A decision support system for affordable and sustainable housing design and delivery in least developed countries (LDCs)

  • John Bruen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Housing shortages in least developed countries (LDCs) continue to escalate beyond previous records and based on current trends are set to continue to increase in the coming years. The resulting homelessness and poverty affect large populations in many LDCs. The main contributing factors are recognised as global population growth and disasters, which disproportionally affect LDCs when compared with developed countries. The challenge of how best to address these shortages has been a central debate in many LDCs. Many different actors, such as governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and communities undertake housing provision projects in these contexts. However, the outcomes are often of poor quality, which can be attributed to a lack of a coherent and holistic design and delivery process with the community served and sustainability central to the process. Based on this, the aim of this research is to explore the complex area of the design and delivery of sustainable and affordable housing in LDCs and post disaster contexts. This is done to identify the current challenges and barriers to its successful delivery and the drivers to provide better outcomes. Disasters in particular are a significant contributing factor in many LDCs housing shortages. The various types of disasters e.g. natural and handmade are identified and discussed. Conflict as a form of manmade disaster is also taken in to consideration as a contributing factor to LDCs housing shortages. The concept of resilience and its importance in all aspects of the design and delivery of housing, particularly in post disaster contexts, is examined in detail as a fundamental aspect to address in order to provide long term sustainable solutions for beneficiaries. The research focuses on the design decision-making and delivery process for selected international housing organisations, which operate in the field of sustainable housing in LDCs. The research bridges the domains of architecture and project management and in particular, the aspect of decision support. The research is initiated with a comprehensive literature review of the various aspects of housing delivery in LDC contexts and related concepts that inform the design process, for example, sustainability and affordability. A multi case study approach with nine leading international housing organisations operating in LDCs are undertaken. This involves data collection utilising interviews, observation and documentation studies with the selected organisations. Cognitive mapping, data reduction and thematic data analysis are used to extract the findings from the data obtained. Sri Lanka was identified as a country that presented a variety of causes of housingshortages in the recent past. It was subject to number of recent disasters e.g. tsunami and the recently ended 30 year civil conflict and it was in the process of rebuilding many parts of the country as a result. Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to maximise the exposure to the selected leading international organisations and to enrich the research and data collection Sri Lanka also provided a wide range of landscapes, cultural diversity and climatic zones. This further enriched the study as the reality of LDCs worldwide is that they present many different contexts e.g. social, cultural, political, geographical and environmental and as such the diverse context which Sri Lanka provided was more representative of this. The study identifies and examines the key stages in the overall process. Identified stages include pre-design, design, construction handover and post-handover. Individual stages are elaborated on to include the key aspects including community participation, social and cultural aspects, technical aspects, research requirements and external factors to consider are given consideration in each stage and how they relate to the overall process. The research identifies key barriers and challenges faced in the design and delivery of sustainable housing in LDCs. Key drivers to improve the design and delivery process are also identified and discussed. The overall process from inception to completion is examined, using diagrammatic flow charts, for each organisation to identify relevant stages in the overall process. Ten key themes were identified that were considered to inform the designer’s decision making in relation to various aspects of the design and delivery of the projects. Identified themes included the need for research at the outset to inform long term sustainable and affordable solutions which was also identified as a key theme. The need to work collaboratively through a process led approach that enabled capacity building and resilience to be a fundamental part of the overall process. External factors including the need for transparency in all aspects of the work and the influence of governments were also identified as critical aspects to be taken in to consideration when operating in a LDC or post disaster context. The research culminates with development of a decision support system (DSS) tool for the design and delivery of sustainable housing in LDC contexts is derived directly from the research findings. The DSS is a practical and flexible tool in MS Excel format that can then be applied in practice by a variety of stakeholders to aid better decision-making practices throughout the whole process. The implications of this work are applicable to both architectural knowledge and practice. From an academic perspective, the research adds to the existing body ofknowledge, by further confirming and validating findings from existing literature, as well as additional findings which are discussed in detail; thus, filling identified gaps in knowledge. From a practice perspective, this research has resulted in the development of a Decision Support System (DSS) that can be easily disseminated, to assist designers and associated stakeholders involved in the field; ultimately benefiting communities served in the long term. The findings are also of use for other stakeholders, such as governmental organisations, donors and communities when establishing various project guidelines and documentation that relates to housing provision, for example, project briefs, criteria to be adhered to, checklists and building regulations among others.
Date of AwardDec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorSu Taylor (Supervisor) & John Spillane (Supervisor)

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