January 21, 2013

Over Break, Cornell Students Build Sustainable House in Nicaragua

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Over winter break, Cornell students began building an affordable and environmentally sustainable model house in  Nicaragua.

The students, who are part of Cornell University Sustainable Design — an organization that promotes sustainability through design —  traveled to Nagarote, Nicaragua to build the house. The house will serve not only as a home for a family, but also as a platform to demonstrate ideal eco-friendly housing initiatives, said Kai Keane ’14, one of the students who led the project.

The house and its landscaping — part of the Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua project — are the product of more than three semesters’ worth of research on designing sustainable and affordable housing for low-income Nicaraguan families, according to Keane. The house is scheduled to be completed around mid-February 2013, according to SNN’s press release.

The project team said it hopes the house can act as a precedent to ameliorate Nicaragua’s housing shortage.

“Nicaragua currently faces a severe housing shortage,” the team’s press release said. “Two out of every three Nicaraguans confront difficulties related to housing.”

As the project team looks to the future, it hopes to eventually broaden the scope of its work, according to Keane.

“We hope that this project can extend much farther than just this one house,” Keane said. “It can be replicated all over and eventually [can be] nationally implemented.”

Often, housing relief measures use metal roofing and concrete blocks for construction. However, these materials are environmentally unsustainable or potentially dangerous, according to Prof. Marvin Pritts, chair of the horticulture department and an advisor for SNN.

SNN’s model home is built from all-natural local sources, such as clay, hay and soil, according to Keane.

“The students’ design has the potential to be a nationally implemented model,” said Alan Wright, executive director of SosteNica — one of SNN’s nonprofit project partners — in SNN’s press release.

SNN divided its efforts into seven components: the house team, energy-efficient stoves, composting toilets, landscaping, neighborhood planning, grey water treatment and business and communications.

To provide funds for the project, the students raised more than $25,000 through grassroots efforts during Fall 2012, according to Keane.

“The money paid for the project’s legal and administrative fees, tools, labor and overhead costs,” Keane said. “Although gaining momentum was difficult, we raised all the money we needed.”

The SNN project could not have been possible without the collaborative effort of the Center for Engaged Learning and Research, CUSD and  nonprofit partners, like SosteNica and Ceprodel, according to Keane.

“With generous help and crucial support from Richard Kiely [director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Research], we were able to make this project a reality. The center really helped bring together like-minded people for a truly successful project,” Keane said.

The project also serves as an educational opportunity for students to broaden their learning horizons beyond the classroom, according to Pritts.

“There’s something about getting people out of their comfort zone. Projects like these foster personal growth experiences for participants … facilitating meaningful exchanges that allow individuals from around the world to get to know and learn from each other,” Pritts said in the project’s press release.

Original Author: Emma Jesch