Social Impact Design

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Having their voices heard_ Community design experience

Cilia, Canchaque, Piura
Team: Regional Govt, Peace Corps, and Progreso (local NGO)

For the past two years, Progreso, a local agricultural NGO has been giving bamboo capacity building workshops in Cilia, a small town of 350 people. In the past five years the towns traditional cash crop (coffee) is being decimated by various effects of climate change and Progreso is hoping to diversify their economy by teaching them how to manage their abundant supply of bamboo, which is more resilient than the coffee plants.

The residents of Cilia have learned how to correctly cultivate, harvest and treat bamboo. A few carpenters had been building bamboo furniture, which the women then covered with beautiful colored textile-covered cushions.

In an effort to promote the community's new products, Progreso wanted to build a large public structure made out of bamboo that would act as a showcase of sorts. The NGO's Project Manager approached me with the opportunity to lead a participatory design workshop and ultimately manage a design/build project. It was too great of a chance to turn down.

Starting in April 2013, we formed a multi-institutional project team consisting of representatives from the Regional Government, Peace Corps and the NGO. Throughout a series of meetings, we gathered input from mothers, fathers and children. More than anything, the people wanted a large area to celebrate their town's anniversary, surrounded by flowers and benches.

I found that technical drawings (plan, section, elevation) was not going to be a good medium to present the design because most people have a hard time visualizing 3D space from 2D drawings. Solution: Models!

After each design iteration, we held a community meeting to receive feedback on the changes. The elected area of the pavilion has a dirt road running straight through the site.

One meeting, as we brainstormed how to create a buffer between the road and the public space, one older gentleman created a group huddle and started whispering with emotion. After a few moments, he stood up and proposed relocating the road so that the space would not be cut in half with passing traffic. I had not even considered this an option, and as a result of this man's feetback, the entire design changed for the better.

Throughout the process, I found that the men and women, who had never heard of figure/ground relationships or massing models had just as much to bring to the table as the engineers from the Regional Government.
Design prior to structural engineers makeover

As we arrived at a polished design, it was time to ask for help. The Project Manager of the NGO had many contacts throughout the country who have been working very hard promoting bamboo as a sustainable building material. We brought our design to the architects and engineers at The University of Ricardo Palma, the most renown architectural university of Peru.

One week later, the structural engineers had transformed our design into a structurally safe and legal pavilion.

When everyone comes together, helping out in whatever way they can, a lot can be accomplished. While this structure is programmatically and geometrically simple, it represents my first community design/build project. Unfortunately I will not be around for the construction, but I am leaving the country knowing that the project is in good hands.
Left: Axon view of pavilion in site. Right: view from stage level

Bamboo provided by each family of the town


  1. Replies
    1. May God bless you and your work Rocio and team as you bring this design to completion.