Your own four walls: The $300 House Project

November 21, 2013

With the “empowering people. Award“ the Siemens Stiftung sought to identify simple technological solutions that provide crucial basic supply for  people living in developing countries and empower them to initiate and run scalable businesses. The main winner of this Award invented a machine that produces glasses for less than one dollar, called OneDollarGlasses. This innovation was one of many submitted to the competition, which can have a wide-reaching impact on whole communities. By empowering individuals in the supply of their basic needs, we wish to enable them to run their own lives independently.  One of these basic needs is, of course, having a roof over your head. A shelter offers security, stability and a feeling of being at home which allows people to live in an acceptable standard of living and in dignity. Especially in disaster hit areas such as Haiti and just last week Tacloban in the Philippines, providing houses is one of the major challenges. It is, however, a challenge that Professor Vijay Govindarajan of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University, and his colleagues have willingly faced.

In a bid to create affordable housing for people with low income, Professor Govindarajan who leads the $300 House project, has gathered together some of the world’s leading architects to submit such spaces. The guidelines he has drawn up include stipulations, for example, that the houses need to be self-built and expandable, made of durable mass-produced materials and low-tech. They should also include water filters and solar panels, use local materials and of course, cost no more than $300. Six designs were selected worldwide and one of the winners included Mexican architect Elsa Ponce. Her house, consisting of bamboo and wood, also has a slanted tin roof for rain to slide off. Solving the problem of varying temperatures, the house has folding walls, which help to regulate air and warmth. Getting around such basic, yet highly problematic issues is imperative for these homes to work. This, maintain the members of the $300 House project, is the way forward. It is innovation and not charity.

Project partners are diverse with NGOs, businesses, governments, universities, and students. Together they are tackling the problems of building affordable housing in limited spaces such as slums.

The project, which is already working in Haiti, aims to replicate the housing designs on a large scale and make it available to as many people as possible.

More details can be found here.

David Hoffmann
David Hoffmann

David Hoffmann is member of the “empowering people. Award” team at the Siemens Stiftung (foundation). He holds degrees in Economics and Geography and has worked on development issues in the European Parliament and the German Embassy in Moldova. He also worked as project coordinator for humanitarian disaster aid missions.


Project Manager