Decoding Design

Build Change: a smarter disaster relief program

Build Change: a smarter disaster relief program

Posting in Architecture

According to a message on the organization's website, Earthquakes don't kill people; poorly built buildings do.

In the wake of natural disasters in developing countries, international relief agencies swoop in to set up shelter for survivors. But if the aid groups don’t understand or use local construction methods, local homeowners don't trust the built structures and resort to makeshift alterations that compromise structure and safety.

Inspired by successful post disaster housing programs that involved governments giving local citizens money and some building education to rebuild their own homes, University of California engineering graduate Elizabeth Hausler started a nonprofit, Build Change. The organization trains local homeowners, architects, and builders to make and work with stronger materials while still using local techniques. The group also works with local governments to enforce new building codes and oversee the quality of construction.

John Tozzi reports in Businessweek:

"Materials matter as much as design. If relief groups import steel frames and drywall that aren’t available locally, homeowners can’t maintain the houses. And donor money that rushes in after an earthquake pushes up the price of local supplies. “It’s not sustainable to bring in something new if the supply chain isn’t set up,” says Hausler, who this year won the Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability, which recognizes innovations for the developing world."

Using local and salvaged material and local labor also reduces the cost of building homes. The homes built by Build Change cost $3,000 to $8,000, compared to houses built by outside relief agencies that cost $12,000 to $20,000, a reflection of new materials, operating costs and salaries.

Building Knowledge, Not Just Houses, in the Developing World [Businessweek]
Image: EDV Media Director

Related on SmartPlanet: Reviewing safe construction in emerging countries

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure