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Tiny off-the-grid pod to raise living conditions in South African settlements


August 20, 2013

Johannesburg based design studio, Architecture For A Change has recently completed the construction of an off-the-grid prefabricated unit located in the informal settlement of Mamelodi, South-Africa

Johannesburg based design studio, Architecture For A Change has recently completed the construction of an off-the-grid prefabricated unit located in the informal settlement of Mamelodi, South-Africa

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Johannesburg-based design studio, Architecture For A Change (AFAC) has recently completed the construction of an off-the-grid prefabricated unit located in the informal settlement of Mamelodi, South-Africa. Dubbed Mamelodi Pod, the tiny prototype is designed with the aim of raising local living conditions while also providing an affordable housing solution for settlement districts.

“South Africa has 2,700 informal settlements with millions of inhabitants living in substandard conditions,” Dirk Coetser, Director of AFAC told Gizmag. “Many of these informal settlements don’t have water supply, electrical connections or storm water removal systems.”

Consisting mainly of a bedroom designed to fit two bunk beds (four beds in total), the Mamelodi Pod is currently being used as a small house and a temporary local soccer club. “Members of a local soccer club can now sleep comfortably in the unit instead of zinc shacks,” says Coetser.

It also has an exterior toilet which works like a French drain and has no need for a sewer connection. In Mamelodi, cooking mainly happens outside, so the pod features a parabolic solar cooker.

“We aspired to design and build a small building that blends into its informal context but that has a hint of contemporary design and has optimal environmental performance,” said Coetser.

The unit is prefabricated off site before being flat packed and transported by truck. The concrete foundations are the only part of the building that needs to be built on site and a minimum of three people can erect the pod in less than one day. Since it is completely self-sustainable, it can also be set up in almost any location.

The building is made up of composite wall panels comprising galvanized zinc sheets, a layer of Sisalation (a highly reflective foil material), Isotherm thermal insulation and internal plywood panels. The tiny home is thus equipped with excellent insulation, unlike common zinc shacks in the area which can be freezing during the winter and extremely hot during the summer.

“The exterior finish material being mostly galvanized zinc sheeting is durable and can withstand all weather conditions,” added Coetser. “And its structurally sound lightweight steel frame is designed to withstand wind loads.”

The pod is slightly raised off the ground to avoid humidity and potential flooding issues, while its quadratic shape and veranda offers the locals some welcome external shade during those long hot days. The unit also features a large central skylight, eliminating the need for lighting during the day; meanwhile a rooftop solar panel captures enough energy to power the interior lighting, two external LED strip lights and a 12-volt charger.

Furthermore, the pod is equipped with a 1,000 liter (264 US gal) water tank – a luxury in the area. “Water supply is scarce in the area and many people have to transport their water in buckets to their informal home,” says Coetser. “Mamelodi has a high rainwater fall rate in the summer and the tank water can be used for subsistence farming and washing.”

The Mamelodi Pod cost approximately US$4,500 to complete, making it an ideal module for emergency housing or a cheap off-the-grid home for isolated locations.

“This is already our second prototype and we learned a lot from the first one,” says Coetser. “We would like to still improve the design and create a final solution to eradicate informal housing. Our dream is to provide the poor with an affordable quality housing solution.”

Source: AFAC via Inhabitat

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

As much as this seems like a good idea, the price range for the 1st prototype is just completely out of the reach for most people- and yes I'm from South Africa so I have a 1st hand view point on this. the price has to be well below $500 for people living in those conditions to afford them and even that is a stretch. for $4500 you can buy a 2 bedroom, 1 lounge, kitchen and toilet log cabin/wendy type houses from local suppliers and they keep out the heat much better than the tin houses.


I think that is really neat. Perhaps the price is on the high side for those it is intended to use it. Perhaps the price will come down when it is mass produced?


@IvanC, I see a lot of small 'houses' online (here and elsewhere) that are designed to improve the lot of some group somewhere, and then priced right out of there range. And more than that, many are not designed for the local climate. Also, can they be legally constructed? Many shanty towns around the world are 'illegal' and violate local building codes or property rights, but are tolerated because the people in them have no place else to go. What are the conditions these are really meant for? If a $500 home was designed, would they have a place to put it? What are the local heating, cooling, ventilation, and insect (or larger) pest issues there?


As IvanC mentioned, that price is pretty high.

Also, I would shudder to think what would happen were anyone to light a fire around that little home. It's nice, but consider what could happen in a riot. Mobs are not kind.


Galvanized zinc sheets?

I think you mean galvanized steel sheets, i.e. steel sheets that have been electroplated with zinc for corrosion protection.


Good idea, but cost is far too high and I doubt that combining a French drain with a toilet is legal. Also on past experience I doubt that this would be considered by the locals, they usually demand a 'proper' house and destroy any thing else. I lived in Cape Town for years and found this to be the case.


If your not going to attach the toilet to a sewer system make it produce bio gas for cooking.


Looking at this, of course it's self sustainable, It's a box. This is insulting really. The people need housing, not camping equipment. Building affordable homes with indoor kitchens and bathrooms and then makes jobs so the people can buy the homes. Everyone is roughing it in todays economy.


We have built a 24 m2 Cob Cottage. Post and beams support the tin roof and 50 cm thick walls of Cob (wet adobe) make a beautiful organic structure that is substantial and well insulated. All corners are curved and doors and windows arched. Recipe, 3-sand +1-clay, +1 straw or grass, +1-horse or cow manure, mix in a pit with bare feet with enough water to make a dough like substance. apply by throwing hand fulls, one on top of the other. Use plastic bottles, and any other recyclables for filler. Glass bottle can used for windows. Total about as low as you can get!

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