Course History

During the Spring of 2009, Nairobi architect Ronald Omyonga approached the School of Architecture at Montana State University to collaborate on design strategies for incremental housing in Nairobi related to the proliferation of slums in Kenya’s capital city. Following initial feasibility studies, Assistant Professor David Fortin travelled to Nairobi with two undergraduate students (including Michael Spencer) to visit Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, while meeting with various government officials, developers, financing institutions, universities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). As a result of this research a collaboration was established with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) School of Architecture and Building Sciences. Over the past three years there have been a series of graduate seminars and studios related to this project taught by Professor Fortin and Associate Professor Mike Everts. As inspired by the original trip to Kenya, an essential aspect of this research focuses on urban-rural systems as they relate to the exploding global city.

Assistant Professor David Fortin with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology architecture students in 2009

Course Description

This course will continue research into the potentials and possibilities in straw bale construction as well as the systemic potentials of straw bale to provide affordable and sustainable housing both in Montana and in Kenya. Students will read about and discuss the dynamics of our global housing crisis, working towards strategies to not only provide shelter, but also jobs and socioeconomic growth. The goals of the course include the following: 1) study the urban-rural linkages influencing global housing shortages, 2) learn about straw bale construction through research and doing, contributing to a home being built by Red Feather Development in Montana, 3) design and build a straw bale home in Kenya with local workers and farmers, 4) along with our Kenyan colleagues and other potential stakeholders, continue to evaluate the feasibility of future straw bale construction throughout urban and rural Kenya, 5) study and work with existing institutional systems and NGO relationships that effect technology and knowledge transfer, adaptation, and exchange, and 6) further develop and activate the thesis that architecture can perform systemically as a vehicle for social and economic mobility in urban-rural settlement systems.

The course is a 6 credit undergraduate elective and will be taught and administered by Dr. David Fortin of the School of Architecture and Michael Spencer of Studio RE, and is coordinated with Kevin Brustuen of the Office of International Programs.

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