schools and other nonprofit organizations.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The idea will trigger a change in how to design and build learning spaces in vulnerable and marginalized communities as well as in less disadvantaged contexts. The superadobe structures - and the whole process behind their construction - will have a positive impact on the development and learning experience of every child as well as on the built environment.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The idea of low-cost, quality community spaces built by the community for the community creates empowering spatial possibilities where common spatial possibilities are often lacking, degrading and misplaced, with repercussions on vulnerability, time usage to and from the community space, psychosocial stress. Our idea can make low-income children enjoy the spaces which they are in need for. Likewise, the innovative space is constructed from local available materials by community members and is not just used for emergency situations, instead, it posses a historic and creative empowerment where the children attend structures they can participate in and learn to create themselves.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our concept is disruptive to the art of Superadobe construction and on a broader sense space-making for toddlers and nurseries. We enable an approach where toddler-designs and learnings are easy implementable to communities. In so we disrupt the normal distance between space-need and space-constructor with a process of collaborative learnings, play, construction and stronger community cohesion great for both both kids and parents. The Superadobe construction technique we disrupt in terms of design and applicability as we give forth a new context and new user groups to enjoy the structural forms and the building processes. Instead of personal housing we focus the Superadobe construction technique to serve early childhood development with new play-spaces and rounded out-door - in-door spaces.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

There is a vast market that is waiting to be tapped. Indeed, we believe that a wide range of stakeholders -such as local municipalities, child care organizations, primary and secondary schools and other nonprofit organizations- would have a vested interest in implementing such an accessible, low-cost, sustainable program that is able to reshape significantly the provision and quality of community learning environments. Winning this prize would allow us to implement the program within a first set of targeted vulnerable and marginalized communities in Colorado. Once this has been successfully completed, we will be able to prove its impact, develop the aforementioned toolkits and manuals, and secure more funds needed to expand the project to other states. Furthermore, since our project is rooted in community empowerment and capacity building, when the necessary skills and knowledge are acquired and embedded in the targeted communities, the project can be easility replicated and scaled up by local actors. We have experienced financial support to our prototyping and past projects through: private person donations, private institutional funding, mixed private-public parnerships, public financing models and corporate material donations. Hence we have a broad, diverse and sustainable array of funding opportunities to sustain growth. We need to make sure that a strategic marketing plan is put in place in order to develop a recognizable and influential presence in the US.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

The feasibility of the idea has shown itself on various levels and in relation to different applications of the idea. In 2018 we were awarded a “Building of The Year”-prize from the biggest online platform for architecture for a Superadobe design and pilot-project for vulnerable school-aged children and the local community, conducted in Jordan. From a danish side we have conducted class-learnings and school-yard constructions at 2 primary schools where funding and finance was giving by the Danish Ministry of Education and the schools themselves. Now we are in contact with a danish nursery and a public school who equally are teaming up with us as they see benefits in regard to the learning progression of the children and the new spatial possibilities within the. On a broader level the feasibility of the idea is grounded within extensive scientific evidence from Denmark ( It shows that “forest-kindergartens” and “out-of-school classes” have a significant positive influence on learning progressions of children. In Denmark it is already getting implemented on a national education/nursery agenda which equally points to a international adoption with a relational need for more, better and new outside spaces and interaction possibilities to foster toddler and child development. In this sense our idea equally tap into the general focus on STEM or STEAM education and play (Science, Technology, Engineering, (Arts) and Mathematics). Thridly our idea is widely connected to the sustainability and green agenda where our idea distribute actual capacity to toddlers, parents and community organizations to engage with, use and play with the nature. Organizationally speaking, we have a capable staff with experts with both technical and operational skills. We possess state-of-the-art architects, business developers and community and learning staff. We are ready to replicate and scale the idea. To implement the project in the US, we will team up with Can’d Aid Foundation, a Colorado-based 501(c)(3) organization that, since 2013, has developed national partnerships in a variety of focus areas including disaster relief, outdoor recreation, arts and music, and environmental sustainability. After our conversation with Can’d Aid outreach coordinators, we discovered areas of mutual interest and agreed on exploring further different partnership opportunities. Winning this prize would help secure initial funding to start implementing the project within the communities Can’d Aid serves with their well-established programs.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Building regulations are often considered a barrier to construction projects. However, earthbag construction methods have been widely implemented in Colorado, New Mexico and California, where building codes are lacking or already include structural design standards that pertain specifically to earthen architecture. Moreover, since earthbag domes are permitted under California building code, which is the toughest code in the US due to high seismic risks, we believe that there will not be significant issues in forwarding this building method throughout the States. Although Cal-Earth holds a United States patent for Superadobe (U.S. Patent #5,934,027), it is freely put at the service of humanity and the environment. Besides, the patent is going to expire on the 2018-02-19, allowing commercial use without licensing fees. Then we have to take into account that there is a series of financial, managerial and contextual risks that could undermine the viability of our project. Contextual risks (i.e. natural, political, economic and social risk factors such as intensified conflict, political instability, high inflation, the collapse of service infrastructures and market failure) represent the most worrying category because we have little to no control over the triggering factors. However, we do believe that a rigorous risk analysis process will allow us to put in place the right control measures so as to avoid, mitigate or transfer any potential hazards. Furthermore, in order to cope with financial vulnerabilities, EAHR has started implementing the Core Humanitarian Standards on Quality and Accountability, consisting in a set of policies and processes to help- among other things- prevent and address children safety, corruption, fraud, conflicts of interest and misuse of financial resources.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Our concept and prototyping have undergone various iteration process’ leading to our human-centered approach. Firstly, we have done modelling and design workshops with children and teachers, developing a learning and co-design frame were we equally observed characteristics that lead to positive usage and co-design opportunities. Secondly, we have made various superadobe co-construction workshops both with kids, city-communities and volunteer groups developing the construction approach and the capacity training model. Thirdly we have had the nursery design evaluated by education-space professors and the public who awarded our design with an Archdaily Building of the Year 2018-prize. We experience that there is various market opportunities; from one stating she would love to have a Superadobe assemblage-set she could build in her back-yard with her kids, over volunteer groups that would like to learn how to construct a Superadobe space for meditation purposes to the nursery and schools who would love to engage with the learning programs and see the structure available to their use. Hence, we have chosen a Business Model where we focus upon capacity building workshops, trainer manuals and design manuals - more than selling the actual construction in itself. This approach should enable people and communities to become Superadobe builders themself and us an assistant and supervisor to this. Hence our business-model is equally build upon a human-centered approach.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Emergency Architecture and Human Rights started as an organization in relation to the Danish Royal Academy of Architecture (KADK). The main activities the first years involved conducting the workshop concept 5x5 (5 human emergency situations in 5 different geographical settings) at architecture and university institutions, so far on 6 continents. It was within one of these workshops that the idea was born, in relation to refugee camps, on how to create community engaging child-friendly spaces and school classrooms out of the available resources in the local context. As an organization we love to engage with children and child-oriented communities as the worlds creativity and curiosity is at it most purest and most becoming form here, which we hope to partake in enabling amongst all children in the world. We are an organization with broad engagements in developing and struggling communities in the world. Our speciality is community and organizational collaboration with a relation to design, construction and community space upgradings where the local community partake in design and production processes. We have (re)constructed primary schools in Mozambique, Chile, Jordan and Nepal. We have done early-childhood engaging activities with, 1. clay modeling, 2. material experimentations and learnings, 3. name-giving of new buildings and spaces. We have an on-going collaboration with early-childhood organizations in both Denmark, Jordan and Zambia, as well as we have established one for this project based in the US.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Within our team, we have skilled architects, constructors and social scientists with proven contextual and academic experience. We have the skills to capacity build, involve and monitor community building, design, construction and learning processes. To implement the project in the US, we will team up with Can’d Aid Foundation, a Colorado-based 501(c)(3) organization that, since 2013, has developed national partnerships in a variety of focus areas including disaster relief, outdoor recreation, arts and music, and environmental sustainability.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We need to develop and test manuals and trainer-of-trainer processes that can help forward a standardized SA learning environments. We have some experience in developing the abovementioned but an expert to advise and revise our materials, enabling understanding amongst un-skilled construction workers and volunteers, will be beneficial to the overall development. Likewise, it would be very helpful to get support from a US-based pedagog to help us translate the program into a handbook that can be spread out throughout the States. We have some experience in developing training manuals, but an expert to advise and revise our materials enabling understanding amongst un-skilled construction workers and volunteers will be beneficial to the overall development.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Executive mentoring and business coaching and ECD mentoring to identify positive design elements to be integrated in our solution.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We experienced a huge appreciation from our mentor toward our idea. She led us to see more possible applications and possibilities within our idea both in terms of relevance for humanitarian organizations to how private persons could be interested in a product framing. Especially she pushed us toward localizing and teaming up with partners in Colarado, which we followed through and have made.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Iliriana Kacaniku

Hey Emergency Architecture & Human Rights 
Welcome to the Early Childhood Innovation Prize. We're thrilled to host your idea and help it grow through our human-centered design approach and toolkits. I found your idea very interesting and would like to learn more about your vision to implement it in the United Stats. "This Prize is focused on solutions that can be implemented in the United States. If you are an innovator from another part of the world, we welcome your participation though ask that you address how your solution ts into the early childhood context in the United States." For innovators like yourself, we have developed the Localization toolkit (see the link:
to help you translate your idea into the local context of the target geography/market. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Best regards,