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School of Environment, Education and Development

Typologies for change: Open construction systems in Latin America

Democratising access to construction processes.

The challenge

Concrete cylinders - Public square in Atucucho
Concrete cylinders: building in stages. Public square in Atucucho. Image courtesy of Leandro Minuchin

The construction industry is commonly seen as an accelerator and multiplier of economic growth and development. With direct impact on employment levels and the provision of everyday infrastructures, the industry has been a strategic sector for progressive Latin American governments since the turn of the century. However, despite recognising its essential contribution to the progressive cause and economic growth, policymakers in countries like Argentina, Ecuador or Brazil have not focused on ways of distributing the benefits stemming from constructive processes in a more open and equal manner. Costs of refurbishment and reconditioning projects are often high, making such projects difficult in poor settlements. Our research has sought to democratise access to the construction process and engage local communities, tradesmen and builders in the development of alternative construction systems.

The impact

Funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, we embarked on a project to build a factory of building materials in the settlement of Atucucho, north of Quito, Ecuador. In an attempt to reduce the cost for refurbishment and reconditioning projects in poor settlements, and engaging local tradesmen and builders in the local circuits of construction, the project sought to develop a construction system out of discarded materials: transforming waste into building solutions.

Teaming up with a local award-winning architectural firm, Al Borde, the local government and bank of Atucucho, and a group of young builders, our aim was to set up a factory that would acquire different and non-standardised materials from the city, recondition them and sell them as part of a building solution for reconditioning projects going on in Atucucho. The factory is being built at an abandoned site provided by the local government of Atucucho, and will allow the local government and young builders to democratise access to the construction process in the neighbourhood. The project demonstrates how architectural typologies can encourage the reuse of materials and spaces, and benefit entire communities.

The Atucucho project will be presented at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale as an illustration of how social architecture can foster local development in deprived areas. We are also editing a short documentary that will depict the politics behind the construction process in Quito, and illustrate the benefits that stem from the factory of building materials in Atucucho.

The research

Render. Projected form. Image courtesy of Al Borde and Material Politics
Render. Projected form. Image courtesy of Al Borde and Material Politics

Ethnographic and in-depth research was conducted into affordable construction practices and design methodology. We engaged with social movements, non-government organisations and public agencies in the co-production of different design proposals for deprived settlements in Argentina and Ecuador. Our research set out to map and populate a library of materials: a growing and generative list of building materials that could be available free of cost from different institutions, organisations and projects in Quito.

In addition, a map of demolition sites for the upcoming months in Quito was developed. The library of materials informed not only the designs for the factory in Atucucho, but also its future production line and the type of construction system that could be offered and developed. The most significant material populating the library are concrete cylinders deriving from strength tests carried out by the Faculty of Engineering of the Universidad Católica, and other institutions.

These will serve as structural components for the factory and act as an essential part of the construction system that will be developed in Atucucho. In July 2015, a series of agreements were signed between the government of Atucucho, the Faculty of Engineering of the Universidad Católica, and the Museum Foundation, to secure a stable flow of discarded materials. 

Key people