Although the practice of architecture has historically done little to address the basic needs of those in the developing world, in recent years architects have gradually extended their reach into the realm of humanitarian work, as most notably exemplified by Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban. Despite these advances, one third of the world’s population does not have access to adequate sanitation. This is astounding given the amount of resources and technology we have available to us in the 21st century, and it is a problem that architects have the opportunity to solve; some architects, including Julia King, have already begun to take on this challenge. It is also the focus of “Zero Project,” the first initiative of non-profit organization BuildAChange. Read about their proposal after the break.
BuildAChange was created in 2012 by the Italian architecture office FAREstudio with the aim of improving the living conditions of those in the developing world through an adequate built environment. As a firm, FAREstudio places an emphasis on social responsibility and creating architecture that is rooted in its context, both culturally and economically. Many of their projects are a response to social issues, intended to be efficiently constructed by local laborers and utilize inherently sustainable construction technology.
FAREstudio's past projects include the Women’s Health Centre in Burkina Faso, which created a fully independent structure in an area where power and water was not available.The center provides hundreds of patients each year with health care, psychological assistance, legal advice, training sessions, and other programs for the community. It is clear that the building has had a positive social effect on the surrounding region and has established a sense of collective responsibility within the local community. At the same time, the building utilizes locally available materials and colorful mosaics to ensure that the center has a unique local identity. These qualities of the project exemplify many of FAREstudio’s values and will serve as a design precedent for the Zero Project.
The Zero project hopes to establish similarly independent structures which can be deployed across the developing world to remedy the lack of existing sanitation systems. This is a serious need, as the lack of adequate sanitation systems causes the spread of diseases and results in millions of deaths each year in developing countries. To counteract this, the Zero Project begins with the design and implementation of a network of self-sufficient public toilet systems, or “Improved Sanitation Hubs.” Each of these hubs will provide tools for basic sanitation in coordination with the treatment and recycling of organic waste. The first prototype of the design will be implemented in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, with the goal of involving local organizations and authorities to allow the design to be replicated throughout the city.
Perhaps most importantly, this project represents a starting point to achieve numerous health, environmental, social and economic objectives for developing countries. Since the project functions as a network of built modules, there is opportunity for each module to fulfill unique needs within its surrounding community. In other words, the Zero Project hopes to achieve more than improved sanitation facilities, but also to integrate these facilities with other basic functions such as outdoor teaching areas, bicycle storage, laundry areas, showers, charging areas for electronics devices, and recycling centers.
There is a hope that each hub will eventually become economically self-sufficient by providing the community with recycled waste that can be processed into fertilizer, cooperatives that manage the modules and derive economic benefit from routine maintenance, the production of electricity, and the opportunity to rent the outer walls of the modules for graphical advertising.
BuildAChange will oversee the project throughout the design, construction, and management phases with the objective being that local laborers will be trained and equipped to build their own Improved Sanitation Hubs in the future. Because the project has the potential to be self-sufficient and self-perpetuating, it could serve as a model to bring adequate sanitation facilities to the entirety of the developing world. To learn more about the initiative and learn how to get involved, visit the BuildAChange website here.