RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship

Jo Ashbridge

The Role of Earth Architecture and Construction within a Disaster Risk Reduction Framework for Areas at Risk of Flooding Across Bangladesh

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Cactus Harvesting To Extract Juice © Jo Ashbridge

Bordered by India, Burma and the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is one of the world's most densely populated countries. The low-lying nature of the terrain (with a large percentage of land less than 12m above sea level) means that Bangladesh is vulnerable to flooding and is now widely recognised as one of the countries at greatest risk from climate change. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that a 1m rise in sea level will engulf approximately 13% of the landmass in the southern belt, displacing 15 - 20 million people by 2050. 

In recent years Bangladesh has witnessed a wide range of disasters including Cyclone Sidr in 2007, Cyclone Aila in 2009, floods and landslides throughout 2010 and 2011. In conjunction with emergency response efforts, disaster risk reduction is key. Working with local communities to strengthen the capabilities of individuals and families to cope with natural disasters and their complex effects is a necessity. Improving shelter construction technologies and techniques based on successful existing practices is just one of the many aspects needed to encourage community self-reliance rather than dependence on aid.

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Drying Of Eucalyptus Bark To Extract Tannin © Jo Ashbridge

The research aims to investigate the existing role of earth architecture and construction in areas with acutely limited assets whilst offering simple, low-cost improvements. The project can be broken down into three key stages:

1. Analysis of vernacular architecture and emergency/development approaches offered by national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs/INGOs).

2. On-site development of improved earth construction techniques.

3. Working with local communities to design and construct a series of demonstration houses.

The poorest section of society is often the most vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters (rising water levels, river bed erosion, environmental degradation, the spread of infectious disease, building/infrastructure damage, disruption to livelihoods, civil conflicts…) and with nearly half the population of Bangladesh living on less than $1 a day, the project seeks to address a great need.

Her full report can be downloaded below:


Jo Ashbridge undertook her BSc in Architecture (RIBA Part 1) at the University of Bath from 2004 to 2008. The degree offered the opportunity to dip into the wealth of knowledge available, particularly with regard to rammed earth construction. During this time she was offered a professional placement at Ryder Architecture in Newcastle and completed an Erasmus exchange at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (KTH) in Stockholm. In the summer of 2007, Jo volunteered in the construction of One Room Shelters in the Tan Phuoc District of Vietnam, for low-income families whose houses were at risk from monsoon rains. This experience cemented her passion and future career direction in development and disaster relief architecture.

Following graduation in 2008 she worked in Uganda, as an architectural consultant for a NGO concerned with the issue of obstetric fistula and continued her healthcare infrastructure research, travelling through Tanzania, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Grinding Coal To Test As An Additive  © Jo Ashbridge

From 2009 to 2011, Jo undertook her MPhil in Environmental Design in Architecture (RIBA Part 2) at the University of Cambridge. Her thesis, 'Sustainable Planning and Design for a Hospital in an Equatorial Climate' stemmed from collaboration with Kagando Hospital in the Rwenzori mountains of Uganda. The aim was to use lowcost earth construction whilst providing spaces with an increased technical base. This degree also offered the opportunity to work for Stantec Architecture in Toronto, a practice that specialises in healthcare design.

To gain further experience in the humanitarian sector, in 2011 Jo interned at Shelter Centre, a NGO that acts to connect and support the shelter community respond to settlement and reconstruction needs after conflicts and disasters. This has recently led to collaboration with Engineers Without Borders UK (EWB-UK), who is currently supporting her work with local NGO, Simple Action For the Environment (SAFE) in northwest Bangladesh. The work involves research and development of alternative construction materials. Projects in which she is currently involved include the design and construction of bamboo houses in Jorgen Babur Mart slum, research into natural additives that offer increased resilience to water and iterative testing of Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEBs). Jo's experience in Bangladesh to date and in-field connections will inform the research project supported by the RIBA Boyd Auger Scholarship 2012. 


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