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Al Borde

Al Borde is a collaborative and experimental architecture studio that uses participatory processes to engage people who are living on the margin of society, whether in the remote coastal regions of Ecuador or in the informal settlements of Latin America’s major cities. Their work is known for extreme affordability – one of their most notable school projects was accomplished on a budget of $200. They accomplish this through an investigative process that begins with community engagement, leading to a keen understanding of the resources available for a particular project. Their work elegantly illustrates how in the world of social design, constraint leads to creativity.

Al Borde was founded in Quito in 2007 by David Barragán and Pascual Gangotena; in 2010, Maria Luísa Borja and Esteban Benavides joined the studio.

Al Borde’s approach to community architecture has been shaped by three “Hope Projects,” Escuela Nueva Esperanza (2009), Esperanza Dos (2011), and Ultima Esperanza (2014). These were sited in Puerto Cabuyal in the Manabi Province, a fishing village of about 35 families who subsist on fishing and agricultural activities.

Al Borde was initially invited to the village by Gangotena’s cousin who was teaching literacy in the village. Beginning with the $200 design challenge, Al Borde developed the three “Hope Projects” while building an ongoing relationship with the community. That relationship bore fruit well beyond physical structures – the community-based approach favored by Al Borde taught the community that the resources (both human and natural) to design and build were already present in their community. Beyond the Hope Projects, the villagers started integrating the discovered materials and design strategies into their own self-built structures. The process itself was catalytic, turning an entire village into designers and builders.

Such is the point of Al Borde’s process: the designer can serve a community best when they make themselves obsolete. In Barragán’s words:

“We are never looking for a form when we are designing… All of the forms are the consequence of a very rational thinking process. We want to transmit this rational thinking process so that the community can create new projects on their own and feel free to explore space in other ways. We created this educational opportunity because we don’t want to be necessary.”

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.

13 | How to Design a School for $200


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Tierras" by Eljuri from her album "En Paz."