dMASS, Inc. was a partner in this year’s Buckminster Fuller Challenge. This article is one in a series about the semi-finalists. When you think about buildings you might think about the bricks and mortar, or the timber and hardware – the physical structure. If you've been following dMASS, you might also remember Howard Brown's short article on the purpose of a home in which he described the functions of a building, like protection from the elements, but also challenged designers to redefine and dramatically expand the benefits and functions a physical structure can and should provide. Specifically he suggested that dwellings should be designed as high-performing systems that keep people safe, healthy, comfortable, and give them access to a variety of services.
Beyond the physical structure of a building and its immediate functions, how does it fit into an even larger system? MASS Design Laboratory takes an approach that buildings can be used to improve health, economic, and social outcomes. Architects at MDLab have been working around the world, including in Rwanda and Haiti, to design built environments that are safer, more resilient and can prevent the spread of disease. They use education and training to bring the fields of design and public health closer together, and develop lasting capacity to solve problems with a systems-based mentality.
Build Change focuses more directly on safety, specifically on ensuring that homes in countries including Colombia, Haiti, and Indonesia are built to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. In addition to providing technical assistance to homeowners and builders, the nonprofit organization is working to change construction codes and practices so that all structures are built with earthquake-resistant techniques. Better building practices can save lives and resources – it costs less and uses fewer material resources to build a resilient structure than to rebuild a structure after disaster strikes.
In Kenya, PITCHAfrica designs sports arenas, schools and homes that incorporate rainwater harvesting and food production. The buildings enable communities to capture an existing and abundant resource—rainfall—and use it to promote health, education and community development. The integrated solution accounts for the interconnected nature of problems facing these communities, and uses building design to maximize benefits.
The approaches taken by these organizations reflect systems thinking and enable the resources used in buildings to deliver more benefits. Are you familiar with similar efforts in other parts of the world? Share your story below.