Foxes and Planes

How Elemental designed social housing that grows with its residents.

Elemental a Do Tank based in Chile works on projects that have public and social impact across all elements of the built environment. In 2004 the Chilean government tasked them with designing permanent housing for 93 families that had been squatting in a central area of Iquique. The budget that the government provided was severely limiting and no existing solutions existed that would work for what was necessary.

Rather than do the obvious which was designing something of lesser quality, Elemental chose a different approach. They designed smaller housing units built out of concrete, but they left space for residents to expand their houses in the future. In essence, they built only half of a house and left empty the other half.

Over time, the families could invest into their houses by expanding them as necessary. This approach understands understands a few things. The first is that people aren’t stagnant and their needs change over time. A family who lives in a one bedroom apartment, does not have room to grow, and if their family size increases, the housing would no longer be able to meet their needs. The second is that people are resourceful, resilient and invest in themselves. Giving people the freedom to expand and invest in their housing as they choose, returns a bit of dignity and pride to a marginalized group of people who are already struggling.

Over time, you can see that people not only built and expanded in different ways, but they also changed the stark grey concrete and painted it over in brighter colors, adding vibrancy and emotion to the area.

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