99% Invisible: 231- Half a House
October 16, 2016 8:40 PM - Subscribe

On the night of February 27th, 2010, a magnitude of 8.8 earthquake hit Constitución, Chile and it was the second biggest that the world had seen in half a century. The quake and the tsunami it produced completely crushed the town. By the time it was over, more than 500 people were dead, and about 80% of the Constitución's buildings were ruined. As part of the relief effort, an architecture firm called Elemental was hired to create a master plan for the city, which included new housing for people displaced in the disaster. But the structures that Elemental delivered were a radical and controversial approach toward housing. They gave people half a house.
posted by eotvos (4 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I thought this was such an interesting concept! Although I am not sure how feasible it is for someone who is already struggling to be able to finish the building themselves? I'm curious what the statistics are for people finishing and extending the houses.

The woman from HUD(?) was definitely right that this wouldn't fly in the US, though.
posted by radioamy at 1:58 PM on October 17, 2016

Big important fact that didn't feel emphasized all that strongly: the residents of these half houses own their homes. That plus the services half of the sites and services model make this massively different from the US approach. So, based on the conventional wisdom about the difference between owners and renters, you'd expect people to feel more invested in their community than folks in a typical block-style housing project. Which is totally the point.

As for whether it would work in the US, I think it might but we'll never try it.
posted by that's candlepin at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2016

I'm really intrigued by this idea; having a personal investment in your neighborhood is a great thing. And I'm not convinced it could never work in the US. Sure, there are challenges: a tradition of land-ownership and (as a result) incredibly expensive land combined with building regulations and permit laws that make cheap do-it-yourself improvements impossible. Saddling poor people with houses that they can never sell because of unpermitted construction isn't a great idea. Making this work in Chicago would be incredibly challenging.

But, a lot of building regulations are determined at the local and county level, and there are a lot of poor and displaced people who live in places where land costs nothing and local governments can be convinced to try experiments. If an organization like Habitat For Humanity - which is far from perfect, but is big enough to convince counties to grant regulatory exceptions - decided to back the idea, it doesn't seem nearly as crazy as the woman in the interview suggests. It beats the hell out of FEMA trailers, and costs not much more.
posted by eotvos at 2:51 PM on October 20, 2016

Although I am not sure how feasible it is for someone who is already struggling to be able to finish the building themselves?

I wonder how much that matters. The government set the standards for low-income housing, so the choice seems like it was either "tiny house with no fridge", and "tiny house with no fridge but space to double in size."

I actually think that this could be made to work in the US, but the design choices for the house expansion would get a lot more complicated. Basically, you want an IKEA/Lego style house "system," where major code compliant components have already been thought through and designed. The challenge is keeping the "blocks" cheap. The Elemental strategy is based on the homeowners being able to provide their own labor, and you're never going to be able to get a plug-and-play bathroom module to be as cheap as buying all the parts and putting it together yourself, in your own time.

Maybe if the planners had specific upgrade paths designed, and the municipality in question was willing to do an inspection after each "stage," you could still have the best of both worlds. For example, adding a bathroom requires at minimum a toilet (with all the appropriate drainage, etc). But if the "code" required that the "just-a-toilet" bathroom include a drain connection to a future sink/shower, that still gives people to upgrade piece by piece. But the planners need to be able to anticipate that need/want.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:02 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Westworld: The Stray...   |  Last Man on Earth: You're All ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments