Chiquirines Guatemala, Sustainable Design in the Developing World
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 Corp.is 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.