1988 and ongoing
Architects: Barefoot Architects of Tilonia
The "Barefoot" philosophy is based on the belief that
village communities used to develop and maintain their own store of
knowledge, which has been devalued in recent times and it is slowly
dying as people migrate to the cities, looking for jobs. In 1972,
this philosophy inspired the founding of Social Work Research Center
(SWRC), now known as "Barefoot College", in Tilonia, a
rural community in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The founder and
director of the college, Bunker Roy, wanted to break away from the
Indian social-work tradition, which had an urban, middle-class and
academic orientation, to create a program that respected local
skills, providing training and upgrading to help people help
themselves. Over the years, the center has worked with local
teachers, health-care providers, solar engineers and hand bump
mechanics in a comprehensive development plan, implemented with the
rural poor for the rural poor. These programs have led to a number
of significant building projects, realized by the "Barefoot
Architects", local members of the college staff.
The largest of these projects is a campus for the college, which
fuses local labor and materials throughout. The success of this
approach is exemplified through the construction of the campus, by
an illiterate farmer from Tilonia, along with 12 other Barefoot
Architects, most of whom have no formal education.
They were assisted by several village women, who worked as laborers
and carried materials. Plan were drawn and redrawn on the spot,
based principally on a traditional courtyard format, with
surrounding verandas. Cubic in form with flat roofs, the buildings
were constructed using local materials, such as rubble stone with
lime mortar for load-bearing walls. As is the custom in Indian
vernacular architecture, the courtyards are highly decorated at
The architects also found numerous applications for Buck Minster
Fuller's geodesic dome. Traditional housing in desert areas has
sometimes used wood as a material, but this has become a scarce
resource. Geodesic domes, however, are easily fabricated from scrap
metal, which is readily available from discarded agricultural
implements, bullock carts and pump sections. The domes can be
covered with a greater weight of thatch than traditional small-span
structures, reducing the frequency and expense of re-thatching. The
use of geodesic domes has also given rise to expertise in building
emergency structures, including relief housing.
Through its Homes for the Homeless program, the college has provided
more than 200 basic, low-cost dwellings in surrounding villages.
Most of the buildings were constructed from earth-brick, but people
with greater economic resources used other materials, including
rubble stone and lime mortar. The houses have proved to be extremely
functional and a great improvement on previous living conditions.
Another of the college's projects the development of structures to
harvest rainwater, which have been installed at the campus and in
schools throughout the region. In rural areas, large-scale efforts
to provide water are typically made by tapping groundwater sources,
an expensive, short-term process that often yields brackish water.
Rainwater-harvesting structures, based on tried-and-tested rural
technologies, gather water from the rooftops and channel it to
storage tank, usually situated underground. The system is
inexpensive, provides a year-round water supply and has led to
wasteland reclamation. In several rural primary schools, the
attendance of girls has improved, because they don't have to spend
hours walking several kilometers to collect drinking water.
The Barefoot College has had a tremendous impact on Tilonia and
other outlaying rural settlements, influencing every aspect of
people's life. Lifting the surrounding population out of the vicious
circle of poverty and helplessness, the college has facilitated a
revival of traditional technologies and applied them on a wider
scale to solve problems that have baffled scientists, engineers,
environmentalists and politicians for years.