Approaches to the resilience and the potential for adaptation through community-driven construction projects in the global South

  • Maria Panta

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Historically, architectural research into the resilience and the potential for adaptation
tended to put more focus on the physical aspects of the built environment at the expense
of the social and cultural values which are embedded in the everyday making of built
form and space. This research is interested in accentuating the social and cultural
context much more than the mere physical element of the built form. It sets out to
explore approaches to resilience and adaptation in the global South through the use of
local building materials, and to rethink the idea of what is local in a given context. It is
interested in examining how collaborative construction and architectural enterprises in
the global South address the existing levels of indigenous knowledge and local skills in
order to cope with adverse climatic conditions and poverty. The research investigates
the work of community-driven initiatives involved in small-scale adaptation projects
primarily through the lens of a construction project for a small community building in
rural Ghana. Secondary case studies include initiatives, projects and organisations
located in four different countries namely Pakistan, Swaziland, Algeria, and Zimbabwe.
Moreover it focuses on themes such as the very central relationship between
architectural education and practice on the one hand, and building materials, approaches
to resilience and adaptation through the use of local materials, ethnographic approaches
to research and design, training and collaborations on the other.
The research uses a methodology, which is based on qualitative data collection, and
includes a mixture of creative methods such as, participant observation and
participation, semi-structured and unstructured audio-recorded interviews, informal
conversations as well as the use of social media such as Facebook as being the second
‘virtual site’. It is argued that the syncretism of multi-site ethnographic approach and
participatory design methods enables solutions, which can contribute to longer-term
sustainable adaptation in this context. Drawing on its main research site and primary
fieldwork in Abetenim, a remote village in southern Ghana, and the researcher’s role as
a community architect and participant in the Earth Architecture construction workshop
through a non-profit organisation (NGO), it discusses how the use of ethnography as
part of architectural praxis facilitates the holistic understanding of the local context and
informs the design process. It feeds off Anthropological research as a typical
methodological approach through participant observation and participation, in order to rethink architecture from a broader cultural perspective. This allows the author to
critique local situations and frame questions, which directly inform the design process
in this context. Simultaneously it reflects on the need to integrate social, physical and
cultural change in order to effect broader changes in the community.
Hence, the research sets out to explore the compromise between the global and local
perspectives. It investigates how an NGO’s prescriptive narrative of using local
materials like earth, in the construction of new projects may be adapted and translated
into the local reality, and looks at the process of the ‘on the ground’ experience through
direct involvement in community architecture and building. It considers the relationship
between culture and nature; the intimate relationship between nature and architecture
and how this challenges architectural education in the West. Finally, the process of
selecting building materials addresses distinct layers of collaboration among the local
community, the members of the NGO, and local institutions. Thus the value of
collaboration with local actors within research in the global South is emphasized, as the
very praxis of collaboration is employed as a method in the implementation of such
Date of AwardFeb 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorH. Bougdah (Supervisor)

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