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

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.
Written by Chris Jablonski, Inactive

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."

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