UCL News


Engineering undergraduates build earthquake-resistant houses in Peru

22 July 2009

A team of undergraduates from UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering is spending the summer building earthquake-resistant housing in Peru.

Construction work in Casa Blanca, Peru

The project involves building new homes in Casa Blanca, a small community on the outskirts of the southern city of Ica, which was severely affected by an earthquake in 2007. Many people in the region still live in transitional housing.

The team, which consists of second- and third-year undergraduates, are using improved quincha: a variation on a traditional construction method using wood, mud and cane - similar to the wattle and daub used by the Tudors ¬- that is resistant to seismic activity.

The students also aim to instruct the communities in which they are working in the differences between the traditional and improved method of construction, so that they can carry on rebuilding safe, earthquake-resistant houses once the project has finished.

The new construction method was developed and tested by Ponteficia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP), a university in Lima whose department of civil engineering has a large research programme dedicated to developing technologies to reinforce structures against the highly destructive earthquakes common in Peru. 

Before starting work, the team spent two days at PCUP learning about forms of traditional construction in Peru. They also received lectures on 'soft engineering': issues regarding the development of a community's capabilities and skills to ensure safe and sustainable construction. These were delivered by the Red Cross and the Peruvian non-governmental organisation CIDAP. The Red Cross is running a major programme implementing the latest construction research in Peru, of which the UCL project is part, while CIDAP is coordinating the project in Casa Blanca.

Rachel Smith, one of the UCL team members, explained: "The project has come about through our own initiative - we got together in October 2008 and decided we wanted to do some form of voluntary construction work between our second and third years. It has materialised mainly due to hard work from two of our team members, Claudia Ramirez and Mathura Ponnuthurai. We are funded by UCL Futures and the construction company Laing O´Rourke. We also held parties, a band night, and undertook sponsored silences, triathlons, waxings, and five-kilometre runs to raise funds."

The team is recording its progress in a blog on a weekly basis. To read more, follow the blog link at the top of this article.


UCL context: Research blogs at UCL

Several students and staff blog about their research activity. These include:

  • Bloomsbury People: a blog run by Dr Carole Reeves (UCL Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL) charting progress on a three-year interdisciplinary project funded by The Leverhulme Trust to piece together an archive illustrating 19th-century Bloomsbury's development from swamp to hub of intellectual life.
  • Community archives and identity: a blog run by Dr Mary Stevens (UCL Information Studies) as part of a research project supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council into the social impact of black and other minority ethnic community archives.
  • The UCL Centre for Health Informatics and Multiprofessional Education blog aims to disseminate articles of interest, provoke debate and publicise recent developments in education, healthcare, informatics, research and more. All staff are welcome to post or comment on entries.