Bonaccorso / Low-cost DIY Upgrade Strategies for Improved Comfort in Poor Brazilian Houses in Hot Climates

Low-cost DIY Upgrade Strategies for Improved Comfort in Poor Brazilian Houses in Hot Climates Process and Results

Author: Nadir Bonaccorso, Universidade de Èvora

Supervisor: Guilherme Carrilho da Graça, Lisbon University – Faculty of Science; Pedro Matos Gameiro, Évora University – Faculty of Architecture

Research stage: Final doctoral stage

Category: Paper

DDR Statement

The investigation on low-cost do-it-yourself (DIY) strategies to be applied in poor houses environments in hot climates for improving thermal comfort, used Research by Design (RbD) as the driven methodology.

The primary question was about how to improve thermal comfort in poor houses and for that, I should first answer questions about what a poor house is as understanding constraints and the modus vivendi of the householders. Literature about poor houses was scarce, and even if I had already ideas about the project, I had to immerse in this reality. Choosing a place and starting in-situ research was mandatory. Nonetheless, it was the only step I could rely on, having no clue of the following one. The observation allowed me to understand the materiality, the structure, and the construction philosophy of the object of the study (the poor house). Action research projected me into this reality letting me interact with the subject (the householder) and comprehend his modus vivendi. I had to review my notion of architecture and adapt to a different type of “order” and “chronology”, the one used in this context. While I was building the premises based on my interaction with the environment, it was getting clearer that all previous ideas were unviable and that a new approach was needed. Improving my abilities as a bricoleur turned to be a natural option, using basic tools for a low-budget, DIY solution. During the work on the first hypothesis, designing, installing, and verifying a solar chimney device in a poor house in Sobral, Brazil, I felt that the results for this wicked problem needed to be precise. In the first phase of my research, the qualitative approach turned to be essential for the elaboration of the designed strategies allowing me to work on viable solutions. A quantitative approach was needed to validate the strategies I was proposing to the poor house's residents.

In the second phase of the research, I was compelled to build a bridge between the “First Science” of Levi-Strauss and the contemporary scientific methodology and its digital tools, diving into physics knowledge to help me verify the effectiveness of the multiple low-cost hypotheses essayed. For two years, all the viable solutions were designed, assembled, and implemented in a test cell built using the poor house bricoleur technique and measured in this controlled environment. A constant realignment of the construction of the artefacts, based on trial and error to validate the solution, was performed. For the observation of the results of the strategies on a wider hot climate scale, a validated thermal dynamic simulation was built and applied to the climate of several Latin American cities.

Design accompanied the investigation, transversally, feeding on the first phase assumptions. It was used as a tool to think about the object of study, to project and develop the strategies and to communicate with the communities. During the scientific research phase, I found the dynamic thermal simulation a tool to complement the design process of thermal spaces.

In the search for answers, the flexibility and adaptability of RbD allowed me to use, in each step, the most appropriate method to support the research.

Finally, in this research, the achievement of equilibrium between both approaches turned to be the key to the investigation and may show the importance of the RbD methodology used, to better comprehend and participate in our complex human world.