PLAN 80: Article
Housing The Victims Of Natural Disaster

A Prototype of the 1K House Recently Built in China

The first prototype from SA+P’s '1K House' project – a challenge to design and build permanent new homes for victims of natural disaster at a unit cost of $1K – has recently been constructed in Sichuan Province, China.

Designed by alumna Ying chee Chui (MArch’11), the 'Pinwheel House' was originally conceived in a 2009 design studio led by Yung Ho Chang, then head of the Department of Architecture, Tony Ciochetti, Director of the MIT Center for Real Estate, and Dennis Shelden, Professor of the Practice in Computation. The studio was aimed at creating affordable housing for areas hit by natural disasters such as the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.

Chui's house, designed to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, features a series of repeated L-shaped walls made of earthen blocks topped with a corrugated roof. Its modular layout – rectangular rooms that can be duplicated and rotated around a central courtyard space to form different configurations – can be easily built because each module simply duplicates the others. Additions can also be easily annexed to create a more complex design, and multiple homes can be built in clusters to maximize land use efficiencies while maintaining privacy.

While the prototype of Chui's design ended up costing more than $1K – it actually came in around $6K, partly because it’s about 35% larger than the original design — it is, in relative terms, still extremely affordable. And a smaller version of the house could still be built for about $4K, a price that could fall still lower if a number of homes were built at once.

The audacious idea to try building a home for only $1K, first conceived by Ciochetti, was inspired by One Laptop Per Child, a foundation created by SA+P’s Nicholas Negroponte to bring low-cost computers to children. Similar to that project’s aim of developing $100 computers to distribute to children around the world, the idea of the 1K house is intended as a challenge to designers to build affordable, sustainable shelter for large populations.

The 1K House project has proven successful enough, and has attracted enough attention, that Chang is overseeing a related studio this fall that aims to create a series of home designs for the earthquake- and tsunami-stricken area of Japan that would cost only $10K to build. Since rebuilding in such situations often entails three stages of construction – the creation of temporary shelters, then stronger temporary homes sturdy enough for winter weather, and then permanent replacements for damaged or destroyed buildings – the process often involves a lot of wasted resources. Inexpensive and simple houses built from an existing template could help stricken countries rebuild more quickly with practical, permanent structures.

Participants in the studio include architects and designers from Tokyo University, the Japanese architecture firm Tsushima Design Studio, Atelier FCJZ, Vanke, a real estate development firm in China, and the Japanese retailer Muji. In collaboration with Muji, the studio is exploring the use of digital fabrication to turn the house into an industrial product. And although the studio concentrates on the design of a detached house, it is also considering how an energy- and waste-independent house could impact the city, perhaps envisioning a completely different urbanism, from the location of a community to the layout of its streets.

This report is based in part on a story researched and written by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office.