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Earth The Almighty Buck Hardware

MIT's $1,000 House Challenge Yields Results 203

An anonymous reader writes "MIT's $1k House Project is an extraordinary challenge to provide safe and healthy homes for the world's burgeoning population. The Pinwheel House (PDF), a student project which helped serve as a catalyst for the challenge, has been completed in China by architect Ying chee Chui. Students have come up with a dozen or so designs to meet the challenge and improve living conditions for not just emerging economies but larger nations as well."
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MIT's $1,000 House Challenge Yields Results

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  • MIT epitomises the competitive, winner-takes-it-all, might-makes-right environment which is keeping half the world in poverty. Every dominant man starts forming his network at one of the elite universities, supporting research in collusion with exploitative business. When you've accepted that offer, you've already asked to be part of the system - to pretend to do something against it is ineffective hypocrisy.

    • What's your solution ?

      • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @02:53AM (#37453252) Journal

        For people who
        (i) are sufficiently intelligent to enter MIT (or similar); but
        (ii) are interested in application of technology to benevolent causes rather than application of technology to their bank account
        to refuse an acceptance or to leave the university and instead do what they believe is right on their own?

        If you want to force any organisation to change its behaviour, as any fule kno, you withold labour. Top universities exist on the reputation of a tiny minority of dedicated academics, but their business is processing journeymen who either stop at graduation or do a small amount of research work to launch them into a high-paying commercial job.

        To take an example, the director of my MSc programme resigned in angry disgust at the increasing commercialisation of higher education but most academics are too scared to leave the security of their tenure (or quasi-tenure). His action encouraged me as a student to take a look at politics in the university and higher education in general, and I aborted my research plans out of principle. Interestingly, my cousin at the LSE did the same as a final year PhD student.

    • You sound like a sad little hippie who still has a chip on his shoulder because some jocks picked on him a decade or two prior.

      What is wrong with competition?

      And you propose a losers-distribute-winnings-equally environment?

      • What is wrong with competition?

        Competition isn't inherently bad, but competition can be pointless and even a lot less useful than competition.

        In general competition can be fun, it can be a challenge. But, in today's world we're expected to always compete whether we want to or not, all day every day you're expected to constantly try to be better than the other guy (or girl). We're living in a world where "Good enough" for many people means you're first on the chopping block when the next round of layoffs starts. Where "Good enough" just i

        • "...even a lot less useful than cooperation."

        • But, in today's world we're expected to always compete whether we want to or not

          This has been a fact of life since the first proto-cells started eating each other about 4Gyrs ago, the very reason cooperation evolved in the first place was it imparted a competitive advantage. You and I may not like relentless competition, but there's fuck all we can do about the fundamental facts of life.

          • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @06:39AM (#37454044)

            You're missing the point. What I meant was that when compared to say, my parents' generation, my generation clearly has to compete on a different level. When I was out of work straight after college my father was baffled by this, when he was that age jobs could be had by just going to a company you thought looked fun to work for and asking them for a job. And in the workplace these days the level of performance expected by each employee is higher (at least in a lot of white-collar jobs). Basically our (western) society has become a lot more competitive and for the average person I just don't think the everyday gains outweigh the cost.

            Now yes, if you go back to the 19th century and the wave of industrialization that swept through the world things were worse, the point is that we took a few steps forward and then we started taking steps backwards again.

            • You're missing the point. What I meant was that when compared to say, my parents' generation, my generation clearly has to compete on a different level.

              The world did get a lot smaller in the meantime, while the number of competitors surged to twice what the entire population of the world was back then.
              That's what happens when former ideological enemies become competitors - particularly when the guiding philosophy of the winning side is that "it's a dog-eat-dog world".

              Your parents probably had to "compete" with only the local population of your state, or even only the local population of your town.
              You, me, the next generation... we now have a whole world to

        • by tmosley ( 996283 )
          Cooperation is a part of competition. People form alliances all the time. The baker does not compete with the plumber. Rather they are allied. Bakers compete with bakers, and plumbers compete with plumbers, and that is good because if they didn't, prices for bread would be sky high, and plumbers would never finish their jobs to the client's satisfaction.
      • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @03:01AM (#37453290) Journal

        You sound like a sad little hippie who still has a chip on his shoulder because some jocks picked on him a decade or two prior.

        Where I went to school, "jocks" wouldn't have passed the entrance exam. I dislike my elite past, but I'm not going to deny it.

        What is wrong with competition?

        What is right with competition? There are times when it seems to work but there is nothing inherently good about it.

        And you propose a losers-distribute-winnings-equally environment?

        You're paying no attention. I propose that the intelligent act out of a desire to achieve good things in their discipline rather than to profit. There are 7 billion people in the world - more than enough who are both clever and benevolent. We simply have no need of the "gr8 people like me need $$$ incentive to support you!" mantra any more - it's a more outdated idea than RIAA, which is why certain groups are trying so hard to cling on to it.

    • MIT epitomises the competitive, winner-takes-it-all, might-makes-right environment which is keeping half the world in poverty.

      I have my doubts that "competitive" is the problem. If you ask people to participate in improving something, some will join for the sake of it, for some greater cause, but only if they perceive the goal to be of equal benefit to everyone. If instead the goal is considered profitable for a corporation or person, they will demand a prize or refuse to participate even on a winner-takes-it-all basis and ask for renumeration whatever the outcome / the quality of their contribution. Conclusion? Most goals we are

    • > When you've accepted that offer, you've already asked to be part of the system

      My MIT diploma? I threw it on the ground!

    • by paiute ( 550198 )

      MIT epitomises the competitive, winner-takes-it-all, might-makes-right environment which is keeping half the world in poverty. Every dominant man starts forming his network at one of the elite universities, supporting research in collusion with exploitative business. When you've accepted that offer, you've already asked to be part of the system - to pretend to do something against it is ineffective hypocrisy.

      Actually, students at MIT end up there because they are obsessed with some aspect of science or engineering and are driven to seek out and solve problems, like this housing exercise. The problems may be profound or trivial or even silly (how to get a fake police car up on the dome, for example), but they are all just problems crying out to be solved.

      If these students had actually put some thought into getting rich by exploiting the world, they would have applied instead to Harvard, networked with the pre

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      MIT is not a university -- or at least they didn't claim to be when I went there. As far as it being elite, so far as I know you can't get in by being rich. I don't know their stance on "legacy" admissions, but it really is a non-issue because the bigger problem is *staying* in. At MIT they cover what would be two semesters of calculus in most places in under a semester. And as far as I can see there is no "old boy's network" for MIT alumni, although the institute would probably like to see that happen.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      ???? Really you're making this comment on an open design that can be manufactured by hand by yourself with local building materials?

      How many houses for the developing world have you designed and published for the world.

      Forget it, you have to be a troll, can somebody so ignorant exist otherwise?

    • There is a program at MIT where the students develop low tech and appropriate technology for the developing world. I guess that teaching locals to make their own biochar that burns cleaner than wood or cow dung and will reduce air pollution inside people's homes so they don't die of lung cancer is an evil plot to support the establishment?

      Same goes for water purification systems, grain mills I guess too?

      http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/engineering/gonzo/4273674 [popularmechanics.com]

      http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/sm [mit.edu]

  • Not in the US... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @02:31AM (#37453154)

    This wouldn't fly in the US.

    Some construction union would intervene claiming substandard construction or what-not, code violations etc, etc just to protect their jobs.

    The pipe-fitters unions did the same thing when PVC piping came out--they lobbied for code changes that required copper tubing, changes that ruled out Joe-Homeowner doing the work himself. Most building codes make it very hard for the do-it-your-selfers, sometimes requiring them to actually get a contractors license. There is no reason for this if the work passes inspection--it exists simply to protect the jobs of people that need to get with the times, adapt and get on with their lives rather then holding back the rest of humanity.

    • by gknoy ( 899301 )

      Some jurisdictions have had their codes changed to support houses made from materials you might not expect -- hay bales, recycled tires, etc. Many areas might not, but it's worth talking to your local people to find out if you could do something like this. It might just pan out.

    • by migla ( 1099771 )

      Nor in Sweden. I don't know about the specific regulations here, but just looking around, it is clear that one can't live in just any old shack over here.

      The standard of living doesn't start with a shack. It starts with a reasonably nice apartment (although in recent years the bourgeoisie have been laxing the rules for renovation). If, on a scale from 0 to 10 in standard of living 0 is the pavement, 1 is a shack and 10 is a castle, over here you get an apartment of standard 5 or thereabouts. If not, you're

      • Well, I think the housing situation here in Sweden would improve a lot if the rules were a bit more relaxed. These days even if you do all the work you can yourself, call in favors from friends and all that you're still unlikely to get away with building a small single-household home for less than SEK 1,500,000.

        Hell, brand new studio apartments regularly cost SEK 5,500+ to rent (even though they're in less attractive neighborhoods).

        I would love to be able to build my own house but with the prices these days

        • by migla ( 1099771 )

          Yes, I think I agree at least a bit. But it should not be let out of hand so that "slum lords" (to the extent that they exist in Sweden) can let their houses decay even more while still not lowering rent. I guess those regulations should be easy enough to keep separate. No cockroaches and mildew is acceptable for the renters, for example.

          And while I like the nice standards for living conditions, homeless people should be given sub-standard barracks to dwell in until proper apartments are available, I think.

    • (Disclaimer: I'm not a conspiracy theorist, nut.)

      If you feel the need to make such a disclaimer in your sig, I'd say you should probably try to figure out why people keep thinking you are one.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      This wouldn't fly in the US.

      Neither would a job picking crops, but that doesn't make picking crops a bad idea.

  • by ildon ( 413912 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @02:56AM (#37453268)

    Harris Rosen from here in Orlando (owner of a huge hotel chain) was trying to start a project to create $5,000 homes for victims of the Haitian earthquake. This story reminded me of that (mostly because I wanted to double check how much they thought they could build each house for).

    Link. [rosenhotels.com]

  • What's the point? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The design in the PDF broke most of the build cheap rules. Things like if there's a kitchen and bathroom you put them back to back to share plumbing and drains saving on pipe. If there's no traditional kitchen or bathroom then why call them out in the plans as if they aren't included? There's options like Lorena Stoves that are basically built out of sand and clay so other than metal exhaust pipes and burner covers they require little money. Unless you are building what amounts to a shack basic plumbing and

  • by Son of Byrne ( 1458629 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @03:11AM (#37453320) Journal

    I understand that the project was formed with the developing world in mind, but I think that the concept is worth pursuing in the developed world as well.

    The trouble is that all of the concepts that I read about sounded like ideas for a cabana on the beach. While that may work in spots where temps stay moderate year round, the rest of us could never make that work. Also, most of the ideas I read about sounded pretty light on engineering and heavier on design (architecture).

    I'd like to see this project expanded into something resembling the next generation of manufactured/modular homes. We're in sore need of reasonably priced structures that are within the realm of an average person's abilities that retain style and form beyond an ugly box.

    I agree that the developing world needs cheap ways to house their citizenry, but let's not forget to solve some of the problems that we still face here at home (in the US).

    • by gknoy ( 899301 )

      The hay bale house had a pretty large thermal mass,it looked like. I've read about them before, and they're pretty interesting. They might be more workable in a colder climate.

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        straw bale homes are still expensive because the straw bale is just infill for a post and beam house and big honking pieces of wood are really expensive and the labour more so.
        • Actually no,
          Yes, straw bales CAN be used as infill, but, it is not the way a real straw home is done.

          You build the walls by stacking the bales, compress them a bit - then coat the bales on both sides with mud, shotcrete or whatever. They are very strong, have some thermal mass, and because of the great thickness they have a good R value

          • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
            I missed a by and large that's how most are made, if you want anything over one story. If not your replacing wooden beams with steel for compression. Still not cheap. It's still not really that much cheaper, yes I've thought of building one myself. And in developing countries justtrying to get a baler that compresses enough to prevent mold and rat/insect infestation is nigh impossible. Most developing countries don't even bale their straw.
    • There is the Tumbleweed House Company [tumbleweedhouses.com], they sell blue prints for _small_ houses. Not exactly the same as targeting price, but I'm sure there's a lot of overlap.

    • by spauldo ( 118058 )

      For a more general climate capable house, there's a book written by a guy in the 70's about underground housing.

      He's got a site: Underground Housing [undergroundhousing.com]. The book was for a place he built for $50.

      Now, it didn't have a bathroom or running water, he already owned the land, he got scrap lumber for free from a lumber mill, he did all the work by hand, and his land is heavily wooded (it was built in Idaho, I think) so he could cut logs for timber frame supports, but it's still a viable concept for cheap housing.


  • I know I've seen houses for sale in developing countries for $10k, including land. The houses are made of poured concrete walls and a concrete floor, which can be done in a day or two (they have subdevelopments much like we have here, but cheaper). Then they screw the roof on, which is some kind of composite. If you lock your keys out, you can unscrew the roof to get in.

    Also, surely cinder-block housing is around the same price as this house, which if you read the article, cost a lot more than $1000.
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @05:07AM (#37453722)
    Some of the houses in the UK barely have room for the bed [bbc.co.uk].
    • "Some of the houses in the UK barely have room for the bed."

      I remember reading another article on the same subject (no reference--sorry) and there was a comments section after the article. Someone had posted that one of the development companies building these mini-me housing tracts was also building nearby self-serve storage rental facilities. They sell you a tiny flat...and rent you the space to store your stuff.

      A mortgage AND rent, from one sale--amazing.

    • The problem is that the UK advertises houses in terms of the number of bedrooms, rather than the floor area. If you look at an estate agent's web site, you'll see that prices are more or less broken down into 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-bedroom properties, with only a little bit of overlap between them. When I was looking for somewhere to buy, I found that a lot of old houses had had partition walls installed in the bedrooms so that one reasonable-sized bedroom became two small rooms. And, weirdly, this increases

      • by N1AK ( 864906 )
        People buy a house because they want to live there. You're right that people are blinkered into only considering # bedrooms in the UK; however number of bedrooms is an important consideration. If I want three seperate places to sleep in my property then it makes very little difference how big the rooms are in a 2 bedroom property, I'm still missing a room.

        If you're buying a property and only really need 1 bedroom then of course you can consider whatever you want. Most people buying want/need more than th
        • If I want three seperate places to sleep in my property then it makes very little difference how big the rooms are in a 2 bedroom property, I'm still missing a room.

          Partition walls are not particularly difficult to install. Certainly not compared to the overall cost of the house. The one thing you can't get more of easily is total space, so that's a better primary measure of the value of a house.

    • Not everyone needs a house for "family life" and why the hell you need to put a double bed in every bedroom?
  • ... where to put the damned thing that won't result in demands to forfeit one's firstborn. For fuck's sake, if one is truly desperate one could live in a tent with a price tag far less than a thousand dollars, but who's gonna let you squat on THEIR land for free with your inexpensive tent? That's right: NO ONE. The people who own land in excess of their need for personal space own it for one reason only, and the reason ain't philanthropic nor egalitarian.

    Land has always been and will always be the class

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Have you not heard of the housing market in the states? There are complete houses with land selling for $5000. But the you would just complain about the la.d or the neighbourhood right? Here in mexico if you squat somewhere for 5 years it's yours.

      These are developing world housing structures, what makes you think they have developed world metropolitan land prices?

      • There are complete houses with land selling for $5000

        Which is the same as these, no plumbing or electrical wiring. At least, not any longer.

        Here in mexico if you squat somewhere for 5 years it's yours.

        That is true here in the U.S. too. However, you have to notify the State Housing Authorities that your are intending to improve the land at the time you move onto the land so they can check to see if anyone else is claiming ownership. Few people know about abandonment laws.

        • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
          No, those are complete houses that people have been living in, hence the reason i was talking abou tthe foreclosure market.

          So really i guess US'ians don't really have anything to complain about then?

    • You forgot, "Now get off my lawn"! Literally.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Tuesday September 20, 2011 @07:44AM (#37454322) Journal

    This is a cute student project, but most would be considered "seasonal" shelter in even basic developed countries. I applaud the creativity, especially of the pinwheel house. Other houses sounded a bit more like a scavenger hunt that could have been done by any 5th year studio student in US architectural schools.

    I would certainly hope that, given an entire year of studio work, there is more to the final product than the marketing brochure that came out of the pinwheel house. Part of the practice of architecture (which these students, we presume, would like to eventually be) is making buildings which are buildable. That means detailed drawings of each part which is not OTS hardware - but I see nothing. Does the robotics team get to draw a picture of a walking robot, or do they have to actually do piece drawings and wiring diagrams to actually build the robot?

    To be fair, with skilled assembly, it is certainly better than most slum housing - but without skilled labor it may not be much better. None of the designs, save possibly the concrete roof, could be considered water tight for any length of time as initially reviewed, and few appear to have any chance of surviving a 50 year environmental event, much less protecting the occupants. I guess if they're cheap to build (just 6 years of the average 3rd world persons salary, by the website's count), you could see them as disposable and just build them again after each typhoon or earthquake.

    From one of the linked sites:

    "MIT 1K House is partnering with Skanska and Next Phase Studios to construct three exhibit 1K House prototypes in on MIT campus in Cambridge, MA. The project is moving forward, and the goal is to construct the prototypes by MIT Commencement on June 4, 2010. "

    What I want to know it - if Skanska supposedly built 3 of these prototypes on the MIT campus in 2010, how much did it cost? I didn't see pictures, so I presume that the Skanska bid came in somewhere north of $3000 (or even the $6000 estimate for Philippines construction). IT doesn't appear that any of these houses has actually ever been built.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Perhaps you need to read the links better. The price of actual construction and the province in china are all there.

      Perhaps you've never been to developing countries? This is a palace compared to some of the shacks here in mexico, even in the mountains where there's snow and water freezes. A large part of the country has no indoor heating maki.g nights here in the mountains colder than winters in canada.

    • The problem is, no matter how pretty you design your house, you're still going to need a minimum amount of building material. If you build your house out of cinderblock, you're going to pay $1.50 a cinderblock no matter what. If you build it out of wood, you're going to pay $10 per 2x4. The only way to reduce cost is to find cheaper building materials, but then you're starting to look at mud (sun-baked adobe) bricks for 30 cents each. Or a mud/bamboo hut. Which is actually an acceptable place to live.
  • http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ [tumbleweedhouses.com]

    This is the trick to get around the obtuse American building laws. Make it a trailer. Still a lot more than $1000.00 if you go nuts, but you could build one for around that price if you were good with scavenging and built it yourself.

  • So let's say you go to haiti, and offer these to the government where they can spend money to help rebuild their houses..the problem is once all the houses are rebuilt, you are left with a sh*t load of these lying around....unless they were to evolve it further, and allow connections between multiple houses, making them bigger and one unit....that would then let some of the people just use these full time instead of rebuilding their houses, in a country that cant afford anything right now.

  • This doesn't take into account the plumbing, or the electrical wiring. Are they not considered esential?

  • There's the Hexayurt Project [hexayurt.com], which is basically an updated geodesic dome and can be built up to 450 square feet for each module [morganengel.com] using only hand tools and a screw gun and the Wikihouse [wikihouse.cc] which is a fablab style design which relies on a router.

    A typical deployment for a family home would be three hexayurts made out of polyiso foam and then sprayed with ferrocement. Cost is probably around $1500 for that approach, but that's first-world costs. With hand-plaster rather than sprayed ferrocement, I think a develop

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser