Peter Ozolins (MArch '83) Offers New Perspective on Sustainable Development

conference jpgPeter Ozolins (MArch ’83) worked in Least Developed Regions, (LDRs) including Madagascar and Tanzania, for years. He quickly learned that a well-intentioned sustainability project can go wrong in an LDR. His new book Sustainability & Scarcity: A Handbook for Green Design and Construction in Developing Countries, asks how we can design appropriately in LDRs.

The book includes case studies of projects in LDRs, outlining both effective design solutions and missed opportunities. Sustainability and Scarcity encourages practitioners to consider the big picture – how will this design be received and maintained over the years? It also considers the benefits of employing and training local workers and sourcing sustainable materials from within the region.

Ozolins’ ideal reader works in development, but may not have a design background. “Even health workers interface with the built environment,” he explains “and will eventually need to build a clinic or a school.” His book outlines criteria to help individuals and NGOs construct buildings that make sense in the context of the communities they serve.

Instead of prescribing sustainability metrics, the book lays out criteria for appropriate design response – who will use it? Does the building work? Does it meet the people’s needs? Does it respond to the climate? Can you incorporate a garden into a school and combat food insecurity? “If we reduce sustainability to quantitative metrics, we’re missing a big part of sustainability,” Ozolins explained.

CenterValBio12.JPGAnd architects working in these regions must question their assumptions. For example, in Minnesota, we can install a security system on a building and assume the police will respond to a break-in. But in many LDRS, community is the best safeguard against crime. An appropriate design considers the security of people living in the building from another angle. If it looks too nice, it becomes a prime target. But if the entrances are visible, residents can see each other’s front doors to greet their neighbors and ensure they’re all right.

His advice for young architects and students who want to work in LDRs? Trying to fix the community or invent something new can create unnecessarily complicated solutions. So keep an open mind, and see the entire building process as a learning opportunity. “It’s good to be flexible and it’s a joy to collaborate with people.”