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Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2016 semi-finalists announced

Architecture Awards Design East Sustainability
One of Pitch Africa's Waterbank schools. (Courtesy BFI)
One of Pitch Africa's Waterbank schools. (Courtesy BFI)

In its ninth iteration, The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) has revealed 19 semifinalists for the 2016 Fuller Challenge. First launched in 2007, the competition strives to pioneer holistic approaches that cover a wide breadth of problems within social, environmental, and design fields. A stringent selection process and rigorous entry criteria has led to the competition to be known as “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award.”

“Bucky made an urgent call for a ‘Design Science Revolution’ to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone,” said BFI Executive Director Elizabeth Thompson. “Answering this call is what the Fuller Challenge is all about”

2015 Fuller Challenge Video from Buckminster Fuller Institute on Vimeo.

For this year’s challenge, submissions were whittled-down to 19 proposals which went before the Challenge Review Committee. The proposals were judged if they were “visionary, comprehensive, anticipatory, ecologically responsible, feasible, and verifiable.” The winning submission, due to be unveiled later this year, will receive $100,000 that will be used to aid the development and implementation of the scheme. This year was also the first year that the BFI accepted student proposals. Undergoing a separate review process, student winners will be subject to a different awarding process. “In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in student entries to the Challenge,” said Fuller Challenge Program Manager Megan Ahearn. “We’re now devoting time and resources to a separate review track for student entries, and we look forward to publicly recognizing work from university-level entrants.”

In their call for proposals this year, the BFI said that they were seeking “whole-system solutions that demonstrate a clear grasp of the ‘big-picture’ and focus on a well-defined need of critical importance. If, for example, a proposal emphasizes a new design, material, process, service, tool, or technology, it is essential that it be part of an integrated strategy that simultaneously addresses key social, environmental, and economic factors.” The semi-finalists fell into six categories: The Built Environment; Human Health; Food Production; Human Rights and Development; Materials and the Circular Economy and Environment and Resources.

The 19 semi-finalists listed below have been divided into these categories, as done so by the BFI:

The Built Environment

One of Pitch Africa Waterbank school's. (Courtesy BFI)

One of Pitch Africa Waterbank school’s. (Courtesy BFI)

  • The African Design Center: Led by Rwandan designer Christian Benimana and the MASS Design Group, this project aims to transform the African built environment through a comprehensive program to recruit and train the next generation of African designers and architects.
  • Build Change: Over 200 million people worldwide live with the constant threat of being killed by their house collapsing in an earthquake or windstorm, as the death toll in Ecuador’s recent earthquake so tragically illustrated. Build Change is a unique international initiative working to boost natural disaster preparedness on a large scale by engaging holistically with all the stakeholders: homeowners in the poorest, most vulnerable, “informal” areas; local builders, planners, engineers, and architects; and municipal, regional and national governments.
  • Cooperación Comunitaria: In 2013, hurricanes Manuel and Ingrid devastated the West of Mexico, causing 200 deaths and affecting over 230,000 people. Cooperación Comunitaria has envisioned and is implementing a comprehensive model to radically improve these marginalized populations’ living conditions by working with communities to rebuild—combining sound geological and engineering risk analysis with local indigenous wisdom.
  • PITCHAfrica: This group’s Waterbank Schools are working demonstrations of the remarkable leveraging power of water catchment as a socially integrated solution to resource scarcity. In a world in which one billion people are living without access to clean water and water-borne illnesses are rampant, this simple design offers an elegant and practical way to improve sanitation, health, and education (especially for girls, who are often the ones tasked with water collection in their families and often miss school for that reason).

Human Health

Exterior Grove rendering for the Urban Death Center. (Courtesy BFI)

Exterior Grove rendering for the Urban Death Center. (Courtesy BFI)

  • Concern America: This project empowers local communities in isolated and underserved regions to provide the bulk of their medical services themselves. Working with mostly rural, poor communities in Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, they train community members to become Health Promoter Practitioners (HPPs). Concern America aims to install self-reliance instead of supplying traditional aid work.
  • Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE): SHE has designed a comprehensive strategy to locally produce menstrual sanitary pads for women and girls in the developing world. The eco-friendly pads are made from agricultural residue (discarded banana fiber) using no chemicals and very little water, simultaneously raising consciousness in the larger society in order to dispel unproductive attitudes surrounding menstruation.
  • The Urban Death Project (UDP): UDP has designed a scalable, regenerative urban system based on the natural process of decomposition, with the first full-scale human composting facility to be located in the city of Seattle, Washington. UDP hopes to minimize wastage in death in light of the fact that each year in U.S. cemeteries, 30 million board-feet of hardwood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete, and millions of gallons of formaldehyde-laden embalming fluid are buried. Cremation meanwhile emits 600 million pounds of CO2 annually in the U.S. alone.

Food Production

MIT's Personal Food Computer. (Courtesy BFI)

MIT’s Personal Food Computer. (Courtesy BFI)

  • ECOTIERRA is a certified B corporation working to create a sustainable agricultural economy across the Andes cordillera, with plans to replicate their model in Cote d’Ivoire and Colombia. The company works as a matchmaker, connecting investors to coffee and cocoa cooperatives throughout Peru. The cooperatives partner with ECOTIERRA to develop a customized, bottom-up agroforestry design that suits their land and production needs, and in turn the cooperatives receive additional revenue from carbon offsets.
  • MIT Open Agriculture Initiative develops open-source “controlled environment agriculture” (CEA) technologies to experiment and innovate in seeking alternatives to the unsustainable and destructive practices of industrial agriculture, and to make highly localized food production more viable. The project has designed transparent, open-source, “hackable” hardware and software platforms to allow indoor farmers conduct networked experiments in “food computers.”

Human Rights and Development

Children make their way to school as part of Glasswing's project. (Courtesy BFI)

Children make their way to school as part of Glasswing’s project. (Courtesy BFI)

  • Glasswing International has designed a highly effective program to protect and re-integrate children emigrating from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) into their communities, schools, and families. Using a referral system that draws on and coordinates all the major stakeholders, they seek to integrate mental health counseling, support services, education, vocational training, recreation, and more in order to create safe pathways for youth to avoid endemic gang violence and have the opportunity to thrive.
  • International Bridges to Justice (IBJ): IBJ seeks to end the torture and abuse of detainees by training attorneys and legal officials in legal best practices, and by creating a global legal community that can be supportive and protective of lawyers working in difficult contexts. A legal system that respects human rights norms is one of the defining hallmarks of a civilized society.
  • The Sentinel Project‘s Una Hakika system is an effective approach to defusing inter-ethnic/inter-communal violence and tension in the world’s highest risk “hot spots” for conflict, using the communication tools most relevant in a given context. Their work aims to counteract inflammatory misinformation and rumors with trusted, accurate information.
  • South Vihar Welfare Society for Tribal (ASHRAY): ASHRAY is an exemplary organization that seeks to address the roots of the problem among one of the world’s poorest and most oppressed groups: tribal people in India. ASHRAY, a totally grassroots effort led by local women, works with tribal communities in Jharkand State to bolster education, skills training, agricultural production and food security, economic opportunities, and women’s empowerment, all to counteract the poverty and social instability that make trafficking possible in the first place.

Materials and the Circular Economy

A creation from Xaqique using natural fibers for packaging. (Courtesy BFI)

A creation from Xaqique using natural fibers for packaging. (Courtesy BFI)

  • Evrnu, SPC has developed a proprietary technology that goes far beyond standard garment recycling to deconstruct used cotton textiles at the molecular level, creating a range of multi-purpose regenerated cellulose fibers far stronger and more durable than the original fabrics. Currently, consumers dispose of 80% of all textiles directly to landfill. If Evrnu’s technology, still at an early stage of development, succeeds in the market and is widely adopted, it could “upcycle” millions of tons of polluting waste.
  • Procesos Proambientales Xaquixe has created a methodology for micro-industrial sustainability by implementing a wide range of alternative energy technologies and by repurposing discarded materials from local waste streams. This system fosters a trans-disciplinary network of small businesses, or ¨eco-clusters,¨ which share knowledge and resources to sustainably enrich their communities and economies while helping detoxify their environment.
  • ZERI Network and Sanctuary Asia (with the support of APPL), the brainchild of renowned eco-entrepreneur and activist Gunter Pauli and his Blue Economy initiative, is a comprehensive project that seeks to simultaneously tackle multiple goals: conservation, wildlife and biodiversity protection in one of the world’s most diverse regions (which includes endangered rhinos, tigers, and elephants); food security, sustainable economic development, and effective social services for a currently impoverished population; and the demonstration of cutting-edge organic agro-ecological methods’ capacity to be competitive.

Environment and Resources

Am aerial view of the Great Bear rainforest. (Courtesy Andrew Wright)

An aerial view of the Great Bear rainforest, as part of the Tides Canada Initiatives’ Rainforest Solutions Project. (Courtesy Andrew Wright)

  • KTK-BELT is a home-grown Nepalese biodiversity preservation, conservation, education, rural sustainable development, and job creation initiative that seeks to protect and share the invaluable ecological knowledge held by local/indigenous people in a “vertical university,” which will stretch from Koshi Tappu (67 meters above sea level), Nepal’s largest aquatic bird reserve, to Kanchenjunga (8,586 meters above sea level). The “vertical university” will include plots of research land in various locations and eventually corridors between them.
  • Taking Root’s CommuniTree project seeks to tackle three interlinked problems: deforestation, climate change, and poverty, through a comprehensive reforestation and carbon sequestration strategy. Currently working with thousands of smallholding rural farming families in Nicaragua (and earlier-stage projects in Guatemala) as well as local, regional, and national governments and international “social” investors and donors, the program engages farmers to reforest degraded, marginal, underutilized portions of their farms with a range of native tree species suited to each locale, and trains them to manage their trees effectively using innovative data collection tools.
  • The Tides Canada Initiatives’ Rainforest Solutions Project has designed a groundbreaking “Ecosystem-Based Management Model” that draws from cutting-edge environmental science, deep cultural respect for First Nations’ sovereignty, and political savvy. Previously the project team had paved the way for a historic 250-year agreement between all the stakeholders of British Columbia’s enormous coastal rainforests (26 “first nations,” lumber and mining corporations, leading environmental organizations, and the BC provincial and Canadian federal governments) to conserve and sustainably manage the 15-million acre Great Bear Rainforest.

Previous Challenge winners include the Living Building Challenge (built environment), Ecovative (materials innovation), Living Breakwaters (coastal adaptation), and most recently, GreenWave, a non-profit organization that has designed multi-species 3D ocean farms, aiming to create jobs in coastal communities by transforming fishers into restorative ocean farmers.

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