Designing $300 Houses for the World’s Poor

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Build a house for $300? That is exactly what the 300House Project just proved in a worldwide competition to design housing for the poor.

Contestants around the world were challenged to design a house that could be constructed for less than US$300. Prize money of $25,000 was shared among the top 16 ranked ideas, with two-week prototyping workshops worth $15,000 for the first, second and third designs ranked by both the online voting community and a Jury Prize.

Hopefully the designs that come from contests such as this can inspire more designs that can help those most in need of affordable housing. And for good reason, as the lack of adequate housing or shelter is one faced by almost two billion people in the world.

What began as a conceptual argument by bloggers Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar, the idea of building a house for under US $300 received such a supportive response the 300House project was launched, thanks to sponsors like Jovoto. And thank goodness, as the winning results are very much worth reviewing.

Here were the contest parameters: design a weatherproof and fireproof dwelling that was sustainable, secure, durable (up to 50 years) replicable, and dignified at a cost of $300. In addition, the dwelling needed to be standardized, but also had to allow for differences in regions and available materials. Size had to be no smaller than 2.2 meters square (23.68 square feet).

The habitat/community design had to provide space for sleeping and cooking, and access to light, drinking water and electricity and be secure. Although sanitation wasn’t part of the contest it is regarded as part of any centralized communal facility.

The highest community-ranked project awarded a monetary prize was “300 Possibilities” – a modular housing design that used available materials. Here, a basic block house with sloping roof and modular wood formation was proposed with different features, in different street layouts, with ventilation via courtyards, windows or raised stilts to take advantage of different airflow. Contest organizers said the key to the winning design is its adaptability for the global poor.

Second award went to “Project Ground-Up” from Architecture Commons whose house design concerned a self-managed village cooperative for 100 families. This community included a micro-enterprise approach for job-creation in the manufacture of housing materials. This design also outlined future investments in tools that will aid the community, like rainwater tanks and solar power.

The Hybrid House is an earth block and wood structure with a corrugated roof that uses available materials and is adaptable to different climates. It provides for communal energy and water use. Each cluster of six would feature a solar panel, solar cooker, solar water purifier, cistern and washing station that distributes gray water to feed a central planter.

As for online voting, the top rank went to Totally Tubular – a design comprising tubes of light fiber and clay known as hyper-wattle standing on a lower wall of masonry or heavy earth bags filled with trash and rubble. An overlaid matrix of mesh forms a structural skin that allows high-quality earthen wall construction for very little cost.

All designs to this inspiring contest should be reviewed and shared.

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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