Architecture cannot lift people out of poverty. Still, poverty can affect people’s lives through the built environment, affordable housing, quality space creation, and the planned use of resources. Architecture is sometimes considered a luxury practice that appeals to the wealthy. However, with the broad social orientation, problem-solving practice, and critical thinking backgrounds of architects, creating living spaces for people can be removed from the category of luxury designs.

In today’s world, where the population is increasing rapidly, we face many problems. Rapid resource depletion, economic and environmental crises, and rising poverty are interconnected and actionable points.

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Houses within the Dharavi settlement of Mumbai_©

Design Approaches Against Poverty

Architects who practise living spaces for people develop cheap, safe, and healthy buildings and settlements through building design and planning. Examples of these approaches can be found in social housing, cooperatives, and urban improvement projects. 

The supply of materials used in building production, consumption of resources, labour, and consumption costs of active energy systems decrease the affordability of buildings. All these factors are situations where architects can profit in many areas in line with appropriate decisions during the design process. Architecture is a practice of thinking and problem solving; therefore, suitable design plays a vital role in the face of poverty.

Many architects, from resource poverty to the people in poverty, consider these factors and give importance to their work on affordable housing.

“Housing designed as a way is not just a shelter against the environment, it is a tool to overcome poverty.” (Alejandro Aravena – Dezeen Interview, 2016)

Alejandro Aravena 

Alejandro Aravena is a Chilean architect who runs his office called ELEMENTALl with the motto “Do Tank”. Aravena’s approach, which is the winner of the 2016 Pritzker award, is socially conscious, attaches importance to problem generation and solving, and puts the needs of the public at the forefront of all kinds of design and production. 

Believing that there are things it can do in the face of adverse situations caused by economic inequality, Aravena tries to offer solutions against poverty by using architecture as a tool. He argues that every person has the right to live in favourable and quality conditions. Affordable housing projects, which he calls “half a good house”, can be given as an example of his work on this subject.

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Alejandro Aravena_©Luigi Costantini

Quinta Monroy – Iquique, Chile

Quinta Monroy was an informal settlement in the centre of Iquique. A government program aimed to stop the adverse living conditions in the area. The preliminary decision of the project was to develop a design by allowing the families here to live in the same place instead of sending them to the peripheries. Considering the financial situation of the inhabitants, the ELEMENTAL group put forward detailed project management for a comfortable living space. The half-a-good house project was produced with the efficient use of the land and the opportunities given for comfortable living. Collective work with users created the completed half. Areas, where they can expand with the emergence of possible financial conveniences in the future, were prepared. This approach provided training and technical support to enable families to expand on their own. In this project, which took place in 2006, it is possible to see the completed houses today.

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Quinto Monroy_©Cristóbal Palma
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Section drawings of Quinto Monroy_©ELEMENTAL
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Strategy diagram_©ELEMENTAL
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Quinto Monroy with completed half_©Ludovic Dusuzeau

Hassan Fathy

Hassan Fathy is an architect born in 1900 in Alexandria, Egypt. From the beginning of his career, he worked on climate control and economical construction techniques, as well as understanding aesthetics. By examining the strategies of pre-industrial structures in Egypt in this sense, he aimed to popularise the systems here in contemporary use.

Hassan Fathy is dedicated to sheltering the poor in developing countries and has done much work on rural development. Fathy worked to create the local environment at a minimum cost while improving the economy and standard of living in rural areas. He trained residents to make their materials and build their buildings. Creating on the structural mass of older buildings, Fathy combined dense brick walls and traditional courtyard forms to provide passive cooling.

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Hassan Fathy_©Hassan Fathy Architecture for the poor portrait
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Fathy’s most famous publications_©Amazon

Hassan Fathy is a famous architect of the poor. Although he improved his designs by paying attention to economic conditions throughout his career, he also produced various projects for the wealthy families of Egypt. As an economical and local material, mud-brick carries Fathy’s general approach and signature. These two works, in which he describes economic productions that can be achieved with local use and passive air conditioning, are essential resources for architecture students.

Diébédo Francis Kéré

Francis Kéré is an architect from Burkina Faso – one of the world’s least educated and most impoverished nations, a land void of clean drinking water, electricity and infrastructure, let alone architecture. Kéré says his village is a community, and this community is a big family. In the village where facilities such as nurseries and schools are unavailable, this large family takes care of all the villagers. Kéré studied architecture in Germany, where he went with the opportunity of a scholarship. Aiming to increase the comfortable life in the village where she grew up, Kéré continued her research in this field in Berlin and devised ways to combine locality and technology. Working for the community he lived in was one of his biggest goals. He is a socially conscious architect who won the Francis Kéré Pritzker award for this approach and the remarkable buildings he produced in Burkina Faso.

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Diébédo Francis Kéré_©Erik Petersen

Gando Primary School – Gando, Burkina Faso

Kéré, who grew up with many impossibilities in his childhood, had to go to another settlement 40 km away to receive an education. There were no schools in the village of Gando until this time. Kéré created Gando Primary School as his first project. 

The school design evolved from a long list of parameters, including cost, climate, resource availability, and construction feasibility. The success of the project relied on both adopting and rejecting these constraints. A clay/mud hybrid structure was first used to maximise results with the minimum resources available. Clay was the most and only material found in this region full of resource impossibilities. It was known that many houses were traditionally built with clay. These traditional clay building techniques have been modified and modernised to create a more structurally sound structure in the form of bricks. Clay bricks have the advantage of being inexpensive, easy to manufacture, and also providing thermal protection against hot climates. However, possible rains cause the clay to deteriorate. For this reason, it is necessary to prevent the passage of rain to the clay walls. In the building where Kéré considered all these climatic features, the roof was also built by lifting it to breathe.

As with the traditional collective constructions, the construction of this primary school was also worked with the public. This Gando Primary School building is one of the iconic examples of the region and this construction.

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Gando Primary School_©Siméon Duchoud
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Gando Primary School_©Erik Jan Ouwerkerk
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Interior of the school_©Erik Jan Ouwerkerk

Shigeru Ban and his initiatives with paper structures for disaster relief, Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi with his sustainable social housing projects for the poor, and so many architects with social consciousness can be added to the list of architects of the poor. Increasing numbers of adverse conditions all over the world triggered architects to take responsibility. Architecture as a thinking practice can allow its phases to be helpful in the fight against poverty. From using local materials to reducing resource consumption and carbon footprints of the materials to create comfortable living conditions with active and primary energy systems. These approaches can help to decrease the cost of the buildings and maintenance and develop affordable houses for people with inconvenient economic conditions. 

Reference List:

  1. UIA 2023 CPH. (n.d.). No Poverty. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  2. BORGEN. (2020). How Architecture Can Help to Eradicate Global Poverty. [online] Available at:
  3. Rowe, M. (2022). The global effort to improve the world’s slums. [online] Geographical. Available at:
  4. (n.d.). Biography: Ale­jan­dro Ara­ve­na | The Pritzker Architecture Prize. [online] Available at:
  5. Dezeen. (2016). Architects ‘are never taught the right thing’, says Alejandro Aravena. [online] Available at:
  6. Anon, (n.d.). Elemental «. [online] Available at:
  7. Viva, A. (2018). Quinta Monroy housing, Iquique – Alejandro Aravena  ELEMENTAL. [online] Arquitectura Viva. Available at: 
  8. (n.d.). Hassan Fathy: Egypt’s architect of the poor. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  9. (n.d.). Archnet. [online] Available at:
  10. (n.d.). Diébédo Francis Kéré | The Pritzker Architecture Prize. [online] Available at:
  11. (n.d.). Kéré | Work. [online] Available at:

A graduate student who sees architecture as a way to think critically. Using her architectural background, she aims to draw attention to the ways of existing with the earth, not against earth with her writings. She believes that critical thinking will open different doors to both people and the world.