Architecture & Design

What matters

Design Design Trends Sustainability

Building in South Africa and Bangladesh, design for the other 90%. The BASEhabitat initiative and an exhibition offer examples of sustainable and cost-effective solutions that tackle poverty or at least make it endurable to some extent.

Backpedalling is the order of the day as the crisis gives us the chance to step back and question what we do and think. Social responsibility takes the centre stage. People who have long since experienced a feeling of uneasiness are an example of how volatile social, political and ecological interrelations can be identified in different projects and how methods of resolution can be found. We can look to the 1960’s for examples of when economic thinkers, architects and designs were on the lookout for new concepts.

"Saving the world is back in fashion", writes UK newspaper "The Times" on the occasion of the Emerging Architecture Awards. The critical stance taken by young architects towards construction is acknowledged in their advice "..think very carefully before you build, and if you have to build, tread lightly on the Earth." Three of the projects by BASEhabitat – a project studio set up at the Kunstuniversität Linz (University of Art and Industrial Design) under Prof. Roland Gnaiger - ranked among the winners between 2006 and 2008.

Building with clay and bamboo

Village of Rudrapur, Bangladesh. Anna Heringer, who has since become head of BASEhabitat, spent a voluntary year out here before beginning her studies in Linz. As part of her studies, she conducted an in-situ analysis of the village and the development (2002) together with fellow students, and subsequently based her diploma thesis upon the construction of the "METI – handmade school".

Rudrapur is home to all the construction projects that BASEhabitat has since completed in Bangladesh. The village lies in northern Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated countries on earth. Poverty and a lack of infrastructure drive many people from the countryside into the cities. The local non-governmental organisation for the village population therefore attempts to offer new perspectives, through the school project for example, with the aim of strengthening the children’s sense of identity.

This is the approach that Anna Heringer took for the METI school (completed in 2005), networking with village inhabitants, students and teachers whilst acquainting herself with the traditional construction techniques. Clay and bamboo are existing, inexpensive local materials that have excellent qualities for coping with the sub-tropical climate. Together with experts in building with clay and bamboo, she and her team developed an improved technology and shared this with the local construction workers and village inhabitants. As a result, bamboo and clay are now once more considered modern materials. They are materials that convey culture, identity and pride, rather than low-cost materials that are typical of poorer communities. The METI school was the first of the BASEhabitat projects in Bangladesh, which are all based upon sustainability and local materials.

Heated by the sun, cooled by intelligent construction design

BASEhabitat - architecture in developing countries – focuses upon construction projects in developing countries. It has completed projects in South Africa and Bangladesh since 2004. The first project came from an idea by the non-governmental organisation SARCH (social and sustainable architecture). As part of the project, 25 students from the Kunstuniversität Linz worked together with local craftsmen to plan and build a home for handicapped children in the township of Orangefarm near Johannesburg, South Africa. The building materials for "Living Tebogo" were collected directly from the township and the surrounding land, including concrete blocks, earth, clay, timber, straw and grass mats. Buildings here are usually constructed using sheet panels, corrugated metal or the bodywork from cars. The main disadvantage of these shacks is that in summer they become unbearably hot and during winter nights they are extremely cold. Now there are houses in Tebogo with a pleasant indoor climate, which is achieved without the use of energy the whole year round. Another advantage is that local materials are used in the construction. This strengthens the local economy and also means that it is easy to reproduce these buildings later on.

"Build together – learn together"

At BASEhabitat there is a fundamental understanding that poverty can stimulate creativity and that real beauty is synonymous with sustainability. As such the basic principles of BASEhabitat projects are very clear. Good architecture means working responsibly with energy, materials and culture – regardless of where you are building. These principles are applied with the aim of developing long-term living quarters.

BASEhabitat is committed to:

  • Adding value through local resources and traditions
  • Applying appropriate techniques
  • Appreciating handicrafts
  • Strengthening cultural and individual self-confidence
  • Supporting the local economy and ecological balance
  • Integrating the local population, as the projects would not be successful if they did not have the acceptance and sympathy of the local community.

Particular value is placed upon ecological construction, although it is faced with the challenge of finding a balance between preserving the long-standing traditions and aspects of the community and enhancing the people’s standard of living. In the meantime BASEhabitat has not only established itself as a pioneer in developing countries but also as an example to industrialised nations.

How can we envision what the future will bring?

As a follow-up project to the METI school, three two-storey model homes were constructed in Rudrapur for the rural population (HOMEmade, 2007). The two-storey buildings are aimed at curbing the disappearance of agricultural areas and relieving the current food shortage situation in Bangladesh.

Another forward-looking "habitat" is DESI (2007), a vocational school that incorporates apartments for the teachers. A photovoltaic system uses solar energy to generate enough power to satisfy the needs of the entire building, where high-tech meets low-tech. DESI and HOMEmade received the AR Award for Emerging Architecture 2008.
BASEhabitat goes a step further with the DESI project as it is a residential building for the middle class. DESI aims to show a fair way of development that does not create a gap between the poor and the rich, nor the old and the modern. The difference between a basic and sophisticated architecture is not the availability of financing but rather the development craftsmanship, technical know-how and creativity.

Design for the Other 90%

Design for the Other 90% is an exhibition that is currently on tour. It provides an expanding group of designers from all across the world with a platform where they can put forward their approaches and suggestions for improving the standard of living for poorer communities. The "other 90 percent" refers to more than six billion people in the world who do not have access to products and services that many of us take for granted. Designers, architects, engineers, students, professors and companies are devising cost-effective solutions to improve access to food, clean water and energy as well as housing.

Fuelling ideas

The exhibition aims to open people’s eyes through items such as; a round tyre-shaped receptacle that can be used to transport more water more comfortably than using canisters, a bamboo treadle pump that provides access to ground water during dry spells, a portable mat that uses photovoltaic technology to bring light into every hut, a ceramic water filter that is aimed at preventing water-borne diseases and a highly durable mosquito net. However, the most important aspect of these products or new technologies is to help people in poverty by giving them the chance to enhance their own productivity levels.

Cynthia Smith, Curator of the exhibition "Design for the Other 90%", is positive that there is increasing awareness of the fate of those people who are living in poverty. In an interview with the magazine "brand eins 01/09" she commented "the simple solutions that are being worked upon by designers around the world, cannot just improve life but can also save lives." She is also convinced that it is the good ideas that are fuelling the new design movement against poverty. Social networks and partnerships between different players ensure that this movement is spreading.

The first stop for the travelling exhibition "Design for the Other 90%" was at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.



Désirée Schellerer

Public Relations Manager