Thursday, 22 April 2010

Title: Building Sustainable Communities through Adaptive Vernacular Architecture by Rudo Nyangulu

I have finally decided on my thesis topic and here it is:
Title: Building Sustainable Communities through Adaptive Vernacular Architecture: A pathway to providing access to adequate housing.
Sustainable communities develop as a result of each individual family units being able to thrive in all respects; and adequate housing is no exception.  A sustainable (community) society is one that can persist over generations,  that is far-sighted enough, flexible enough and wise enough not to undermine either its physical or its social systems of support (E.C.E, 1996) The problem is that in today’s society, there are approximately one billion people who live below the poverty line, the majority of whom do not live in adequate housing (Collier, 2007). The human right to adequate housing is enshrined in international law. The origins of one’s ‘right to adequate housing’ can be traced back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was unanimously adopted by the world community in 1948. (Thiele, 2002)  “Essential to the achievement of this standard and therefore to the fulfilment of human life beyond simple survival, is access to adequate housing. Adequate housing must meet the following: fulfil physical needs by providing security and shelter from weather and climate, .fulfil psychological needs by providing a sense of personal space and privacy, fulfil social needs by providing a gathering area and communal space for the human family which is the basic unit of society” (H.R.E.A, n.d.). The poor fare worse than the better-off  almost everywhere and with respect to nearly every indicator including adequate housing (Gwatkin et al, 2007).                                                                        
Whilst the right to adequate housing has been established in literature and at law, it is still elusive to many of the world’s poorest people and as a result, their villages and communities are fragmented at best. In order to address this disparity it is necessary to make adequate housing accessible to this group of people. This paper seeks to address the issue of access by considering methods for achieving adequate housing for the poor by employing and adapting vernacular architectural techniques as well as sustainable construction methods to achieve this aim. Kofi Anan (n.d.) put it aptly when he made the following statement; ‘Our biggest challenge is to take sustainable development, an idea that seems abstract, and turn it into a daily reality for the entire world’s people.’
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948) was the first point in which the world leaders made a united, public step towards addressing the very real issues of suffering and inhumane conditions in which a large proportion of the world’s population lived in and were subjected to. Poor housing is always associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality, yet housing generally is not high on the list of societal needs and governmental priorities (Novick). As Novick so aptly puts it, adequate housing has been on the ‘back burner’ for most countries when it comes to international debate and indeed taking action since the various pieces of legislation came into effect. . As is the norm, the ideals of provision of adequate housing were adopted by the first world, for example more affluent nations such as the United Kingdom (U.K.). The U.K. has put in place legislation in its domestic law namely the Housing Act 2004, to ensure this right for all is achieved and surpassed. In contrast,  the majority of developing countries, particularly in the ‘bottom billion’ (Collier,  2007) have a level of poverty that is so high that the right to adequate housing has been overshadowed by the basic need for food, security and a conundrum of health problems linked to poverty.                                                                                                  
The irony here is that many health problems have been known to be linked to inadequate housing. The World Health Organisation prepared, ‘Health Principles of Housing’ which states that housing acts as the environmental factor most frequently associated with conditions for disease in epidemiological analyses”(C.E.S.C). Thiele, (2001) discusses this issue in his paper,’ The Human Right to Adequate Housing: A Tool for Promoting and Protecting Individual and Community Health’ which states that, ‘housing conditions affect both individual and community health to a great degree. ‘He clearly shows the unambiguous link between adequate housing and health, thereby highlighting how important the housing issue really is for human life to be sustained.            
The question of adequate housing particularly in the ‘bottom billion’ countries can be addressed by relying on the dynamics of vernacular architecture and sustainability. The  reason for this focus is that there have been various studies relating to the viability of adapting vernacular architecture thereby providing affordable means for every man to have adequate housing. In vernacular architecture, sustainability is manifested in the design of buildings, use of materials, environmental and social consciousness. There are indeed many lessons to be learned from vernacular architecture in this area (Mahgoub, 1997). The various case studies that have been carried out in this field show progressively the significant impact realised from the adaptation of vernacular architecture and the introduction of sustainability. We will consider two environments from the Middle East and Africa to determine how housing is delivered in these areas and the impact of sustainability on traditional methods. Naciri, (2007) considers aspects of sustainability in vernacular and modern architecture in the Middle East and North Africa in his study. Van Tassel, (n.d.) shows in his study in Tanzania (Africa) that, ‘all over Mwanza, traditional architectural methods and techniques are rationalised, improved or adapted, and have led into new forms of architecture present today’ Both studies  focus more on architectural significance as they have been written for this discipline, however we can glean from their work and certainly set the scene in relation to the application of vernacular architecture and sustainability which will allow us to see how viable the concept of adapting and in some areas reviving these practices, will go a long way to achieving adequate housing for all in practice. 

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