February 2011 Archives

February 26, 2011

The $300 House in the City: Sunil Suri on the Urban Challenge

Sunil Suri, one of our advisors, has posted an insightful look at how the $300 House might end up in an urban setting. He answers the critics who say that the $300 House is simply a waste of space in the crowded cities of the emerging world.

Read all about the Urban Challenge on the Harvard Business Review blog>>

February 19, 2011

Rafael Smith: A Note from Haiti


I am passing along a few updates from Uber Shelter.  I am writing you from Port-au-Prince Haiti where we are beginning our first pilot tests of Uber Shelters in the field. This fall we built a prototype of our newest shelter design and sent it to Haiti for evaluation and demonstration. You can see images of the new design on our site.

I have been in Haiti for 2 weeks now and one of my partners Armand and I have toured camps and neighborhoods and met with many Haitians and aid workers in an attempt to understand Haiti better and find the right location to set up the Uber Shelter for evaluation. Last night, Armand and I sat down and discussed the pros and cons of each site where we can set up the shelter. We both independently ranked a three person family who we met that lives in
Delma 33 Adoken camp as our number one choice to receive the shelter. The husband, Genesis, is the elected president of one section in this large camp. Delma 33 Adoken is the second largest camp in Haiti with over 30 thousand people and is in central Port-au-Prince. It is an unplanned settlement with no NGO officially taking responsibility over it. Attached is a photo of Delma 33.

Genesis currently lives in wood frame structure made of scrap wood wrapped in a tarp with a corrugated tin roof. He lives with his wife and 12 month old baby boy. Genesis hustles different jobs in and out of the camp. He has set up a cyber cafe under a tarp in the camp and his wife runs a beauty salon (under a tarp) in the camp. The amount of entrepreneurship and ingenuity here would impress you. He and his family can not afford to pay for the shelter and we will be giving it to them in exchange for Genesis writing one blog post every week about the shelter and about what is happening in the camp....good or bad, we want him to blog about his experience in the shelter and daily life in the camp.  He has Internet access and speaks English fairly well. With this communication through Internet, phone, and future visits, we hope to understand how the shelter performs (example: what the interior temperature is in different seasons, how the floor-plan works with this families lifestyle, what happens in heavy rain, wind, how this family adapts/changes the shelter to fit their needs, what they like and dislike, and what their hopes are for housing in the future, etc)

One potentially negative that could arise is that we don't know how his neighbors and others in the camp will react to him receiving a transitional shelter while everyone else is living under tarps. Will they be jealous? Will there be any tension? There will be huge contrast with the Uber Shelter being set up in a sea of tarps. Armand and I have wrestled with the idea or whether or not giving this shelter away in a camp is a responsible thing to do. I think that Genesis being the elected president/ community leader will make it understandable why he is getting a nicer place to live. I could be completely wrong, but i feel ok about giving this a shot. He is well respected by his peers and has done a lot for the community when the government and NGO's have chosen not to step in.

We have a second shelter in Haitian customs (the first uber prototype) and are hoping to have it delivered this week. Armand and I decided that the second shelter will be given to a woman we met through our translator who currently lives in a camp in urban Port-au-Prince. She wants to move out of the city center and onto a plot of  land that her sister owns in Croix de Bouquet, a part of Port-au-Prince away from the city, but  she needs a shelter to put on the land. She currently lives in a tent camp with her child and mother and feels very unsafe. Imagine living in a dangerous area with nothing  but a tarp between you and the outside.

I am having a great time and meeting some incredible people. I have been hiring a local Haitian kid named Val to help us get around the city and translate for us when Armand's french doesn't work. He is super cool, humble and has been through more than i can imagine. He is 20 years old and lost his whole family in the earthquake...literally everyone, he has no family. He lived in a camp for a while and saved up enough to rent a one roomed place with 3 other friends. He is with us almost every day and then goes to school from 4pm-8pm. On Sunday he invited Armand and I over to his house for dinner. We walked in his place and he and his friends had prepared a feast for us. We had a blast. His friend brought a guitar and there were twelve of us jamming and singing at the top of our lungs. Super super cool day.

Take care. I will post pictures on our blog when we set up the shelter!  You can also see some posts from the last few weeks.


Editor's note: Rafael Smith is an advisor to the $3oo House,

February 18, 2011

RMCAD Outdoor Work Session

RMCAD’s team Victus will be developing a $300 house for under developed nations. We are examining the fundamental relationships within the community structure and exploring construction options that support a triadic system. The triadic system is made up of three parts working from one source which includes building materials, food and new commerce. An example source is the propagation of rice paddies where the harvested rice will be used for food, rice hulls for building materials and rice as an export.

Our design process is human centric and experience driven. We start with data gathering and information research, leading to construction prototypes of the $300 house. The final deliverable will be a book communicating the experience of the people living within the designed community and explaining the benefits our solutions will have in under developed nations or disaster stricken communities.

$300 House RMCAD Work Session 1 from Ad Vogele on Vimeo.

February 15, 2011

Research & Insights

Our Mission:

Some possible materials to use for the structure of our houses are sugar cane and rice hull. In Haiti there is a local rum distillery, and rice farms that could donate or provide these materials at affordable rates.

This design concept gives the occupants an opportunity to modify their house with add-ons. To bring natural lighting into the house and maintain a secure building, we found a window with a unique design. The window is from the tumbleweed tiny house design which props open by itself for cooling in the house, and opens from the inside. http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/houses/

Another addition to help secure the house is the lockable box feature. This concept is from a tent design called myhab, this feature allows personal belongings to be stored securely within the house. http://www.myhab.com/

Inside the house we can provide furniture made from byproducts. It is made out of cheap materials, that fold for easy for shipping. These structures are also very easy to assemble and disassemble. http://inhabitat.com/byproducts-transforms-waste-wood-offcuts-into-flat-pack-furniture/

Pallets are a cheap ad available resource that could be used for elevating the homes to prevent from flooding.

Energy sources
The energy for the community has to provide for group cooking devices, community lighting and individual charging packs. One option is the 1.2 kW Hybrid system. http://www.bergey.com/pages/12_kw_hybrid_system It produces an average of 80-200 kilowatt-hours per month. It is ideal for a community since there is no need for back up engine generators. The hybrid system provides year round renewable energy. This would also work for a system of charging packs, as the batteries can be charged and replaced. These would be an investment of roughly $9,000 a piece but provide self-reliant energy.

Charging centers
With the use of solar panels or the hybrid system you can make these areas charging centers that distribute power and lighting to a large area. This provides security, comfort, and visibility during emergency situations and evening hours.These energy hubs would allow people to either charge their devices at the energy source or replace battery packs to take back to their individual homes.

We want to build a community that provides water, food, education, energy, and medical aid. If our community contains 210 people, we feel it should be broken into six smaller sub-communities containing five houses each.

Charging Lockers
Charging lockers allows people to leave and replace their batteries without the concern of their devices being stolen. http://solarnexus.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/battery-charging-lockers-for-haiti/  If each house came with a battery pack system chances are they would take care of these and having a secure locker to both store and charge enables the continuation of this.

Solar ovens

The Solar oven is a similar concept to the sizzler in that it focuses heat into the center with reflective panels. http://www.sunoven.com/international/haiti.php  There are many of these ovens currently being donated to villages in Haiti.

Solar sizzlers

The solar cooker is made from aluminum triangular pieces that piece together to create a circular reflective mirror that centralizes the sun in the center. http://www.solarsizzler.com/index.html  This concentration of sun creates a heat source that rises below the pan cooking your food. It is easy to assemble and can be personalized to different widths for different sized pans. The Solar Sizzler is sold online for roughly $30 a unit however on their website there are a number of different diagrams and instructions on how to build your own. These would be ideal as an addition for a sub-community or individual houses.

Nano Scale lanterns are easy to convert from traditional lanterns.http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sbUUoNmsx5g They provide necessary light for education and interaction within the houses. They can be sold or traded for profit once they understand how to construct and use them.

Water Centers
A solar water pasteurizer would be ideal to provide clean water to a community. http://www.safewatersystems.com/ Once installed it uses no electricity, pumps, chemicals, or water pressure. It is easy to install and operate, and does not require a technician. Since it relies on solar energy, there is a back up option for rainy days or nights. It disinfects water for less than $.00125 per liter which equals to $ 1.50 per person per year.

The compostable toilet is not only a great way to eliminate odor but is a sustainable way to treat waste. It uses no water and creates a use for organic waste like Bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed. The waste can than be composted to create a nutrient rich base to garden with.    

Food & commerce
more than a year after the earthquake, there is still much that needs to be rebuilt or repaired. Organizations such as International Development Association and Worldbank have helped provide over $10 million a month to rebuild government, communities, and schools. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/LACEXT/HAITIEXTN/0,,menuPK:338184~pagePK:141159~piPK:141110~theSitePK:338165,00.html  By hiring the people in these communities to rebuild roads, and architecture it would greatly help the community to get back on their feet. this money should also be used to educate the people in farming, and other means of employment.
The idea of the playpump windmill in Africa is installed in a playground that serves as a merry-go-round and, uses the boundless energy of children to pump water out of the ground. It can pump up to 1,400 liters of water per hour at 16rpm from a depth of 40meters.



For inspiration we looked into the Hexayurt design which is public domain and has no copyright or patent. It is made from plywood for less than $100 for 166 square foot building. The benefits of this design include a solid sound barrier which could be enhanced depending on the material used for the 1" thick insulated wall. This design fits in the $300 price range, has low maintenance costs, and is easy to transport and set up. The spacious interior allows plenty of room for storage and bedding. This concept could easily be modified for varying sizes, and materials.
               "In bed we laugh, in bed we cry
                 And born in bed, in bed we die"   
                -Issac DeBenserade

Often luxury is not thought of when designing a relief house. A house becomes a home when one feels safe and comfortable. A bed is a simple luxury that we as designers can provide. We looked at the traditional western bed and concluded that there are to many flaws associated with them. The element of the western bed we like is the off ground aspect. Both cots and hammocks provide this off ground element but have a added level of mobility. When researching we looked at what is considered the all-around healthiest sleeping position. "Many doctors say it's lying on one's back, with the head slightly elevated, about 10 - 30 percent. This is postulated to give the brain optimal blood circulation rather than congestion and also allows for more un-obstructed breathing, says Dr. Steven Park, a head and neck surgeon and member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine."source  The hammock provides this and there are over 10 million people sleeping in one every night.
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Continue reading Research & Insights.

February 13, 2011

Design for the Other 90%

“The problem is that 90 percent of the world’s designers spend all their time working on solutions to the problems of the richest 10 percent of the world’s customers. A revolution in design is needed to reverse this silly ratio and reach the other 90 percent.”

Paul Polak in Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail

Here are Paul’s 12 steps to practical problem solving for the poor:

  1. Go to where the action is.
  2. Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.
  3. Learn everything you can about the problem’s specific context.
  4. Think big and act big.
  5. Think like a child.
  6. See and do the obvious.
  7. If somebody has already invented it, you don’t need to do so again.
  8. Make sure your approach has positive, measurable impacts that can be brought to scale.
  9. Design to specific cost and price targets.
  10. Follow practical three-year plans.
  11. Continue to learn from your customers.
  12. Stay positive: don’t be distracted by what other people think.

For all the designers out there, these principles should be applied to the design and implementation of the $300 House.  Paul Polak’s approach at D-REV and  IDE is the direction is which Design must go if is to make a difference in the world.


February 12, 2011

$300 House Submission: Javier Tenorio and Fernando Garcia-Landois of Owens Corning


Even as we were trying to organize an Open Challenge for the $300 House, we received this submission from Javier Tenorio and Fernando Garcia-Landois of Owens Corning. Thanks guys!  In addition to helping design a $300 House, your paper helps us set the standard format for the entire project!

The paper has six sections:

1.    essential house areas definition
2.    customer needs approach
3.    design association for needs
4.    a design proposal
5.    proposed materials
6.    costs and conclusions

Of particular interest to us are sections 2 and 3 - because they help us see the connections between customer needs and design:


Download the entire thing here >>

February 9, 2011

Full Circle Community

Floating Homes.jpg

The indigenous people of Uros Island in Lake Titicaca, bordering Peru and Bolivia, were forced to build this false island in an effort to flee the Spanish a few hundred years ago. Their efforts were rewarded by the discovery of the amazing uses of the reed plant and it's root system.

They built the islands from the reed, constructed their homes from the reed and root fibers and also use the roots as a source of food. Their waste also provides an amazing fertilizer for the reeds. What an incredible symbiotic relationship that gives full circle!

February 7, 2011

RMCAD's team Victus



Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design's Victus is inspired by future thinking and human centered design principles. We are excited to be offered the opportunity to contribute our ideas to bring the $300 house to the communities of under developed nations.

Here's a quick glance at our team:

Jesse Knapper will be graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communications Design from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. (RMCAD) He is intent on creating work that inspires and connects with a target audience. A diligent work ethic and laid back demeanor has made him successful as a student at RMCAD and a powerful asset to have on a group project. Growing up with an identical twin brother has instilled an understanding of the potential in collaborating and teamwork. He is currently working part time in sales for Comcast Cable. In his free time, he likes to travel, fill sketchbooks, play disc golf, and go skateboarding.

Daniel Aabak
is currently studying communication design at RMCAD and graduating in April 2011. He strongly believes submergence and complete understanding of your work leads to relevant, innovative and timeless results. He hopes to visually communicate the ideas of his clients while also working on human centered design. His other creative passions include photography, illustration, film and painting. When not working on projects and side work Daniel enjoys snowboarding, fishing, observing wildlife, basically any outdoor activity that takes you outside of your perspective and the company of his family and

Julie Luu will be graduating in the fall of 2011 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communications Design from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. She is a creative thinker and problem solver that wants to apply sustainable design for the future. As a student, she strives to participate in school functions and give back to the community by doing volunteer work. During the summer of 2010, she participated in the Chalk Festival in denver. In her spare time she does design work for herself and photographing things that inspire her. She enjoys relaxing with friends, collecting vintage cameras and drinking tea.

David Laskowski II will be graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communications Design from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD). He aspires to create meaningful, sustainable design in his professional career. His philosophy is simple: good design is functional and inspires dialog. As a student at RMCAD he participated in numerous shows, and serves as a communications design senator in student government. In addition to design he finds has an interest in zoology. In his spare time he volunteers with FightWithTools.org and enjoys the music and art scene in Denver. He loves to participate in outdoor activities like biking, rock climbing and hiking with his dogs Samantha and Ricky.

Ad Vogele studied Art + Anthropology at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Communication Design at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He is the Founder and President of Ad Vogele Design Inc where he works with ambitious decision makers to generate new market value through multiple avenues of brand design and strategy. Ad enjoys creating work that promotes an intimacy through personal interaction and positive influence. It is the ability to make a significant first impression based on truth that can influence and foster a lasting relationship. Ad also has the pleasure of being in the classroom as an educator; guiding students to become new leaders in the pursuit of design excellence.

February 4, 2011

David Sands: The Sustainability Challenge


Bamboodist and architect David Sands blogs about the $300 House in Harvard Business Review:

"It's easy to say a $300 House for the poor should be designed a sustainable solution, but it's no easy feat. To be sustainable, all the elements must be good for the user, good for the environment and good for those who made them. Where do the materials come from? Of what are they composed? Are they nontoxic? Or better yet, are they biophilic: Is life on earth improved for everyone and all creatures because this product is being made? Also, if it is not affordable, it is not sustainable! With their reduced economic means, fewer choices are available to the poor and cost precludes many otherwise sustainable options."
Read the entire post >>

February 1, 2011

The Ashoka Changemakers Sustainable Urban Housing Competition

While we iron out just how our Open Design Challenge will work, you should know about Ashoka's Changemakers Sustainable Urban Housing Competition (via Rachna Pandey Donthi).  They are looking for innovative solutions that engage communities, entrepreneurs, and key institutions in collaborating to integrate and develop affordable, inclusive, and sustainable urban housing that respects the environment, local cultures, and practices.

Details here - the deadline is February 11th, and they have $$ prize money - if that's what motivates you! >>