In the present scenario, low-cost construction is synonymous with architecture for the poor. Although many tried replacing it with the term affordable housing, this misconception has never changed over the years. Low specification and simple architecture fail to captivate the eyes of the middle-income and high-income groups, overpowered by their love for extravagance and to keep with their social standing. As architect Laurie Baker rightfully said “Cost-effective houses are not just for the poor, they are for everyone“, a change in such a notion is a necessity in our society and convincing the middle and upper-class of the importance of simple living and equity.
1. Earth one vaulted house — Cal-Earth
Built on superadobe, a construction technique invented by architect and humanitarian Nader Khalili, the Earth One Vaulted House is one of the most applicable prototypes following the layout of typical housing units found in California. Although the construction involves packing of a tube-shaped cloth bag filled with earth and reinforced using wire, this structure resists earthquake and other calamities with a mere wall thickness of 15 centimeters. The house has nine vaults that include three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two garages for cars within an area of 2300 square feet. The integration of standard technology into a superadobe structure makes this one of the most successful low-cost structures ever built.
2. Aranya Housing Project — B V Doshi
Built around labyrinths of paved internal pathways and parks, these housing units in Indore succeeded in developing a large community accommodating about 60,000 individuals in 6500 dwellings within an area of 85 hectares. Initially a slum area, architect B.V Doshi divided the site into six sectors with a central spine being the business district, cutting through the plot. The lowest income homes occupy the center of each zone with higher income homes in the periphery. Each house has a private courtyard and rooms with areas ranging from middle to low income built using locally available materials such as bricks and stones.
3. Chenkal Choola Housing — Laurie Baker
With over forty houses built on Gandhian principles by architect Laurie Baker, the Chenkalchoola Housing in Trivandrum derives its name from the red brick “Chenkal” obtained from this area previously the Thycaud Hill. Baker found beauty in the natural color and texture of the red bricks and kept away from plastering and painting it. Each house stands out from the other with the unique aspect being the bricked wall and cluster around a common area which adjoins to the main road.
Although a well-planned colony with houses built based on income groups, the place eventually became a hub for criminal activities with non-permissive sheds on the roadside caused by government negligence and poor maintenance.
4. S-House — Vo Trong Nghia Architects
Located in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, this house is an example of low-cost construction within a budget of 4000 US dollars and a limited area of 30 square meters. The main aim of building a lightweight but permanent structure was of utmost importance for the people living nearby in cheap, temporary houses. Thus, the architect came up with three prototypes with the third one under construction. The first phase comprises a steel-framed structure with nipa palm panels installed as walls. The second phase involves DIY and modular construction using a concrete framed structure with self attachable panels, creating a double wall that provides thermal comfort from the tropical climate.
5. Villa Verde — Alejandro Aravena
Architect Alejandro Aravena proposed an interesting concept for “half a good house”, that is executing an incomplete big house instead of a completed small house, thus cutting down the cost of a building by half. Based on the philosophy of architect John F. C. Turner, who stated that housing if not an ongoing process results in squatting and huge housing deficits. The forestry company Arauco asked the architect’s help to produce a development plan for housing their workers in Chile after the earthquake disaster that killed over 80% of the buildings in the city. The houses appeared identical and positioned in a linear manner that forms a courtyard in the center, giving rise to a healthy community.
6. Empower Shack — Urban Think Tank
Designed at the time of Post-Apartheid South Africa for the residents of Cape Town, this housing system helped in solving the housing crisis faced due to escalating prices of property. The project aimed to provide a fair distribution of public land for over 2700 informal settlements enhanced by innovative methodology and provision of basic amenities. The buildings occupy a smaller footprint as compared to a typical slum with dense accommodation, thus using the land more efficiently and making the community members long term stakeholders. The scheme also benefits the community with livelihood workshops, renewable energy, and water management training programs.
7. Iha Residence — Vinu Daniel
This quiet abode in the busy city of Trivandrum in Kerala is a contradiction in itself by depicting serenity on the outside with an adventurous interior. The helical facade resembling a large hammock where the residents can be spotted seated also functions as a channel that diverts rainwater away from the house, thus protecting it from rain. The bamboo channels supported by steel rods for stability direct the water towards the soil, which is then harvested or recycled. Since window installation is costly, the use of jali work also provides an aesthetic appeal to the building. The walls make use of CSEB bricks (Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks), adhering to the principles of maintaining the natural color and texture as stated by Laurie Baker.
8. Post – Tsunami Housing — Shingeru Ban
The project proposed 100 houses over an area of 71 square meters for the Muslim fishing community in Tissamaharama in Sri Lanka, who lost everything during the Tsunami in 2004. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban aimed to design according to the tropical climate of Sri Lanka with a covered common area. Each house prototype includes two bedrooms, a hall and a sheltered courtyard used as a living/ dining space with wooden screens dividing the rooms to suit the Muslim lifestyle. Local rubber tree wood panels install themselves as partitions and compressed earth blocks for walls. The pitched roof also makes use of locally available materials such as coconut wood and teak.
9. Casa Convento — Enrique Mora Alvardo
Sitting along the Ecuadorian coastline amid the picturesque landscape created by the large bamboo trees and rainforests and the small creek flowing through the plot, this house makes use of bamboo as it is locally available and fits the budget constraints of 1500 dollars. What makes this building stand out is the integration of family members with the laborers while learning various construction techniques. The building consists of three bedrooms, living, and service rooms. The service rooms include a kitchen and bathrooms, which connect with the living area forming a social space that opens into the outdoor and a hanging garden.
10. La Maison Au Bord De L’eau — Charlotte Perriand
Design by Charlotte Perriand that one competition but never physically executed, it only came into notice when the director of Louis Vuitton Julie de Libran built this in 2014 to host a Design Miami exhibition. Although the context was Italy, the shipment to Miami had many pieces from the original missing. Being a part of the research team of Le Corbusier for over ten years, Perriand experimented with the theories on the structure. She applied “the Modulo” in the furniture and scaling of the structure, with chairs cut out from tree trunks to a minimal height. Two wings of the house connect into a semi-closed corridor having an entrance from the rear, with sliding doors separating the zones.
The concept of low-cost construction is new to the field of architecture and engineering, thus gaining widespread popularity mostly in a situation of a calamity. A roof over the head, being a basic necessity to humanity is the responsibility of an architect by providing an affordable solution of the shelter, without compromising on the structural stability and aesthetics.