In Bangladesh, where western-influenced structures have gained favor among the growing middle class, Anna Heringer’s designs offer sustainable alternatives to the trend toward cement and steel buildings. Her village schools and single-family homes combine local materials with modern building techniques and are constructed by local people, without machinery or outside markets. Heringer’s designs reaffirm that progress can be ecologically sensitive and support local craftsmanship.
Heringer first gained recognition for her design of a primary school for the Modern Education and Training Institute (METI), an NGO operating in the impoverished northern village of Rudrapur. With the METI Handmade School, so called because it was made entirely by human labor (with help from four water buffaloes), Heringer sought to prove that one could build large structures with “simple” materials. She strengthened traditional earthen walls by adding local sand, straw, and clay to the mix—which also made the material pliable enough to form a series of “play caves” within the building for the children’s recess. A brick foundation (with bricks sourced from local craftspeople) and a plastic moisture barrier further improved the traditional design; bamboo and nylon lashing provided the structure for a second floor of classrooms.
Then, in partnership with local architecture students from BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Heringer designed three model houses for low-income families that used coconut fiber for insulation, and bamboo for everything from stairwells to latticed screens that protect earthen walls from erosion.
Heringer’s designs are creating new interest in earthen and local building materials. She and her studio, BASEhabitat, have consulted with NGOs in Bangladesh, South Africa, and Mozambique, as they seek to adapt her “handmade” process locally.
For me, sustainability is a synonym for beauty.
— Anna Heringer