Building Without Borders

 In cities and countries around the world, billions of people live in slums and shanty towns, doomed by ongoing poverty to grossly inadequate shelter. Solving the global housing crisis has become one of the most urgent imperatives of our time, but doing so without creating problems of ecological degradation and lack of empowerment is a major challenge.


Building Without Borders describes pioneering efforts of those who have taken up this challenge to great effect. It surveys numerous projects that are housing the homeless without destroying natural habitats to do so, by drawing upon local traditions. The book travels from Africa and Latin America, through India, China, and Thailand – as well as Poland and the Southwest of the United State. Including contributions from over thirty experienced practitioners, its focus is upon locally sustainable building, covering aspects of international development, appropriate technology, technology transfer, and teacher training, and a special focus on the use of natural building for displaced populations, refugees and in disaster mitigation. Highly illustrated and popular in style, it includes case studies, technical information, and the latest thinking on truly sustainable construction.

Following are excerpts from the introduction by Joseph F. Kennedy, Co-Founder, Builders Without Borders, an international consortium of natural builders and architects serving homeless and under-housed populations.

“By including a wide variety of authors from many differing countries, academic backgrounds, etc. the book is a true cross-section of the scope of activities currently underway. By avoiding an academic tone, the book becomes accessible to a wider audience of those who want to make a difference, yet remains a useful resource for professionals.”

“Truly sustainable construction supports human dignity, while minimizing negative impacts on the natural environment. The contributors to Building Without Borders describe such a way of building – one based on vernacular tradition, on an appropriate use of materials, creative networking, and a human-centered process to create comfortable, decent homes for those most in need.”

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“Appropriate construction techniques can result in buildings that mitigate environmental damage and, through proper siting and design, save energy by utilizing renewable resources such as sun and wind.”

“But this book is not simply a collection of techniques. The different articles, taken together, describe a potential process by which we can solve the housing crisis. No matter how appropriate the design or materials are, external agencies – whether governments NGOs or aid organizations – will never solve the problem of homelessness by simply building houses for people who need them. Rather those without homes must be empowered to create them themselves, making use of local skills, native wisdom, and community-centered educational and economic systems. Although sustainable builders have much to offer, only through deep dialog can a truly successful process be created. The goal of this book is to add to this dialog. The ultimate goal is to achieve locally appropriate, ecologically sustainable, affordable, safe, and beautiful homes for all that need them.”

Many participants in the Ecomaterials Conferences (1998 & 2001)will recognize some of the contributors: John Norton and Gernot Minke or Kathryn Rhyner-Pozak. The book is a worthwhile addition to the libraries of those interested in sustainable construction. It is available in English from New Society Publishers (ISBN 0-86571-481-9).

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You are here: Home Past editions Edition #4, June 2004 Building Without Borders


Charlotter BelliCharlotte Belli
Social projects feasibility
Project implementation and evaluation


archidona ecuador

"Whatever you can find" is an architectural workshop, with communitary participation, from the Catholic University from Quito.
EcoSur network supports this workshop in Santa Rita community, near Archidona, Ecuador.

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