2006 Buell Oral History Prize

2006 Buell Oral History Prize


The Buell Center Fellowship, an annual award for historical research on the built environment within or between the fields of architecture, urban history, and landscape, was developed by The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture in coordination with Columbia University’s Center for Oral History and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.  


Up to three awards, between $3,000 and $5,000, are given annually for the purposes of carrying out primary research in conjunction with a scholarly research project at the advanced graduate level. Interdisciplinary or comparative work on the Americas is especially encouraged, and special consideration is given for projects that include an oral history component. Applicants must be full-time Columbia University students at the time of the award's distribution.




Helen Gyger, PhD in Architecture History and Theory 2013, Columbia University GSAPP


The Informal as a Project: Self-Help Housing in Peru, 1954–1986


The project examines the history of aided self-help housing through the case study of Peru, which was the site of significant experiments in this field, and pioneering in its efforts to enact a large-scale policy of land tenure regularization in unplanned settlements. As the sheer scale of the housing deficit tested the limits of conventional modernist housing reform, aided self-help presented itself as a response to the constraints and apparent opportunities of this situation; its essential premise was to bring together the benefits of “formal” architecture (an expertise in design and construction) with those of “informal” building (substantial cost savings, because residents themselves furnished the labour).


Aided self-help housing in Peru took a variety of forms, ranging from highly co-ordinated projects constructed using communal labour, with on-site technical assistance from architects, to sites-and-services developments, which included the provision of basic services (water, sewerage, electricity, roadways), on the expectation that residents would eventually consolidate their neighbourhoods into more-or-less conventional urban areas. These projects generally offered a very basic core house, which residents were expected to expand and complete over time following standard plans set out by an architect. Housing on this progressive-development model (also called the “growing house”) could be built incrementally as the family’s needs demanded and its budget allowed. At the other end of the spectrum was the UN-sponsored Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda (PREVI), an international design competition which endeavoured to draw upon the experience of prominent avant-garde architects to devise new approaches to low-cost housing.


Part of my research included undertaking a series of recorded oral history interviews with architects who played active roles in the provision of low-cost housing in Peru in this period. These included Sara Ishikawa, Sandy Hirshen, Peter Land, and John F. C. Turner. Transcripts of the interview with Hirshen and Turner have been deposited in the collection of the Columbia Center for Oral History.


1. Fondo Nacional de Salud y Bienestar Social (FNSBS), Anteproyecto de construcción de viviendas por ayuda mútua en la República. Lima:

FNSBS, División de Asistencia Técnica a la Vivienda, October 1960.


2. Fondo Nacional de Salud y Bienestar Social (FNSBS), Barriadas de Lima Metropolitana. Lima: FNSBS, 1960.



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