Singapore-based design firm Urban-Rural Systems has developed an innovative housing prototype that fights urban sprawl while simultaneously providing better infrastructure for rural-to-urban migrants. Implemented in phases, the project recently completed its second phase this year in Indonesia with the construction of its first Expandable House prototype. True to its name, the dwelling can be flexibly expanded to increase its built area from a single-story, 36-square-meter unit to a three-story, 108-square-meter mixed-use building equipped with sustainable decentralized systems such as rainwater harvesting and photovoltaic systems. 

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The Expandable House (“‘rumah tambah’ in Bahasa Indonesia, or ‘rubah’ for short”) targets rapidly urbanizing regions on the fringes of cities and towns. As the designers explained in a project statement, these are regions where the impact of rapid urbanization “is most directly felt: where land is still relatively cheap, new industrial jobs are springing up, rural migrants often first arrive in the city, and infrastructure is often inadequate to support them.” Additionally, the designers said, “The expandable house tries to respond to this dynamic situation by allowing the dwelling to be flexibly configured around the fluctuating patterns of resource consumption and expenditure, or metabolism, of its residents.”

To meet these needs, the Expandable House features a roof that can be raised as well as a floor and foundations strong enough to support up to three floors. This model not only allows for flexible financing — owners can expand their home from a single-story unit to a multi-story unit as needed — but also encourages vertical growth to reduce urban sprawl. The adaptable housing system also incorporates rainwater and solar harvesting systems, passive design principles, on-site sewage systems, as well as food production systems to promote self-sufficiency and small-scale business growth. 

Related: Passive solar school in Indonesia celebrates the natural landscape

Developed in three phases, the Expandable House project began with the Phase 1 design at the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore. Phase 2 oversaw construction of the prototype in Indonesia that began in 2018, with the first floor of 36 square meters, and concluded earlier this year after all three floors were built along with the technical systems, including rainwater harvesting and photovoltaics. Phase 3 will involve piloting the Expandable House on a larger-scale in a project dubbed Tropical Town, also in Indonesia. 

+ Urban-Rural Systems (URS)

Images © Carlina Teteris