On Monday, I attended a lecture on sustainability, design and entrepreneurship. The speakers talked about using indigenous resources in Africa. The event was hosted by the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University as a part of the third annual conference called Ecogram III: Africa.
This particular talk was the fourth in the series of topics that relate to the cultural, social and economic implications of sustainability in architecture and other design processes.
The lecture I attended, “Social Sustainability: Design and Entrepreneurship,” had three presentations that dealt with three different aspects of the theme but managed to harmonize beautifully the causes and effects of each.
John Mutter, Ph.D, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, talked about his Bamboo Bike Project, an innovation started by him and his colleagues at Columbia to build bike frames made out of bamboo harvested from the plentiful local stash in Ghana. For the majority of locals, bicycles are the only way people can access goods and services. Apparently, the millions of cheap bikes that are used in Ghana are mostly imported from China. Mutter and company want to help establish a domestic industry of their bamboo bikes that are just as affordable, better made and much sturdier and effective on the roads in Ghana than the bikes currently used from China.
Another presenter, Robert Mbom, talked about the evolution of his custom flooring (and other interior design objects) business made with wood sourced from his native Cameroon. Other sustainable projects with agriculture and education have developed from his work there.
Last, Francis Kéré, an architect from Burkina Faso who was trained in Berlin, talked about how he brought his skills back from Germany to build better schools with little access to materials or support by integrating Burkinabe social dynamics, resources and even rituals with German design and architectural techniques. Mr. Kéré will also be a part of an upcoming show at MoMA called Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement.
The conference is co-chaired by Ioanna Theocharopoulou of GSAPP and Parsons and Mitchell Joachim of NYU.
The rest of the series takes place at Avery Hall, Wood Auditorium. See Columbia’s website for more details.
If you can’t make it to Morningside Heights, all the talks have been archived on ITunes.