Social Housing Prototype
By Elliott Webb
Social housing, affordable housing and efficiency have become some of the more important issues in our present day architectural agenda. Mexico – the hometown of Tatiana Bilbao and her firm Tatiana Bilbao Estudio – are still wading through a housing crisis. With one of the fastest population growths in Latin America, the housing shortage constitutes a total of 9 million homes. This need for affordable and well-designed housing coincides with a global change in the architectural field with recent biennial exhibitions casting a spotlight on architectural works that are socially engaged and economically sustainable.
The Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015 was centred on the theme ‘The State of the Art of Architecture’, featuring interventions from over 100 different architects from more than 30 countries. Being one of the most talked about exhibits at the Chicago Biennial, Tatiana Bilbao has showcased a rigor in design and a humanitarian spirit that has been reflected through years of research. What was offered up from Bilbao is a full-scale social housing prototype that sought an agenda to offer a flexible housing solution for the needs of different families seeking accommodation in Mexico. After several in-situ interviews and workshops with a range of workers and families, Bilbao sought realistic information on how those in need want to live. The delivered outcome is a prototype that provides a viable solution to Mexico’s affordable housing shortage.
A simple design constructed from rudimentary materials, the prototype is an adaptation of the archetypal (two sloped roofs) house. Her research has given users the agency to adapt the design to suit their different geographical, social and behavioural needs. The project shows a rigor and accuracy in contrast to the social housing being built around the country, and represents a social capital dormant in architectural design.
|Architecture really can change your life… I take that responsibility seriously. At some point the profession had lost sight of that, and we have to realize what we have in our hands”|
The house itself, can be constructed for as little as $8000 USD and up to $14,000 USD depending on a variety of factors including the location, the construction phase selected, and local regulations. Expanding the minimum federal requirement of 43sq.m per house, the flexible design shifts around a central core of rigid materials (concrete blocks) and different surrounding modules of lighter/cheaper materials (wood pallets) allowing for future expansion in different phases or appropriations of the prototype. Bilbao comments that this modular system is ‘done with an industrial palette, so it has more space, and with very much less money”. Always preserving the outside appearance of a completed house and adapting to each family budget, needs and desires.
The front and rear portions (excluding the 5 meter high living room) are able to be used or fitted out dependant on the user needs, be it small business or a larger family to house. The core boundary does not encompass the entire potential footprint, which allows modules to fill out its implied form. Splitting the house into different zones, it provides multiple means of circulating through the space; removing the rigidity of the traditional archetypal houses layout. It has utilised several eco technologies in order to achieve maximum energy efficiency, and different interior space arrangements were developed to cope with varying urban and rural habits and traditions.
The first phase of the house includes two bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 kitchen and a 5-meter high dining/living room. When completed the third phase allows space for the same rooms and 5 separate bedrooms, with the possibility of adapting each separate house according to each family’s specific needs.
The project can be seen as a response to the ambitious social housing policy in Mexico, which birthed housing complexes or ‘suburban ghettos’, as Bilbao refers to them, due to their lack of connection to urban centres, infrastructure and jobs. These complexes now sit semi-abandoned, and whilst the government has launched several policies to stop this type of development, it hasn’t given many solutions to the housing problem at hand; this project may be it. Working with both the government and developers in the last 7 years, Bilbao has brought enthusiasm to social housing issues so tightly bound to her city, adding her voice and architectural foresight to this discourse.