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
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
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.
- NetWorks Productions, Inc., Kingston, New Mexico- Project Co-coordinators:
Catherine Wanek, Joseph F. Kennedy
- World Citizen Diplomats, Princeton, New Jersey- Project Co-coordinator:
- 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
- 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-
- 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
Narration (in Kosovo)
Courses 6 teams of two Teachers
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
- 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
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
- Bring 100 volunteers together with 200 Kosovars to build 100 shelters
- 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