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2. Participatory Process

Participatory Construction

Participatory construction focusses on the building process as much as the built project to instigate social change and empowerment through sharing knowledge and skills on site. Designers should take what they learn during the pre-design phase, and use this knowledge of people and place to select building materials and construction systems that build capacity and self-determination in the local community. Building collectively brings communities together, supports local economic growth, empowers individuals and instils a legacy beyond final completion. A participatory project is as much a community development programme as it is a construction site.

Local Fabrication

Hire locally, source regionally, channel investment and prosperity into the community.

A participatory project should be a celebration of people and place. The project should be locally fabricated; built by local people with regional resources, and be inspired by traditional construction methods. As such, the construction palette and techniques for each project are inherently tied to the site conditions, scaling pre-existing skills and local inventions.

This approach engages the community with every stage of the construction process, reducing embodied energy and promoting local economic growth. Labour-intensive processes of hand production are privileged over the use of energy-intensive imported materials, in order to create opportunities for employment through valorising local craft. As well as supporting local businesses and stimulating new micro-economies, hiring locally and sourcing regionally also ensures that the building is easily maintained if it deteriorates, as there is no requirement to source foreign and expensive materials from further afield. This increases the long-term durability of the building, which further decreases its lifetime embodied carbon emissions.


Ilima Primary  Labour intensive processes of hand production were prized over imported construction materials.

Local Fabrication

Capacity Building

Leverage the construction process to develop local expertise. Invest in the next generation for emerging professionals.

During the design phase, designers should identify opportunities for skills training during construction. Strategic material selection for instance, can lead to an increase in the capacity and skills of local craftsmen, through building upon and developing existing skillsets. Masons, carpenters and welders can be educated through on-the-job training to improve local construction techniques. This has a spill over effect on the quality of local construction, resulting in a more dignified, healthy and safe built environment.

The construction process can provide an opportunity for green skills development, building a greater understanding of regenerative strategies and climate appropriate design solutions. Investing in and training the next generation of architects and designers through experience on a live project empowers socially-responsible and sustainably-minded professionals. This will provide them with the leadership and entrepreneurial skills needed to support future development, and may help to solve some of the infrastructural challenges currently facing East Africa.


Ruhehe Primary  was the design-build component of a 20-month programme to train impact-design professionals in Africa.

Capacity Building

Research by Design

Test, research and improve traditional construction techniques and innovative low carbon material solutions.

The participatory approach uncovers opportunities to innovate with the most basic local materials, creating new and better construction solutions that remain sensitive to their context. The process of stakeholder participation and research by design reveals new knowledge, practices and products, which can be tested and iterated upon on site. The aim is to develop and enhance traditional techniques to build a body of regionally specific material knowledge; the emphasis being on finding affordable, low carbon solutions to building construction.

The proverbial red earth for instance - East Africa's most readily available resource - has been developed into new construction materials such as compressed stabilised earth blocks, rammed earth and earth bag walls. Designers are also finding new ways to turn rubbish into resource through the innovative use of food, agriculture and construction waste. These innovations both reduce costs and the negative impact of construction on the environment. Through innovative design thinking and applied research contextual challenges can be turned into local opportunities.


Ilima Primary  Research was undertaken into using palm oil and ant-hill clay to strengthen traditional adobe mudbricks.

Research by Design

Modular Systems

Prototype innovative construction systems that are buildable, adaptable and repeatable to increase a project's impact potential.

In order to ensure a community can build and maintain a project themselves without any imported materials or labour, the project must be buildable with the equipment, tools and skills that are locally available. Where mechanical tools, cranes and scaffolding are not the local norm, the project should be designed to be easily assembled by a small team of local labourers using manual lifts and simple hand tools. The easiest way to ensure this is by designing a modular construction assembly system where components are sized for convenient handling.

Breaking a building down into standard easy-to-manufacture components also reduces project costs and improves the accuracy, speed and repeatability of the project. Different aggregation of modules may also result in greater adaptability to different terrains and situations. As such, the project may become a system that is intended to be replicated, which the community can adopt and use for themselves. This can have far more significant and farther-reaching impact than designing a bespoke solution for a specific site.


Mzuzu Health Centre  The project focus was to provide the client with their own highly affordable DIY construction system.

Modular Systems


Advocate for a design and construction process that promotes justice, equality and human dignity.

There is a tangible relationship between design and dignity, which is manifested not only through an exemplary built project, but also through the process by which a project is built. The construction process should be seen as an opportunity to participate, to empower and to contribute to what is collectively defined as culture. Engaging a community in the collective act of making is a dignifying process that curates a sense of shared responsibility. Each community member's participation throughout construction inspires a greater sense of collective ownership, which is the surest form of sustainability.

This connective process relies on the equal participation of both men and women. By ensuring that at least half of employees are women and prioritising their training and professional certification, the process of construction can act to inspire and educate a new generation of female leaders. As well as stimulating economic growth and improving social dynamics, this benefits the environment, as educating women is considered to be one of the most effective ways to combat climate change.


Rugerero Health Centre   ASA requested a minimum 50% women workforce for construction.

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