Aga Khan Award for

Barefoot Architects

India, Tilonia

1988 and ongoing
Barefoot College
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 ground level.

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.


Aga Khan Award for Architecture
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