Arup Community Engagement


Want to talk to us? Contact Us

Arup Community Engagement logo

Arup Community Engagement

Project overview

Project overview

  • The design uses sustainable materials such as timber and cane, so it has half the cement content of existing housing.
  • Locally sourced cane provides a new livelihood for rural farmers and local people had extensive input into the design.
  • It's cost-competitive with existing housing and has proven very popular.

In El Salvador, hundreds of thousands of people live on only a few dollars a day. Many of them live in crowded, unhygenic and unsafe housing in a highly seismic area.

The standard low-cost housing solution in El Salvador is a simple reinforced hollow blockwork house. Whilst this has some advantages, it's relatively expensive, heavy to transport, brittle in earthquakes and not very sustainable. Working with REDES, a local NGO, we led the development of a new low-cost housing solution designed especially for low-income communities in El Salvador.

The design combines existing traditional technology with modern engineering principles. It's much more resilient in the event of an earthquake, using sustainable materials including timber and locally grown cane. The cane comes from local farmers, providing them with a new livelihood.

Research, community workshops and interviews ensured the new homes met the needs of local people. A construction training progrmme will also enable local people to learn new skills in building earthquake resistant houses.

As well as technical support from Arup, the project recieved research grants from the Institution of Structural Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineers and international development charities The El Salvador Project and Engage for Development. Specialist research at Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge, Coventry University and the Universidad Mariano Galvez de Guatemala made a significant contribution to the design. This groundbreaking research also helped the universities build new relationships with other organisations.

Through community participation we developed an appropriate housing solution for local people that’s earthquake-resilient, sustainable, durable, and which uses local materials.
Sebastian Kaminski, Project Manager, Arup
The project is improving the safety of construction in Latin America and will, we hope, have a huge impact on thousands of people’s lives.
Andrew Lawrence, Project Director, Arup
Now we can say that there is a more sustainable home design as an alternative for families and communities that lack adequate housing.
Rolando González, Coordinator of Management and Planning, Fundación REDES



2 February, 2015
In conjunction with the Universidad Mariano Galvez de Guatemala in Guatemala City, a series of full-scale tests was conducted on a new shake-table. The tests were part of a publicity programme to demonstrate to donors, NGOs and potential beneficiaries that these house are very safe in an earthquake.

The specimens for testing were built and tested by student organisation the Imperial College El Salvador Project and the Universidad Mariano Galvez, and the project was part funded by Engage for Development.

Full-scale design ready for shake-table testing 

31 August, 2014
Revised prototype design completed in los almendros cuscatlan el salvador
During July and August 2014, one revised prototype was successfully built for another family in Los Almendros, Cuscatlan. The updated design was more efficient in terms of cost and materials, but also more seismically resistant and durable. The beneficiaries responded very positively.

Completed revised prototype in Los Almendros, El Salvador 

The house was built by students from the Imperial College El Salvador Project and funded by Engage for Development.
1 December, 2013
Material testing at the university of cambridge and coventry university
Further marterial testing formed part of fourth year project work for civil engineering students in 2013 and 2014 to optimise the design.

At the University of Cambridge, full-scale shake-table tests of a wall panel were used to find out more about its behaviour in an earthquake. At Coventry University, students tested the cane used. These tests validated the previous results and provided more evidence of the strength of these house in an earthquake.

House structure ready for testing at University of Cambridge 

The testing was partly funded by Engage for Development.
15 July, 2013
Evaluating the Prototypes
During July 2013, Arup and a specialist from Engage for Development conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the prototypes. This took place one year after construction, allowing the beneficiaries to have experienced the house in all seasons.

Using interviews, the evaluation explored the beneficiaries' opinions of the houses and potential improvements to the design and construction processes. Through focus groups with other low-income community members, the evaluation explored their needs and wishes, along with how the design could fulfil these.

Focus group of community members evaluating the new design 

The evaluation indicated that both the beneficiaries and other community members had a very positive opinion of the houses. The evaluation was funded by Arup, Engage for Development and through an Institution of Civil Engineers Quest Travel Award.
31 August, 2012
the-first-twoprototypes are completed in berlin usulutan el salvador
During July and August 2012, two full-scale prototypes of the housing design were successfully constructed in Berlin, Usulutan. They now house two familes that were living in dangerous and unhygenic shacks. The project team tested the construction methods and details, and conducted a thorough costing.

Completed prototype in Berlín, El Salvador 

The houses were built by students from The Imperial College El Salvador Project and funded by Engage for Development.
1 May, 2012
Full scales testing starts at imperial college london
Arup and Imperial College, London were awarded an Instituation of Civil Engineers Research and Development grant to conduct a series of full scale tests on wall panels constructed from timber, cane and cement mortar. The Engage for Development charity provided funding to ship the cane from Costa Rica and other specialist materials for testing.

Wall panel design under structural testing at Imperial College, London 

The results investigated the behaviour of the wall panels under small and large earthquake loads. The results were very positive, showing that these forms for sustainable panels were seismically resitant and enabling the team to find exactly the right mix of materials.
30 April, 2012
Premliminary research and interviews completed
Through an Institution of Structural Engineers Pai Lin Li Grant, we conducted a thorough investigation into engineered bamboo housing for low-income communities in Latin America, particularly Costa Rica, Columbia and Ecuador. This helped the design team understand the potential of bamboo and cane for low cost housing.

Community beneficiaries during a participatory design meeting

Through visits to El Salvador, interviews with low-income communities and discussions with the local NGO, the design team developed a detailed understanding of the local context, people's needs and local materials and techniques.
down up

See what else is happening