Building Brigade aids Latin America

The team of more than 30 USC School of Architecture students that make up the USC Architecture Brigade are planning on making their second trip to Latin America for a charity construction project in January.

For two weeks, 16 of those students will take the group’s preparation and fly to Santa Rosa, Honduras to design a school and construct it “completely by hand,” according to senior architecture and business major Nathan Doctor, founder and president of the USC Architecture Brigade. The student-run group designs and constructs socially and environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects in Central America in collaboration with Global Architecture Brigades.

From the ground up · The USC Architecture Brigade made two trips to Gatu, Panama, first designing and then building a large structure to help store crops from the weather. - Photos courtesy of Nathan Doctor

“I think at USC we have so many opportunities and a huge amount of resources,” Doctor said. “We should utilize them in a way that helps someone and makes a tangible difference in their life.”

There are about 35 students involved in the USC Architecture Brigades program in Honduras. It was no easy task; the students looked at several things unique to the area when creating their design, from building materials and techniques to culture and seismic activity.

The students have since consulted professors and will  finalize construction drawings before traveling to Honduras this January, spending two weeks to build the home — one week to finalize designs at the location and a second week devoted to construction.

“We get to go down there, meet the people and see the change we’re creating,” Doctor said.

Last February, the Architecture Brigade built a ranch home on an area occupied by subsistence farmers in Gatu, Panama. It was the first year the students formed a USC Global Brigade chapter.

“The fact that I can say that I helped design and build a real structure that is impacting people’s lives before I’ve graduated is pretty special,” said Bradley Sutton, a senior majoring in architecture and a member of the program.

In Gatu, people must travel to far away sugar cane plantations to chop cane for at least one month a year, leaving their families at home alone, Sutton said. The buildings that the students created will help provide more food storage and safety during times of financial uncertainty.

During the development process, the group made two trips to Panama. The first trip was a discovery visit to explore the site, its surroundings and talk with the people of the community to try to determine their needs and wants from the new farm building, Sutton said. The second trip was all business and breaking ground. The group worked from sunrise to sundown every day, building the structures.

The Brigades ultimately resulted in the construction of a building that allowed residents to dry and store crops for sale at market, enabling them to earn the necessary money and allowing them to stay with their families and farms year-round.

In Panama, the students lived with local families for two weeks, immersing themselves in Honduran culture.

“It’s rewarding to leave seeing a lasting sense of change, focusing on the root causes of the problems we see,” Doctor said.

For the students, it was a chance to get some real world experience.

“In architecture school, there is always a disconnect between the virtual world of design and the physical world of building,” Sutton said. “When you are actually building something with your own hands, you learn more than you would doing a thousand drawings or computer models.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that the group would be building a house in Honduras.  In fact, the students will be helping to build a school in Honduras. This entry has been updated to reflect the change.