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MIT's affordable housing project builds first prototype in China


September 20, 2011

The design incorporates a modular layout with hollow brick walls, steel bars for reinforcement and wooden box beams (Image: Ying chee Chui)

The design incorporates a modular layout with hollow brick walls, steel bars for reinforcement and wooden box beams (Image: Ying chee Chui)

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Launched in 2009, MIT's "1K House" project challenges designers to come up with affordable, sustainable housing solutions that can improve conditions for the billions of people in the world living on less that $1 per day. The "Pinwheel House" designed by MIT graduate student Ying chee Chui is the first prototype.

The 1K House concept was initiated by Tony Ciochetti, the Thomas G. Eastman Chairman at MIT's Center for Real Estate, after seeing a family of four emerge from a tiny mud hut while he was traveling through rural India.

"There is a huge proportion of the world's population that has pressing housing needs," says Ciochetti. "Can you build affordable, sustainable shelter for such a large population?"

Ying chee Chui's "Pinwheel House" is the first prototype to be constructed and is located in Mianyang, in the Sichuan Province, China. The design incorporates a modular layout with hollow brick walls, steel bars for reinforcement, wooden box beams, a central courtyard space and it's also built to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.

"The construction is easy enough, because if you know how to build a single module, you can build the whole house," says Chui.

Chui came out a little over the long-term goal of building a $1000 house, with the total cost coming to US$5,925. Not bad considering it's tough to buy a good second hand car for that price! A larger building than was originally designed was a factor in the cost - the whole house came to about 800 square feet, rather than 500 square feet. Chui is confident that the smaller module could easily be built for US$4000 or even cheaper if a large number of houses were built at the same time.

MIT's next design project starts in coming months with the aim of creating a series of US$10K home designs. The new designs will focus on creating cheap homes following a natural disaster situation, such as the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan in March.

"It's part of the responsibility of an architect, to create these spaces for people to live," Chui says. "It's from the heart."

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

I hate to think how much money MIT spent on this. Let the poor figure out how to construct their houses. Spend the money to provide sanitation, safe water, and safe electricity.


Yup, yup. Let\'s halt any efforts at research into design, construction excepting for the very wealth and the truly poor.

Someday the vaguely liberal will learn to prioritize issues clearly enough in their minds to support more than single-issue campaigns.


@slowburn. you can ghettobang a \"house\" up for less. but extreme weather conditions, or earthquakes tend to ghettobang them back down. note: Haiti. Affordable housing solutions is deffinately an area worth researching.

found this quote in thier mission statement

\"Sustainability : Without an available infrastructure, 1K House has to harvest energy and treat waste in a self-sustained way. It can be built with a hybrid of the traditional, local and recycled building materials and latest industrial products. Increasing awareness of the scarcity of natural resources afforded by our world necessitates thoughtful consideration of sustainable use of both materials and energy. When implemented at a large scale, housing can minimize negative impacts on our environment\"

would deffinately be interested to know more about the proposed waste disposal, and heating. and all that other cool stuff that isn\'t just a roof and walls.

The only self sustained sewage i can think of is compost. and that sounds problematic if they plan on putting up a bunch close together. long story short. dissapointed in thier project website. just ambiguous pictures. no real information. especially no information on the proposed sustainable aspect. building a house that doesn\'t need infrastructure for 6 grand boggles my mind. i would build that house in a heartbeat. it\'s a humanitarian project, no reason for secretiveness. Eric MacAfee

Re; Eric MacAfee It is a question of where you, or I think the money will do the most good for the most people. I will also add schools just behind sanitation on the list and a structural information campaign above electricity.


If, indeed, this type of housing can withstand an Earthquake of 8.0 on the Richter scale, then I have to agree that the money devoted to this project was well spent. After all, the lessons learned in building the housing should be immediately applicable to other types of structures, like school buildings and medical clinics, and Sichuan an earthquake-prone region where such solutions could save innumerable lives....



This only takes into account the cost of constucting the house itself. What about the land. In places like India, its the land that costs up to 50% of the money even for regular houses. Quite a few of those billion people under $1 a day earning power live in cities.

People who have houses in villages often times have their house built for generations, they will look down upon these cheap houses. compared to their stone houses built long back.

Arun Murali

Having experienced Katrina & it\'s woeful aftermath with the contaminated trailers, I think this is a good avenue of pursuit. Disaster housing is an area that could use some refinement. If these homes could be taken apart & stored or shipped they could be most useful. Setting up the required systems, [waste, electrical, water] is no big deal. All you need is a lot of PVC pipe, and wire.Using a connecting system like Simpson Strong ties & screws would make it like a Lego set. Easy to assemble & disassemble. As far as land use issues, after Katrina many remote sites were set up with access to public transportation.


Well, another thing about making a house affordable is inexpensive home decor. The walls aren't the only thing that makes a home expensive, although it certainly helps! About how many square feet will these be? Thanks for the post!

Marth Tolkien
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