The folks at faircompanies tipped me off to an interview they recently had with Daniel Gross, the entrepreneur behind a company called WorldHaus. WorldHaus, an Idealab project, has developed a low cost prefab building system intended to provide families in places like Kenya and India a safe and secure place to live for as little as $1,000.
It sounds like a wonderful idea but the interview left me questioning some bigger issues their research surfaced.
Here’s a quote from the latter half of the interview:
“It (natural building materials) fails in the aspirational standpoint, which means, a lot of people love the idea of bamboo, they love the idea of earth houses but it’s not something they want to pay for to live in, it’s not their dream house. We’ve yet to find a natural material that when we go to villagers and we say – how about a house made out of this – it’s something they are actively willing to pay for. And that’s one of the key building blocks of WorldHaus and one of the key areas we’re going into is – we want something that people will want to pay for and want to finance.”
I hesitate to pass judgement on the project since there’s not much information about their house kit or the research they performed available on the WorldHaus website. But knowing that most people around the globe live in homes made from natural materials I was surprised to hear that they would prefer to pay him for a prefab home.
So instead I’m just going to say that I’d personally hope to see more projects focused on using local materials and labor instead of manufactured homes shipped by the hundreds to remote locations in shipping containers.
Two great examples come to mind immediately.
This earthbag roundhouse in Thailand was built by Owen Geiger (and team) for just a bit more than $2,000. It’s made from local materials and was assembled by local people. The end result looks like a wonderfully comfortable small home. The best part is that once people learn how to build with earthbags there’s little stopping them from building more.
Arial Home Initiative
The Arial Home Initiative is focused on bringing prefab construction methods to local communities. Instead of shipping prefab panels to developing nations they teach people how to make the prefab panels themselves. The houses go up in no time and cost very little money.
It’s hard to say if approaching housing challenges in developing nations would be more successful by taking a capitalist approach – or if an altruistic teach-a-person-to-fish approach would come out ahead. Like I said above, I’d hope the altruistic approach would win but who knows, maybe more people can be served by running it like a businesses.
In any event it will be interesting to see how successful WorldHaus becomes and how these kit homes perform for their owners.