Programs leading up to the establishment of BaSiC Initiative began in 1986 as a program to assist poor indigenous farmers in central Mexico, who were being impacted both by urbanization and economic marginalization. For the first four years of its existence, the program offered design and planning services to these communities, emphasizing building the capacity of these communities to become self-sufficient.

The first partner in this work was CED (Centro de Encuentros y Dialogos), an organization founded by Ivan Illych among others, and heavily influenced by the work of Paolo Freire, whose educational theories also directly informed the creation of programs like the U.S. Peace Corps. With the explosive growth of informal settlements in the 1990s, concern for the deteriorating physical environments of these communities, and Mexican cities in general, brought the issues of sustainability to the forefront.

Students began to join these efforts in the late-1980s and the program created its first formal education program for architecture students with the University of Oregon in 1989. In 1993, the program moved to the University of Washington, when Sergio Palleroni accepted a teaching position there. With Steve Badanes and David Riley, Sergio Palleroni officially founded BaSiC Initiative in 1995, enabling the program to become truly multidisciplinary and available to the entire University community.

In 1997, the program won an AIA/ACSA National Education Award, the first time a design/build program was recognized. With the living conditions of Mexican migrant farm workers also rapidly degrading in the 1990s, BaSiC Initiative founded a rural housing program in the states of Washington and Oregon, the Initiative’s first US-based program. Rural housing for migrants and now American Indians (under the AIHI program that David Riley founded with Sergio Palleroni and the Red Feather Development Group) are an important part of the BaSiC Initiative, and along with the Global Studio (of which the Mexico Program forms a part) and the Local Communities Studio (which addresses the need of the underserved in the U.S.), make up the various educational programs of the BaSiC Initiative.

In the past two decades the program has successfully designed and built over 95 projects ranging from elementary schools, to clinics, children’s libraries, laundry facilities, houses, literacy centers, and urban gardens, to infrastructure projects such as wells, cisterns, waste treatment facilities, and solar fields. Each program has in its own way made a significant contribution to its host community not only by providing new possibilities and ways of living more economically and ecologically, but also through the experience and capacity gained through the design/build process by both community members and students.

The programs have received national and international awards and recognition from the AIA/ACSA (1997), NCARB (2003), UNESCO (1998, 2005), and the governments of Mexico (2000), Cuba (2002), India (2003), and the European Union (2004), U.S. National Design Award (2005), among other recognition.

Additional Readings:

Studio at Large: Architecture in Service of Global Communities
University of Washington Press, 2004

Building a Straw Bale House: The Red Feather Construction Handbook by Nathaniel Corum
Princeton Architecture Press, 2005

Design Like You Give a Damn, by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr Metropolis Books, 2006

Good Deeds, Good Design II: Community Service Through Architecture
Bryan Bell, Editor
Princeton Architecture Press, 2006

Experiments in Design Pedagogy by Mao-lin Chiu
Taipei, 2007