OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Build the Builders

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

Photo of Gray Dougherty

Written by

EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

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 (http://www.noma.net/article/154/happenings/events/project-pipeline-architectural-summer) -Here is a similar program that is currently underway and could possibly be built upon: http://www.buildchange.org/programs/training/

WHO BENEFITS?

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

HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?

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).

IN-COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

  • Not yet

EXPERTISE

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

GEOGRAPHIC FOCUS

  • Yes

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

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.

13 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Robert Harrold
Team

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 ( http://www.wikihouse.cc ) 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.

Spam
Photo of Gray Dougherty
Team

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!

Spam
Photo of Riya Choksi
Team

Great Idea, very inspiring :)

Spam
Photo of Duong Nguyen
Team

Great idea Gray, I always believe that education is the root of all development, so your program has tackled the most burning issue of lacking education for design and construction in developing countries. I myself come from one developing country and every year, some parts of my country have to struggle with repairing the damage from flood. So hopefully your program idea will be widely spread. Thanks so much for your sharing.

Spam
Photo of Paul Fr
Team

Hello,
I read in the past some article about bamboo construction, which are very cheap, resilient and bamboo is found in many developping countries. Personnally I don't know much in architecture, do you think it would be suitable for this project. Here are some links :
http://wbi.worldbank.org/wbdm/idea/flood-resistant-elevated-bamboo-houses-promoting-innovative-housing-resilient-climate-related-d
http://www.blueeconomy.eu/blog/44-building-with-bamboo/

hope this help !

Spam
Photo of Gray Dougherty
Team

Thanks Paul. I think this could be an interesting idea depending upon the geographic location. The goal would be to educate people on how to make the most of their local resources.

Spam
Photo of mn_uts
Team

"This program would help communities to build better infrastructure, and would help communities to gain the skills to more quickly repair infrastructure (resulting in better resiliency)." I can't agree more.

Spam
Photo of aggrey suit
Team

I have a young company that is actively engaged in trying to alleviate the problems highlighted in the building industry right across the spectrum of East Africa. Damp has featured as a very dangerous problem which is a result of poor construction practices or complete negligence of the requirements to use suitable materials and apply them correctly. My observation is that because of the rapid urbanisation the demand for shelter outstrips the available accommodation. The end result is that very many buildings are mushrooming without proper stringent regulations being adhered to. In case of Damp this is something which is always re surfacing some three to five years when the construction has already been completed. The major problem is the diagnosis of the problems which almost always require invasive survey something which the building owners would accept as a last resort because this means more costs having spent already money in putting up a structure. Most if not all the surveyors are not trained to assess and diagnose buildings. The general training given in East Africa is for building costs evaluation and conveyancing rather than structural defects in the buildings. This makes it critical to import knowledge on know how to train the surveyors and teach the artisans good building practices using suitable materials properly regulated and requiring legislation and government appointed bodies who can be transparent , free of corruption and remain accountable to appropriate authorities to achieve acceptable construction to withstand the elements

Spam
Photo of Gray Dougherty
Team

I couldn't agree more. At the end of the day, what really keeps buildings in the United States safe and what creates good construction practices is the building code system and enforcement. This is definitely a complex problem and educating people about good design and construction practices would not solve it entirely. Perhaps it's part of a larger program that focuses on training, certification, and enforcement. The real end goal is more durable and resilient infrastructure.

Spam
Photo of Fernanda Pupe Colaço
Team

Excellent idea Gray. I believe the long term solutions are always the best ones. What called my attention was the prospect of not only improving their housing conditions and safety but their education. In Brazil many unemployed people have had little to no access to basic education. This might be a way to present them with knowledge they will use to their own interest and possibly as curriculum for prospect jobs. Do you have any structured content concerning the course? I would love to help if possible. Congrats!

Spam
Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Thanks for the insights Gray! And to echo Fernanda's comment, it'll be great to include relevant links to similar build the builder programs out there. Adding a link to the Project Pipeline program that you were involved in would be super helpful. You can update your post by hitting Edit Contribution at the top of your contribution:T

Spam
Photo of Kristabel 静豫 Jingyu
Team

Maybe this will also give them the skill sets to be employed in the constructions or similar industries and get out of slums!

Spam
Photo of Gray Dougherty
Team

Thanks for the feedback everyone! My wife grew up in Ecuador and had posed this to me as an idea sometime back. This seemed like the right forum! I do not have any specific course content put together yet, but have a number of models that I would plan on using based upon my educational and professional experience. I will definitely do some research on precedents also and get that posted. The Project Pipeline program is a step in the right direction, but it's primarily focused on building a passion for design in school age children and doesn't result in the immediately practical skills that I think this group would need to complement.