Learning from local building cultures: to improve housing project sustainability.

Author:Joffroy, Thierry

The history of construction shows that builders have always been creative in adapting and upgrading housing structures by making the best use of locally available resources to meet their needs, while taking into account local economic, social and climatic constraints. Societies worldwide have developed building cultures that result in contextual' architecture, corresponding to unique construction methods and specific ways of life. Local building cultures, however, are not static. They evolve as societies do, particularly when exchanges with other countries and cultures take place, introducing new knowledge, building materials and techniques.

Local building cultures have often been linked to a need recognized and valued in traditional societies: the balance between man and nature. This ancient quest corresponds to what is described today as sustainable development. So many good examples of this concept are already present throughout the world. Unfortunately, due to globalization, this local knowledge has been increasingly discredited and, like a great number of animal and plant species, is becoming endangered. This does not just represent a loss of cultural diversity and of pertinent, scientific knowledge that is useful to humanity as a foundation for global reflection, but even more so as a basis for local action.

This knowledge is present in various spheres: decision-making on settlement locations, activities planning, management of land and urban areas, architectural composition, and construction materials and organization. It also includes interesting approaches to risk prevention and preparedness, as well as to post-disaster reconstruction. In fragile or high-risk areas, traditional technical solutions and associated skills are often particularly astute and specific, making them easier to identify.

With globalization, entire fields of knowledge related to building and construction are lost, in the same manner and at the same pace as the loss of our planet's forests. Although the loss of knowledge is happening more quietly, the effects are equally devastating. These changes began in the first half of the twentieth century with the industrialization of construction methods (mainly involving the use of concrete) and with the standardization of education dedicated exclusively to the implementation of those methods through the establishment of technical and vocational institutions and engineering schools.

Today, two worlds exist...

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