Date Archives January 2011

Remembering Hassan Fathy

Some designers such as Karim Rashid, Hani Rashid (Asymptote), both born in Cairo, Karim Mekhtigian, Rami Makram (Alchemy), and Tarek Naga are some of the contemporary designers and architects from Egypt. At a critical moment in the history of the African country, after four days of protests against President Mubarak, I remember the architect Hassan Fathy (1900-1989), a pioneer of what today would be considered sustainable architecture or appropriate technology.

Astonished by the lack of good design in marginalized areas of Egypt, Fathy rescued the ancient building techniques of his country and reintroduced the use of adobe in the construction as well as the vaulted ceilings that improve the thermal and ventilation efficiency of buildings and potentially can contribute to the buildings duration for hundreds of years. Materials and technique dictate the proportions and shapes of Fathy’s buildings. The curves of the ceilings harmonize with the walls, creating well-lit spaces, but most importantly: spaces that are accessible to the population with fewer resources.

In his project that encompassed a set of houses for 900 families in Gourna, who were forced to evacuate a cemetery they had invaded and converted into a residential space, Fathy tried to integrate the character and culture of the inhabitants in their design.

“Design should not be a false tradition or a false modernity imposed, rather architecture must be a living and permanent expression of the character of the community,”

explains Fathy in his book Architecture for the Poor. His architectural considerations included a ventilation, solar orientation, social integration, environmental surroundings, food production, drainage, among other factors.

During his career he designed shelters for refugees in Gaza, Palestine. Also within its repertoire of works exist residences, mosques, hotels, and buildings of mixed uses in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United States, among other countries.

Fotos of the new Gourna village: Chant Avedissian, Christopher Little, Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Crowdsourcing for those who need it most

In 2006, Wired magazine published an article called The Rise of Crowdsourcing. Jeff Howe, the article’s author, is also credited with inventing that term that refers to using multiple sources or contributors of content, ideas, or resources to carry out a project. Since then organizations like Innocentive, dedicated to technological innovation; iStockphoto, a photo site; Or Current TV, a television channel that used to broadcast programs made by ordinary people, defunct in 2013, used the power of the crowds to create new pharmaceutical patents, sell low-cost photographs, or create a mini-documentary of punk rock.

Organizations that work in defense of human rights, the environment or to reduce poverty levels have also used crowdsourcing techniques to achieve their goals. The MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, out of Massachusetts, has created an online platform that allows different teams to propose solutions to bring clean water, sanitation, or education to marginalized communities. In their first ten years, the IDEAS competition channeled more than $ 260,000 to over sixty teams in twenty-eight countries, improving the living conditions of tens of thousands of people.

With the idea that each person can have a real and significant impact on the planet, Citizen Effect created online tools for each person to become a Citizen Philanthropist, so that with the help of friends and family a group of people in Beirut Can help a family in Haiti, for example. By donating $ 5 or $ 5.00, Citizen Effect kept track of project progress, giving donors feedback on the effect their help has on people’s lives.

Using a corporate sponsorship model, the design firm IDEO seeks ideas from the general public to design solutions for people in developing countries through its Open IDEO platform. They recently organized a project to design learning tools for students in poor countries and received 269 ideas, 109 design proposals and ten finalist ideas that the sponsoring organization implemented in the countries where it works.

Other examples of massive collaborations for the common good include, now Global Giving, founded by one of the creators of Facebook; DESIGN 21: Social Design Network, supported by UNESCO (no longer in operation); Charity: Water, which has funded 3,196 potable water projects with donations from the public, and Architecture for Humanity founded by architect Cameron Sinclair, which operated for sixteen years, until 2015.


Note: Some edits were made to the original article. Some organizations mentioned are no longer in operation: Citizen Effect, Design21, and Architecture for Humanity.

Foot-powered water pumps

It is estimated that four billion people around the world live on less than $ 3 a day at the so-called base of the economic pyramid. One of the most successful designs that has helped millions of families out of poverty is the pedal-based water pump that was first released by non-profit organizations such as International Development Enterprises (IDE) and Kickstart in 1980s.

This machine uses the weight and strength of a person to pump water from a well up to 7 meters deep and irrigate up to one acre of agricultural land. The cost of this product is around $ 25 dollars but is considered an investment since a family can double its income in a year.

With products like this, Paul Polak, one of the founders of IDE, has helped about 3.5 million families escape poverty and hope to help about 30 million families by 2020.