UP group wins Habitat for Humanity Challenge for an innovative solution on retrofitting foundations of Philippine low-income homes

A team of Philippine instructors and civil engineers from the academic community was announced as the winner of the ‘Habitat for Humanity Challenge: Increasing resilience to Earthquakes and Typhoons for Homes with No Foundations’ in the Philippines.

The University of the Philippines-Diliman’s Construction Engineering and Management Group represented by Dean Ashton Plamenco, Dr. Diocel Harold Aquino, Dr. Fernando Germar, and Ammiel Barros will be awarded a total of $25,000 for their winning solution of the challenge during the virtual event that culminated the global challenge that was launched in October 2020.

The challenge, led by Habitat’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter and Habitat for Humanity Philippines together with SeaFreight Labs and InnoCentive, prompted more than 80 submissions from the InnoCentive platform worldwide to provide innovative solutions on retrofitting houses with no or weak foundations to increase their resilience against earthquakes and typhoons.

In the Philippines, the challenge is also largely supported by Holcim Philippines, Hilti Foundation, and BASE Bahay Foundation.

The winning group’s solution, called the Column Footing Grade Beam Monolith, features isolated reinforced concrete footings, which are placed on the four corners, while all sides of the structure are connected by a plinth beam. The method claims to withstand the required gravity and special loads from earthquakes and strong wind and can be applied for future incremental builds, such as building a second story, from the existing structure.

“Low-income families across the world are underserved by formal housing markets, they tend to build their homes incrementally, often with limited access to sound construction advice and quality, eco-friendly materials. Because of this, Habitat for Humanity is always looking for innovative ways to facilitate affordable upgrades of existing structures,” Scott Merrill, International Program Senior Director of Habitat’s Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, said during the virtual event.

“We hope that this is the first of many more innovations that we and others in the business community can help deliver to Habitat. These innovations should help Habitat continue their work in providing more low-income communities with sustainable and affordable solutions to enable building stronger homes,” SeaFreight Labs Founder Harry Sangree added.

Also joining the virtual event were Habitat for Humanity International Vice President for Asia-Pacific Luis Noda; InnoCentive Chief Innovation Officer Jon Fredrickson; Hilti Foundation Board Chairman Marco Meyrat; Holcim Philippines Chief Sustainability Officer Zoe Sibala; BASE Bahay Foundation General Manager Pablo Jorillo Jr., Ph.D.; Habitat for Humanity Philippines Chief Operating Officer Lili Fuentes; and Terwilliger Center Philippine Country Lead Jessan Catre.

Over 200 participants including families from different communities witnessed the virtual announcement of the winner.

Retrofitting foundations for homes in the Philippines

The winning solution was chosen from four finalists whose solutions were evaluated by a panel from SeaFreight Labs, BASE Bahay Foundation, Habitat for Humanity.

The field test involved a “lateral load test,” which simulated the lateral forces of an earthquake and typhoon winds to check how each solution will respond. The solutions were judged on its resilience against typhoons and earthquakes; availability of materials needed; ease of installation among masons and homeowners; and affordability among low-income households.

The Column Footing Grade Beam Monolith earned top scores in the major technical categories of the evaluation, which measures structural resistance to simulated forces typical for typhoons and earthquakes, and exceeded the minimum standards found in the Philippine Structural Code in terms of resiliency.

Additionally, the solution also received top scores in the community acceptability survey conducted with households, artisans, hardware store owners, and the local government, which is an important criterion throughout the selection process.

Other finalists include the Foundation-Fit System by Charles Bunch, Kabir’s Building Stabilization Method by Engr. Humayun Kabir, and Perimeter Concrete Reinforcement Retrofit for Concrete Hollow Block (CHB) Structures by Leonard Duffy. Of the four solutions, Kabir’s Building Stabilization Method did not undergo a field test after further verification on field as the solution failed to comply with the technical and costing requirements indicated by the challenge.

The winner

The Construction Engineering and Management Group is one of the six academic research groups of the Institute of Civil Engineering at the University of Philippines-Diliman. It focuses on research on sustainable housing, disaster-resilient construction, durable infrastructure, and construction method and management. The Institute of Civil Engineering, of which the winning group is a part of, was established in October 2008 to address the need for a center of excellence in civil engineering and its specialized fields, with combined capabilities in instruction, research, and extension service. It is the first and only Institute of Civil Engineering in the Philippines.

Engr. Dean Ashton Plamenco is an instructor at the University of the Philippines Diliman and has authored several research studies on construction engineering, concrete technologies, and construction project management. He finished his bachelor’s degree of Civil Engineering and master’s degree in Industrial Engineering in the same school.

Dr. Fernando Germar is a professor of Civil Engineering at the University of the Philippines Diliman and heads the Construction Engineering and Management Group of the Institute of Civil Engineering. His research materials also include earthquake engineering and seismic design and retrofit of structures. He was also the adviser of the winning team in Bechtel’s Building the Next Century Competition with their research project “Negros-Cebu Bridge.”

Joining Plamenco and Dr. Germar are Dr. Diocel Harold Aquino, assistant professor, Young Scientist Fellow, and recipient of the New Zealand government’s Engineering Research and Development for Technology scholarship; and Engr. Ammiel Barros, a faculty member of the university’s Institute of Civil Engineering.

 The Philippines Challenge

In the Philippines, more than 1 million houses are built without foundations, which poses major concern as the country sits right on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is subject to major earthquakes and typhoons. Unfortunately, low-income families are not able to afford retrofitting foundations of their existing houses because of the additional expenditure.

Faced with these realities, the Habitat for Humanity Challenge was launched in the Philippines in October 2020 to call for cost-effective ways to retrofit houses with a focus on strengthening structures. The innovative solution can help Filipinos have a housing structure that can withstand a 6.5 Richter scale earthquake and a 200-kph typhoon.

Aside from the Philippines, three additional challenges were launched in Kenya, Mexico, and India through InnoCentive’s crowdsourcing platform, which enabled Habitat for Humanity to reach out to solvers who had an extensive track record in solving these challenges and improve the lives and safety of countless people around the globe.

In the Philippines, Habitat for Humanity plans to continue working with the winning team to scale up the solution and make the technology easily accessible to low-income communities. Part of the plans included ways to teach the technology to communities so they could adopt it while repairing their homes.

“(I am firmly convinced that) the solutions presented at today’s event will excite and inspire actors in the Philippine housing sector. We have the collective responsibility to reduce disaster risks and protect vulnerable communities in the Philippines and all over the world. Together, we can contribute to a safer, more sustainable world for everyone,” Luis Noda, Asia-Pacific Vice President, Habitat for Humanity International shared.

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