Housing in Latin America MARCIA N. KOTH, JULIO G. SILVA and ALBERT G. H. DIETZ 272 pages, 810.00 (1965). The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02142, U.S.A.
WITH a view to examine broad engineering prob- " lems in Latin America, to carry on research, and to effect an exchange of students and faculty personnel, a broad program has been draw up by the Civil Engineering Department of M.1.T. This text forms the report of the first of a series of such studies and examines in factual detail the structure, finances, and housing conditions prevalent in Latin America. There are two parts. The first covers the demographic factors involved in the changing population picture and its impact on housing needs; housing conditions as they exist in both urban and rural zones; the complex and crucial thctors of housing finance; and some of the sociopolitical issues involved in housing. The second part which is less organizational and more technical examines the various private and public bodies engaged in housing in Latin America; indicates the results of a questionnaire sent out by the authors to fill in several gaps in existing knowledge on housing needs; and the materials and methods of construction commonly employed including research in this field and scope for industrialization. Stated briefly it can be said that the problems facing Latin America in the field of housing are immense, each aspect being linked with another so that none can be studied in isolation. Thus the technological factors in materials and methods are strongly influenced by all other facets; economic aspects of housing depend not only upon efficient methods of construction and low-cost materials but upon the place of housing in the entire national economy (which in turn show great disparity in their degrees of industrialization); while lastly and very significantly the rapid growth and shift in population from rural to urban areas, places great pressures on housing everywhere. The population of Latin America is increasing at an even greater rate than Asia and as such both the needs and potentials for housing are enormous. The report brings out the fact that the principal obstacle to greater volume of housing construction is financial, that is the lack of availability of longterm financing at reasonable rates of interest. It explains this aspect and indicates that both government and private industry should necessarily come into the financial picture. The highly-organized and efficiently-managed volume builder of small houses found in the West is largely non-existent in Latin America. Coming down to indigenous talent for house building, the authors indicate that architectural and engineering abilities of the highest order exist
among the top echelons of that country, which in fact possess some of the most daring and imaginative of today's buildings and even small but sleek houses of low cost. Unfortunately at the lower and middle echelons such talent is not available and housing ' e n masse' therefore suffers badly. The interplay between the highly skilled craftsmen and artisans and the unskilled personnel is loose and unproductive. This requires serious consideration by the housing industry. In the field of materials and methods of construction and their research aspects, the authors have some very valuable suggestions. Primarily there is very much room for improvement in the commonly used materials for housing namely adobe, burnt-clay brick, concrete block and concrete cast in silu. It is felt that stabilized earth utilizing asphalt, petroleum residues and the like which are common there, should be further investigated. Similarly sugar cane residue which forms the basis for good quality building board should also be experimented with and used for low-cost structures. Bamboo as reinforcement is yet another field not exploited, in spite of the fact that Latin America is rich in this material. Although the conventional forms of wood are used, in doors, windows and other elements, it is not fully exploited t~r low-cost housing. With rapid growth in petrochemical industries in Latin America, it is logical to utilize to the maximum extent its byproducts--plastics--in plastic based laminates, and in piping systems as well as in composite and shell construction. The results of the report are arrived at from extensive travels in Latin American countries by the three authors, the most senior of whom is well known for his work in building design and construction, and who is currently Prof. of Building Engineering at M.I.T. This reviewer feels that the suggestions made by these authors are even valid with suitable modifications, in several developing countries like India, where housing forms a national problem of significant importance. The text contains several tables, illustrations and photographs. The latter are not all sharp and clear and distract to some extent from the value of this otherwise fine publication. Some of the tables are printed in very minute type and constitute a strain on reading. Nevertheless these are very minor blemishes in a book which gives valuable statistical data and a fund of information on the necessity of adequate housing in a country which faces complex problems, like Latin America. S. K. GHASWALA