MIT Architecture students want to know if they can build a house for $1000 to provide quality shelter for those who need a home after a disaster. Inspired in part by the One Laptop Per Child campaign, which looks to produce and distribute $100 computers for children all over the world, MIT's $1k House is a extraordinary challenge to provide safe and healthy homes for the world’s burgeoning population. The Pinwheel House, a student project which helped serve as a catalyst for the challenge, has been completed in China by architect Ying chee Chui. Students have come up with a dozen or so designs to meet the challenge and improve living conditions for not just emerging economies but larger nations as well.
Chui’s design is a series of repeated L-shaped walls made from earth blocks which are capped with a bamboo and corrugated roof. Each wall section is set 90 degrees from each other to create multiple rooms with an open center. The house was built in Mianyang, in the Sichuan Province which was devastated by the 2008 Chinese earthquake. The size of the home ended up being 800 square feet rather than the original 500 feet and cost $5,925 to build—6 times the challenge, but still a great deal for the amount of living space.
The house can survive an 8.0 magnitude earthquake using the steel-reinforced earthen block, and because of its simple repetitive use of walls, it can be reproduced with a much lower learning curve. Additions can also be easily added to create a complex design complete with courtyards, and multiple homes can nestle around each other into clusters to maximize land use efficiencies while maintaining privacy.
The challenge of reducing costs to $1000 pushes the students well beyond most conventional solutions. Materials need to be local, readily available, and safe. The proposals also look to use simple construction techniques in new ways to provide solutions for heat gain, natural light and ventilation, and robust support systems.
The challenge of building such a lost cost house that meets the requirements of a family comes not only in finding the right materials and labor, but in the performance of such a home. Building conditions and building requirements are so different around the world that seeing a home built for $1000 would most likely be lightweight construction for primarily tropical climates. Chui is now focusing on creating $10,000 homes for Japan– which, considering the notoriously expensive cost of building on the earthquake prone island, would be equally impressive.