One half of the world’s population, approximately 3.5 billion people on six continents, lives or works in buildings constructed of earth. Today, estimates of the world’s homeless population plus those living in poor housing, can reach a figure of one billion people.
Mud-brick dried in the sun, is an ancient structural system for building construction, and was being utilized at least 6,000 years ago for populations surrounding the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The bricks were used mainly in arid and dry areas due to the deterioration of the mud-brick caused by wet climates, floods and/or hard rains and earthquakes.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Peter Harlow was a construction manager for a corporation that was under NATO and private international contracts to build communications facilities throughout Scandinavia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. During this period, he became acutely aware of the homeless population of the Middle East, Africa and throughout the third world. Populations that were not completely homeless were living in Mud-brick homes of varying stages of deterioration. The poverty stricken were living in makeshift homes built of any waste material available.
The various governments involved were doing nothing to help their people, and It was obvious that a solution was needed that would allow the homeless and poverty stricken population to build their own rugged home that would not be a victim of deterioration or destruction due to floods, storms or earthquakes, and would not be dependent on the largess or the lack thereof, of the government bureaucracies. The solution would have to be simple, as in Occam’s razor…the simplest solution tends to be the best solution, “nature” prefers simplicity, and the solution must be able to utilize the manual skills of the local population, use local materials, be low-tech, and be of the highest durability with the lowest possible cost. Peter began working on a solution to this crisis.
In searching for a construction method that would satisfy these parameters, and was not sun-dried mud-brick, Peter recalled the fact that sandbag walls provided superior protection for military encampments, and began working with dry concrete mix in burlap bags, in place of sand, and stacked to build walls. In discussing this with an associate, he was informed that this had already been invented by Edward T. Dicker, a Dallas, Texas builder that had such a system.
Peter lived in Dallas as well, so it was easy to visit Ed Dicker and see the first home built by Ed’s system. After many days of consultation, it became apparent that this was the solution to solving the homeless population in third world countries that Peter was looking for.
Ed had received a patent for his system in 1971(since expired), and was selling licenses to builders for the use of the system. Ed Dicker was about 6 months ahead of Peter in the development of the Stack-Sack system., and had applied for a patent.
At this point, this system had a successful history of being used in 36 countries, mainly in South and Central America, and had received several industrial building code approvals and earthquake test certifications. Peter wanted to test the acceptability of the local builders and financiers of the Middle East to the use of this system before investing in the licenses.
He went back to the Middle East and contacted government agencies, builders and investors from several wealthy countries with a severe housing crisis, and presented the system.
They all agreed that this was the solution to the homeless population and that Peter should draw up some agreements for its implementation. Peter returned to the US, drew up the agreements and returned to the Middle East and presented the agreements, which were well received.
He returned to the US, and looked forward to a positive response. After some time, Peter was informed that all parties had backed out simply saying, “this was not the proper time”, with no further explanation. He learned later that some of the governments he had made the offer to, had their contractors review the system. The contractors said that this was so easy, there was no need to enter into any agreements, they could do this themselves without any outside help. Ironically, this validated Peter’s requirement that the system should be so simple, that anyone with the simple skill sets of a mud-brick builder could do it.
Peter told Ed what had transpired and that there was no way he could invest in the system, and protect his investment and the patent. Ed agreed and told Peter that he could use the system in the Middle East without fees or concerns about patent infringement. Purchase of equipment and future cost for licenses would be determined by the countries selected.
Peter then began a search for governments or financiers who would engage in projects to build homes for the homeless and poverty stricken population. No one with the means to do so was interested.
There was no money to be made in the process. This was not a business venture but was a charity proposal, and there was no money, or political will in these wealthy countries, for “charity”. Peter then dropped the project and “put it on the shelf”, with the knowledge that it would have an impact, at some “future time in history.” That “future time in history “came in March of 2010, when an earthquake struck in Elazig, Turkey
Peter had retired in 2003 and moved to Southern Turkey. An article and picture in the Today’s Zaman newspaper regarding the earthquake, struck a nerve and Peter, realizing that he had the solution to this crisis, took the housing project “off the shelf”, and began its resurrection and implementation.
The results of that action are what we have today, in the founding of the Global Housing Partners, and the offer to use this concrete bag system, in helping to solve the global housing crisis.
It has been said, “Only those who can see the invisible…can do the impossible!” We have seen the invisible, made it visible, and are now doing the impossible.