$300 house
This proposal describes a proof of concept for a $300 house designed for a South African context. At its heart is a desire to provide inhabitants with a safe, resilient, dignified place to live.


Synopsis/Executive Summary
This proposal describes a proof of concept for a $300 house designed for a South African context. At its heart is a desire to provide inhabitants with a safe, resilient, dignified place to live.

It borrows several techniques from others who have come before and marries them with knowledge of local  conditions to deliver a blue print for a self-constructed, permanent dwelling for poor people.

The basic concept comprises two components: a fundamental services core that provides for the basic human needs of water, sanitation, electrical power and security; and the containing structure.

It must be noted that this proposal is a conceptual framework and not a complete solution � inherent in our approach is a large degree of flexibility to adapt to specific local requirements and circumstances � for this reason we have purposefully avoided prescribing detailed plans.


  • Wherever possible, locally available, free materials will be used for the majority of the structure
  • Labour is assumed to be free, i.e. owner/inhabitants will build their own structure
  • Water and electricity will be provided at point of connection, as is the case in RDP housing (i.e. South Africa�s state-subsidised programme)
Approach & Design Principles
  • Low tech � the persons building the house are not going to be educated or specialists in construction. State-provided (RDP) housing is both expensive and of poor quality; in the majority of cases, tenders for government housing is less about housing for the poor than it is about contracts for connected businessmen or companies. To address this, our design is specifically focused on self-construction.
  • Materials agnostic � use whatever is locally available, appropriate and relevant. This point pertains mostly to the walls; certain elements such as the services core and roof will need to be made from bought materials (this is where the majority of our budget is allocated to), Regardless of budget, our approach is try to make use of the waste products of our industrial age and in this way be a positive force regarding the conservation of natural resources and energy.
  • Self-repeating pattern � a basic template is used as a building block to create larger structures. A standardised 2.4m is used as the base unit, and each individual dwelling is 2.4m high, with a floor area of 2.4m x 2.4m. This makes it possible to adjoin units in a large and flexible number of ways.
  • Extension/evolution/growth/development over time
Insights/Starting points/Objectives
  • Sanitation is crucial; clean water and an efficient sewerage system are critical for the health of the entire community.
  • A basic level of security is essential; 5% of Africans have bank accounts, i.e. this is a cash economy. As a result, opportunities for theft and related crime are high. A basic secure storage facility will provide high value to the inhabitants of such a dwelling.
  • Community is key. A strong sense of community has always been central to the African way of life. Our approach tries to reinforce this, both to mitigate contrary forces in the modern lifestyle, but also because a strong community is the best safety net in uncertain times.
Proposal & Rationale
  • The basic building block of our design is a unit comprising two adjoining single room spaces, sharing a services core, and surrounded by earthen walls
  • The components of each unit are the following:
    • An earth structure (see diagram 1) for the main structural walls; ramps are used for gardens to produce food and integrate the living space into nature
    • A Services Core (see diagram 2) that provides for the basic necessities of the inhabitants (water, electricity, a secure storage facility, sanitation)
    • A corrugated roof; water catchment is possible off the roof

  • Orientation is key � gardens must face the relevant direction of sun light � in South Africa this is north-facing
  • Natural light is optimised by constructing a composite north-facing wall with glass bottles and aluminium cans
    • If parallel rows of dwellings are constructed, the minimum distance between adjacent rows should be 5.9m, to ensure that houses further back are not cast in shadow. This is based on a maximum height of 2.5m for the structure, and a winter solstice sun angle of 23 degrees.
  • Regarding materials for adobe walls, this is left up to the builder, and depends on the specific situation. As an example, in South Africa some areas consist mostly of dune sand, whilst others are mostly clay; sandbagging would suit the former, adobe walls the latter. Some possible construction techniques:
    • Earthship approach � earth-pounded tires (Mike Reynolds,)
    • SuperAdobe � sandbags and barbed wire (Nader Khalili, 1992)
    • Composite walls - glass bottles, aluminium cans


Services Core

    o   Tap/Faucet: R100 (US$15)

    o   Plug Point: R50 (US$7.50)

    o   Safe: R200 (US$30)

    o   Drainage pipe: government-subsidised

    o   Toilet: R300 (US$45)

    o   Concrete: R100 (US$15)


    o   Corrugated roofing sheets: R400 (US$60)

    o   Roof joists: R300 (US$45)

    o   Fixings & Fasteners: R50 (US$7.50)

    o   Plastic sheeting: R100 (US$15)


    o   Door: R200 (US$30)

    o   Frame: R100 (US$15)

    o   Iron mongery: R100 (US$15)


    o   Bottles: free


    o   Tires: free

    o   Sand: free

    o   Bottles: free

    o   Soda cans: free

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