Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Getting High Design from a Low-Tech Approach

Eschewing complex forms and technology, socially minded architects rely on age-old building techniques to create modern marvels
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From Architectural Record
Josephine Minutillo
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Describe unique low-tech construction techniques.
  2. Explain how the low-tech construction techniques are suited to the local climate.
  3. Describe how local people can be involved in building construction projects.



While architecture magazines are saturated with images of soaring, wriggling towers and pristine, jewel-like structures, those buildings represent a small fraction of actual construction. Most of us live, work, and play in very conventional buildings-traditional wood-frame houses, steel-and-brick high-rises, concrete-and-glass shopping malls. And for much of the world's population, the comforts of home-not to mention work and recreational facilities-are critically lacking. Governments around the globe are increasingly looking to architects to address the housing and infrastructure needs of impoverished communities, in the process hoping to improve the grim economic, educational, and security conditions that plague them. The resulting structures are almost always the antithesis of those complex, computer-driven designs that typically grace these pages. Because of limited financial resources, these projects rely on a low-tech approach using simple forms; local, unskilled labor; unusual or recycled materials; and alternative construction methods.

Building community

Colombia has long been seen as a country where the rule of law does not exist. The armed conflict there-between left-wing guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries, and the national police-is the longest-running conflict in the Americas. Drug production and trafficking, violent street crime, and kidnappings only add to the brutal way of life to which many Colombians have unfortunately become accustomed. But recent government efforts to build public spaces and educational facilities in disadvantaged areas have markedly improved living conditions for residents.

Following a large discovery of crude oil in the early 1990s, the Casanare region in the northeast part of the country has enjoyed an economic boom. Wanting to share some of its newfound wealth with the people (and taking a cue from construction efforts in Colombian cities such as Medellín), the regional government embarked on a plan to populate its cities with libraries. The first of these was completed last year in the town of Villanueva, a 5-hour drive from Bogotá.

A boxy structure is finished with simple materials in a public library in Villanueva, Colombia.

Photo © Nicolás Cabrera Andrade



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Originally published in Architectural Record


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