Contemporary Bamboo Housing in South America: Challenges & Opportunities for Building in the Informal Sector
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The greatest challenge of our time is to provide resilient, affordable housing solutions to rapidly increasing urban populations across the world. In Low and Middle Income Countries, local and national governments cannot provide affordable urban housing quick enough. The informal building sector has filled the void, but unsafe building practices leave communities vulnerable to natural disasters. In the past seventeen years, three devastating earthquakes destroyed close to 150,000 homes across Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Homes constructed of brick and concrete collapsed, while bamboo homes proved resilient to these natural disasters. The giant bamboo species Guadua is native to the continent and while this material has been used to build structurally sound housing for thousands of years, its potential has not yet been realized. In recent years, non-profit, academic and regional bamboo experts worked with the national governments in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador to legalize bamboo building, becoming the first South American countries to do so (2001, 2012 and 2017 respectively). This thesis argues that while bamboo is an ideal material to build with, there are major cultural, technical and economic roadblocks that must be addressed to increase acceptance and use in the low-income and informal building sector. This research highlights how unprecedented public/private partnerships are working to fix the bottlenecks of the bamboo value chain, but are struggling to change attitudes toward the bamboo often associated with rural poverty and impermanent structures. This thesis uses an anthropological approach through conducting interviews of a diverse group of bamboo experts and direct observation of bamboo reconstruction projects. This thesis promotes avenues in which bamboo can become a more viable material for building homes in the informal building sector by better understand typical building strategies of low-income communities. Brick and concrete will not likely disappear in the near future, therefore a hybridization of natural and industrial materials may be the only way to increase acceptance and use of bamboo in the informal building sector.
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