iShack: New Design for Better Housing in Urban Slums

The iShack is an upgraded design for simple homes in urban slums, with solar power and other sustainable features.

No, this isn't the latest Apple product. The iShack is a new design for better housing for South Africans living in urban slums, co-created by slum residents and masters students from a local university. It's an attempt to address one of the big challenges of life in sub-Saharan Africa, where 62 percent of city residents live in informal settlements.

In some ways, the features of the newly-improved shack seem simple, not revolutionary; the homes have solar panels to charge a few lights and a cell phone, walls insulated with hay and clay, and slanted roofs that can collect rainwater. But the designers argue that these simple changes are exactly the right place to start.

Through spending time with people in informal settlements, we've become convinced that solutions to inadequate housing and services for the urban poor will emerge only when the knowledge of the everyday is recognised, valued and incorporated into the logics of upgrading. The process needs to be incremental—not grand, glorious, overnight reform.


As the design evolves, it will also include water, sanitation, and power for cooking. Throughout the process, the designers worked closely with the community, starting by building friendships with the people who will live in the homes, and spending time observing everyday life in the settlements. After helping shape the design of the homes, some local residents will also be trained to maintain the buildings, creating new jobs.

In South Africa, where informal settlements are ubiquitous and growing, the government has decided to take a new approach to housing for residents. Rather than moving people out of slums, they're supporting better, upgraded housing in current locations. Over the next year, the government plans to retrofit 400,000 shacks. The designers of the iShack hope that their sustainably-designed version can be a model for future upgrades.

The project is supported by government, the HOPE project, Stellenbosch University, the Sustainability Institute at Lynedoch, and the Gates Foundation.

Images by Desmond Thompson and Anna Lusty courtesy of the HOPE project.

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