the lost american
housing pictographs
housing pictographs

These 'Housing Pictographs' are another example of how Fred Cuny was always looking for ways to use a calamity as a catalyst to improve people's lives.

After Guatemala's 1976 earthquake, Cuny went to the devastated central highlands to see what he could do. Working with two organizations, OxFam (U.K.) and World Neighbors, he posed a key question to both the NGO staff and the peasants whose adobe homes had been reduced to rubble:

'How do you make safe a poor person's house in the rural countryside?'

Fred set out to improve the design and construction of the local housing as it was about to be rebuilt. Mary McKay, the head of the World Neighbor's Housing Education Office in Guatemala, explained to FRONTLINE how the new building program worked. The ideas were all Fred's, she said, but "the local builders took those ideas and figured out what you actually did when you are out there with a hammer in your hand. Fred wasn't a mason or a carpenter," but he could talk with those who were, and he loved doing that "especially with the guys in the sandals who really did the work."

Cuny would draw pictures which a World Neighbor's staff member then turned into artwork. The drawings then were silk-screened onto the backs of empty flour sacks, stitched together, rolled up and put on the back of a master carpenter's moped. The skilled craftsmen, who had worked with Fred in developing these new building techniques, would then drive from village to village throughout the region using the "flip charts" to spread the word.

Although many of those master carpenters were later killed or fled Guatemala as a result of the government's crack down on people they thought might challenge their authority, many of the houses using Fred Cuny's techniques are still standing. Guatemala has not yet suffered another earthquake the magnitude of the 1976 quake.


Shapes of Construction Square: The Best Rectangle: okay Triangle: The worst shape Don't build in these forms If you want to build this shape, do it like this Leave a minimum distance of .84

On mountainsides
Don't build in these forms

Do it like this

Leave a space of .84 meters



Flat ground is better

Mountainsides are not secure



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