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Dutch students promote bamboo housing in El Rama

Next month, Shortsighted Architecture, a collective of three architecture students of the Delft University of Technology (DUT) and one water science and management student of Utrecht University, will depart to El Rama, Nicaragua to work with local students and craftsmen to develop a blueprint for sustainable and affordable bamboo housing. The project, which will include the construction of model homes, will include a decentralized system for rainwater collection and natural water purification. 

Children of El Rama (photo/ Hugo Thomassen)

Nicaragua has one of the worst housing conditions of Latin America. About 78% of the people live either in poor quality homes or have no home at all, according to a 2012 study by the Inter-American Development Bank. 

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Construction materials are part of the problem. Most homes are built with imported materials such as cement blocks and corrugated sheet roofing; these materials are expensive and pollute the environment. And the lack of clean drinking water and proper sanitation increases people’s risk of contracting preventable illnesses, such as diarrhea. 

Alternatives exist. Homes can be built using more affordable and sustainable materials and equipped with treatment systems to collect and purify rainwater. 

There is an abundance of bamboo in the vicinity of El Rama. Bamboo is excellent but underutilized building material, known as the “poor man’s lumber.” In recent years the cultivation and use of bamboo has been growing exponentially, due to its renewability, CO2 absorption, low weight and surprising strength. 

a local workshop in El Rama (photo/ Hugo Thomassen)

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A recent study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) shows that many families in rural regions of developing countries can profit financially from small-scale cultivation of bamboo. And already a growing number of bamboo plantations are being established in Nicaragua. Michael Abadie, President of the Global Bamboo Organization, notes that people are becoming “more conscious of the potential of this renewable resource.” 

The project by Shortsighted Architecture, which was initiated with the Bluefields and Indian Caribbean University (BICU) and the municipality of El Rama, contains two important pillars: capacity-building and continuity. To ensure that both aspects are covered, the project is carried out in intensive collaboration with students from the BICU and local craftsmen and entrepreneurs. The BICU students will earn study credits by completing a course called “Sustainable Building Technologies.” 

During the building phase we will develop a business model with local partners to facilitate the expansion of existing small-scale bamboo industries and support new start-ups. An important goal is the development of so-called “pre-fabricated bamboo elements,” which can ease the on-site construction demands and lower building costs. 

After construction, the houses built in the pilot program will function as a residence for the BICU students, giving them a place to stay while conducting fieldwork on sustainable agriculture and forestry. 

Javier Balmaceda, El Rama’s urban planner, can barely wait to start. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” he says. 

All of the information that goes into building these homes will be compiled in a blueprint that will serve as a how-to document that can be applicable in all (sub) tropical regions. The blueprint we will develop has the potential to considerably improve the lives of thousands of people. The blueprint will be shared with housing corporations, NGO’s, architects and contractors. 

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Shortsighted Architecture will also share all the documentation under a Creative Commons license on their website, www.shortsightedarchitecture.com. 

Back in The Netherlands, the development of this pilot program is supported by professors from the Delft and Utrecht Universities. 

“This is an inspiring project. It is wonderful to see students work together with local inhabitants in search for ways to lead a more resilient and empowered life,” said assistant professor A.G. Vollebrecht. “A good example that shows how young students can operate as agents of change.” 

The Dutch city of Maastricht is also contributing to improving the housing conditions and economic development in El Rama through its sister city program.

 The first part of the project, starting in February, will consist of courses and workshops related to building methods, techniques and design. During open sessions the students will provide information and building advice to local residents. 

Though we are geared to start the project, we still need to raise part of the budget still needs financing. To accomplish this the students have started a crowdfunding campaign, which aims to raise 10.000 Euros ($13,615) within 30 days. Support for the campaign will go to create affordable, sustainable housing in Nicaragua. Click here to support our campaign.   

Shortsighted Architecture is a collaborative of three architecture students from Delft University of Technology and a water management and science student from  Utrecht University. Shortsighted Architecture believes that local relevance and resources are the foundation of sustainable and smart design solutions. It aims to create sustainable architecture and local decentralized systems and share this knowledge with others. So far, Shortsighted Architecture has worked on projects in Brazil, Amsterdam, Maastricht and Delft. For more information visit our webpage.


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