$1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

$1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

Summary: MIT architects have produced the first prototype "Pinwheel House" in an effort to see if low-cost homes can be constructed for $1,000, total.


The brainpower at MIT has been harnessed to help improve housing conditions for the billions of people living in poor rural conditions on less than $1 per day.

The first prototype from the Institute's "1K House" project--an effort launched in 2009 to see if low-cost homes can be constructed for $1,000--has been constructed in Mianyang, in Sichuan Province, China, an area ravaged by the 2008 earthquake.

Pinwheel House interior. Credit: Ying chee Chui

Pinwheel House interior. Credit: Ying Chee Chui

Pinwheel House is modular dwelling consisting of two natural materials, earth block and bamboo, that can be easily assembled via interlocking rectangular room units that surround a central courtyard space.

It was designed by Ying Chee Chui, a graduate of MIT's Department of Architecture and currently an architectural practitioner in New York City.

"The module can be duplicated and rotated, and then it becomes a house," Chui says. "The construction is easy enough, because if you know how to build a single module, you can build the whole house."

Drawing inspiration from One Laptop Per Child, the idea for a $1,000 homes was first conceived as a design challenge by Tony Ciochetti who chairs MIT's Center for Real Estate.

Chui's house is one of 13 plans that emerged from the first 1K House design studio. It features hollow brick walls with steel bars for reinforcement, wooden box beams, and is intended to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. The first prototype measured 800 square feet and turned out to be more costly, at $5,925, but still very inexpensive in relative terms.

A 500 square feet version of the house could be built for about $4,000, according to Chui, and still lower if a large number of the homes were built at once. Nonetheless, Yung Ho Chang, a professor of architectural design at MIT who helped oversee the 2009 1K House design studio, thinks the prototype has fulfilled the promise of Chui's design. "The house Chee built has good ventilation and good light," Chang says.

But plenty of hurdles remain before any home can be manufactured for $1,000 or less. "If it were easy, somebody would have done it," Ciochetti says.

The house is made of modules 13.8 sqm. The assembly method is the same for each unit, thus, if you know how to build one module, you know how to build them all. Credit: MIT

At any rate, the project's success has spawned a related effort for home designs intended for Japan, A new MIT design studio is working on a home that would cost $10,000 to build. It would provide housing for victims of natural disasters, such as the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan last March.

Ultimately, convening further studios in the vein of the 1K House project will allow more designs to move from the drawing board and onto solid ground, according to Chang. "The inexpensive laptop got to be more than an idea, it became available for children. I hope one day we'll be in the same position."

Topic: CXO

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  • why not build them in USA?

    where can I get one?
    The price is right!
    The Linux Geek
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      @The Linux Geek
      Aside from teetee1970's objections below, what are the chances that your city or county codes would let you build one? My guess is somewhere between zero and none.
      • In other words, American homes are expensive in

        large part because of government regulations. No surprises there.
    • Not in unions back yard

      @The Linux Geek

      You will find NO union controlled inspector would ever pass this structure. NO unions would allow it in their states. In places like Hawaii...

      The legislature dances only to the union song...


      Cold day in hell...

      No trailers are allowed here, except for job site construction and union needs. Pre-fab homes will find inspectors on site many times more than in normal constructions, unless unions are building it. Then as long as you pay union song, your house will be built. (Unless you are the former governor Cayetano (before Lingle) who had no protests until after construction completed.
      the old rang
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      Wow, that's a big compliment! Thank you very much :) <a href="http://www.replicawatchesbest.org">imitation Watches</a>
  • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

    Stupid. Where is the support for plumbing, electricity, cost of having the housing site level, what about the durability of these designs for earthquake, fire, flood, disease etc problems? There is no one size fits all design, this is just more fawning over MIT.
    • Global poor people can't afford the luxury of USA housing standards

      @teetee1970, this housing design is not for you. Since you have Internet access, it appears that you are not one of the billions of poor on the Earth.
      7th paragraph: "is intended to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake."
      Fire? "It features hollow brick walls with steel bars for reinforcement" - Probably as fireproof as a typical USA home.
      Flood? USA homes are not flood-proof. Homes affected by Katrina had to be gutted.
      Disease? USA homes are not disease-proof either.
      And finally: Billions of poor people worldwide do not have electricity and plumbing -- and probably never will.
      • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

        @gmeader <br><br>Agreed. Having been to Haiti a couple times on building missions, this would be a king's dwelling to most people there. They have no building codes (one of the reasons so many buildings collapsed as a result of the earthquake a couple years ago). <br><br>Too many North Americans and Europeans are clueless regarding just how impoverished most of the Earth's population really is. Those living below the so-called poverty level in America are still among the wealthiest 5% of the planet's population.<br><br>As a general rule, Haitians have no safe water, electricity, garbage collection, public education system, refrigeration, access to modern medical facilities, etc. In comparison, "impoverished" Americans typically have (on average) housing, utilities, two or more TV's, a car, cable, government paid medical care, etc. Also in America, typical low income government housing costs about $70,000 to build per family unit.<br><br>I for one am excited about this novel concept of Chang's low cost modular housing units. Church groups and other humanitarian aid organizations could provide millions of these "McHouses" which would provide a huge improvement to the living conditions to many in the 3rd world or providing for disaster relief. It won't fix the underlying problems of course that are the root causes for such destitute poverty (over population, socialism, despotism, war, etc.) but t it at least has the potential to provide at least one basic human need in the form of suitable shelter.
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      @teetee1970 I agree with you on the elec, and water, plumbing issues, but the article if you did read it, said it would withstand a 8.0 magnitude earthquake.

      Some people in this world and even in the states, live with no power and no plumbing also, not saying its legal, but it does happen everyday....
      • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

        A step closer does not in any way indicate that it will happen. Way too little data ni ths artcle to make any honest judgements on and MIT rich kids aren't going to supply any good answers.
    • I have to agree with tetee1970

      And yes, I've been overseas to these places. While I'm not as concerned about fresh water, electricity, durability or leveling the sites; I AM intensely concerned that these designs foster a very high population density and an appalling lack of provisions for sanitation; both garbage and human waste. On the other hand, sanitation is pretty non-existent already in these un-engineered slums.<br><br>Of course if the intent is to pack them together so they have the maximum opportunity for contracting diseases, then by all means, go for it.
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      To start with, they need only be slightly safer than the current offerings so the situation can only improve and not get worse. They're not really talking about places with electriicity, plumbing, etc. etc.; they're talking, or should be talking, about equivalencies so the shelters become affordable by not costing more than they have to pay more. IIn many countries the cost of living is a dollar a day and yet they can only earn 50 cents a day.
      MIT has always been a money-makers graduate content and those kids have no more idea of what real poverty living is like than does any honcho in any gvt office, democratc or anarchist.
  • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

    It needs a name. My candidates:
    one house per child
    manufactured slums
    jack in the box
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      You are arrogant because? Fact is that the world is already full of slums built from scrap material wherever it can be found. I think this is a great idea to bring affordability, dignity and realistic goals to the poor.
      Many in the good ol' US would be happy to live in some of the $15,000 inner-city homes except they can't because of the dangerous neighborhoods.
      • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

        $15,000 inner-city homes cost $15,000 instead of $150,000 because of their location. If the neighborhood wasn't dangerous, they would cost a lot more.
  • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

    I can think of a better $1000 house for the poor...it is called a tent...and the last time I looked, there were some pretty nice ones that cost less than $200. Conbine a cluster of tents with a shared water source/cooking/hygiene facility and you could house a small community for well under a $1000 per household.
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      @mrjude Yeah. I guess you've never been to a planned tent city. Ask someone who has served in the Peace Corps how well it works. Unfortunately, it does not. Even in places where the weather is cooperative, urban planning is very, very hard. Cholera and raw sewage are a huge problem. I might add "disgusting" to that.

      What you are describing is more like a commune, which can work, but such shared resources only work effectively when the society chooses to live that way. It also describes a dorm, which from an efficiency standpoint is much better than a single-family home - just don't forget that dorms have cleaning staffs.

      In certain places where there is abject poverty, they can build pretty good houses - in the tundra, peat and earth make for a pretty reasonable dwelling. Until you have been in a tropical rain forest in a hut with a grass roof, you would swear that the thing would leak like a sieve.

      This project is noble and fascinating (like OLPC is), but don't make it something that it isn't. It might help you build a better slum, but it won't pick up the trash or fix the trickle of ick in the middle of the road.
      • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

        The problem of "cholera and raw sewage" are not caused by the tents, or solved by the MIT project.
    • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

      @mrjude Uhuh. Tents that would blow away in the next strong wind, rip when faced with flying or falling debris, or flood out in the next torrential rain. They CERTAINLY wouldn't survive an 8.0 earthquake. If tents were any type of permanent housing, we'd all be living in them.

      Look at Haiti. Many people living it tents right now would give anything to be living in something else.
  • RE: $1,000 house a step closer for world's poor

    When I see the homeless people lining the streets of some our cities, I think these 1k homes should be developed in our own back yards. I even think that reinforced weatherized card board would do for a season. If you are still homeless get a new one next year -- it beats the sidewalk.