Responsive slums: participatory methods and bio-climatic design in Nairobi, Kenya
RIBA Research Trust Award 2010
There are two major challenges facing the world today. The first, environmental sustainability, is becoming increasingly recognised and is receiving much attention. The second, the housing challenge in the developing world, is less well known but is an equally pressing challenge: one billion socially and economically marginalised people currently live in slums, squatter settlements, and informal settlements in the developing world and forecasts show this is set to dramatically increase to two billion by 2050.
It is increasingly accepted that the urban poor are not building temporary, desperate responses to shelter, but are in fact constructing permanent, consolidated homes. Little is known, however, about how the urban poor design and build these dwellings. What are their preferences and values? What informs how they consolidate their initial shack into a large, two-storied reinforced concrete and masonry house, often complete with air-conditioning and satellite television?
This project bridges these often disparately discussed challenges. While much is known about the planning, socio-cultural, and legal aspects of informal settlements, there has been little focus on the design and physical form of such self-built environments. Furthermore, there has been almost no consideration of how the environmental sustainability agenda fits within such areas.
The project is underpinned by an ethnographic, case study approach. Specifically, to understand resident values, the project will develop a new participatory design tool where the residents design their ideal dwellings through drawing exercises and scaled cardboard models. Through this design process, the project seeks to understand views towards bio-climatic dwelling design: a design approach that minimises the reliance on non-renewable resources and harnesses local climatic conditions to achieve healthy, comfortable and low-energy environments. A key project outcome will be the practical and theoretical development of participatory design as a method of understanding occupant values. Importantly, such an approach offers the possibility to upgrade informal slum areas with resident participation, in an attempt to make the slum upgrading concurrent with residents’ values, lifestyles and aspirations.
Matthew French, July 2010
Murray Fraser, chair of the RIBA Research Grants sub-committe has said Matthew's research 'covers a great many important points and issues related to the improvement of informal settlements, and should hopefully have a good influence in Kenya and elsewhere. This project is an intelligent piece of work that clearly engages with and develops the research topic for which the RIBA Research Trust Award was given'.
You can download a copy of the final report, a 170 page book documenting the research and findings, here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/75033019/Change-by-Design-Building-Communities-Through-Participatory-Design# Or buy a hard copy here: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2776475
Matthew French obtained a Bachelor of Architecture in 2005 and a Masters of Architecture in 2007 from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. In 2007 he relocated to Cambridge University to undertake a PhD in Architecture. His thesis compared the thermal performance and occupant comfort of three main lower socio-economic dwelling typologies in Argentina: slums, community organized self-built settlements and government financed and constructed 'social' housing.
Matthew’s research interests centre on informal housing in developing countries. In particular, he is interested in developing tools to upgrade informal settlements through resident participation in design processes, rather than just resident consultation of professionally designed upgrading schemes. Matthew has been involved in participatory action research projects in Salvador, Brazil with Architecture Sans Frontiers (UK) (2009 and 2010) and in Johannesburg, South Africa with Global Studio (2007).
Matthew French can be contacted at email@example.com.