Chiquirines Guatemala International Aid Project

Chiquirines Guatemala, Sustainable Design in the Developing World
Fred Andreas

Our study abroad course through UCD’s Center for Global Education traveled to the western coastal region of Guatemala in January.  What we found shocked us all.  It’s the Chiquita and Dole banana plantation area of Central America.  Agro America the parent company and has teamed with CU Medical School’s Center on Global Health to develop a health center in the middle of some of the poorest areas of Central America.  Together they plan on developing a much needed regional medical facility to serve the Western Guatemala region as a result of the dire conditions in the area.  The living conditions of the local population are best described by the images of families living in the dirt and mud with only minimal open shelter.  There is almost no clean water, no sanitation, no electricity, it floods a meter deep every year and the only education available is through the third grade which few take advantage of.  It remains the most dire and extreme conditions I’ve ever seen.

The main issues in Guatemala are the coalescence of public health, basic human needs and green/sustainable architectural design.  Here in the US we define the sustainability genera more towards conservation of energy, water, carbon, human resources, doing less harm.  We concern ourselves with living lighter on the planet with residential and commercial designs focusing on the consumption side.

The dire conditions in Guatemala dictate an entirely different understanding and approach to sustainability.  In Guatemala, survival and basic public health, basic economy, clean water, minimal public health, housing and education are the most salient issues.  This is an area that falls below the UN’s definition of “Extreme Poverty”.  This changes the understanding of sustainability to sustaining life and health.  It transcends the conversation of excess and transfers the focus to basic and sustainable human needs.

So clean water, sanitary toilets or latrines, treatment and containment of livestock waste, safe storm water run-off, mitigation of floods, basic electric power, flood proof and secure single family and multifamily housing, communidad community development, and schools round out the most important design issues addressing the basic needs of the local population.  These needs extend our design considerations within the Triple Bottom Line of economy, environment and human resources to a more basic level.  In Guatemala sustainable design includes clean and sanitary infrastructure, buildable and replicable housing and schools all based on local materials and skills.  These sustainable solutions within the redefined Triple Bottom Line produce:

  • local jobs, create local micro economic opportunities, utilize local skills, labor, systems, approaches and heritage
  • utilize and employ local materials and infrastructure/mechanical systems, conserve, utilize, enhance and rejuvenate the local natural environment
  • provide a locally supported approach to community, cultural and human development empowering of the local population

Our studio took this project on as a design challenge, but also a mission.  We intend to develop sustainable strategies that will dramatically alter the living conditions of the local population!  Agro America and the CU Medical School remain committed to the  implementation of these sustainable strategies in Chiquirines.


Tamzida and Inaam

Designing is a thoughtful and emotional process. But designing for a community gets even more complicated where people live at or below the UN’s limit of extreme poverty line earning less than $1/day, where fundamental issues of water, sanitation, health, safety, education are severe. A designer or architects need to design with extra care and that was the focus of this project. Theoretically we would try to do that by involving the community people to the designing process to empower them.

The project of this community development is located on the small banana plantation community of Chiquirines, Guatemala, where yearly flood creates a severe problem. Main objective of the project was to develop a sustainable community with low-tech micro grid infrastructure development and last but not the least designing a community center (school) for the community.

The community development was underpinned on the findings of the 1st phase research analysis (sanitation, water, storm water drainage, rainwater collection, and community development, micro economic development) to solve primary needs (food, water, education, and health, energy) of the neighborhood. A communidad prototype was designed with various modular flexible housing prototypes which would change and reshape itself with the need and change of the community. Also various micro infrastructures were incorporated within the house and communidad design Such as –Water tower, Micro grid energy hub, Cultural center, anaerobic digestion system etc.

Various passive design strategies was also used such as wind scoop system to ensure thermal comfort, lifting up the foundation for cross ventilation and flood, slopped roof for rainwater collection etc. Local material such as bamboo, rammed earth, and palm fronds will also be explored. In addition cultural and community grid pattern development will be given priority keeping in mind the present cultural values of the community.

End goal of this continuous design process was to derive a larger picture of the community development, which was the design of the community center as a sociocultural-technical hub that involved various cultural issues as well as innovative green building & sustainable technologies.


Jenni and Kala – The Floating House

Chiquirines is a small rural town in Guatemala that consists of a population that lives on less than 1 US dollar a day.  Located on the Pacific coast, the town is low in elevation and has heavy rainfall for many months of the year, leading to yearly flooding.  Many places in Chiquirines are flooded up to 1 meter for much of the rainy season, forcing the residence to move to temporary quarters.  This extensive flooding has affected sanitary conditions in the town and pollutes the limited potable water source of the town well.  The flooding is, however, beneficial to the surrounding plantations, which are the town’s main source of employment.

This complicated problem requires flexible thinking and multipurpose design.  Rather than suggest a solution to this problem, we are proposing a housing option that is adaptable and reproducible, not on a grand commercial scale, but on a local, human scale.  Simplicity of building connections, use of local materials, and one simple, modular design that can be used in repetition to create any number of arrangements, all combine to create a housing option that is simple to build and can be adapted by any resident of Chiquirines for any number of uses.

The option we propose is the rural floating house.  Because of consistent flooding that is difficult to control without affecting the environment and the area’s economy, a floating house provides flexibility that can withstand any number of changing conditions.  A bamboo platform rests above each small floating foundation, and on this platform is a circular, bamboo structure that enhances passive cooling and heating strategies.  This is the basic modular design, and it can be repeated as much as necessary, and tied together with the bamboo platforms.  The flexibility of the system allows for creative control of housing arrangement and living conditions.

Lily & Ellen

When you live in a third world country where you and your family have been displaced due to civil war and survive off of less than a dollar a day, the five basic needs of life become a major concern.  By taking these five needs; air, water, food, shelter, and energy, and understanding the quality of life for those in Chiquirines, Guatemala, we acquired a concept for our design.  Through architecture, we wanted to improve their current conditions by providing them with a sustainable plan for development. We started out by designing a house prototype for the people of Chiquirines, which could then evolve into higher density living as the city continues to grow.  Our overall goal is to design not only a single family dwelling unit, but create a prototype that is suitable for a multitude of functions such as schools, markets, live/work, community spaces, etc.  We strived to comprehend the sustainability issues related to the economy, social, and environmental framework of Chiquirines while still keeping in mind those five basic needs.  The first step towards accomplishing those aspects into our design was by using local materials and available labor that provides jobs for the community.  Because of the under- privileged conditions, by creating spaces to sell goods within their own home or developing a prototype that can be utilized as a market, has become a benefit to our design. Involving social aspects such as educational infrastructure, and bridging the gap between corporate and government agencies with the people of Chiquirines, we hope to thereby strengthen the community.  As for the environmental component, we designed a complete passive system. Overall we plan to create a sustainable space that is self sufficient in those five basic needs and aims to improve their community through socialogical, environmental, and economical practices.



James and Adam

Adam and James Housing BoardsChiquirines is a poverty stricken village in Southwest Guatemala comprised primarily of banana farmers working for the AgroAmerica corporation. They are currently in need of dramatic revitalization and are currently facing abject poverty and disease. The population is predominantly Catholic with strong family relationships. The current living pattern is comprised of “communidads” that often include up to six related families living in close proximity sharing daily chores and meals. Because it is on a flood plain bananas grow readily but this also forces annual evacuation of the town and impedes progress and sustained development.
Our mission is to develop a high performance, easily constructable, building model that can be applied on a micro or macro scale. We want to continue developing the design into a mature solution complete with construction details, physical model, computer rendering and climactic modeling. The end result being competitive, professional grade boards for competition consideration.
Solar Charging Stations- Electricity is not found at the site and is an afterthought for most of the inhabitants. We are proposing solar charging stations that work on a battery exchange network to empower the population with electricity. We are proposing solar powered battery banks on every block that will offer deep cycle battery rental for a very small fee. This model requires no upfront investment from the farmers and is profitable in the long run. We expect the introduction of electricity to dramatically increase literacy, indoor air quality and understanding of the modern world.
We are proposing a master plan for living that will reinforce the comunidad living model while fully exploiting passive systems and solar orientation for optimal physical comfort. Most importantly these new dwellings will be raised above the flood line and allow life to carry on uninterrupted by the flood season. Low tech building materials and a simple highly flexible modular scheme will be recommended that can cater a comunidad of any size.

Curtis and Brittany


The little town of Chiquirines in Guatemala has been facing many environmental challenges in their everyday lives; most of which have become very detrimental to their lifestyles and their health as a community. Flooding, lack of drinking water, difficult climate, absence of power, and poor sanitation limit the ability of the community to provide a positive living experience for those that live there while they work in the nearby banana fields. Our Green Building Studio has been working with Representatives of the community to learn about the needs and goals of the community to accurately address the challenges we will be facing in our designs.

Our Mission

Our goal with this design is to be able to create a type of architecture that can begin to enhance the community and their lifestyles while providing the opportunity and the skill set to interact with their environment in a positive and sustainable manner. In efforts to better the community we wanted to be able to focus on the education opportunity of the community so that once the project is complete, they will still be able to follow the practices and ideas put into place to continue to improve their lifestyles while still adhering to their social needs and values. Using local material, passive design and no energy systems we were able to develop both an integrated rainwater collection system to provide potable water to the entire community and a modular bamboo prototype that is easily applicable to a variety of building sizes, shapes, and uses. By using materials and techniques that are both simple and familiar to the community allows our design to be and educational for them to reference in their future development; living in and understanding successful buildings designed for harsh climate and economic conditions.