The Jeanne Sauvé Foundation launched the Collaboration Fund to encourage its 138 Sauvé Fellows – from different cohorts and disciplines – to collaborate on innovative projects and create positive social impact.

Here is an update on the Collaboration Fund-awarded GroundUp project led by Sauvé Fellows Stéphanie Jensen-Cormier (2011-12) and Joshua Monk Vanwyck (2011-12). To learn more about GroundUP as told by our Fellows, click here.

In the past three years, China has poured more concrete than America had in the entire 20th century. Last year 56% of the Chinese population lived in cities, up from 26% in 1990 and 13% in 1950. It is often the case that buildings are erected and cities emerge before architects, planners or engineers have even completed final designs and drawings.

China’s economic boom continues to be directly related to its urbanization. The government explains that densifying urban centers is a means to lift people out of poverty and give citizens better access to services, such as healthcare and education. Increased prosperity from consumer lifestyles in cities further boosts the nation’s GDP. Concentrating populations in cities can have environmental advantages, and grant people better access to opportunity. However with a rush towards urban development, people who remain in their rural communities are often neglected, their cultural identities fragmented and surrounding environments left vulnerable to exploitation. As countryside living becomes considered backwards, and local customs are viewed as archaic, residents there lose confidence and a sense of belonging to the land.

In the midst of China’s dizzying urbanization, Frederik Dolmans founded GroundUP, an architectural design company which aims to create beautifully crafted, high-efficiency, affordable buildings which enhance the livability of people who reside in the countryside. The premise of GroundUP is that quality built environments should be available to all. GroundUP projects use holistic solutions for contemporary challenges and find ways to synthesize modern design understandings with local values, lifestyles and resources. Joshua Vanwyck and myself have supported Frederik through the establishment of the company and for GroundUP’s initial projects.

With funding from the Jeanne Sauvé Collaboration Fund, GroundUP has designed and taught three 2-week theoretical and practical workshops which explored building techniques that use materials available within a 1km radius. Participants were all ages, from cities and rural areas, and came for a variety of reasons.

Most construction workers in the countryside have abandoned the knowledge of traditional building techniques, instead becoming reliant on manufactured products imported from far away. Many of them are excited to learn modernized construction practices that utilize native materials, and techniques that are better adapted to their specific climate and surrounding.

As life becomes busier for city dwellers, some sense a detachment from natural surroundings and rhythms. Many yearn for opportunities to do hands-on work and take a break from digital screens. Access to pristine natural environments has become a luxury and many feel the need to reconnect.

We are very proud of the sustainable architecture workshops that GroundUP has hosted over the past few months. These have taught over one hundred individuals how to construct buildings that are functional, contemporary, authentic and environmentally sound. Knowledge acquired from the workshops instills confidence and independence in the communities in which they have been hosted.

It is our hope that the courses and projects designed by GroundUP in China will serve to improve the quality of life of rural dwellers and inspire them to remain in their communities. We also hope that our designs will connect more people to nature, at a time when this important relationship is in a precarious state.

Joshua, Frederik and Stéphanie would like to thank the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation for its support and enthusiasm as well as its recommendations to reach out to specific Sauvé Fellows at large to better this project.

If you are interested in these workshops or would like to see some of our other projects, please visit our website:

GroundUP earthbag workshop 01

GroundUP earthbag workshop 03

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