Participatory R&D – Landscape Architecture Build in Nepal
That time when a neighborhood road was designed and constructed as a result of
weekly community-based participatory research and design workshops
8 UW Landscape Architects
3 UW HCDE Students
1 UW Civil Engineer
1 UW Videographer
Local Student Volunteers
Human Centered Designer
The 13 households in the underserved community
Municipality Government Officials
Time Frame & Constraints
Sept. through Dec. 2019
Distance to community
In the northern area of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal lies a Sukumbasi community consisting of 13 houses in a PeriUrban neighborhood. Unfortunately, the neighborhood felt the substantial impact of disaster after the Gorkha Earthquake of 2015.
After the earthquake, the municipality encouraged the community members to rebuild their homes. Fearing they would lose the land, the community immediately began to rebuild. After rebuilding homes and the family members moved in, the community members were then comfortable announcing their restored community and invited third parties to visit (NGOs, government officials, journalists, etcetera).
Multidisciplinary UW students received invitations to travel to Nepal to participate in a program that examined the contemporary issues surrounding urban development in the Kathmandu Valley and responded to them at a local scale through community-based participatory design and project implementation.
Figure 1: The underserved community consists of a diverse range of residents, some of whom are students or work in business, agriculture, or ironwork. Each household ranges from 3 to 7 members with ages ranging from 2-76 years old. Depicted above is the uneven dirt road that descended into the neighborhood.
The co-design processes between the student team and the local community members centered around weekly workshop sessions, which took place on Saturdays from about 8 am – 2 pm. Workshop participants assembled in teams under a large tent pitched near the community temple. During the workshop, participants organized into four teams. Each team consisted of a few community members (family members from the same household would be on the same team), 3-4 University of Washington students, and 1-3 Kathmandu or Tribhuvan University students.
The weekly workshops’ overall structure was rooted in the values and methodologies of participatory design, and the faculty members created the schedule with feedback from the student facilitators. Associated leaders drove the workshops’ schedule forward by introducing activities and explaining any background or status updates to the group in Nepalis. Within teams, the UW and Nepali students facilitated activities with community members to indicate their preferences for materials, plants, and visual aesthetics and discuss potential local resources and constraints for the project.
The University of Washington student team synthesized outcomes from the workshops in biweekly studio sessions to develop conceptual designs and presented these to community members. The methodology utilized during this process was rooted in participatory action research and design thinking.
Through multilingual participatory action research, we synthesized ideas drawn from our collaboration with the Bhangal residents and local student team members to identify the urgent needs of the community:
1) A paved road connecting their community to the street
2) More clean water taps
3) Connect their homes to the below-ground sewer system
The community members who voluntarily participated in the workshops were integral to the co-design process, utilizing their knowledge about their community and their desires and insights to develop concepts and add their feedback and ideas to proposed designs.
Community members noted their likes and dislikes for each design and ultimately voted on their overall option preference.
Consistent engagement by community members providing feedback at the weekly workshops shaped the design decisions for many of the road elements.
Figure 2: Community members worked to co-design by sketching a site plan for the street and identifying their priorities for street functionality.
After taking into account data from the previous workshop, students from each team presented their road design options. Community members then discussed and listed positive and negative aspects within each design.
During the first design iteration, a team introduced the concept of implementing a bioswale on the side of the road. The idea was well-received, but with reservation of how well the system would hold up during monsoon seasons since it could cause additional flooding. The bioremediation cell concept emerged as a way to capture and filter runoff before sending it to the city drain.
This concern became emphasized again when another team simultaneously proposed an open drainage system, which the community found problematic. Considering the hillside households’ context, they necessitate slowing the water down to avoid flooding the neighborhood and overwhelming city pipes.
After much discussion with community members, they understood that the function of the Biocell helps mitigate the risk of flooding and filters pollutants from the water before it slowly flows to the nearby river. The mutual understanding helped further refine the Biocell technical details, including the gardening schedule, which species to plant, the shape and size of the Biocell, and the inflow and outflow points’ location.
With influence from the top two voted designs, a community vote of their likes and dislikes, and data from previous workshops, each group collaborated to create one cohesive design to present to the community. Overall, the second design iteration was a hybrid design of all four teams’ plans, with heavy consideration of the community’s extensive and helpful feedback.
Figure 3: The design process for Bhangal Community was grounded in the participatory action research methodology, where design elements are informed by community member participation and feedback drawn from weekly workshops.
As a direct result of community input at weekly community-based participatory design workshops, we designed an equitable neighborhood road and helped construct the infrastructure. Students supported the contractors during construction work in some instances, moving hundreds of bricks or translating the design of the Biocell.
UW leadership engaged in conversation with contractors to discuss logistical details and pricing. Once construction began, each household contributed labor and time to further the work. Afterward, the Community members and members of the Interaction Nepal team showed their appreciation for each other and celebrated with a tikka ceremony, speeches, photographs, and gifts.
Students drafted a Road Maintenance Manual explaining technical components such as unclogging the Biocell outflow pipes to support the road’s upkeep. During construction, I coordinated between teams to design the multilingual (English and Nepali) maintenance manual to be accessible through color-coded sections and illustrations with detailed captions depicting how to maintain technical components.
In the end, students designed a hillside neighborhood road and helped build the crucial infrastructure while remaining grounded in the methodologies of Participatory Design and Design Thinking. After our successful road project, the municipality built a public park and restroom across the street. This Design-Build project helped address contemporary issues at a local scale surrounding urban development in the Kathmandu Valley.
In retrospect, building the neighborhood road for the community directly supported the target goal to increase the density of paved roads by the Nepalese government in support of Sustainable Development Goals “#9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure”.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) consists of 17 goal categories that contribute to ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all by 2030. The spectrum of goals ranges from “Climate Action” to “Health and Wellness.” As a result of the skills acquired in the HCDE program, it has empowered me to pursue my personal goal of contributing to the SDG.
Figure 4: Community feedback and preferences shaped the prioritization of the infrastructure elements built alongside the road. For example, removable covered gutters run along the roadside which allows for controlled water drainage and filtration.