Technology and Sustainability – Keeping the Eye on the Prize

Photo by EBKauai

What good is a sustainable technology if it isn’t useful to the people in need? This article from Heifer International discusses the rise in technology in the developing world — the advances that have stuck, and those that have not.

The article outlines the great advancements in technology in recent history, in particular the transition from weak land lines to cell phones in Africa. The author goes on to discuss the importance of ingenuity and creativity by those with the skills to create in areas with few technological resources. Finally, he discusses the problems that Westerners may bring to such areas — in particular, the problem with creating solutions for problems that don’t exist.

The goal of the Shelters for All project is to build sustainable housing for those in need. Let’s be sure to attempt to ask ourselves what problems the potential users could have, not the problems we envision they have.

Building Pods – The Wave of the Future?

i09 reports a new design for housing that is efficient to build.

The Elkinoid Project looks for designs of housing for the future, such as for a time when unskilled individuals need to build housing quickly. They report that each pod can house three to four individuals and last around 100 years. Better yet, the housing is recyclable.

Are pods the future? What do you think will be the sustainable housing of the future. 6 more days to submit your ideas at www.sheltersforall.org!

Pallet Houses – Southern Methodist University

As a symbol of sustainability, Southern Methodist University‘s new Master’s of Arts in Sustainability and Development unveiled a new “pallet house.” The 250-square-foot house was constructed using 55 shipping pallets. Check out the images here.

Shipping pallets is an innovative idea for recycling materials into housing. What ideas do you have? Submit your proposals at http://sheltersforall.org/.

Are Sustainability and Resiliance Mutually Exclusive?

A recent article in the Bulletin for Earthquake Engineering outlines the ways in which sustainability and hazard-resilience can and must work together for safe housing in Haiti. “While many agree that sustainable redevelopment and self-reliance is essential for Haiti, few appreciate how it can be practically achieved, particularly in the domain of urban residential redevelopment” (p. 2).

The authors outline the types of materials have been used in Haiti: “Historically, due to the lack of wood, for use either as formwork or as a partitioning alternative, and the high cost of steel, cement and quality aggregate, Haitians employed construction with heavy masonry walls made of hand pressed concrete masonry units (CMUs) and lightly reinforced, undersized concrete columns, made with inferior raw materials and having inadequate strength and ductility. This combination, along with the lack of beams that would better engage the columns against earthquake loads, created systems that actually performed well under strong winds common to the Caribbean, but were conversely proven to be extremely vulnerable to earthquakes, failing through brittle collapse modes, as documented in the authors’ personal reconnaissance database through their field work in Haiti” (p. 2).

The authors explain that Haiti has a unique mix of requirements — it is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has suffered massive deforestation, and is in areas prone to both earthquakes and hurricanes. Moreover, Haiti’s government shows very little oversight in construction. They conclude, “The lack of locally-available construction materials, including the wood necessary for formwork to cast earthquake-resilient concrete frames, the steel necessary to provide strength and robust ductile behavior, or the quality masonry for confined or load bearing masonry construction makes the expense of this style of construction too great to serve the needs of the majority of displaced Haitians living in extreme poverty” (p. 4).

They conclude, “As Haiti has taught us, vulnerability stems from two potential sources: (1) lack of knowledge and (2) lack of resources to implement this knowledge properly… The only remedy is to flank these efforts with policies that encourage and support research to develop alternative, low-cost, sustainable housing that provides hazard resilience, while operating within the economic and cultural constraints of these regions so that all families will have a legitimate pathway to empowerment.” (p. 7).

Do you have ideas for how to make buildings both sustainable and resilient in Haiti? Submit your proposal to sheltersforall.org.