[Review] In this Architecture for Humanity book we learn that an influx of migrant workers to Santa Elena in Venezuela led to shanty towns developing outside the village which quickly became a health hazard to their occupants
The buildings’ timber frames were susceptible to termites; there was little ventilation; poor construction allowed vermin into the buildings and rainwater run-off eroded surrounding pathways.
The Peace Villages Foundation together with US-based designer Kristofer Nonn intervened with ‘Eco-Cabanas’ to help alleviate the problems of the site. The new residential units were raised on concrete stilts to avoid damage by termites or mould, had discarded glass bottles embedded in the walls to let in more natural light and channelled rain into water storage units which avoided the problems caused by run-off while providing residents with an alternative to the polluted river water. And as the Eco-Cabanas used locally-sourced materials, each unit cost only $500 to build.
This is just one of the case studies in Design Like You Give a Damn , a guide to over 100 sustainable projects which have helped provide shelter, healthcare, education, sanitation or renewable energy to local communities. Edited by Architecture for Humanity, the book aims to inspire architects and designers who want to ‘build change from the ground up’.
Notable projects include Katrina Cottage, a prefabricated housing solution that provided a permanent alternative to the emergency trailers for survivors of the flooding of New Orleans in 2005; the Emergency Water Bladder, a water storage tank distributed by Oxfam after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti; and the Rainwater HOG, a modular rain catchment holder. Although all these projects are notable for their cost-effectiveness and for being sustainability-minded, they are also designed with a keen sense of the needs of the end user.
The book also succeeds in showing how good design can have positive social effects. Skateistan, for example, is a skate park in Afghanistan and the country’s largest indoor sports facility. Although healthcare and infrastructure projects may seem more pressing, this new skate park offered girls a rare opportunity to take up a sport in a country where playing outdoors would upset conservative customs.
Meanwhile, a favela painting project in Rio de Janeiro added visual sparkle to the neglected shanty-towns of Brazil’s capital. The project enlisted the work of many young men who might otherwise have turned to crime, providing them with new skills, while bringing the economic lifeline of increased tourism to the area.
Full colour photos and an elegant layout make Design Like You Give A Damn  a great coffee table book, more suitable for browsing or reference than for a straight read-through from beginning to end.
Although it doesn’t offer much in the way of technical information on sustainable design, such as the energy-efficiency of common materials, the book’s formula is to provide back-to-back case studies which provide inspiration for the how environmental and socio-economic problems can be tackled through thoughtful building design.
Design Like You Give a Damn  - ed. Architecture for Humanity
Published by Abrams Books
May 2012, 336 pages, paperback, £22.50