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Build the Builders

Create a self-sustaining program for design and construction education in developing countries.

Photo of Gray Dougherty

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Often, construction methods in developing countries are rudimentary and do not follow simple best practices that could prevent catastrophic loss after natural disasters. Part of this problem is a lack of education on design and construction best practices. Build the Builders would develop a curriculum that would be specifically tailored to various regions to create a better ecosystem of design and construction practices. The program would be offered free to communities and, eventually, students would be taught to be instructors, creating a self-sustaining culture of design and construction education. The result would be better built infrastructure and the ability to more easily repair infrastructure after disasters. Precedents: -The program is inspired by the Project Pipeline program implement by the National Organization of Minority Architects, for which I have previously volunteered ( -Here is a similar program that is currently underway and could possibly be built upon:


Developing country citizens. Not only would this program help them build useful skills, but it would create an additional opportunity for community interaction.


Two of the problems that urban slums face regarding climate change are planning and resiliency. This program would help communities to build better infrastructure (resulting in better planning), and would help communities to gain the skills to more quickly repair infrastructure (resulting in better resiliency).


  • Not yet


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


I'm a licensed architect in the United States with a primary focus on design and construction of community buildings, including many public school projects. Individually, I have taught design and construction courses and volunteered in design summer camps for children in underserved communities.


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Photo of Robert Harrold

Great insight Gray, thanks for sharing.

I think it is fascinating that you have identified the difficulty of building well even very simple structures such as houses. Working as a structural engineer on projects in the developed world I see the same problems. Many widely used construction techniques, even 'modern' ones, such as masonry, reinforced concrete and steel rely on a huge amount of craftsmanship and training to erect them to high standards of quality and safety. In addition, due to their weight and hardness they are difficult to transport, hard to handle, sit heavily on the ground and prone to catastrophic collapse, particularly in earthquake zones. The photo used to illustrate your idea perfectly illustrates some of these problems, however I believe there is a simple alternative - timber in combination with modern manufacturing methods.

Mass manufactures have long since realised the benefits of designing products so that they are easy to assemble. Wikihouse ( ) have taken this principle and applied it to houses - the hard work is done in design process, manufacture is by a machine and assembly on site requires only mallets and step ladders. The resulting structure is tight, light, easy to insulate and inherently tactile. What's more it makes hanging pictures very easy! You only have to watch their video of the construction of 'A-Barn' in Scotland to recognise the benefits. Lightweight timber structures inherently resilient to earthquakes because they have low mass (it is the mobilisation of a building's own mass in the absence of appropriate stiffness that destroys it).

Whilst implementing this solution would involve establishing a new supply chain in many regions, I would contend that compared that it a least as simple, if not simpler than those for other materials. The big ticket items are a supply of timber sheet material such as OSB (or perhaps local alternatives such as bamboo sheet) and CNC machine for cutting the parts. But once established their is huge potential for economies of scale.

I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see one and two houses being built with masonry and concrete which are both unnecessary and create huge problems of their own. Interesting fact: a traditional average British brick house actually contains approximately 7 tonnes of timber, the timber equivalent contains only 11 tonnes.

I really hope this idea gets progressed further.

Photo of Gray Dougherty

Thanks for the thoughts Robert. I absolutely agree that current construction practices, even in the developed world, are prone to significant problems. And yes, it would be great to include easily deployable and very user friendly construction practices to developing countries. Supply chain is definitely part of the issue.

I also think, however, that fundamental design and construction education is an important step. Assuming that, in a disaster, resources will be limited and dispersed, it's about creating a knowledge network and an ability to adapt. This is not about teaching people how to implement a single solution, but about how to design solutions given what is available.

Also, I love the wikihouse link. I hadn't found that previously. Thanks for sharing!

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