26-YO Indian-Origin Designer’s Foldable Homes Could Be the Answer to Homelessness

Jayati Sinha, a San Francisco-based Indian designer, has come up with a potential solution called Pop Hut, an an easily transportable, foldable and flat packed housing concept.

In April 2018, Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, reached out to a number of architecture and design schools for guidance in designing bridge housing (a temporary shelter) for homeless people. The mandate was to build structures that felt private and secure, where the homeless could enjoy a sense of community.

Responding to this was a team from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena led by Professor James Meraz, who teaches environmental design there, and Jayati Sinha, who at the time was doing her Masters in environmental design.

“This project was extraordinary and very attractive to me because it was directly transferable to any country in the world that faces some version of homelessness,” says Jayati Sinha, who is currently based in San Francisco, in a conversation with The Professional Times

“I’ve been followed, threatened and taken advantage of by strangers. Even these small experiences instilled so much fear in me. Not having a place to go back to at night must feel immensely vulnerable. Imagine feeling like that every second of every day. People deserve to feel secure and have a safe place.”

Jayati adds

There are an estimated 1.8 million homeless people in India, with 52% based in urban areas. A further 73 million families lack access to decent housing (IGH, 2018; Habitat, 2019). This number is far more serious than the estimated 5,53,742 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on a given night. So, what is the solution they came up with?

Introducing Pop Hut, an easily transportable, foldable and flat packed housing concept featuring a shaded entry, which is intended to give the structure a cosier feeling of coming home.

“The Pop Hut has a front door with a keyed lock and a tiny front stoop completed with a motion-activated porch light. Inside the hut, we used colour and transparency as therapeutic tools to make users feel secure and cared for. The interiors also had some open shelving so that the user can customise it with their personal aesthetic and belongings to make it feel like home and for the users to regain a sense of belongingness and foster love for the community The total footprint of the Pop Hut is 5 square meters. “

“So, this is an ideal solution for temporary housing to be provided at construction sites, defence installations and even for slum dwellers. Pop Hut was built for about $2,000 (about ₹1.5 lakh) which could be made even cheaper if made in bulk and using lower cost of materials in India”

She adds

Being a temporary housing solution, the design focuses on:

  • Being flat pack for mobility and ease in deployment
  • Corrugated sheets in the structure to give it strength without making it heavy
  • Natural ventilation and light
  • Slanted roof to give more room for solar panels and protect the roof from retaining water
  • Open wall shelves for users to personalise their house

At this moment this hut prototype is made up of birch plywood, polycarbonate panels (translucent material), aluminium tubes for frames and honeycomb panels for insulation.

“However, those materials are not the highlight of this concept and can be defined further, depending on need,” she says adding, “What makes this concept great is the flat packed design that can be reassembled, expanded and contracted into different sizes because of the panel design. See, materials can be interchanged with local available ones that are more relevant to the location they are being set up in. I would classify materials as sustainable rather than eco-friendly.

If you look at the line diagrams below you will also notice that the house does not lay flat on the ground but has feet that keep it above the ground that can be very helpful in places where water can get trapped due to heavy rainfall. The aluminium frames give it a sturdy structure for it to stand heavy weather conditions.

Homeless

It took Jayati’s team about six months to develop this prototype micro-dwelling. The process involved a lot of field research so that they can understand the demographics and conditions for the set up. After that teams came up with a few concepts and they further kept refining them until it was time to build it into life size structures for the homeless.

The project prioritises empathetic design values, while offering a low-cost solution that could be of high value for such a populous country like India.

These Pop Huts can easily be deployed and moved to different locations to create a safe environment for temporary workers, victims in flood and other disaster relief projects, armed forces, refugee camps, and poor people.

She says

These houses could be useful in so many contexts that in my opinion are worth investing in. It makes people’s lives a bit more bearable and my hope is that it provides them a sense of security and place they could call home.

The adjustments I would make to build these structures in India would be changing materials, depending on the weather conditions and what is available locally. Apart from that the design is built to sustain in different cultures. I would love to talk to the people who would be living in these houses and make some changes according to their preferences where possible that would make this structure ‘a home’,” she adds.

she explains, “The sensory and empathetic side of the design isn’t tangible. It is psychological and those are the experiences that make people feel like their home and help people feel like we thought about them, among other things, from the use of colours to the selection of translucent materials to give a sense of privacy yet openness and light. These features will change depending on the demographics and the kind of people that are going to be living in it, their needs and desires. I think the psychological, emotional, sensory side of the design comes more from the desires of people.”

Homeless
Working on the Pop Hut

“We have already got funding to develop the prototype. Now, we are just expecting that the concept is integrated into LA’s future housing developments. Our intention was to help LA in finding solutions to this big problem and our show was very successful. Since then the idea has been pitched and showcased in many places for the same reason.

“There is also a book coming out soon too since I last heard. If the idea gets enough attraction then I would definitely love to develop this and make it real in India. That was always my intention and that’s why I am trying to talk about it and put it out there. It is definitely a challenge to work with the government in any country because of so much red-tape.”

Jayati says
Homeless
Jayati working with her team

Structures like the Pop Hut are not a one-stop solution to the problem of homelessness. Governments need to first understand people living in homelessness to determine their needs and thus a comprehensive survey is required in all major cities first.

My hope is to inspire people in India to bring change through this emergency temporary housing initiative,”

Jayati concludes

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