Founded in 2007 in Ecuador’s capital of Quito, Al Borde is led by architects Pascual Gangotena, David Barragán, Maria Luisa Borja, and Esteban Benavides. The studio first gained attention in 2009, when the team accepted a commission to design and construct a school in the coastal village of Cabuyal, Costa Rica, with a budget of only $200.
The project, which was named “Escuela Nueva Esperanza, or “New Hope School,” proved the importance of participatory planning and collaboration. As is common in social design, solutions successful in some contexts could not necessarily be applied to this one. For example, when planning the construction, the team considered the use of recycled materials. However, while recycled materials may be an option in urban settings with excessive waste, in the small beach village where the school was to be built, waste was scarce. As a result, there were no materials to be recycled. Instead, through an investigative process founded on community engagement, the team was able to develop a keen understanding of the resources locally available for the project.
Beginning with Escuela Nueva Esperranza, Al Borde continued on to develop three “Hope Projects” with the community, leading to an ongoing relationship. The process itself was catalytic, turning an entire village into designers and builders. Over time, members of the community started integrating the discovered materials and design strategies into their own self-built structures. The work of Al Borde elegantly illustrates how in the world of social design, constraint leads to creativity.
Al Borde’s now expanded work, including projects like the Culunco house, a semi-buried family home, and the House of the Flying Beds, a renovated historic property in the city of Ibarra, has continued to garner global attention. The studio has been featured in landmark exhibitions, including “Reporting from the Front” at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennial, and was shortlisted for the Swiss Architectural Award in 2018.
More recently, the studio has been working on projects in emergency contexts. For instance, their Post-Earthquake Prototype was developed following the earthquake that shook the coast of Ecuador in April 2016.
We had an opportunity to speak with David Barragán about how design can empower a community to become their own designers and builders on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.