University of São Paulo: Building with Banana Fiber

Pillars of Sustainable Education is underway in the community of Eldorado, Brazil. Students and faculty from the University of São Paulo, local professionals, artisans, technicians, quilombolas (Brazilian social groups created during and after the slavery regime), and flood victims came together to realize the power of local materials. The APIS project, and its mission to create a prototype of portable bathrooms for use in rain-related disaster situations, is showing us the importance of community engagement through village meetings and materials workshops.

The first months of the project focused on research and data collection: compiling/ developing material testing standards; identifying and evaluating similar projects and materials appropriate to modular building systems; and experimenting with new/ innovative materials. As this project is also quite specific to a certain type of weather condition in the vulnerable São Paulo region, the aim is to work with what is natural and readily available to the area — therefore most sustainable. For the APIS project, one material in focus is banana fiber. In an effort to understand the processes and needs of the Eldorado community where the prototype will be implemented, the group attended a presentation by a Ditão (community leader) at a local church, who described the daily lives of the quilombolas, contemporary artisan way of life and the challenges they face and the extraction of banana tree fibers, heart of palm (Euterpe edulis) and medicinal plants.

Ditão speaks in local church.

Presentation by Professor PhD Lara Leite Barbosa, Photo Mirian Vaccari

Following the community discussion and a presentation by project lead Professor PhD Lara Leite Barbosa, the Ditão accompanied the team to the Atlantic Forest, where they had the opportunity to cut a banana tree and separate the different parts of the false stem. In addition, they visited a traditional rammed earth (taipa) house and learned about local medicinal plants found in the forest.

The workshop included participatory activities for experimentation with banana tree fibers. One team worked with the paper and the other tested local weaving techniques.

The aim of experimenting with these natural fibers was to develop new products that will be used as wall panels in the temporary shelters.

This portion of the APIS project goes hand in hand with “Emergency Design: Furniture and Equipment for Temporary Shelters with Groups Affected by Floods” — a project developed by the research group NOAH (Núcleo Habitat Sem Fronteiras – Habitat Center Without Borders), coordinated by Professor PhD Lara Leite Barbosa.
More about this project at

Pillars of Sustainable Education

Architecture for Humanity and Alcoa Foundation have come together to support the realization of community-based projects that explore innovations in design, materials and building systems.