Page C2.1 . 25 April 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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    Owner-Built Sustainable Shelter

    by Richard Burnham

    Buying a tract house so insensitively placed on the land that extensively remodeled terrain results and using foreign materials that require large amounts of nonsustainable fuels for their manufacture and transport are signs of a people without guiding principles in their relationship to the environment.

    That we have become such people and willingly pay for this disconnected life suggests the depth of our alienation and distance from a secure relationship with sustainability and environmental sensitivity.

    But it is easy to reconsider, to reestablish ourselves within the framework of the environment, to consciously ferret out affordable and sustainable building materials from our location, to build in consonance with nature, and to build ourselves. Others have done it.

    Self-Help Housing in Different Climates

    I have traveled to Ecuador, looking at housing high in the rocky altiplano where nearby volcanoes have snow-covered peaks and along the coast where palm trees barely stir in the noon-day heat. The housing efforts of individual, mostly lower-income Ecuadoreans confirm the principles of contemporary affordable housing.

    The observations gleaned from my look at Ecuadorean housing relate to several major observations made in other countries: First, build in increments and plan to make an ongoing series of additions over time.

    Second, build with materials you can afford on the day when you build. Later, when you have more money, you can change to more durable materials, but for now make a home with what you have.

    This article is excerpted from Housing Ourselves: Creating Affordable, Sustainable Shelter by Richard Burnham, with permission of the publisher, McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.



    ArchWeek Photo

    Split bamboo walls and metal roofs on several houses at Ecuador's tropical coast.
    Photo: Richard Burnham

    ArchWeek Photo

    Adobe walls and clay tile roofs in an Ecuadorean altiplano house.
    Photo: Richard Burnham


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