A New House Kit for Slum Dwellers that is Safe and Easy to Build

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


By 2030, some 5 billion people around the world will live in cities. Next year, 2008, is predicted to be the tipping point, when urban dwellers (3.3 billion people) will outnumber rural residents for the first time. These are the conclusions of UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2007 Report. Even more strikingly, the cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million people a week. And 72 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa live in slum conditions.

But as populations grow — and most will be poor, unemployed and under 25 — it becomes critical that effective solutions are found to ensure people can live with dignity and comfort. And design is being used more and more to overcome this challenge.

George Martine, author of the UNFPA report, is blunt: “We’re at a crossroads and can still make decisions which will make cities sustainable. If we don’t make the right decisions the result will be chaos,” he told the UK newspaper The Independent.

Guatemala-born architect Teddy Cruz of Estudio Teddy Cruz in San Diego, California, joins a small but growing number of socially responsible architects. He applies a concept more associated with middle class shoppers at the furniture design emporium Ikea to the world’s estimated one billion urban slum dwellers (UN-Habitat). Without legal title to the land they live on, packed tightly into densely overcrowded shantytowns, most squatters and slum dwellers live in makeshift homes made from whatever they can get their hands on. This is estimated to include half the urban population of Africa, a third of Asia and a fourth of Latin America and the Caribbean (Click here for more information).

The ad-hoc shelters and houses they build can be dangerously unstable, and vulnerable to natural disaster from flash floods to earthquakes. Cruz had noticed that while building supplies and materials were plentiful, nobody was selling safe and affordable housing frames for slum dwellers. According to the International Labor Organization, formal housing markets in developing countries rarely supply more than 20 percent of housing stock.

Cruz’s solution was to design a simple kit for building the frames for a house or a business that he now sells in Mexico. Each customer receives a manual, a snap-in water tank, and 36 frames that can be assembled in many configurations, or serve as a frame for poured concrete. These sturdy frames can also be added to with locally found materials. Cruz said he was inspired by “the resourcefulness of poverty” and by the cheap and affordable pre-fabricated homes that once were sold by catalogue by the American retailer Sears.

Cruz has been testing the structures in Tijuana, Mexico – a rapidly growing city on the border with the United States and a destination for Mexico’s poor. His work as an architect has centred on exploring how informal settlements grow faster than the cities they surround. These settlements, he says, break the rules and blur the boundaries between what is urban, suburban and rural. Cruz’s frame kits can be used to build a home, or combination of home and business, acknowledging the fact many people need to use their home as a business for a livelihood.

“These start-up communities gradually evolve,” said Cruz., ”or violently explode out of conditions of social emergency, and are defined by the negotiation of territorial boundaries, the ingenious recycling of materials, and human resourcefulness.”


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.