‘Learning about the incremental self-build construction process comparing formal and informal communities‘

A group of 5 students from the Global Practitioner class went to Quito, Ecuador during Spring 2016. SIGUS will be presented the research and findings during Habitat III in October. Two communities in Quito were targeted; one started as a squatter invasion and the other a formal government/USAID project. They both started in the 1980s, both incrementally self-help built, both today successful. Full services, legal, both expanded to multi-story housing providing needed affordable units in the city. Students reflected upon the following questions: What does this suggest for policy initiatives?, What was the process?, How did the communities achieve this standards? Partnering with local Quito universities and with assistance of the communities a multi-pronged methodology was used:

-House to house survey, using a digrammatic graphic summary to capture and clarify the incremental process. Not just a survey but a celebration of the sucess of the community. It included interviews of original stakeholders from the 1980s.

-Innovative hcildren's perspective in each community: they were given cameras and asked to photograph things that are good and bad about their community. A way to capture their valuable unique views.

-High-tech drone flyer, with manipulation of the images with software into a 3D rendering. Experimentation with degree/quantity of buildout, heigh mainly, and other aspects which this approach offers.

-Extensive photographic documentation, with collection of historical images to capture the development process.

‘Las cajitas de fosforo: The Solanda Housing Project | 40 years later, a longitudinal field evaluation of social housing‘

SIGUS researchers carried out a field evaluation using mixed-methods approach and drone footage to understand the development of one of the largest affordable housing project in Ecuador‘s history: Solanda. The research aims to illustrate the evolution of core house typologies, the impact of socio-economic factors in physical changes and the government policies that can support or defer a safe and sustainable house expansions. This case study was selected for publication and presentation at the Low Cost Housing Conference hosted by ETH University in Switzerland in July, 2016. The project has also been approved for exhibition during the Habitat III conference in Quito during October of 2016.

‘Refugees, Incremental Housing and Shelter in the 21st Century‘

SIGUS researchers Valeria Vidal, Sera Tolgay and Francis Goys won an Aga Khan Foundation travel grant to undertake research in Amman, Jordan this past summer. The lack of adequate and affordable rental housing stock to accommodate an increasing number of Syrian refugees has put a strain on the capacity of cities in Northern Jordan such as Jerash, Ajloun, and Irbid. The research examined the post-implementation impact of the incremental housing model of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)‘s Urban Shelter Program for assisting refugees in urban settings. The program provides financial assistance for house expansions and finishing to homeowners in exchange for rent-free accommodation to Syrian refugee families. Through surveys with participant homeowners, semi-structured interviews with NRC and UNHCR officers, and mapping of social and public infrastructure, we have found that the Urban Shelter Program increases the total housing stock available in Northern Jordan cities, improves building standards and material quality, and supports the local economy. As opposed to cash-for-rent programs that can add pressure to constricted housing markets, NRC‘s approach provides adequate shelter for refugees without disrupting existing urban systems. A comprehensive report was written and chosen to pass the final round of the Reducing Urban Poverty Graduate Student Paper Competition co-sponsored by Cities Alliance, IHC - Global Coalition for Inclusive Housing and Sustainable Cities, USAID, the Wilson Center, and the World Bank.

During the Independent Activities Period (IAP) at MIT during January, SIGUS held two workshops developed around the Solar Updraft Tower concept as a way to generate sustainable electric power. The workshops exploited big building atriums, surrogate chimneys, with solar heat collecting aprons to generate turbine driven power, triggering new building forms and city elements. The workshops build on the previous exploration and exhibits at energy shows at MIT, Harvard Business School, and regional conferences. The workshops included students from MIT, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and from the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi. Research Associate Ahmad Alozn from Masdar Institute, Dr. Martin Scoppa formerly from SUTD, and Dr. Reinhard Goethert from MIT-SIGUS mentored the workshops. Sponsorship was from the MIT/SUTD collaboration. The ‘hands-on‘ workshops challenged participants toward a non-polluting future by brainstorming sketch designs for reconfiguring urban form in response to buildings as electrical generators. A new cityscape is envisioned from the shift of energy supply to individual buildings, suggesting a new ‘smart city‘ concept.

The design workshop used a site with chimney outside of Boston as a test case, the Bradford Mill in Concord, Massachusetts.

A parallel 2-week technical workshop tested airflow/energy output characteristics from different solar tower configurations using scale models.

Efforts are continuing toward funding a detailed research effort to explore the practical application of the concept.

Summary Flyer


Brief Overview Reports



Presentation by Anya Brickman Raredon from the Affordable Housing Institute, MCP 2011. She discussed AHI's 2015 INSTANT CITIES research, looking at how refugee camps persist for extended periods and should be designed accordingly. Zaatari, a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan will be used as an illustrative example.

Zaatari is 530-hectare Refugee Camp with a population of approximately 200,000 developed by the UNHCR and the Mafraq Governorate of Jordan in 2012. It had received an estimated 3,000 – 4,000 refugees per night through mid-2013. The Instant Cities Research intends to shift the paradigm of intervention in post-disaster communities to be an investment in city building for uprooted populations. The presentation was part of the class examining the refugee crisis, structured around the four stages of the refugee trajectory in Europe. The course builds on the earlier work for the UNHCR reviewing the refugee camps around the world, including Somalia, Sudan, Philippines, and Mexico, which lead to a draft procedural handbook proposal for camp and settlement planning.

The full report, ZAATARI: THE INSTANT CITY, 2014, Affordable Housing Institute can be downloaded here Click here

SIGUS co-hosted a 2-week workshop on Planning Urban Expansion in Solo, Indonesia, June 1-12, 2015. It was a joint offering by the SIGUS Group at MIT, and the Sebelas Maret University, together with the Singapore/MIT University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and the Technical University (TU) of Berlin. 18 students participated. The workshop addressed the critical urban expansion issues in urban areas of Indonesia, using Solo as the reference. Particular interest was in connectivity issues of large organizing frameworks, along with housing strategies to address urban growth. Two types of expansion issues were explored: issues related to the extensive farmland using land farming divisions as basic framework, and issues related to expansion influenced by small villages surrounding Solo.

Summary Report of Presentations

Farm Poster I: Click Here

Farm Poster II: Click Here

Farm Poster III: Click Here

Village Poster I: Click Here

Village Poster II: Click Here

Village Poster III: Click Here

Newsarticles about the workshop

In the workshop

As part of the new initiative on application of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Disaster Assessment, Monitoring and Recovery, the SIGUS UAV Team attended the international disaster conference in New Orleans. (Note: UAV is the polite term for drones.) After the conference, the UVA Team met with partners in Houma on the Louisiana coast to discuss and test the use of UAVs in disaster assessment.

At the IDCE expecting to hear "great things" on the experience of using UAVs in disasters, the SIGUS Team was disappointed to learn that the speaker cancelled. Thereupon the SIGUS Team took over and did their presentation on UAVs which they had prepared for their Houma partners. Well received by the 110 members in the audience, they were invited back by the organizers for next year's conference!

Sinead Cheung and Jacob Shearman, SIGUS UAV Team members after their presentation in small group discussions.

After conference the UAV Team met with their counterparts in Houma, to the south on the Louisiana coast: Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC), Bayou Area Readiness and Recovery Committee (BARR), and the Terrebonne Office of Homeland Security. A presentation was made to the assembled groups, and demonstration flights were undertaken.
Click here to see the video of the test flights.

A sample of aerial images from the UAV test flights:
A typical small road in the bayou.

Testing of flights in the center of the bayous

Flight over Houma Mardi Gras parade to text crowd control potential

SIGUS was invited to present their ‘TowerPower’ concept at the MIT Energy Night at the MIT Museum, 17 October. Although they were asked to present last year’s winning poster, this year an addition poster was prepared putting a ‘face’ to other applicable chimneys that could be repurposed worldwide. Bangladesh and England were shown, representing Third World and First World situations. Obsolescence and pollution were highlighted as the main market drivers for the repurposing concept. Bangladesh is confronted by an estimated 5,000 highly polluting brick burning kiln clusters. The World Bank has a large program for closing the chimneys, and the TowerPower concept may be ideal.

(SIGUS assistant Sine Cheung presenting aTowerPower to interested attendees)

Click here to download Handout (pdf)


The panel focused on the inevitability of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in disaster responses. The benefits seem to clearly outweigh concerns, and in a disaster situation UAVs could be overwhelmingly beneficial.


The panel was moderated by Dr. Reinhard Goethert, MIT. Panelists included a representative from an NGO with experience in Haiti, Dave Hampton, Principal, re:ground LLC, and members of the MIT UAV club involved in the research: Jacob Shearman, Sam Udotong, Sinead Cheung, Yamile Pariented. Staff form the Aurora Flight Company (a company located in Cambridge that designs and manufactures UAVs.) were unable to attend at the last minute.

A range of examples of UAVs were on display, and briefly flown to demonstrate.

The panel explored several basic issues:

- Are UAVs now sufficiently developed and commonly available to consider their use, from a technical and cost perspective (brief presentation of the range of available off-the-shelf UAVs)?

- What are probable benefits in the use of UAVs (summation and discussion of how UAVs could assist, in assessing damage and monitoring rebuilding; overview of how UAVs are already being used in other sectors)?

- What are the major hurdles to the use of UAVs (summation of mainly regulatory concerns of privacy and safety)?

- What is required for NGOs to adopt UAVs in their recovery operations (discussion of how to overcome regulatory impasse and how NGOs would need to adapt to UAVs)?

Several charts were presented to challenge the audience:

The long awaited biography of Horacio Caminos is now available!

The book can be ordered from Lulu
The introduction of the book can be downloaded here

The modification of abandoned chimneys into ‘solar chimneys’ tap their energy potential using standard wind turbines. The TowerPower strategy overcomes the main cost component of a sufficiently tall chimney in achieving efficient airflow where height is an advantage for optimum stack effect.

Many chimneys remain from the past industrial era of New England driven by the exploitation of regional rivers. These largely abandoned chimneys are relatively difficult and expensive to remove, and their reuse is a win-win opportunity for energy generation. The chimney network from former factories could provide the backbone for a low-cost, quick entry for power generation for the cities that developed around the previous industrial corridor.
The abandoned factory complex could be converted into an attractive office complex or shopping hub, providing an economic stimulus to the urban areas.

The research is a spin-off from an earlier MISTI supported project in China, which included the exploration of using atriums in office buildings as surrogate chimneys to generate power. The research is being undertaken with the collaboration of the EcoCity Group of Nanjing University of Technology; Advisor to the project is Rick Ames, of Next Phase Studios in Boston.

TowerPower was selected Best Presenter at MIT Energy Night, October 18, 2013 and presenter at MIT Energy Conference, Feburary 22, 2014 at The Westin - Copley Place, as well as at other on-campus showcases.

Click here to download Poster (pdf)
Click here to download Handout (pdf)

Outreach Literature from TRAC, Louisiana, provides resource for Haiti | Fall 2011

Three students engaged in field research in Fiji with two goals: documenting the rebuilding by home owners after recent cyclones; and documenting the rebuilding programs by the government and NGOs, primarily the Red Cross and Rotary International. Of particular interest was to see the capacity of the individual families in their rebuilding activities: do they have sufficient skills? what could be done to improve their rebuilding efforts: tools? materials? training? funding? Their research was part of a broader program exploring support policies for the informal builders that produce the largest proportion of affordable housing throughout the world.

The research team was hosted by the Ministry of Housing, Government of Fiji, under the guidance of Mrs. Mere Rayawa, Acting Principal Administration Officer. One outcome was the need for a simple way to monitor the rebuilding process. The frequent cyclones in Fiji and in the surrounding islands beg a simple, inexpensive way to keep track of damage and rebuilding. Discussed was the use of a remote-controlled model airplane with camera as a possible solution which could be explored further at MIT.

The research team: Alex Wassenberg, Vanya Britto, Claire Markgraf.

Outreach Literature from TRAC, Louisiana, provides resource for Haiti | Fall 2011

Incremental housing is the newly embraced proactive strategy of the global development community. This workshop explores context specific guidelines of incremental housing and site planning for Fiji's new Strategic Housing Policy. The strategy developed takes a broad perspective and could serve as a model for new proactive strategies globally. The 6-member MIT team joined with planning staff from the Fiji Department of Housing. Field surveys, typologies of current housing and practices, and meetings with communities will inform policy recommendations.


Click here for details

Outreach Literature from TRAC, Louisiana, provides resource for Haiti | Fall 2011

Mr. Charles Setchell, of the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, presented an ‘Update on Post-Earthquake Shelter Recovery in Haiti’ focusing on the general theme “A Shelter Strategy for Haiti”. (18 April 2012) He also engaged the Incremental Housing class with one-on-one discussions on the innovative 2-story transitional house being funded by USAID. The presentation was jointly hosted by SIGUS and the International Development Group of DUSP.
Mr. Setchell is known as ‘Mr. Shelter’ at USAID, and is responsible for the shelter after emergencies. He was extensively involved in the programs in Pakistan and Banda Aceh, and now is the lead for Haiti.


Click here for larger image

Illac Diaz presents ‘Liter of Light’ recycled water bottle projects to program

Liter_of_Light Illac_diaz
Liter of Light in a Peru Shanty Illac Diaz in from of his bottle wall school

Illac Diaz presented his ‘Liter of Light’ bottle recycling program and his Recycled Bottle School projects in a presentation 10 April. Illac is a former student of the course and alumni of the SPURS program at MIT, and presented his work which built on his experiences while studying at MIT.

He is the founder of the MyShelter Foundation in Manila and champion of the ‘Liter of Light’ program reusing plastic water bottles as a light source in slum shanties, as well as a construction system reusing plastic water bottles. He was cited as one of the “Young Global Leaders of 2008” by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Geneva, and continues his entrepreneurial work in the Philippines and around the world.

For more information:


Outreach Literature from TRAC, Louisiana, provides resource for Haiti | Fall 2011

The community outreach brochures, pamphlets, and children’s coloring books and CD prepared by TRAC - the Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition - were presented to Dr. J.M. Yolene V. Surena, the Coordinator of the Disaster Risk Management unit in the rebuilding of Haiti. Dr. Surena welcomed the materials, and noted that they were actively developing similar information for all the communities throughout Haiti.

SIGUS worked with TRAC in the successful ‘Lift House’ program, where the SIGUS team designed an energy efficient model house, elevated 10-12 feet to meet the new building codes in response to Hurricane Katrina

For information on the Lift House, see:


A Home for Ms. Betty 2006-2007 (Powerpoint)
Lifthouse Summary Pamphlet (PDF)

SIGUS at 2011 International Development Fair

SIGUS mounted a display at the 2011 International Development Fair at MIT 30 September. Three projects were presented that are a current focus of SIGUS, and seek participation from students throughout the Institute.

- An ‘Off-Grid’ Elevator for the bayous of Louisiana. The project partners with TRAC, an NGO in the bayous outside of New Orleans, in exploring a practical ‘off-grid’ elevator with solar, wind and kinetic energy sources. The elevators are attached to the Louisiana ‘Lift House’ design by SIGUS and TRAC, an affordable raised house option. Seven have been built, and the design continues to be disseminated.

- Community built center in Haiti. The development of a strategy for using rubble in building ‘Inspiring’ community centers, as a way to ‘jump-start’ the rebuilding process of destroyed neighborhoods.

-Smart Slope Density Calculator. Development of an Android based APP that calculates density at various slope angles. It would be used with an innovative steep-slope building concept in earthquake city rebuilding to be tested in China. he calculator is a part of the SIGUS-Nanjing University project funded by MIT MISTI.
The recent SIGUS student staff were captured in almost life-sized cutouts in the display, each holding one of the three projects. Christopher Malcolm, Cecilia Ho, and Jonathan Crisman.

See Proposal posters

SIGUS is beginning the exploration of an innovative concept for urban areas constrained by steep slopes which limit expansion and are seen as high-risk development zones. The innovative approach links an energy self-sufficient, ecology oriented sustainable model in a 'smart-city' approach.


The project is considering the Sichuan region or the Tibetan area of Yu Shu as case study.
The MISTI funded research program is a partnership with Nanjing University of Technology and SIGUS. It will include one week at MIT to explore the basic concepts, followed by two weeks in China for site visits and development of concepts.

Summary (English) (Chinese)

Mr. Charles Setchell of USAID - known as Mr. Disaster Shelter for the US Agency for International Development - was our guest in an informal discussion on disasters, focusing on the situation in Haiti. Faculty and students from throughout the Cambridge academic community attended. Prof. Mark Goulthorpe started the discussion with a presentation of the innovative thermoplastic composite sheets for housing construction. Rebuilding Haiti and Pakistan were discussed, as well as the interplay among government, development agencies, NGOs and the Haitian diaspora.

Information on USAID shelter assistance programs may be found here

Specific information on the debate among Tent vs Plastic Sheet and Pre-fab Construction in Disasters is available here

Incrementalize It! is a game to highlight the implications of incremental housing. It covers how it works and what are some aspects to keep in mind when making decisions. This includes where to put a starter core, how/where to expand, what materials one should use, etc. This game is not only for the homeowner, but the designer as well. The person expanding their house can benefit just as much as the person deciding on policy and designing projects.

The game intends to promote the familiarly and use of core housing, particularly for developing countries where core housing would be an a vital proactive housing option by governments.

Feel free to view the current pdf here.

Do you have experience in game development or these applications? Are you interested? Please let us know at!

Calling all game developers!! Currently, we are in hopes of developing a game (first on the web, then moving it to a mobile platform), that will be used as a teaching tool for the general public, as well as for people in developing countries wishing to expand their houses with incremental housing strategies.

We want to start out with a basic prototype that we hope to expand. The game will first begin to be developed using softwares such as php, javascript, and/or flash.

Logistics of the game are still being worked out. Feel free to view the current pdf here.

Do you have experience in game development or these applications? Are you interested? Please let us know at!

New Hallway Posters for MIT Architecture Open House | November 2010


*Please note that the main example for Chile is in Iquique, not Santiago.

The Open House for applicants to the Master of Architecture (MArch) Program or the Master of Science in Architecture Studies (SMArchS) Program was held on November 4th. To welcome potential incoming students, New SIGUS posters were added to the main archiecture corridor.

These posters highlight the main principles of incremental housing and what SIGUS has done over the past few years in Peru, El Salvador, and Chile. Are you interested in getting involved in our next endeavor? Please let us know at! Also, feel free to get a closer look at these bright pink boards by clicking on them!>

International Development Fair | September 2010

SIGUS participated in the 9th Annual International Development Fair on September 24th. The Fair is traditionally held each year early in the fall semester and provides incoming and continuing MIT students, recent graduates and members of the MIT community an opportunity to learn about ways that they can become engaged in international development. This year the fair was held on the Stata "street".

Mr. Sigus and newly inaugurated, Sigus Jr. made a guest appearance to call out for people to assist in aiding the development of third world countries. How you ask? By designing interactive iphone apps and games that illustrate the principles of how incremental housing works!

Be part of a mobile app design that will be used to capture informal housing data around the world! Help us inform others about the incremental growth process! Are you interested? We are looking for UROP students who are mobile-app developers. Contact us at!

Int'l Development Night | April 2010

SIGUS exhibited its current research in incremental housing at the 5th Annual International Development Night at MIT on April 9. A lifesized Mr. SIGUS held the teaser: "Is housing the world as simple as 1-2-3?", which related to the three steps in incremental housing strategy: Establish a FRAME for development; Provide a STARTER CORE; and SUPPORT the process with appropriate policies.

Reunion of Alumni from '70-'71 | Late 2009

A reunion was held in the fall of 2009 at the home of Bob Parker in Taos, New Mexico, with some of the early graduates from the Urban Settlement Design Program at MIT, now known as SIGUS - Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (the name was changed in 1984 to better reflect both architectural and planning interests of the Program). Attending the two day event were: Earl Kessler (1971) and his spouse, Shari Kessler (also an MIT graduate (1971); Andy Acoya (1970) and his spouse Marie Acoya, and Bob Parker (1970) and his spouse, Deborah McLean; and Reinhard (1970) and his wife Happy. Reinhard remained at MIT following graduation and has headed up the SIGUS Program for many years.

These graduates have remained life long friends and during the reunion discussing the benefits of our education that we received from MIT, how that experience changed our lives and influenced our careers, and perhaps, most important, the values and ethics that we all derived from our time together at MIT. Among those values and ethics was a common thread of service to others and honesty in professional work.

The Program at MIT had been initiated by the renowned architect, planner and teacher, Horacio Caminos, now deceased. John Steffian was an Assistant Professor in the Program at that time and worked with the students in a research and tutorial capacity, along with John Turner as occasional lecturer. It was through Professor Caminos' inspiration and guidance that many of the graduates from the Urban Settlement Design Program began their careers working in the developing country context with housing settlement design and planning policy throughout the World. Other early graduates in the Program included Praful Patel who became VP of the World Bank Southeast Asia and George Gattoni, one of the authors of 'No More Slums' initiative that lead to the founding of the World Bank/UN Habitat Cities Alliance, and Roberto Chavez, a recognized expert in upgrading low income settlements.

The many alumni have formed lasting collegial and social friendships from their time at MIT. This was a magical time at MIT and for most of us remains as one of the seminal times of our lives. One of the things that made the Program so special were the many top thinkers who participated in the program, including John Turner, Hans Harms, Lloyd Rodwin, Donald Schon, William Mitchell, Lisa Peattie, Kevin Lynch, Chester Sprague and others. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to them, to Horacio Caminos and to the larger MIT community.

- From comments by Robert Parker, '70

Join Us! IAP Oppportunities | January 2009

Three projects were planned for the IAP period in January 2009. See the project sheet for more details.

Perquin, El Salvador

MIT students again collaborated with the Perquin community in a design/build project during January 2009. In the first collaboration during IAP 2008, MIT students planned, designed and built an improved outdoor washing area and a shaded area for sitting and gathering outside of the main prenatal clinic in Perquin. The interest for January 2009 was centered on a two-week, design-build project around Perkin with some related planning components happening in parallel.

Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike again confronted us with the increasing risk from global warming, and the need to seriously re-evaluate coastal living. Sustainability has become an added concern, and the serious disruption of services - particularly electricity and drinking water - after a storm urge the need for a more comprehensive approach toward housing. The goal of this project was to design a sustainable cooperative village, exploiting the opportunity of elevated housing mandated by regulation and prudence. The project was continued during the Spring Term. Several field trips to the bayous were undertaken as background to the studies.

Lamhin Community, Bangkok, Thailand

Lamhin is an agricultural community in the northeast outside Bangkok that is separated from major roads by the Lamhin Canal. The mission of this project is to build a bridge. The bridge would allow cars and tractors to get inside the community to help people plant, harvest and transport the community’s main source of income. It wouldl create an alternative way for the people to increase their income by providing means to commute to downtown Bangkok.

For more information, please see the project sheet.


Annual International Development Fair | October 5, 2008

SIGUS participated in MIT's 6th Annual International Development Fair, October 5, 2008. The Development Fair (IDF) is an event designed to showcase the many groups, projects and activities at MIT that provide students with an opportunity to work on issues related to international development. The Fair brings students and organizations together, to promote awareness and encourage the exchange of ideas. SIGUS highlighted 3 events being planned: A Design/Build activity in El Salvador; 'Go Lamhin', a bridge building project in rural Thailand; and an 'Action-Research Workshop' developing a 'Smart Village' for the bayous of Louisiana.

Esther Chung from the 'Go Lamhin' project fielded questions from interested students.


Reinhard Goethert was invited to join a group of international experts in developing housing and land strategies for UN Human Settlements Programme in Nairobi, October 7-9. The goal of the sessions was to advise on guiding strategies for the next 6 years within the framework of ‘sustainable urbanization’. While in Nairobi, discussions were held on the Habitat-University Partnership Programme, and explored the potential participation of MIT.

Prof. Banashree Banerjee, New Delhi; Florian Steinberg, Asian Development Bank; Reinhard Goethert, SIGUS; Forbes Davidson, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Rotterdam.

Experimental Course | Spring 2008


4.291/11.4190U 4.237G The Future Professional

"Double Population, Triple Area: All in 30 Years": Third World Urban Challenges Exploding the Future

The doubling of the Third World urban population - with a tripling of the urban footprint by 2030 - has forecast a vision of a frightening urban future. In the next 23 years, the land required for urban growth will equal that used in the past 6,000 years of human history. Moreover, this growth is projected to be predominantly low-rise, and inhabited by a largely poor population. The specter of informal massive squatter fringe settlements of the past has the potential to devastate our cities of the future. Speed and scale are the new challenges.

Lacking are viable proactive approaches for housing the low income population, and predictions for the future are grim if no innovative approaches are developed and implemented. Environmental concerns exacerbate the problem. We must develop powerful creative strategies if we are to avoid an unthinkable future.

This course is a challenge-based, hands-on brainstorming of Third World urban issues, drawing on experts to excite and challenge us through progressive levels of exploration. A culminating workshop abroad brought us back to reality.

The course included a 2-week field survey comparing planning strategies in Singapore - a highly controlled model - with the laissez-faire approach in Bangkok.

Creative? Energetic? Confident?
Join us if you are committed to meeting the challenge!

Click here for more information!

Check out the Publication here


Reinhard Goethert presented the experiences from the previous SIGUS workshops related to urban migration to the Visual Arts Program. The migrants in the Third World and their impact on urban development was explored using examples from Manila, Philippines; Lima, Peru; and other rapidly growing cities. Focus was on the shelter options and choices which are made by migrants at each stage in their urban assimilation.

The presentation was part of the series “4.381/4.366 Advanced Visual Design - Give Me Shelter: Conditions of Living in Unstable Times”.

Chumbe Island Coral Park Wins Prize | March 2007


George Fiebig presented his prize-winning Chumbe Island Coral Park resort in Zanzibar. Mr. Fiebig is a young German architect practicing in Australia, with projects in Indonesia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Australia.

His prize-winning project links eco-interests with tourism, and with a very compelling architecture using natural materials.

"Sweat! Design! Build!" | January 7-21, 2007

An International Two-Week Workshop in Louisiana

The workshop was a collaboration of students from throughout the MIT community and from universities abroad. Twenty students from MIT and abroad participated in 1-week of hands-on repair and rebuilding of hurricane damaged housing on the bayous of Louisiana, followed by 1-week of design and construction of housing elements for the on-going Lift House project.

Partner universities from previous international workshops each selected 2-3 students to participate. Workshop headquarters and accommodation were in the ‘Good Earth Volunteer Village’ in Houma, Louisiana.

The program was divided into 2 phases:

  • 1-week active building where participants worked on repairing damaged houses and on completing the prototype Lift House in a ‘learn and do’ approach.

  • Using their newly acquired skills and confidence, during the second week, the participants designed and built full-size sustainable and environmentally appropriate elements for the Lift House prototypes.

Additional activities included:

  • An understanding of the bayou culture through tours and discussions with community groups.

  • Field visits to the devastated areas of New Orleans with expert-led discussions on the rebuilding efforts

Sweat! Design! Build! poster

Faculty was drawn from the ongoing ‘Sustainable Housing on the Bayou Initiative’ of TRAC - a coastal Louisiana disaster recovery and preparedness organization, Oxfam America - an international aid organization, and the SIGUS Group in the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT.

click here for slideshow

Pakistan Earthquake: Is It Forgotten? | October 2006

Presentation by Charles A. Setchell; Shelter, Settlements, and Mitigation Advisor, USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). An up-to-date review of the efforts being made in rebuilding after the earthquake by the various national and international agencies.

Volunteer Weeks: Two Weeks of Rebuilding Houses on the Bayous of Louisiana | July 8-22, 2006

20 MIT volunteers rebuilt houses damaged by the 'evil hurricane sisters' Katrina and Rita. They worked with the local NGO TRAC (a disaster mitigation group) in Houma about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans, the last large town before the bayous of the coast. Housing was in 'iPods' (as we call them) and meals were communal. Just like summer camp!

click here for slideshow

Louisiana Lift House Initiative Started | January 2006

sketch of Lifthouse

The New Practitioner course of SIGUS explored innovative 'lift house' designs for rebuilding coastal regions of Louisiana. The international NGO Oxfam America and the local Louisiana group TRAC have welcomed us to jointly develop concepts for housing that meet the hurrican challenges. The student team developed affordable and appropriate housing concepts that exploited stilt housing approaches built by volunteer help and 'sweat equity' of the future owners. The design focused on both 'product' and rationalization of a 'process' of construction appropriate to the largely volunteer labor.

Visitors from University of Harbin, China | November 30, 2005

Professor Jin Guang-jun, Dean of the Harbin Institute of Technology at the new Shenzhen Graduate School, was hosted by SIGUS to meet other faculty and to tour the campus. Prof. Jin explored possibilities of collaborative activities between the schools including joint workshops, short-term visiting professors, and joint international conferences.

Documentary FilM on Banda Aceh | November 30, 2005

SIGUS sponsored the documentary film-maker Therese Condit in the showing of her film: “Banda Aceh, Indonesia: In The Wake of Tsunami, A Witness.” The film looks at the rebuilding situation, almost a year after the tsunami and its devastation, as most citizens of Banka Aceh have yet to see the promised relief funds materialize.

"Prep" Sessions for MIT $1K Competition | Oct-Nov, 2005

1K competition poster

SIGUS led sessions to help individuals and groups brainstorm housing innovations for the MIT $1K Enterprise Competition. Focus was on the Katrina/Rita areas, and in other devastated countries. It has been noted that many technically elegant, environmentally sound, affordable innovations in housing have been proposed over the last 30 years, but few - if any - are mainstreamed and have real impact. Something is missing. The MIT $1K competition offered the opportunity to explore a market-oriented approach, linking a clear immediate need with bold innovations.

Katrina/Rita Initiatives | On-going

SIGUS has undertaken several events addressing the challenge of the hurricane disasters:

  • The course 'Structuring Low-Income Housing Projects' is focusing its analysis on international development projects that have dealt with disasters, targeting lessons that may apply to the New Orleans region.

  • Mentoring sessions will assist students and groups in preparing proposals related to housing innovations and the MIT $1K Competition. The goal is to development proposals from a market perspective that may apply to the disaster rebuilding.

  • SIGUS has been asked by Oxfam USA to asses the rural housing destruction in southern Louisiana, and consider developing proposals for new housing designs and assisting in the construction of pilot projects.

Can Architects do the BOP? | September 29, 2005

A session at the Architectural Studies Colloquium explored the possible contributions to the unserved 'bottom of the pyramid' - the 'BOP'. With cities expecting to double in size in the next 20-25 years the issues are abvious and frightening. Special guest was Alyce Russo (MCP '89) of the firm Schall and Russo Planning Works, and together with SIGUS staff challenged the group to assess contributions and brainstorm possible ways to get involved.

SIGUS Highlights Program at MIT's IDF | September 23, 2005

IDF Forum images

A poster display and computer images were presented at the MIT's annual International Development Forum. TA Tracy Wharton discussed the program with visitors to the well-attended event.

SIGUS Speaker at Conference on Children hosted by World Bank and Arab Urban Development Institute in Dubai | May 17-19, 2005

Melody Tulier, a DUSP MCP graduate student, represented SIGUS in presenting a paper at the inernational conference "Urban Children and Youth in the Middle East and North Africa" in Dubai, UAE. The paper entitled, "Children, Participation, Global Challenges and Educational Priorities," highlighted the SIGUS workshop in San Cayetano which featured rapid interactive planning with families and children.

Keynote Speaker at Cairo Conference | February 22-24, 2005

Dr. Reinhard Goethert was a keynote speaker at the ARCHCAIRO 2005 Conference "Globalization and Beyond: Architecture, Communities and Settings." The conference was hosted by the Department of Architecture at Cairo University. His paper "Globalization, Practice and Education: Old Challenges, New Demands" called for a new model of education built around a 'learning-action' model.

Support to Studio in Australia | February-April, 2005

SIGUS is providing long-distance support to the studio "Design Response in the Aftermath of Disaster" offered at the University of South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The studio focuses on tsunami relief and rebuilding efforts in Sumatra, and is supported by a broader network of schools internationally.

Tsunami Challenge | Spring Break: March 21-26, 2005

How will you spend your Spring Break? Consider a 1 week 'Challenge' to brainstorm how to rehouse the families displaced by the Tsunami. How would you tackle the immediate large-scale demands, the limited materials, the disrupted community and the overstressed government's capabilities? Can there be more than a tent??? Form a team and contribute!

Two afternoons will feature presentations from architects recently returned from Indonesia. Mentoring sessions throughout the week will help develop ideas. Advisors are professionals from Sri Landa and Indonesia, as well as from the local expert community. A presentation at the end of the week will identify promising ideas. Representatives of the winning team will be sent to Washington, D.C. to present their ideas to the Disaster Mitigation Office of the US Agency for International Development. Open to teams and guests throughout the MIT community. An event hosted by SIGUS.

Learn More!

Lima 2005 Workshop | January 2005

Lima Workshop Poster

"Three Decades of Squatter Dreams"

In 1969, four squatter communities were surveyed by MIT in Lima, Peru: Cuevas, El Ermitano, El Agustino, and Mendocita, and documented in the book, "Urban Dwelling Environments" (Caminos, Turner, Steffian; MIT Press, 1969). It is now 35+ years after: What happened? How did they manage? Do they still offer housing opportunities for the low income?

SIGUS revisited the settlements in January 2005, for a 2 week workshop to explore these questions. The workshop collaborated with students from the Facultad de Arquitectura Urbanismo y Artes (FAUA) in the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria (UNI), and with NGOs working actively in the settlements. Four teams of students interviewed families and documented their house expansion. They were joined by two special groups: one explored the use of internet cafes in the squatter settlements, and another developed concepts for a self rish-assessment checklist for families to make informed decisions on earthquake risk. As a result, a collaboration was established with FAUA-UNI to promote joint research of students from MIT and UNI, and proposals are already being considered for the Summer of 2005.

Toni "El Suizo" Ruttimann | NOVEMBER 11, 2004

Image of Bridge

"The Humanitarian Bridgebuilder"

Toni "El Suizo" Ruttimann was hosted by several groups from MIT, including SIGUS. After an earthquake struck Ecuador in 1987, Toni left Switzerland immediately after graduating from high school, determined to help in any way he could. With no technical background, he invented a method of building suspension bridges by hand through community involvement, with little money, using steel cables and pipeline donated by oil companies. 17 years later, 234 bridges have been built across Latin America, Cambodia, and Vietnam, helping over 600,000 people.

San Cayetano Workshop Discussion | NOVEMBER 3, 2004

Image of students from El Salvador and MIT

Students from the Albert Einstein University in El Salvador - Pamela, Carmen, Lily and Claudia - met with MIT students for two days to discuss the San Cayetano Workshop carried out jointly with SIGUS in the summer. The students have taken the workshop methodology and are developing it for their thesis focused on housing design. They continue to monitor and support the San Cayetano project, and plan to use the participatory approach in other settlements. The San Cayetano Workshop was funded by the MIT Service Learning Program, with additional contributions from local NGOs.

Biresh Shah | OCTOBER 18, 2004

SIGUS joined with the Aga Khan Program in hosting Biresh Shah, a colleague from Kathmandu, Nepal. Mr. Shah presented slides of the tensions of modernity and tradition in architecture in the design of buildings. Mr. Shah was a SIGUS colleague in 1988 when he received a SMArchs degree. He is a practicing architect and teaches at the Tribhhuwan University in Kathmandu. He is founder and director of ARCHIPLAN, an architecture and planning firm.

Third Annual International Development Forum, MIT | SEPTEMBER 24, 2004

SIGUS participated in the Third Annual International Development Forum at MIT. The Forum is a way of sharing information and celebrating the rich variety of activities at MIT throughout the year that contribute to international development. About 40+ MIT academic programs and student groups partipated in the Forum. The goal of the Forum is to highlight the ways that MIT makes a positive difference in the world and helps students gain skills and experiences that will equip them for the future.

San Cayetano Earthquake Redesign, El Salvador | JUNE 2004

SIGUS partnered with 45 earthquake-displaced families in designing their resettlement community in a 1-week workshop. Both adults and children actively particpated in the workshop. Essentially, two workshops ran parallel with joint meetings at various points to exchange ideas. Three students from the Department of Architecture and Department of Urban Studies and Plannin participated (Gabriel Arboleda, Melody Tulier, Susana Williams), as well as staff from two local NGOs and students from local universities in El Salvador. Information was also collected on prototype houses which were offered to the displaced families. This information provided material for further study during the fall term at MIT in the course, "The New Practitioner." Preliminary field surveys from two 'site and services' low-cost developments from the 70s were also undertaken as further reference for the course at MIT. The workshop was made possible through funding from the MIT Service Learning Center and Trocaire, an Irish-Catholic NGO.

Global Open Learning Forum on Risk Education (GOLFRE) | MARCH 2004

SIGUS joined an international group of universities, research centers and NGOs as a founding partner in the "Global Open Learning Forum on Risk Education (or GOLFRE)." Representatives from India, Japan, Nepal, South Africa and the United Kingdom joined the network to tap the tacit knowledge, practical wisdom and human capital latent in the minds and practices of field workers as the principal resource for training and education. Susana Williams, a dual-degree student from MIT, participated in the SIGUS team.

Children, Traditions and Awareness

The preliminary work continues on exploring the use of 'shape grammars' as a teaching tool for schools. Children are seen as key 'change-agents' in discovering new designs using traditional elements. The key questions remains: how to confront the McDonaldization of the world.

New Publications

Several of the January Workshop reports are now available in CD format. Please inquire for specific workshop.

Upgrading Web Site and CD

A second version of the CD on "Upgrading Urban Communities: A Resource for Practitioners" has been completed. It is being distributed by the World Bank Thematic Group for Services to the Urban Poor, and is sponsored by the Cities Alliance and DFID.

Environmental Strategies for Cities

Website and CD

This is a prototype web site currently being developed by SIGUS for the World Bank. The work is planned together with the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development), London.

Water and Sanitation for All Toolkit: A Practitioner's Companion

Website and CD

Under preparation for the Water Utility Partnership, a joint program of the Union of African Water Suppliers (UAWS), Regional Center for Low Cost Water and Sanitation (CREPA), and Training, Research and Networking for Development (TREND). Sponsored by the European Commission and the Water and Sanitation Program. The aim of the Toolkit is to provide sector practitioners, policy and decision-makers, access to information on current trends and knowledge gained from past experience regarding water supply and sanitation service delivery to low income areas. The Toolkit should enable readers to identify problems or challenges, and draw up a strategy for addressing these challenges using information and other resources assembled for this purpose.

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