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Filipino Architect wants to Transform Slum with New Plan

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

A clash is occurring across the global South over the future of urban planning and the ever-growing slums of the world’s megacities. This will be a decisive clash of visions: should cities flatten slums and relocate their residents, or work with slum dwellers, acknowledge the role they play in city economies and improve their lives with better dwellings?

As the world turned into a majority urban place in the 2000s, cities grew at a phenomenal rate. The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week, according to some estimates. Megacities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this new urban world, it seems. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 percent of the population already lives in slum conditions.

The danger of building unsafe or makeshift homes can be seen in 2010’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, where many buildings collapsed, killing thousands.

One of the Philippines’ leading architects and urban planners,
Felino A. Palafox Jr. of Palafox Associates (www.palafoxassociates.com), is passionate about re-making the slums in his country’s capital, Manila. The city is prone to devastating and sometimes deadly flooding. Palafox believes the vulnerability of slum dwellings and poor urban planning are placing lives at risk.

“We can’t wait for another tragedy,” Palafox told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2010. “We have seen how an unprecedented volume of rainfall like what (storm) Ondoy had brought could prove too much for Metro Manila’s river and drainage system. We have also seen what a massive earthquake could do to an unprepared city like Haiti.

“While there is nothing that we could do to control the destructive power of these natural phenomena, there are steps that we could take to limit the amount of damage.”

If the rapid growth in urban populations is to be safe and sustainable, then new dwellings will need to be built that meet high standards of durability.

The UN Challenge of Slums report from 2003 (www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=1156) broke with past orthodoxy that slums must be cleared, arguing that slums should be seen as positive economic forces, incubators for budding entrepreneurs that offer a gateway to better things for new migrants.

Muhammad Khadim of UN-Habitat summed up the new thinking:

“Ten years ago, we used to dream that cities would become slum-free,” he said. But “the approach has changed. People see the positives. The approach now is not to clear them but to improve them gradually (and) regularise land tenure.”

The arguments behind embracing slums come from the economic changes across developing countries since the 1970s. Growing informal economies combined with fewer social provisions and the shift to urban from rural communities have all contributed to the explosion in slums and informal housing.

Manila is a city of stark and startling contrasts: there are glitzy shopping malls and high-rise office buildings, but also large slums and hungry people begging and selling trinkets on the city’s roads.

It’s a place where the slum clearance-vs-renovation debate is hot and current. The Philippines is currently in the midst of a campaign to clear slums in Manila and move people back to the countryside.

“Many of our people are no longer interested in agriculture, so we need to give them incentives to go back,” Cecilia Alba, head of the national Housing and Urban Development Co-ordinating Council, told the New Statesman magazine. “If we had to rehouse the slum-dwellers inside Manila in medium-rise housing, it would cost a third of the national budget.”

Palafox has a different vision – rebuilding a slum community from top to bottom.

An architect, environmental planner, urban planner and development consultant, Palafox runs one of the top architecture firms in the Philippines, employing more than 100 staff and consultants.

Usually occupied with office buildings in the go-go new business centres of the Middle East and Asia, Palafox has turned his attention to Estero de San Miguel, a Manila slum that is home to some 1,200 families, or 6,000 people.

Families are packed into tiny rooms in a labyrinthine slum complex beside a canal. The rooms are made of wood and floored with linoleum and have to be accessed through a narrow tunnel and tight connecting corridors.

Palafox’s plan is to work with the residents and rebuild it in its current location. In place of makeshift shacks will come modular homes, 10 square metres in size with space for shops and bicycle parking.

The design has the homes extend above a walkway, imitating the way the original slum structures were built.

Palafox is applying innovative thinking to the problem: taking his design direction from the dwellings slum residents build:  “The slum-dwellers,” he explained to the New Statesman, “are experts at live-work space design. They spontaneously do mixed-use! We just have to learn from them.”

Re-housing the residents on site means they can continue to play their role in the city’s economy, and do not have to make a long commute to jobs and opportunities.

Palafox also rebuts complaints about the cost of his plan, arguing the scale of corruption in the Philippines costs just as much.

“OK, the total cost of rehousing slum-dwellers in situ is 30 per cent of GDP (but) I calculate we lose about 30 per cent of the country’s wealth through corruption. If we didn’t have corruption, we wouldn’t need to tolerate slums.”

Another passionate advocate of working with slum dwellers is Father Norberto Carcellar from the Homeless People’s Federation (http://sdinet.org/countries/philippines.htm).

“We have to recognize the value of slum-dwellers to the city,” he said. “These are the ones who drive your car, clean your house and run your store. If these people were cleared from the city, the city would die. Slum-dwellers add social, political and economic value to the city.”

Even in its current form, Estero de San Miguel is a vibrant place, with an Internet café and a volunteer police force.

A BBC report found it lively and economically viable because it has educational and communication technologies that improve living conditions. The residents make their living working as cheap labour for the city.

Oliver Baldera, a carpenter, lives with his wife and four children:

“We’ve been here more than 10 years,” he told the New Statesman. “There’s no choice.

“It’s easier to get a job here and I can earn 400 pesos a day. I can send the kids to school and they eat three times a day – but it’s not enough. I need more space.”

Resources

1) More Urban, Less Poor: The first textbook to explore urban development and management and challenge the notion unplanned shanty towns without basic services are the inevitable consequence of urbanization. Website:http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=649
2) Slum Populations in the Developing World: See a breakdown of the urban/slum population in developing nations. Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/5078654.stm
3) Architecture for Humanity: An NGO to promote architectural and design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. Website:http://architectureforhumanity.org/
5) Building and Social Housing Foundation: The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) is an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer. Website:http://www.bshf.org
6) NGO called Map Kibera began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. Website: http://www.mapkibera.org
7) ArrivalCity: The Final Migration and Our Next World by Doug Saunders. Website: http://www.arrivalcity.net
8) Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom. Website: http://www.slum-tv.org
9) A Kenyan eco-village is helping slum dwellers to start new lives and increase their wealth. The community, Kaputei, is being built by former slum residents – some of whom used to beg to survive – and is providing new homes with electricity, running water and services like schools and parks. By building their own homes, with the help of affordable mortgage loans, the residents are able to make a big upgrade to their quality of life while acquiring real wealth. Website: http://www.jamiibora.org
8) Cities for All shows how the world’s poor are building ties across the global South. Website:http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-ties-across-the-global-south.aspx

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Brazilian Design For New Urban, Middle-Class World

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

Countries across the global South are experiencing rapid urbanization as people move to cities for better economic opportunities — and this massive social change is creating new business opportunities. Those who recognize how fundamentally people’s lifestyles are changing will be those who will benefit from this big shift in populations.

Finding ways to live well in urban areas will be critical to determining whether this move repeats past urban failures — from the favelas of Brazil to the slums of India — or introduces a new way of living that is exciting and colorful. Design and designers will be critical to this change.

One young design company in Brazil, Sao Paulo-based furniture studio NUUN  (nuun.nu), is attempting to resolve a dilemma common across the rapidly urbanizing global South: How to create a design aesthetic that fits with the new way of living and being?

The company consists of designer and founder João Eulálio Kaarah and architects Renato Périgo and Carolina Sverner.

Périgo specializes in furniture and interior design, while Carolina Sverner worked with respected Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban (shigerubanarchitects.com), who is well known for designing buildings and houses made from paper and for creating easy-to-build homes for people after a disaster has struck (http://www.ted.com/talks/shigeru_ban_emergency_shelters_made_from_paper).

A collaboration among upcoming artists, designers and architects, NUUN tries to infuse its designs with a sense of “brazilianness”. Brazilianness is a modern aesthetic, made for modern lifestyles in the new urban landscape, that draws on aspects of Brazil’s culture and environment.

The young studio’s first collection of furniture offers simplicity. Called Eos, it tries to blend urban cosmopolitanism with raw nature. Brazil is known for its jam-packed urban cities as well as its vast expanse of Amazon rainforest. In practice, NUUN’s look is a mix of contrasts redolent of what used to be called brutalism: concrete mixed with glass, steel, wood and semi-precious gems. NUUN takes inspiration from NASA’s Earth Observation System (EOS): the collection vibes off of space satellites, antennae and the dry soil of the backwoods. NUUN says that “despite its Martian features, [the collection] is as Brazilian as it comes”. There is the modular Panorama sofa (http://nuun.nu/products/panorama) in five colors, capable of being re-shaped to fit a variety of living arrangements. A glass-topped coffee table with a concrete base and a side table with a carbon steel metallic structure to complement the sofa.

Elsewhere in the world of Brazilian design, footwear brand Grendene S.A. (http://ri.grendene.com.br/EN/Company/Profile) has become one of the world’s largest producers of footwear and made one of its founders a billionaire. And Grendene has boosted its international success by turning to another Brazilian success: supermodel Gisele Bündchen (giselebündchen.com.br).

Grendene began in 1971 and owns various successful shoe brands, including Melissa (melissa.com.br/en/), Grendha, Ilhabela, Zaxy, Cartago, Ipanema, Pega Forte, Grendene Kids and Grendene Baby.

It has six industrial zones with 13 footwear factories and can produce 240 million pairs of shoes a year. It undertakes all areas of production— from making its own moulds for the shoes to creating PVC (polyvinyl chloride) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride) – and handles its own distribution.

While Grendene is already a well-known shoe brand in Brazil, it wanted to expand its presence overseas to increase profits. Named after the two brothers who founded the company, Alexandre Grendene Bartelle and Pedro Grendene Bartelle, Grendene started working with supermodel Gisele Bündchen in 2002 to help her launch her own line of affordable flip-flops, iPanema (ipanemaflipflops.co.uk). The brightly colored sandals with elaborate patterns became an instant success.

But do celebrity endorsements really work? In the case of Bündchen and Grendene, the answer is yes. According to Forbes, 25 million pairs of the flip-flops and sandals are sold every year, accounting for 60 per cent of Grendene’s annual exports of about US $250 million.

Brazil was able to produce 864 million pairs of shoes in 2012, up 5.5 per cent from 2011.

Of these, 113 million pairs were exported to the United States, Argentina and France.

Brazil, like many other countries, has had to work out how it could compete with cheaper shoe imports from China. The strategy it chose was to target the growing number of middle-class people both in Brazil and elsewhere, as well as the high end of the market.

In 1979, Grendene created the Melissa brand, which has now become a coveted style leader. It collaborates with top design names such as Karl Lagerfeld and architect Zaha Hadid.

Making a partnership with Bündchen is part of the company’s strategy to reach higher-income buyers.

And it is working: Grendene increased its export revenue by 50 per cent in 2013.

Co-founder Alexandre Grendene Bartelle became a billionaire according to Forbes World’s Billionaires list and is worth US $1.4 billion. He owns 41 per cent of Grendene S.A. and close to 40 per cent of the Dell Anno brand.

This is a critical lesson for manufacturers in the global South. Grendene had achieved strong market dominance at home, and was already benefiting from growing wealth among Brazil’s middle classes. But it was the overseas market that had the potential to clinch even more profits for the company.

Bündchen’s high brand profile has enabled the company to compete head-to-head with the well-known Brazilian flip-flop brand, Havaianas (havaianas-store.com).

Another modern design leader owned by Grendene, Dell Anno (lojasdellanno.com.br), is a maker of modernist cabinets and furniture.

Dell Anno only use wood from renewable forest sources, to protect and preserve the Amazon and other native forests. Dell Anno tries to recycle as much as possible: up to 80 per cent of the water used in manufacturing is recycled, and byproducts from the production process such as a sawdust, wood, plastic and cardboard are also reused.

Dell Anno makes a full range of furniture for kitchens, bedrooms, closets, home theatres, home offices, service areas, restrooms and commercial environments. Dell Anno uses research and development to study trends and advise customers on the best options. The brand offers its staff training to help standardize customer service, and also has an excellent blog covering developments in modern design around the world (http://www.lojasdellanno.com.br/blog/).

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: May 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

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Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Rebuilding After Chinese Earthquake: Beautiful Bamboo Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

It has been a year since the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake in China that killed more than 70,000 people.

China’s strongest earthquake for more than half a century, with a magnitude of 8.0 (en.wikipedia.org), it devastated large parts of the province of Sichuan. More than 10 million people were made homeless, most of them poor and elderly villagers (cities were not badly damaged).

Getting Sichuan back to normal is critical for not only the province’s people, but for all of China. Sichuan is China’s rice bowl, growing more food than any other province. But despite the abundance of food, Sichuan remains poor and has seen its working age population move away for work. If it is to have a viable future then its communities need to get back to normal as fast as possible – and its farming economy back to full production.

The unprecedented media coverage of the disaster meant people across China saw the scenes of devastation and have since contributed large donations to help with the reconstruction. The Chinese government has pledged to spend US $151 billion on reconstruction projects.

Finding ways to re-house people after large disasters has become an urgent issue over the last five years. From the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina in the United States and multiple hurricane disasters in the Caribbean, restoring communities is critical for the health of the people and the economies they rely on. Experience has shown that temporary shelters have many drawbacks, being usually of poor quality for long-term habitation and a source of health problems.

The temporary shelters erected for the Sichuan homeless are unsuitable for long-term housing: the 12 square metre grey boxes – two sheets of aluminium sandwiching a polystyrene core for insulation – have no heating. The occupants roast inside in the summer and freeze in the winter. They are also located away from the main source of income: the farms.

The dilemma is how to build new, long-term houses that will not cost too much. Inflation has increased the costs of conventional building materials: bricks, cement and steel.

But the use of traditional building materials and home designs offers an alternative. By drawing on the abundant bamboo and wood in Sichuan and by building to traditional designs, cheaper but sturdy and beautiful homes can be built.

An average home now costs around 80,000 yuan (US $11,688). The Chinese government estimates the price is now 820 yuan per square meter for a new home: bamboo homes cost between 300 and 400 yuan per square meter. Government compensation is between 16,000 yuan (US $2,337) and 23,000 yuan (US $3,360) per family. The bamboo houses range in size from 75 to 200 square metres, and in cost from 22,500 yuan to 80,000 yuan for a very large home.

In Daping village, Pengzhou Town, original homes destroyed by the earthquake sit at the edge of a forested hill. Their frames are more or less intact, but the walls and roofs have collapsed. The new houses replacing them are large, two stories high and have solid grey clay tile roofs. The beauty of the designs stands out and sits in stark contrast to the temporary shelters and concrete buildings.

“There are 43 houses and two public buildings being rebuilt in this project,” says team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology. “The design and the main building material are based on the ecological and sustainable habitat idea. The place (Sichuan) is rich in bamboo and wood. These natural materials are cheap and friendly to the environment. In some buildings we use light steel which can be also recycled.”

The new homes are built to earthquake resistance standards. Led by Professor LiuJiaping, a team of 15 people from the research centre and two from a design institute developed the home designs and supervised the training of local people. They were joined by 10 people from an NGO called Global Village of Beijing, who managed the project to completion.

“All the designs were discussed with the local people,” continues Hu. “We trained a local construction team, which means the local people would build their own houses by themselves. Both our research center and the local people were involved in developing the home design.

“To get the trust from the local people is a challenge in the project. We resolved it by showing our respect to the local people. Before we started our design we discussed with the local people many times to know what kind of house they like. We built the first house to make them believe us.”

Hu believes it is possible to replicate the homes across Sichuan.

“The design is suitable for other villages in Sichuan which have a similar climate and culture with this village. To rebuild sustainable houses after a disaster we should know well about the local life, environment and culture – try to find the useful technique which was used in their traditional houses and upgrade the traditional house to meet the need of their modern life.”

Others have not been as lucky as these villagers. In the village of Yuan Bao, Chen Jingzhong, 66, has had to build a makeshift shack: “They wanted to get us to build our own houses but they didn’t give us enough money,” Chen told the Telegraph Magazine. “All we could afford was this shack, which we built ourselves, with our own hands and without any help from anyone.”

ResourcesArchitecture for Humanity: By tapping a network of more than 40,000 professionals willing to lend time and expertise to help those who would not otherwise be able to afford their services, they bring design, construction and development services where they are most critically needed.
Website: www.architectureforhumanity.orgChinese Red Cross: The Red Cross Society of China is accepting donations for disaster reconstruction and is coordinating rebuilding efforts in Sichuan
Website:http://www.redcross.org.cn/ywzd/Gerd Niemoeller has developed flat pack, cardboard homes that can be deployed quickly after a disaster and can become permanent homes.
Website:http://tinyurl.com/6t6jtf and the company
Website: http://www.wall.de/en/homeGlobal Greenhouse Warming is a website that tracks extreme weather events around the world: drought, flooding, severe storms, severe winter, tropical cyclone, wildfires, and extreme heat waves.
Website:www.global-greenhouse-warming.comThe Building and Social Housing Foundation: An independent research organization promoting sustainable development and innovation in housing through collaborative research and knowledge transfer.
Website:www.bshf.org

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Rammed-Earth Houses: China Shows how to Improve and Respect Traditional Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.

More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.

But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.

In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.

The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.

Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.

This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.

In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team. 

“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.

“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.

“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”

Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.

Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.

“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”

Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”

“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.

The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.

“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.

“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”

Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.

“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.

But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.

“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.

And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.

“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”

Resources

  • The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: www.rdiland.org
  • Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
  • A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. 
    Website:www.51xuewen.com
  • Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. 
    Website: www.eartharchitecture.org
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021