Source: Villa Verde, Elemental
Ever since the Chilean architecture firm ELEMENTAL first developed the typology for their Quinta Monroy project in Iquique, Chile, the "half-finished home" has become a signature typology. The technique has been used in multiple cities in Chile, as well in Mexico. This innovative type of affordable housing construction began as a way to allow governments to be able to provide housing to citizens at incredibly low prices, but nevertheless create homes that would provide for the needs of residents and even gain value over time.
The idea is simple: In the 1970s a professor by the name of John F.C Turner developed an idea surrounding the concept that people can build for themselves. His premise was that housing should be conceived of as an on-going project that incrementally adds value to people's life. After a neighborhood in Chile was destroyed by an earthquake, the architecture firm ELEMENTAL explored this idea and provided the residents with just enough to meet the Chilean legal requirements for low-income housing, but built them infrastructure that allowed residents to expand the rest. Everything that families wouldn’t have an easy time building alone, such as concrete foundations, plumbing, and electricity, has been finished for them, incentivizing families to provide their time, labor and any extra materials to finish off and expand their home at their own pace and liking.
It is important to note that this housing model is different than when a contractor or homeowner runs out of money and can't get a new loan to finish the construction of a house. This housing approach provides recipients with literally half-finished houses: one side is un-built, and the interior is bare, with only basic amenities and no finishings. Home owners add to it when they can afford to. This simple approach makes good-quality housing accessible to poorer people and provides them with personalized homes they are invested in.
So far, incremental build designs have been slow to penetrate mass housing projects, and haven’t been embraced by most developing country planners — or by most architects, who tend to look for an immediately attractive finished product. In Chile, these projects have grown out of a culture of scarcity. But even with more money, the builders at Elemental believe that their approach would not change. With a bigger budget, they’d choose to spend money the public space surrounding the neighborhood. And this is at the heart of the sites and services approach—improving the community, and letting home owners invest in and improve on their homes.
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