Choose Your Goals

Know Your Site

Find out Sizes & Costs

Express local culture and history

Buildings can strengthen the ties to their community and fit local ways of living.  Those who have endured a natural or social disaster deeply desire a return to their previous life settings.
Before drawing plans, try to understand how the local culture shapes both social groupings and activities. Plan with respect by giving choices between different sketches at early stages. Many future users can't express what they desire in a space but can recognize it.
Look for information; one example is Patti's exploration of Haitian Culture.

Provide natural comfort in your climate
Buildings capture or repel winds or sun by their orientation and placement of openings. They retain precious heat from the sun and fuels or even out afternoon overheating and night time chilling because of their materials.
More information: Climate

Take advantage of good things about your building site

Beautiful views are free but lift the spirits. So are hilltop breezes in humid regions. Use more private areas for activities that need quiet, and locate heavy work near the road.

Minimize bad things about your site
Use fences or walls to provide security or separate uses that don't mix well. Use buildings and trees to reduce breezes in a cold region.

Build for health
Plan carefully for water usage and waste disposal. Facilities can be simple but promote health.
Keep latrines or septic disposal at least 100' or 30 m distant from any well or water source.
More information: Water

Don't forget gardens

Plants can provide food and shade. Homes, schools, or clinics should be more than just buildings. Plan to leave the right places for trees, bushes and vines that provide shade, firewood, and edible fruit, leaves, and nuts.

Cheap can still be custom

If your construction method is simple enough, you can build it yourself in the shape that is best for you.
One model of inexpensive housing:  Inexpensive Housing and the $300 House

Choose the right room sizes
Rooms must feel comfortable for the activities they will hold according to the local culture. Different cultures use space in different ways. Is it more important to show honor to workers or to make visitors feel at home? 
Download Choose Useful Room Sizes, a free pdf about planning for community centers or schools.

Estimating building costs
Earthbag walls can cost 1/4 or 1/3 as much as concrete block walls. Straw wattle and Ubuntu blocks can cost even less.
Excel worksheets will soon be available to help you estimate construction costs for alternative materials like earthbag, straw wattle, and Ubuntu blocks.

Free plans available online. 

These include small 2-room schools and transitional house plans for earthbags used in Haiti.


CAD files of construction details and/ or plans are also available for a modest fee. Designers should email Patti at to ask about availability.


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