Publication 18
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Networking Natural Builders Worldwide


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Draft Proposal

Project Title: Builders Without Borders

NetWorks Productions Inc. In association with World Citizen Diplomats, Straw Build Europe, NetWorks Productions, Inc.

NetWorks Productions is an educational non-profit communication-arts production company with the belief that restoring a planetary balance is achievable through enlightened ideas, values and positive example. NetWorks Productions acts to help inspire and create a sustainable world culture. (Etc)

The Need
Housing is a human right - yet increasing numbers of people are homeless, due to war and environmental disasters. Examples include war victims in Kosovo and those devastated by hurricane Mitch in Central America and recent earthquakes in Turkey. In Kosovo alone, an estimated 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. In these and other similarly affected areas a large refugee population will continue to exist. Meanwhile they have basic needs that must be addressed: food, medicine and shelter.

While helpful for the short term, temporary provisions such as tents are inadequate, especially in places with harsh winters. After initial disaster relief, longer-term solutions, such as transitional housing are required, as well as the restoration or replacement of homes in devastated areas. Permanent housing is also needed for the chronically underhoused (those in rural Africa, the favelas of South America, American Indian reservations, etc.) whose situations are often as desperate as those recovering from a war or natural disaster. Creating good decent homes can complement other aid efforts (for example, warm housing can decrease the need for medicines) and ideally be designed as part of a holistic system (energy, waste, and landscape) that addresses other basic issues as well.

Most housing projects built today are dependent on an industrialized model that is often inappropriate to climate, culturally inflexible, and expensive. In non- or newly-industrialized nations, utilizing complex building techniques with lack of understanding can make the situation worse. This proved to be the case in earthquake-plagued Turkey, where steel and concrete buildings failed due to improper construction. We also need to avoid the "carpetbagger" approach, prevalent for so long, where substandard shelter is sold to the dispossessed in order to make a quick profit.

We have the opportunity to do something better. People desire home, not just shelter. Criteria for truly desirable homes are warmth, safety, cleanliness, low cost, ease of construction, and appropriateness for the local culture. We require a process of providing such shelter that empowers those served. One solution can be based on the timeless wisdom of vernacular architecture, which is inherently inexpensive, climate-appropriate and beautiful. Simple designs can provide quick shelter in an emergency, yet can be replaced or added to in the future as the situation stabilizes. These designs can be flexible, to respond to the materials and skills available and to fit within cultural and social mores. Furthermore, a process of ecological design derived from the vernacular tradition, can create homes by employing locally-available, energy-efficient and earth-friendly materials. Such an approach mitigates further environmental damage through utilizing resources like sun and wind for heating and energy. These local, renewable resources can replace expensive and often unavailable capital resources.

The solution is not merely housing, but a local population trained to provide housing for themselves from local materials. At this point few resources directed at this population exist. A recent competition in New York has identified some worthwhile designs, but there are no resources to implement them. Simple, easy to understand teaching and learning resources can be used to train local populations to build their own shelters of straw, earth and other easily obtained materials. To be understood by a wide variety of people, these teachings should ideally be in both book and video form, and translatable into many different languages.

We have found that in places without decent housing, straw-bale construction has been a key component of cheap, warm, easy-to-build shelter. Building with bales of straw, which are widely available at low cost, has been revived over the last decade in the US, and is spreading throughout the world as an extremely beneficial building system. In recent years straw bale has been used with great success to provide low-cost housing in such diverse locales as Mongolia, Mexico, Argentina, Belarus and US Indian Reservations. Together with earth, stone and local timber, building with straw can provide shelter at ¼ the cost of conventional systems, while saving up to 75% or more of the energy to heat and cool dwellings. A long-time advocate of straw-bale and other natural building systems, NetWorks believes that spreading this way of building to those in the greatest need can be a key component of rebuilding healthy communities throughout the world.

Builders Without Borders
To address the above need, NetWorks Productions, in cooperation with World Citizen Diplomats and the Straw Build Europe is seeking funds for a new initiative, Builders Without Borders (BWB). NetWorks Productions is spearheading this project as a logical outgrowth of our work with The Last Straw, a leading advocate of the natural building movement. We believe that building can be a healing act as part of a philosophy to make the world a better place. Natural building does not contribute to the "greenhouse gas effect" that is thought be a factor in many natural disasters. Indeed it can have a regenerative effect, by reducing fossil fuel consumption, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, and sequestering carbon in buildings. To manifest this positive vision, we see the need to integrate new technologies with traditional construction methods into a "state of the art" educational package. This can then be used around the world to empower those that cannot afford architects and contractors, to build homes for themselves.

BWB plans to do the following:
- Convene a series of design charettes with experienced architects, builders and teachers to compile relevant information that already exists, create designs and construction details, and determine "best practices." A gathering of European members of the network has already occurred, with several design concepts emerging. A second gathering was hosted by NetWorks director Catherine Wanek on December 3-6, 1999, where representatives of different US organizations gathered to create a series of designs, and discuss organizational and logistical matters.

- Collect material into a simple book of designs and teaching manual. This book would include six or so basic housing designs, plus "how-to" instructions, largely in graphic form. Included would be a one-week training curriculum for use in the field. Text would be simple and easily translated into different languages.

- Create a training video that shows how to build a basic shelter from start to finish, including various options for foundations, walls, doors and windows, roof, floor and finishes, utilities and furniture. The video would highlight successful examples from Mexico, Belarus, Mongolia, China and the US to show how the basic ecological building techniques have been used in a variety of situations, using local resources. Many of the people instrumental in creating these successful projects in other countries will be on the design team, and will be available as instructors in the teacher-training courses.

- Develop a strategy for implementing the above designs, initially in Kosovo. To increase effectiveness, BWB would develop partnerships with NGOs already working in the field, identify corporate and other sponsors, coordinate volunteers and prepare teachers to conduct building workshops. (The current network of partners in BWB is detailed below.)

- Create mobilization plans to address other crisis situations in Turkey (earthquake victims), Central America (hurricane Mitch), US Indian reservations, or anywhere the need of the underhoused is acute.

This initiative will promote diversity by bringing together segments of the natural-building community from many nations to participate. It will provide a variety of solutions to address particular needs and available resources. Information will be designed for people who are non-English speaking or illiterate. This initiative will stress self-help rather than simply giving people something. Efforts will be made to make this information available to those that need it, including posting it copyright free on the internet, and creating a low-cost CD ROM.

While this initiative cannot address the root causes of homelessness, it shows that there can be a hopeful alternative to mere survival. Having adequate shelter can give people the stability to address root problems and helps to build healthy communities that can better withstand the challenges of the future.

BWB Participants
- NetWorks Productions, Inc., Kingston, New Mexico- Project Co-coordinators: Catherine Wanek, Joseph F. Kennedy
- World Citizen Diplomats, Princeton, New Jersey- Project Co-coordinator: Lois Nicolai
- Straw Build Europe- Project Co-coordinator: Harald Wedig (to be approached)
- The Canelo Project, Elgin, Arizona- Bill and Athena Steen
- Global Straw Building Network- Mark Piepkorn
- Global Ecovillage Network- Philip Snyder (to be approached)
- Straw Bale Construction Association- Janice Vascott
- Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA)- Sean Robinson, - Executive Director of ADRA in Albania, Michael Porter, Director for Special Projects. (to be approached)
- Fred Kumah- Kosovo contact in Pristina
- Sustainable Systems Support, Bisbee, Arizona- Steve Kemble and Carol Escott
- Out on Bale (un)limited, Tucson, Arizona- Matts Myrhman and Judy Knox
- Habitat for Humanity International, Americus, Georgia- Wayne Nelson
- Development Center for Appropriate Technology (DCAT), Tucson, Arizona- David Eisenberg
- Individual Builders and Architects Kelly Lerner, who else?
- Christidis Lauster Radu Architects (CLRA), New York- Cameron Sinclair (to be approached)
- War Child, London (to be approached)- Heather Harding LaGarde
- Architecture for Humanity (what is this organization? Ask Darren Port)
- Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) - Lynne Elizabeth
- Environmental Building Network- Bruce King
- Sustainability International- Bob Bolles
- Darren Port, Architect- coordinator, NBC East
- CASBA, SBAT, SBAN and other local straw bale networks

Personnel (Kosovo Project)
Project coordination US
Video Camera
Narration (in Kosovo)
Book Drawings
Courses 6 teams of two Teachers
Site coordinator
Resumes of Key Personnel (ETC)

Goals of BWB Initiative
- Create achievable housing designs and construction details for the underhoused of Kosovo and elsewhere.
- Produce an easy-to-use and -reproduce set of materials for students and teachers.
- Create a flexible and replicable training program that can be applied in Kosovo and other situations as needed.
- Create a dynamic network of teachers to be called upon as need arises. - Create an internet-based network to provide continuing support to trained teachers after courses are completed.
- Hold a successful series of workshops to create housing in Kosovo in 2000.

Objectives of BWB Initiative
- Convene two design charettes to collect design information including both European and American builders.
- Create at least 6 basic designs for various terrain conditions and cultural preferences, utilizing a variety of potentially local materials, and easily constructed with a minimum of tools and skills. Create a training manual with the above designs and a one-week training curriculum.
- Create an hour-long training video on the above techniques.
Hold six week-long training workshops to train at least 90 teachers in Kosovo.
- Bring 100 volunteers together with 200 Kosovars to build 100 shelters in 2000.
- Create a replication plan for initiating a similar teaching program in at least three different areas in the following two years.

Dec 1999 – Feb 2000
• Design charettes
• Storyboard video, assemble existing footage
• Identify corporate and foundation sponsors

Feb - Mar 2000
• Shoot additional video footage, begin editing
• Design review
• Assemble final designs into rough draft form (drawings and text)
• Rough draft of course curriculum
• Identify teachers for summer courses

April - May 2000
• Edit video footage
• Finalize and layout design book and curriculum

May - June 2000
• Hold six teacher-training workshops in Kosovo

June - Oct 2000
• Building projects with trained teachers, coordinators, international volunteers and local Kosovars

June - Dec 2000
• Provide follow-up support to trained teachers
• Develop replication plan
• Create Internet site and support network
• Create CD ROM

BWB is an international network of ecological builders working together for a sustainable future.