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Home Experiments: EarthBag Construction as a Teaching Tool in Rwanda

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Construction Education Topics in Architectural Engineering

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.670.1 - 24.670.15



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Paper Authors


Yutaka Sho Syracuse University

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Yutaka Sho is a partner of GA Collaborative, a U.S.-based design firm that works with nonprofit, municipal, and academic partners, and currently is building a village of 50 homes in Rwanda with an association of builders and architecture students. She has researched and practiced in Bangladesh, Japan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Uganda. She received a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design and a master’s degree in architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Sho is an assistant professor of architecture at Syracuse University in New York.

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Home Experiments: EarthBag Construction as Teaching Tool in RwandaThe home is often the site of experimentation in the field of architecture and engineering. In alow-tech, low-income setting, such as rural Rwanda, skilled labor and experience required forsuch experiments are difficult to find and risks are large. For the construction of a prototypehome using EarthBags in Rwanda, the inclusion of local architecture students proved to be thekey to successful construction and community engagement. Students were involved in every stepof the process; design, construction management, sourcing materials and worker training. Theproject not only provided a pragmatic solution to low-cost housing demands but also criticallyexamined every step of building practices that may exclude the poor and focus on economicgrowth over social and political equity. Our project introduced a new construction technique toRwanda, but also integrated local students and unskilled villagers in the building sector by self-built methods and enabled them to steer the future direction of design in their country.EarthBag walls are polypropylene bags made of a petrochemical byproduct, readily available inAfrica for transporting goods, stuffed with site soil, stacked and pounded to be stabilized. Ease ofbuilding allowed unskilled villagers to establish their own builders’ association by the end of thethree-month building period. These EarthBags used a new three-channel tube system, resulting inwalls that are most stable when plum with sharp corners as in Western homes instead of curves.After plastering, the walls appear as masonry, avoiding the stigma of “the poor’s material.”Western aesthetics, however foreign to their culture, is a powerful symbol of African’s aspirationto achieve better living conditions. Engineers and designers working in Africa cannot ignorethem. Using the EarthBag home construction as a case study, this paper examines meanings ofresilient construction processes and their teaching opportunities in international developmentenvironment.BEDROOMSRAINWATER TANKSHOWERKITCHENBREEZEWAY/ CORRIDORLIVING ROOM

Sho, Y. (2014, June), Home Experiments: EarthBag Construction as a Teaching Tool in Rwanda Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20561

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