Living Village Shelters

Ubuntu Blox/Recycled Plastic Block House

Pallet House


$300 Rural House


Shigeru Ban’s Paper Log House

The Pennington Shelter

“Rajo” Shelter at Tasfa

bcWORKSHOP’s Rapido Prototype

SMU Habitat for Humanity Shelter


Shelter and Cultural Sustainability - SMU Professor Dr. Faith Nibbs (PDF)

Living Village Layout









Click here for a large version of this map (PDF)


Ubuntu Blox/Recycled Plastic Block House

In 2010, following a Hunt Institute presentation by Kenyan architect Ronald Omyonga, Texas inventor Harvey Lacey began mulling an outside-the-box idea for housing the extreme poor.

Within six months, Lacey, a metal worker from the Dallas suburb of Wylie, had invented Ubuntu-Blox, small bricks of plastic refuse—some made of discarded water bottles, others of Styrofoam and plastic film—bound like miniature hay bales.

The bales are wired together to form walls, post-tensioned two ways, and covered in mud and stucco. It all adds up to a house that can be built for about $250, using parts that you can find anywhere and plastic trash that you can find, unfortunately, everywhere.

“There is a plastic pollution problem in our world. There is a shortage of building materials for housing. The poor need jobs,” Lacey explained. “Where those three bad things collide we find extreme poverty and opportunity.  If we are looking for extreme poverty, it is there.  On the other hand, if we are looking for opportunity, it’s there too.”

Harvey has since taken his technology to earthquake-ravaged Haiti (see story on page xx).

Harvey’s Unbuntu Blox house was a huge draw at the inaugural Engineering & Humanity Week in 2011, and it’s back for a repeat appearance in the Living Village.

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Pallet House

What ideal building material is made of recycled product and, on its own, recyclable, affordable and plentiful? Bottles and tires meet the criteria, but not as cost-effective building material for refugee housing in Kosovo—the aim of Manhattan-based architects Suzan Wines and Azin Valy.

Suzan stumbled over the answer on her way home from work one night when she tripped over a shipping pallet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Using only shipping pallets, or skids, the architects have created a tiny, modular home design called simply a Pallet House. Following Ikea-style pictorial instructions, it takes four to five people using power tools less than a week to build a 250-square-foot home out of 100 pallets.

"We've also used zip ties to build entire structures," said Wines, "which is pretty quick, cheap and easy and doesn't require any tools."

While a house made of pallets may be considered a more rudimentary form of transitional housing, finding shipping pallets in a disaster zone—where shipments of clothing, food and other emergency supplies arrive on pallets—shouldn’t be too difficult, the architects figured.

Not only is shelter provided by material once considered a waste byproduct of the emergency response process, the pallets can be recycled when they’re no longer needed.

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Homelessness is a systemic issue for communities around the world and, for decades, Los Angeles’ skid row has been home to thousands of permanently homeless individuals.

Believing that every person deserves some form of shelter, Tina Hovsepian, a 2009 graduate of the USC School of Architecture, has designed and developed a foldable, portable, emergency housing shelter based on the principles of origami—a design she has field tested in LA’s skid row.

Cardborigami is a portable shelter that provides insulated, water-proof, flame-retardant and recyclable space with no assembly required. It expands into a shelter big enough for two people to sleep in. The cardboard origami shelter can fold down small enough to carry or even be placed on bus bike racks for long distance transport.

Cardborigami’s mission is to provide temporary, transitional shelter and connections to social services to help get people off the streets. The vision is to bridge the gap between design and humanity by attracting attention to social issues such as homelessness through design.

“With funding we can finalize product development and conduct research by implementing case studies to study behavioral adaptations to the shelter and success rates of those we transition of the streets,” said Tina. “We will then refine the structural elements of the shelter to improve the ergonomics of the unit, making sure that it provides a sufficient fit for the human body, its movements, and its cognitive abilities.”

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$300 Rural House

What began as a challenge in a blog post on the Harvard Business Review website in August 2010—figure out a way to construct a simple house for $300 or less—has resulted in a collection of 300 design submissions from around the world (and huge awareness of the need for affordable housing for the extreme poor).

The idea for the $300 house project originated in a conversation between Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business professor Vijay Govindarajan  (see related story on page xxx) and marketing consultant Christian Sarkar. Shelter is one of humanity's most basic needs, but a house is a luxury beyond the wildest dreams of most people in the developed world.

The $300 House Open Design Challenge asked designers to figure out a way to construct a simple house that could be built on a massive scale.

More than 300 entries poured in from the global competition, which received widespread media attention.

The winners, selected by the public and a panel of judges comprised of expert designers, architects, and thought leaders, shared $25,000 in total prize money.

A prototyping workshop for six participants followed, as did a trip to Haiti, where the $300 Rural House design was field tested. Plans are underway to build the first house—designed for two adults and four children in the Gaspard neighborhood of Fond des Blanc, a community located 60 miles from Port-au-Prince.

The house “represents a sense of dignity” for the family and the community, said  Vijay, who also serves as director of Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership. “It is a metaphor for a bundle of core human values that many in our world don’t have access to.”

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“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  But, teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.”

IADDIC Shelters of Flower Mound, Texas has taken the familiar saying to heart, creating not only a line of highly insulated, low-cost, eco-friendly homes and emergency relief shelters–but a business opportunity for local entrepreneurs to help construct them.

IADDIC Shelters are based on a patented new approach to housing, Structurally Insulated Housing (SIH), which relies on a mold-making process to produce temporary shelters and/or permanent homes fast and at high volumes.

The iHouse in the Living Village was made in 2 hours and can house a family of five for approximately $1,500. Measuring 10'x12'x9.5,' the structure has three windows and one door, and its SIH foam walls are imbedded with steel piers for anchoring to any foundation.

“It will not rot, insects will not eat it, is not harmful to pets, people, or the environment, and can be recycled,” said Richard Grabowski, CEO of IADDIC,  & UN Rio+20 Sustainable Community Advisor.

IADDIC has also created a turn-key business solution for local entrepreneurs in developing countries called The iVillage, which is shipped in containers. The housing solution contains needed materials and supplies to make a large quantity of customized homes, as well as licensing, training and project management to ensure the first projects are successful and the local business thrives.

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Shigeru Ban's Paper Log House 

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban may be known best for his innovative work on three continents—architectural gems such as museums, factories and houses.

But Shigeru’s pioneering Paper Tube Structures (PTS) solution for low-cost emergency housing is also gaining international attention.

Shigeru has routinely built shelters for victims of natural and manmade disasters since 1995, when he designed emergency housing with beer-crate foundations and paper-tube walls for survivors of the earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

In 1999, he made prototype tents with paper poles for a refugee camp in post-genocide Rwanda. And he built a paper-frame schoolhouse in Chengdu, China, after the 2008 earthquake that ravaged Sichuan Province, which The New York Times said “typifies the architect’s gift for combining poetry and utility.”

Most recently, the PTS technology has been deployed in Shigeru’s homeland, following the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.   

Not only can Shigeru’s low-cost paper tube structures be molded quickly into load-bearing columns, bent into beautiful trusses and quickly assembled by volunteers without heavy machinery, they can also be made waterproof and fire resistant with varnishes, films and waterproof sponge tape.

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The Pennington Shelter 

David Pennington’s passion for aquaponics—the science of efficient food production in a water-based system—has led to the development of a dome shelter made mostly of waste EPS (expanded polystyrene, commonly known by the trade name "Styrofoam").

Aquaponics is the combination of hydroponics (growing plants without soil) with aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms.  As CEO of Synergy Aquaponics LLC, Dave designs aquaponic systems in which fish waste is filtered and cleaned using plants. The waste byproducts from aquaculture, which are otherwise serious pollutants, are thereby turned into valuable products.

Dave has built a prototype dome structure out of waste EPS near Poetry, Texas. He originally came up with this concept because there wasn’t an affordable insulated structure on the market to house aquaculture species, such as tilapia. As it turns out, the same building method can also be used to construct affordable and efficient housing, which is the purpose of the Poetry dome.

To build his domes, Dave affixes an inflated balloon form to a “base ring”. A center pole attached to a rotating scaffold allows workers access to spray or hand apply Dave's EPS composite material which, when smoothed and hardened makes a durable insulated shelter or containment vessel. The dome structure—20 feet in diameter and 14 feet tall—is very durable, fireproof, insect and impact resistant, and it can also be recycled repeatedly.

Scale models of various dome designs, along with photos and videos of the first prototype dome, will be on display in the Living Village as will composite samples, construction machinery and even a small aquaponic unit.

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"Rajo" Shelter at Tasfa 

Senior Design Project-SMU Lyle School of Engineering

Seniors Ford Binning, Mary Catherine Corey, Farhan Fazal, Michelle Senner

Designed by a team of SMU senior engineering students, the refugee camp is located outside Dolo, Ado, Ethiopia and named Tasfa, or “Hope” in Ethiopian.

Building materials for the camp are native to Ethiopia and require neither water nor any components that need holes bored into the soil; the ground cover is very fine beach sand..

Designed for 56,000 refugees, the camp will be divided into two large areas—one built for 184 communities with a population of 27,600 people and the other with 194 communities and 29,100 people.

Both areas will feature tent shelters that are easily assembled by women and children since they will comprise most of the camp’s population.

The shelter tents, called “Rajo” tents (“Rajo” means hope in Somali), will be made of a chicken-wire structure wrapped and tied securely to a PVC frame by rope and PVC fittings and affixed to hooks fastened to stakes attached to a sand-filled base.

Tightly secured canvas will cover the tent structure, except in good weather when it can be rolled up to enjoy the breeze. Animal hides will cover the tent’s entrance.

The “Rajo” tents will replace UNHCR refugee tents, which have been in short supply, tend to wear out faster and are often subject to catastrophic failure from the region’s notorious and dangerous sandstorms.

Although more expensive than UNHCR tents by $50 each, the “Rajo” tent will house larger families more comfortably, last twice as long and be more stable than UNHCR tents.

Other infrastructure—water supply, restroom facilities and a laundry area—will also be provided.

Although the Senior Design Project is an exercise, the need for new refugee camps in Ethiopia, sadly, is true.

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bcWORKSHOP's Rapido Shelter  

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, residents of Cameron County and its largest city, Brownsville, have seen more than their fair share of hurricanes and the havoc they leave behind.

The Rapido shelter prototype, debuting for the first time in the Living Village during E&H Week, seeks to help South Texas residents not only get back into a shelter, but help them create an attractive, permanent home.

bcWORKSHOP, which provided the commissary and a portable gallery at last year’s inaugural E&H Week, is developing the Rapido prototype as part of the state of Texas’ Natural Disaster Housing Reconstruction Plan, which seeks to test the feasibility of rapidly deployed replacement housing for victims of federally-declared natural disasters.

Until E&H Week, Rapido prototypes have been confined to designs on paper. But the prototype designs will come alive in the Living Village as bcWORKSHOP will experiment with specific design elements.

During E&H Week, bcWORKSHOP designers will be seeking feedback from SMU students and visitors to help them incrementally improve the project’s design, construction process, deployment method, organizational requirements, and performance.

In the near future, Rapido shelters will actually be constructed as prototype homes for victims of previous natural disasters in Cameron County as part of the feasibility testing for delivering rapidly deployed replacement housing. bcWORKSHOP designers have already held community meetings with county residents to seek their input on the prototypes.

“bcWORKSHOP’S disaster housing reconstruction strategy engages residents throughout and contributes to the sustainable growth of place by enabling communities to recover faster and allowing families to rebuild stronger,” said Dallas architect Brent Brown and founding director of bcWORKSHOP.

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SMU Habitat for Humanity Shelter 

Chartered in 2009, the SMU Chapter of Habitat for Humanity will debut a new design for a Habitat shelter in the Living Village.

Members of the chapter work closely with Highland Park Methodist Church and Dallas Habitat for Humanity to build quality homes for deserving, needy people locally throughout the school year, said Gwen Carris, chapter treasurer.

During summers, several chapter members participate in international build events in places such as Paraguay, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

“Engineering in Humanity Week’s goals directly align with Habitat for Humanity's goals,” said Gwen, a freshman Civil Engineer and Spanish major. “We want to enable people everywhere to live healthy, productive lives, regardless of where they are born. Home ownership enables stability, community, and safety for families and children, which in turn brings about an increase in education and economic prospects.”

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