We know you like Prefab Fridays, but many of you have been writing in recently to complain about the high costs of many of the prefabs we’ve featured lately. The burgeoning crop of chic modernist prefabs has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has helped to overcome the trailer-park stigma and proven that prefab housing can be stylish and well-designed (something we’ve known all along). At the same time, however, it has led to the growing association of prefab housing with vacation-home luxury that only the well-heeled can afford. On that note, we’d like to talk about truly low-cost prefabrication today — $500 prefab — the kind of housing that can shelter people suffering dire poverty or post-disaster homelessness. (We are feeling inspired by our recent forays into Design Like You Give A Damn).

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A virtual origami house, the Global Village Shelteris made with large sheets of fold-up corrugated laminated cardboard, flat-packed in three easily shippable parts. The prejointed walls simply have to be unfolded, and two roof pieces connected and placed on top. It’s light and simple enough to be constructed by two people in less than an hour. And at $550 bucks a pop, this is truly affordable prefab. Global Village Shelters have been used all over the world in disaster relief: from Grenada to Afghanistan, Pakistan to the US – precisely because they are so quick, easy and cheap. I must say that for cardboard disaster relief housing, they are pretty cute as well. Who among us can resist the clean, simple white cube?

$550 from Global Village Shelters

While the Global Village Shelter is theoretically sound and watertight enough to provide a secure, comfortable dwelling for several years, these are not meant to be permanent housing. In fact the designer, Mia Ferrara, specifically says the shelter was designed to have a limited shelf-life: “Structures meant to be temporary can often remain in use for years after a disaster, leading to problems associated with poverty. The temporary nature of the Global Village Shelter does not allow for this.”