Design Workshop:  Alternative Construction

Description of Workshop

Topics: earth architecture, soil recognition, building with bamboo,
low-cost & low-tech construction
Disciplines: architecture, civil engineering
Type: design assignment with lectures
Hands-on: soil recognition and soil testing
Field Trip: highly recommended
Duration: 1,5 week including field trip, easy to extend
Combinations: emergency architecture, the art of upcycling

Alternative Construction – Because there is more than enough concrete!

It is not always necessary to use materials such as bricks, steel, concrete and glass, which have a high embodied energy. This inspiring program of lectures, design workshops and hands-on experiments will lead to a better understanding of sustainable architecture and alternative construction techniques.

The participants are asked to study typical wooden, earthen and stone settlements, preferably in their own region. They will research what has been done in the past and what can be done today, in terms of architectural features, climatic design, structural safety and so on.

With this newly gained knowledge of materials and techniques, the students are asked to design a small project of their choice, such as their own house, a café, a shop or gallery. The project will be situated in the urban context of where they live themselves.

We highly recommend to include a field trip and encourage the students to research the local architecture and traditional building techniques. This information will be used in their designs afterwards.


Aims and Outcomes

The aim of this workshop is to create awareness and enthusiasm about alternative construction techniques and sustainable design. It will open up the minds of the students and encourage them to use unconventional materials and solutions.

By studying traditional and local architecture, the participants will be reconnected with their past. They will discover that some solutions of our ancestors were not so bad after all… which may lead to a revival of certain materials and techniques in their future work.

Although the design assignments mainly focus on the situation in developing countries and disaster prone areas, all solutions are applicable for contemporary and high-end architecture as well.


Proposed Lectures and Timetable (example, field trip included)

#1. Introduction about the work of Smart Shelter Foundation and explanation of the design assignments to the participants. (30 minutes

#2. Building with Earth; An overview of 12 different construction types and examples of vernacular earthen architecture worldwide. (2 x 1 hour)

#3. Case Study; Building a school in India with Earth Blocks; Complete story from design phase, to making blocks and masonry in a small village. (1 hour 15 minutes)

#4. Building with Bamboo, examples from all over the world. (1 hour)

#5. Wastewide Architecture; Inspiring examples from all over the world, of artists, designers and architects that use secondary materials in their work. (3 x 45 minutes)

#6. Soil Identification; How to recognize different types of soils and how to modify them for certain construction uses. Includes soil testing assignment. (1/2 day)

#7. Closedown; future projects of Smart Shelter Research. (20 minutes)

Morning Program Afternoon Program
Day 0 Field trip (optional) Field trip (optional)
Day 1 #1 Opening + spaghetti challenge
Explain assignment
#2 Building with earth
Start design work
Day 2 #3 Case study India
Work on design
#4 Building with bamboo
Work on design
Day 3 #5 Wastewide architecture
Work on design
Work on design
Day 4 #6 Soil identification
Soil testing assignment
Work on design
Day 5 Finalize presentations of all work #7 Closedown (optional new assignment)


Possible Extensions and Combinations

As this workshop format is quite intense, we encourage you to consider an extension of the program with one more week. This can easily be done by adding elements of the following formats:

  • Design workshop; Emergency Architecture  (click here)
  • Hands-on experience; The Art of Upcycling (click here)
  • Field trip; to make it even more realistic.

If you would like us to make a custom-made proposal, please send us a request by filling in the contact form.