'The $300 House' Challenge

Bring affordable housing to the world’s poor. $25,000 prize pool

Bring affordable housing to the world’s poor.


From the one-room shacks in Haiti's Central Plateau to the jhuggi clusters in and around Delhi, to the favelas in São Paulo and the township settlements in South Africa, the problem of housing-for-the-poor is truly global.

The $300 House Project, originally conceived by Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar, is an initiative to bring affordable housing to the world’s poorest: a plight facing roughly two billion people.

They started with five simple questions:

  • How can organic, self-built slums be turned into livable housing?
  • What might a house-for-the-poor look like?
  • How can world-class engineering and design capabilities be utilized to solve the problem?
  • What reverse-innovation lessons might be learned by the participants in such a project?
  • How could the poor afford to buy this house?

The project has grown from these simple questions into a global forum of experts, innovators, entrepreneurs and advisers. One of the biggest challenges faced is harnessing the thoughts, insights and concepts offered by the growing global community of supporters.

Task Definition

Creating a viable prototype is the first of many challenges required to successfully bring a $300 house to market. There are a multitude of considerations, but in essence the challenge faced is straightforward:

Design a simple dwelling that can be constructed for under $300 which keeps it’s occupants safe from the weather, allows them to sleep at night, and gives them both a home and a sense of dignity.

Not only is the challenge one of extreme design efficiency, but also that of material choice and implementation. Numerous factors should be taken into account, amongst them: regionalism, sustainability, cost and replicability.

To be successful, innovators and entrepreneurs have to address the multitude of design challenges that have bedeviled previous attempts at affordable housing:

  • Low-cost, the $300 figure being largely arbitrary but a useful means of anchoring expectations is based on studies that people who have escaped poverty live in shelters worth roughly $370. $300 is a reasonable, yet aggressive, price.
  • Self-built or self-improvable, because that both lowers the cost and works to reduce the potential for corruption capturing donor aid.
  • Low-tech, because we want the slum dwellers themselves to build or improve or expand their house, as this will generate income for them and reduce the risk of value capture by landlords and rent-seekers.
  • Local materials, preferably those that can be found or bought very cheaply.
  • Build greener, cheaper and encourage sustainable homes and communities.
  • Replicable, since the slums are proliferating faster than any government's or formal sector's capacity to cope.

Unlike design challenges faced in the ‘first world’ a smart solution doesn’t necessarily mean an innovative product, but a solution that exercises humility and is firmly grounded in reality. The following video by Paul Polak illustrates 12 steps to consider when solving problems for a target market we’re seldom taught to cater to.

The following valuable insights were shared by Bill Gross:

  • Give your customers options. One size fits all models for kit homes are not likely to succeed across multiple countries or even multiple cities or states within the same country. Successful designs need to be customizable, allowing families to use local materials and adapt the house to local cultural norms. It is also ideal to offer different features according to the needs of your specific customer.
  • Choose the right materials. A number of materials are available on the market today, from bamboo to foam, to galvanized steel. Materials must be selected not only on the basis of cost, but on durability and compatibility with local aesthetic and functional norms. Can your product withstand extreme weather like floods and earthquakes? Is it vulnerable to termites, corrosion, or damage from everyday use?
  • Make it both practical and sustainable. Growing families need the ability to modify, move, or add to their homes as time goes on. These practical needs can be met with ecological responsibility, and making homes out of recyclable, reusable materials should be mandatory.

Award and Workshop
Briefing Update on May, 23rd:


The goal of the this contest is to find identify 5 concepts and designs to be tested as full scale prototypes. The top 3 community winners and 2 jury nominations will be invited to a 2 week prototyping workshop. The specifics of the workshop are yet to be determined, updates following soon.


Judging Criteria



  • Feasibility. Can the design easily be realised using existing technology and materials for under $300?
  • Viability. What are the chances of the design meeting additional cultural and commercial hurdles faced in bringing it to market? Is there a business model or business plan presented along with the idea?
  • Adoption. What is the probability for global adoption and retention?
  • Impact. What is the anticipated impact to society and personal well being
  • Sustainability. Is the design green and affordable?

Submissions can be made in the form of image and video files. jovoto is an open submission platform and encourages you to submit thinking throughout the design process, from your first napkin sketches all the way through to final rendered prototypes, for feedback and review.

Further research, ideas, inspiration and a whole lot more can be found on the $300 House site.



Target Group

  • Cultures across the globe.
  • Ages 16-60.
  • Low income (Base of the pyramid).


  • Safe
  • Secure
  • Practical
  • Sustainable
  • Aspirational

Mandatory requirements

The dwelling should meet the following requirements:

  • The house can be constructed for under $300.
  • The structure should be no smaller than 2.2m X 2.2m
  • Space to sleep and cook.
  • Access to light.
  • Access to drinking water.
  • Access to electricity.
  • Constructed with durable material that will resist the elements for 50+ years.
  • Secure from animals and criminal elements.
  • Resistant to fire, storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
  • The house NEED NOT have sanitation. Sanitation in a $300 House village will be housed in a centralized communal facility.


Show all comments (136)

Judges and advisors seems unwitting pawns in this game giving credibility to this venture.

Its a Win Win situation for all those involved in the name of the poor who as usual would remain poor, and are they got nothing further to lose?

The Design contest and prototype exercises would help siphon funds to the $300 Model/s that otherwise could have been utilized directly for the poor. Already only a few cents reach the poor out of every philanthropic dollar. $300 House removes those cents away from the poor.

As everyone from Designers to Professors and Corporations and NGOs would congratulate each other for the jobs well done, the emerging policy (and design) doctrines of $300 House appear to further undermine the poor.

The Design and Prototype Exercise and the resulting dialog (including 300 House Google Group) seems to be moderated only to highlight postings with media accolade and any funding potentials. What else do you expect?

PANDESIGN - I know Mak voted for your submission. Unfortunately, the rest of the judges did not. Take it easy, man. Anger and disappointment aren't going to help u get to the next level... And please submit your comments on our Google Forum or to me directly... info (at) 300house.com ..

Just saw your spiteful note on our Google Group. Sorry man, you are too full of bitterness. Take a look in the mirror and ask if this is what you really want to be... cheers, C


CSarkar - Mak who? Did you look at it? You did not and thats the point that the jury process is as questionable as the intent.
It'd be easy to see in my entry that there is no anger or disappointment since it was not meant to win or lose.
Not only you have fail to get the gist of affordable housing, you are unable to take the critic.


Winners #2, #15, and #16 all share the distinction of being successful Jovoto entrepreneurs.

What they also share is packaging skills. They've all taken existing ideas and packaged them to win at Jovoto.

If you look at their presentations you will not find one innovation. Just presentation, and maybe more.


The saddest thing is that above fact might be what the media finds most interesting about the $300.00 house contest. All the good ideas, the efforts of so many on the behalf of so many, and what does the media believe the public want?

Sad statement about the media and us.


So langsam reicht es. Ich lasse mich hier nicht auch noch beleidigen!

Mittlerweile bereue ich es wirklich dass ich meine Ideen in diesem Contest eingereicht habe.
Es ist einfach nur traurig. Alte Männer, die sich wie kleine Kinder benehmen, denen das Spielzeug weggenommen wurde.

Ich kann mit einem reinen Gewissen sagen, dass ich niemanden gebeten habe meine Idee zu bewerten (weder gut noch schlecht). Warum ich auf Platz 2 gelandet bin? Keine Ahnung, fragt doch diejenigen die mich bewertet haben.

Denkt mal über Euer Verhalten nach!

(Übersetzen könnt Ihr den Text selbst - ich habe dazu gerade keine Lust)


@harveylacey noch ein Tip: Sortiere die Ideen mal nach Datum und Du kannst sehen, welche Ideen zuerst eingereicht wurden!

Hey iLines,
you were faster than me ;)
I apologize for harveylacey's comment, it was clearly completely out of place - I've checked the ratings thoroughly and I can confirm that your ratings were 100% fair. Congrats again on winning this one and please don't let anyone spoil this for you, you deserved it!


I agree the harveylacey comment is completely out of place and totally unfair with iLines.


Thanks Nathalie and flegido!

Hi everyone - I'm sorry for the delay in responding, but my task now is get a decent, open prototyping workshop going.

I emailed one of the commenters on this blog personally, but my message applies to all of us:

Let's just have some simple politeness in your comments on the Jovoto blog....
Whining isn't constructive. Instead you sound like someone who is just plain upset about losing.

Look, the few submissions I liked personally didn't even make it into the first 16. So please vent on our Google Group board (http://groups.google.com/group/300house), if you must... and I'll do my best to reply.

I have been working diligently to find a way to get the prototyping workshop off the ground - and that requires a lot of work, as u can imagine. If this was a propaganda show, I'd say "mission accomplished" and go do something more rewarding. But I'm not.

So let's work together.

Everyone, please take a deep breath, and let's be constructive. Bashing the winners isn't going to help anyone look good, man.

One more thing, if I may. The problem of poverty and housing for the poor isn't going to be solved by this challenge. And we certainly see that there were many other great designs that could have won just as easily. I want to encourage all these designers to continue. Just because you didn't win, doesn't mean your design wasn't a good idea. In fact, we would like you to continue.

We are helping businesses understand that this is not a competition. The market for the poor is so huge, that we want all manner of businesses to get involved, and view the poor as a customer. What does that mean? It means businesses need to serve the poor by designing products and services at high quality and at a price point that is affordable - extreme affordability (as Paul Polak calls it). If we don't invite businesses to solve this problem, we will never be able to scale our solutions.

So instead of us and them, you or me, let's think WE. What can we do to continue? If a model does cost $300 to build, let's build it. If it works, we will promote it as best we can, even if it did not win this contest.

Please let's get back to civility. Thanks to everyone that participated. We are now working on putting together the workshop, which may actually be a little more difficult that putting together this contest...

PS - for what it's worth, both VG and myself could have spend the time we spent on this experiment on things that were far more popular and profitable. We didn't. We did this is good faith. We aren't doing this to win points with anyone. Speaking for myself, I think the contest was fantastic. Thanks to everyone that poured their hearts and souls into it.

We are just beginning, so join us, will ya? www.300house.com
If anyone wants to be uncivil, feel free to send me an email at info (a) 300house.com



I completely understand your position and your reaction. But it might time to admit that Jovoto was not the right platform on which to run this contest. Whether you admit it or not, the perception is that the contest results were not merit based, but popularity based. And that is exactly what is getting so many participants so riled up. As such, it seems from the observer's point of view that some of the more truly workable $300 house solutions never even had a chance. Should I also mention that perception is that many of the top entries don't even meet the prescribed briefing requirements? It all seems very ad-hoc...

Even more lamentable was the the ubiquitous lack of participation by jury members throughout the contest (MBhoot's are the only comments that I saw). And I'm guessing that you never really got them to participate much in the end either, when it really counted.

If your objective is indeed to find true solutions for the $300 house, you will dig past the first 16 entries and find some valuable yet overlooked answers there. That was the goal of this contest, was it not?


CSarkar- You are the Judge of the Jury. You are the creator of the Forums and you moderate whether comments are spiteful or insightful.

You have an excuse for not being a housing expert. I don't. So I want to make sure you would not say 'hay nobody told us' You do have a very impressive list of judges and advisors but you discouraging them just like you label all your critic/commentators as uncivil.

What I want to be is to clearly point out that the '300 House' seems to be setting a course of action that is already proven impracticable. You don't have to build prototypes to learn that.
As you suggest, look in the mirror, take it easy, get help, take time, don't rush. With these
definite designs you are leading everyone back to square one.

I want to let you know that it appear to me that this prototype program seems beneficial only for people like you directing funds and volunteers to educating yourself.

If you consider the critic then now you know that you are inadvertently diverting corporate, media and media enthusiasm as well as finance away from the slums by misguiding a process that started with so much promise to actually make a change.


CSakar - With total respect for everyone, I still did not get an explanation as to how the Judges managed to get the identical votes to that of the public. Did the judges have any leeway at all?

JMKO - have a look at the ranking - by no means did the jury pick the identical winners as the community! Instead of 1-3, they picked place 6, 7 and 10! There were given complete freedom to choose whatever idea they liked best - and if anything, having the jury winners between the top 10 community winners only proves that the "wisdom of the crowds" was right in this case.


Do you mean that it is not the Jury who selected the 16 winners, they selected only 3 out of the 16.

No, the 16 winners are the community winners, based on the community rating - the three that are marked with a dollar sign (due to lacking a jury winner icon) are the jury winners, selected by the jury.


I missed this information entirely, sorry. I thought that the Jury had the role to certify the conformity of the entries with respect to the Mandatory Requirements, did anyone do this?


This was my first entry at Jovoto. Reading the Brief, which included Mandatory Requirements, sounds like an architectural competition. So I approached this as an architectural competition. However, architectural competitions typically require anonymous entries. I now realize this was more of a community endeavor. Still, I would have thought that complying with the Brief was required.

nsonne: You refer to the "wisdom of the crowds" as being right. But the crowds did not always vote based on conformity to the Brief/Mandatory Requirements. I, like JMKO, thought the jury was going to monitor/enforce the Mandatory Requirements. I didn't realize that there would be winners based solely on crowd appeal, and other winners selected by the jury. Thank you for the clarification.


Check building workshops coming up near you
It covers everything the 300 house prototype workshop aims to achieve.

A bit of homework would confirm these chosen designs are failures in the field (including those built in Haiti recently at far greater institutional support and unit costs- these models remain in experimental campuses across india or indonesia.

So why repeat the same??

Housing remains a huge problem for rich and poor alike, so far there is no innovative breakthrough. The Design Contest has reached to the same failed models, and prototype workshops with such designs in Haiti or in India would not make a difference.

The real solutions are hard and take long time - when or where we discuss those?
There is no space or context created at the 300House.Com for open dialog.

With great respect to CSarkar and Vijay Govindrajan for encouraging everyone to look in the Housing for poor, there is a sincere hope, hope not more of the same.

Yes there is - please head over to the 300 house Google group to continue the discussion - sign up here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!for...

Thanks for all your messages. I am in no position to provide jury statement, prototype workshop or further process. Consider this competition now over and I have following concluding remarks:

I made a mistake citing Nabil Hamadi in my comments. Thanks to ‘Pandesign’ for pointing it out. I meant Nadir Khalili whose life time of work on Super Adobe or Earth Bags has inspired several submissions. I’d also like to acknowledge ‘Teigan’ for his/her informed comments and personal feedback.

My current projects are in central India and Haiti but at this stage no immediate internship opportunities. Conflict, corruption in the field while funding/administration remain major hurdles for me.

I recommend everyone reading Hasan Fathy and ‘Architecture for Poor’
> Life and works of Architect Laurie Baker – note seismic and storm safety features
> Follow BloKlok – IKEA+Skanska Housing System and Business Model
> Tata Nano- A Small Wonder (about the $2500 Car)
> Review SPARC India + Slum Dwellers International People’s Housing Saving, Loft Model

Above all walking around and talking with the poor or the people you are designing for should cover a wide range of available best practices as a basis for informed design decision process.. with that I’d encourage everyone to continue the dialog at $ 300 House google forum.

With warm regards

Makrand Bhoot

Thanks for that, Makrand. And just as a reminder for you guys, here you go with the link for the Google Group re: the 300 house: http://groups.google.com/group/300house


I think that to be a part of Jovoto you have to understand that it isn't what you think it should be and that's that. I am not surprised at the winners and if you are a member of Jovoto you shouldn't be either. If anything Jovoto is merely an exercise in creativity and if you win something having not won any of the contests before and with little to no community connections, well...quite a miracle then. Meanwhile enjoy Jovoto for giving members, even not well connected ones, the task of thinking outside the box and outside their focus.


i think this guy should have won this contest : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/artic... :)))))