Tiny off-the-grid pod to raise living conditions in South African settlements
Johannesburg-based design studio, Architecture For A Change (AFAC) has recently completed the construction of an off-the-grid prefabricated unit located in the informal settlement of Mamelodi, South-Africa. Dubbed Mamelodi Pod, the tiny prototype is designed with the aim of raising local living conditions while also providing an affordable housing solution for settlement districts.
“South Africa has 2,700 informal settlements with millions of inhabitants living in substandard conditions,” Dirk Coetser, Director of AFAC told Gizmag. “Many of these informal settlements don’t have water supply, electrical connections or storm water removal systems.”
Consisting mainly of a bedroom designed to fit two bunk beds (four beds in total), the Mamelodi Pod is currently being used as a small house and a temporary local soccer club. “Members of a local soccer club can now sleep comfortably in the unit instead of zinc shacks,” says Coetser.
It also has an exterior toilet which works like a French drain and has no need for a sewer connection. In Mamelodi, cooking mainly happens outside, so the pod features a parabolic solar cooker.
“We aspired to design and build a small building that blends into its informal context but that has a hint of contemporary design and has optimal environmental performance,” said Coetser.
The unit is prefabricated off site before being flat packed and transported by truck. The concrete foundations are the only part of the building that needs to be built on site and a minimum of three people can erect the pod in less than one day. Since it is completely self-sustainable, it can also be set up in almost any location.
The building is made up of composite wall panels comprising galvanized zinc sheets, a layer of Sisalation (a highly reflective foil material), Isotherm thermal insulation and internal plywood panels. The tiny home is thus equipped with excellent insulation, unlike common zinc shacks in the area which can be freezing during the winter and extremely hot during the summer.
“The exterior finish material being mostly galvanized zinc sheeting is durable and can withstand all weather conditions,” added Coetser. “And its structurally sound lightweight steel frame is designed to withstand wind loads.”
The pod is slightly raised off the ground to avoid humidity and potential flooding issues, while its quadratic shape and veranda offers the locals some welcome external shade during those long hot days. The unit also features a large central skylight, eliminating the need for lighting during the day; meanwhile a rooftop solar panel captures enough energy to power the interior lighting, two external LED strip lights and a 12-volt charger.
Furthermore, the pod is equipped with a 1,000 liter (264 US gal) water tank – a luxury in the area. “Water supply is scarce in the area and many people have to transport their water in buckets to their informal home,” says Coetser. “Mamelodi has a high rainwater fall rate in the summer and the tank water can be used for subsistence farming and washing.”
The Mamelodi Pod cost approximately US$4,500 to complete, making it an ideal module for emergency housing or a cheap off-the-grid home for isolated locations.
“This is already our second prototype and we learned a lot from the first one,” says Coetser. “We would like to still improve the design and create a final solution to eradicate informal housing. Our dream is to provide the poor with an affordable quality housing solution.”