Engineers Without Borders (EWB) won the National Building Museum’s prestigious Henry C. Turner prize for innovation in construction technology for its work connecting engineering students with international development projects. NBM President Chase Wynd said EWB, which has more than 250 local chapters across the U.S., provides sustainable, low-cost critical infrastructure in the areas of water, energy, sanitation, and housing. To date, its engineered, community-led projects have benefitted more than one million people worldwide. The organization sees itself as a “platform for the next generation of engineers.”
Cathy Leslie, EWB’s Executive Director, said the organization started from a conversation University of Colorado Civil Engineering Professor Bernard Amadei had with a landscaper working in his backyard. Amadei discovered the landscaper’s village in Belize desperately needed a clean water system but didn’t have the local expertise. As a result, villagers were getting sick. Amadei and his team of eight students created a sustainable, low-tech yet effective solution for $14,000. Since then, the organization grew from a handful of volunteers to more than 12,000 today. EWB now has 350 projects going in 45 countries covering water, sanitation, civil works, structures, energy, agriculture, and IT.
Each village EWB engages with gets a five-year committment. In each village, EWB typically completes 2-3 major projects, which cost between $10,000 and $40,000. The organization’s team stays five years to ensure they can build the local capacity needed to keep projects running smoothly after they leave. “It’s important that projects can be maintained over the long-term,” said Leslie.
Leslie said the major issue now is how to scale-up small fixes to local problems in a world that will have two billion new people over the next two decades. In the developing world, where 90 percent of the world’s population is found, the issues will continue to be dirty water, lack of sanitation, and lack of basic civic infrastructure. In the developed world, there will be increasing problems with congestion, smog, and decreasing quality of life.
With the growth of groups like EWB and Architecture for Humanity, perhaps a “Landscape Architecture for Humanity” group will also finally get started? Projects in developing countries covered by such a group could include: master plans, sustainable transportation networks, ecosystem restoration, brownfield redevelopment, pocket parks, and playgrounds.
Past winners of the Turner Prize include the U.S. Green Building Council and Gehry Partners.
Image credit: Water Supply and Distribution Improvements. San Lorenzo El Tejar, Guatemala / Engineering Without Borders