Swiss Foundation sponsors Professorship Dirk Hebel FCL Singapore and EiABC on the research of Sustainable Rural Housing Strategies in Ethiopia

Zuerich/Addis Ababa/Singapore March 2012

The Arthur Waser Foundation, based in Lucerene Switzerland, recently agreed to sponsor a continuous research project called SRDU (Sustainable Rural Dwelling Unit) in Ethiopia to the tune of 460,000 Swiss Francs over the next three years. The project builds on an academic research cooperation between the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) in Ethiopia and the Professorship of Dirk E. Hebel of Architecture and Construction at the Singapore-ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability and the Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) in Singapore.

Professor Dr. Elias Yitbarek initiated the project in 2010 as part of his work at the Chair of Housing at the EiABC and has secured funding from the Arthur Waser Foundation for a pilot project in 2011, with the support of the North-South Centre of ETH Zurich, Barbara Becker and the ETH Foundation, Nathalie Fontana. The pilot was regarded as a great success. It involved building two housing units located approximately 250km south of the capital Addis Ababa, and experimentation with local building materials combined with new building techniques and autonomous operating energy supply units. This success convinced the Arthur Waser Foundation to continue the engagement with the two universities and enlarge the scope of the work to include questions of capacity building, academic exchange with local schools and industry and the transfer of knowledge to a wide academic and non-academic audience in Africa.

Lara Davis, PhD researcher working under the supervision of Dirk E. Hebel at the ETH in Zurich, will fully concentrate her work on the development of technical solutions in earthen masonry systems, which address challenges posed by environment conditions, as well as constraints in available building materials and skilled labor. She will also look into robustly co-designed training methodologies, which target maximum cultural relevance, mechanisms for knowledge exchange, and methods for sustainable technology transfer with long-term viability. Next to the strong focus on applied research, where full scale housing units will be built, two PhD students at the EiABC under the guidance of Dr. Elias Yitbarek will work on soft impact factors such as health issues, socio-cultural frameworks, communication strategies and participation models in order to guarantee a long lasting anchoring of the project in rural regions of Ethiopia as well as building up curricula for the academic impact in schools and universities.

The ETH Zurich and the EiABC in Addis Ababa have a long history of academic collaboration. The SRDU research can be seen as the sister project of the Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit: SUDU. The project, initiated in 2010 by Dirk E. Hebel, who was at that time the Scientific Director of EiABC, investigated the stock and flow model of building materials in Ethiopia and introduced new building techniques and material applications such as earth masonry vaulting together with Prof. Philippe Block and Lara Davis of ETH Zurich, in order to minimize the dependency of building material import in Ethiopia. The project got well know also in Ethiopia and beyond and set the tone for further investigations also in rural areas. With the funding of Arthur Waser Foundation, ETH and EiABC have the chance to further strengthen their research collaboration by understanding the build environment as a complex and open system, ranging from the urban territory to the neighborhood scale and with it the question of material application, considering economic, ecological, social and aesthetic values for a future urbanization of developing territories world wide.