PEACE, PROSPERITY & ENVIRONMENT
Peace - Together with our international workforce, we work primarily at refugee camps and in conflict affected areas. The Hex House concept promotes cooperation, friendship and social cohesion amongst the people living in the communities.
Prosperity - Housing is directly connected to individual and community prosperity. A decent housing gives a sense of dignity, erodes poverty and increases prosperity. Additionally, we are currently working on utilizing the Hex House to create entrepreneurial space to create livelihoods for communities/townships/informal settlements in South Africa.
Environment - The Hex House is environmentally responsible. It is locally/regionally produced with available materials and local high-skilled labor (links to prosperity here too). It has sustainable features like solar panels, passive cooling, rainwater harvesting & biogas toilets.
Architects for Society (AFS) was created in late 2015 by multi-national building design and development professionals from around the world to use the tools of design and architecture to enhance the built environment of disadvantaged communities. Our founders were motivated to establish the organization by personal experiences – working and living in war torn countries, urban slums and refugee communities where permanent homes were destroyed, building materials were scarce and temporary shelters inadequate.
We worked with Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden, to develop a rapidly deployable shelter prototype for Syrian refugees at Zaatari Camp in Jordan. Through our research in the area, we initiated the project as we saw an urgent need to help the Syrian displaced refugees, currently living in poor conditions either in 3x5 caravans or in tents scattered as small communities in the desert of Mafraq. The current tents are very cold in winter, leak water inside, hot during summer and lack basic hygiene and health standards. In this project, we assisted the University by providing on the ground research such as photo and video documentation, resident interviews and interviews with NGOs working in and around the camp. This collaboration helped us to develop the Hex House system.
Within the first year and a half, our Hex House has received international recognition. In 2016, the UNHCR along with the IKEA Foundation ran the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge. The design competition sought ideas "for accommodating, connecting, integrating and helping the personal development of refugees". We submitted the Hex House design, and it was one of 5 projects shortlisted from over 150 shelter projects. The Hex House was also the recipient of the 2016 BEST OF BEST Iconic Award for visionary architecture from the German Design Council. Germany has been very welcoming for refugees and they are seeking effective solutions for accommodating displaced families. AFS is there on the ground engaging with NGOs and policymakers to make the Hex House a viable solution.
The Hex House was also awarded with the ''Bronze title'' from the American Architecture Prize (AAP) and selected as best non-profit organisation by Design With Benefits.
The Hex House was featured at New Atlas:
What sets the Hex House apart from many other shelters, aside from its hexagonal shape, is the inclusion of some typical home amenities, like electricity and manually-pumped running water. Solar panels on the roof provide power for lighting and small electronics. Rainwater, meanwhile, is collected via an integrated gutter and downpipe, and stored in a tank from where it is manually pumped into the shelter for use.
Adato Architecture and Valentiny Foundation featured AFS in Adato magazine alongside with notable architects such as Shigeru Ban Architects:
Current temporary refugee shelters are beset with a number of social, economic and cultural problems; displaced populations live in conditions that are uncomfortable, unsanitary and inhumane- very often for extended periods of time. In response to these conditions AFS have created housing solutions for displaced individuals and families that are long-term, dignified and can be easily integrated into the urban fabric of large cities.
The Hex House design has also been praised by a number of other online magazines, such as Dezeen and Inhabit, for its ingenuity and broad applicability.
OUR MAIN PARTNERS FOR THE PROPOSED PROJECT
The organizations in specific geographies with which we are already in conversations related to this project include:
- Municipality of Stellenbosch & Cape Town
- Sustainability Institute of Stellenbosch
- Spark Campus (collaboration between Technical University Eindhoven, companies and local government)
- Centraal Orgaan Opvang Asielzoekers (Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers)
- Save the Children
- Vluchtelingenwerk (Aid organization for refugees)
- Ministry of Defense
- Dutch Relief Alliance
- IKEA Foundation
- American Refugee Committee
- Syrian American Engineers Association
- Green Card Voices
- Better Shelter (Sweden)
Additionally, there are key large international organizations with whom we would like to connect. These are: UNHCR, UN Habitat, UNDP, Red Cross, International Organization for Migration, Danish Refugee Council, Norwegian Refugee Council, FEMA, Habitat for Humanity and International Humanitarian Partnership. We have already attempted to reach out to some of them, but need more assistance in finding the right people to talk to within those organizations. We will continue to build and develop these connections.
HOW WILL THE GRANT HELP US?
The grant will give us the kick start we need to develop and fine tune our Hex House for larger scale production. It will help us to build two prototypes and contribute to pilot projects to test the product with real users. We receive inquiries almost on a daily basis from individuals, communities and NGOs. In order to take the project for another stage, to start benefitting the disadvantages communities, we first need prototyping. Beyond the funding, we see a great value in exploring partnerships we could build together.
To more clearly outline the plan from prototype to pilot to implementation, we have included a “Budget and Timeline” spreadsheet. Below, we have laid out our plan in more detail.
There are two parallel projects in different regions: North America & EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa), each made up of two phases:
1) Product Development
- Pilot projects
Timeline & Budget - Phase 1
The $140,000 funding requested from this grant is to cover Phase 1: Prototype & Pilot with some funds left to launch the Marketing portion of Phase 2. This will allow us to complete the prototype, begin pilot and testing, incorporate feedback for improvements, and begin marketing our solution for pre-sales, the proceeds of which will fund Phase 2: Implementation.
In the North America project, both phases will be executed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The prototype will be built as an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on an existing residential property where it will be given to a family in-need and then used for the pilot project to undergo field-testing in real world conditions which will provide feedback for future improvements. The prototype completion date has been moved from May to end of August 2017 (due to local zoning permit) and will be immediately followed by the pilot.
The total cost of the Prototype & Pilot in the US is $67,500. Through fundraising and donated materials & labor, we have financed 58% and would use this grant to finance the remaining $33,000.
The EMEA project is based primarily in The Netherlands and South Africa. The initial prototype will be constructed in Soesterberg, The Netherlands (40km outside of Amsterdam) at the Royal Dutch Army Field Lab Smart Base, scheduled for completion by end of November 2017. The prototype completion will be followed by two pilot projects in South Africa: Mandela City and Ekanini informal settlement, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Mandela City is a proposed township development (50km from Cape Town) where the Stellenbosch Municipality has asked us to re-plan subdivision development of low incoming housing units using the Hex House as a basis of design.
The Ekanini informal settlement, Stellenbosch is an informal settlement where we are researching innovative ways to use the Hex House to promote economic vitality in the community. For example, the Hex House could be used for new businesses or shops for local entrepreneurs, a medical center to provide improved health services, a school or a community center.
The total cost of the Prototype and the Pilots in The Netherlands and South Africa is $139,500 with 23% financed by fundraising and donated materials & labor. The grant would be used to cover the remaining $107,000. The EMEA costs are higher due to running two pilots, plus travel costs and transport of materials during this phase until local production and sourcing is possible.
This grant will not be used to pay back investments made before July 2017.
Looking Forward - Phase 2
We have included our longer-term Phase 2 plan and projected costs for your information on our future strategy, however this grant is not intended to fund this phase. Currently, we have already teamed up with building manufactures and suppliers in the US and are now in discussions to set up a small manufacturing operation to assemble the home kits for distribution in the US. This operation is projected to be up and running by February 2022. In Europe, we have already partnered with a Dutch supplier and are in discussions with others.
In moving toward large-scale deployment, it is essential for us to effectively manage costs, production and quality. To start, we have reached out to peers including knowledge-sharing discussions with the IKEA Foundation and Better Shelter. On the business side, we have engaged a pro-bono consultant with an MBA and MPP in International Development to advise us on our business plan, budget and execution, particularly in emerging markets.
Costs: The initial investments for Phase 1 & 2 are higher than our projected on-going costs post-implementation due to the required R&D and operational start-up costs. To support funding of Phase 2, we will market our solution to both the public and private sectors, both of which have already reached out to express interest. As we move into a more normalized production cycle, the proceeds from private sector sales will continue to provide sustainable funding for our humanitarian efforts.
Production network: The housing kit production will be initially done at two facilities, one in the US and one in South Africa. The kits will then by transported to local sites for construction. AFS will provide a site manager to train locals on proper installation and provide on-going support.
Quality: Quality control is key to our Hex House solution to ensure safety, effectiveness and satisfaction of our users. The US production facility is an existing plant with experienced workers that already have comprehensive QC practices and monitoring in place. In the Netherlands, the supplier we have partnered with has agreed to assist us in establishing a production facility in South Africa. All operations will have full oversight by a member of AFS. Beyond our experienced architects, we have an AFS member with 12-years’ experience in engineering, production and site management of large-scale construction projects including World Trade One (Freedom Tower) in New York City and the US Embassy in London, UK.
WHAT IS THE HEX HOUSE?
Please watch the short video below for a good summary of our innovation.
The Hex House is designed to be an adaptable, scalable solution which can be rapidly deployed by government and relief agencies as well as erected by end-users and volunteers with no prior construction expertise and minimal training and instruction. The home can also be easily disassembled, relocated and reused.
With passive and low tech features and durability of exterior shell and base, it can endure extended occupancy for 30 years and more. In comparison to the current refugee shelter alternatives, such as the standard UNHCR tents with a lifespan of 6-12 months and the IKEA shelter with a lifespan of 3 years, the Hex House features make it suitable for both long-term and short-term housing solutions.
The human-centered system allows the inhabitants to be part of the design process by giving them the power to compose sensibly designed prefabbed components, giving the end users a sense of ownership while reducing the process and associated time and money. With an emphasis on flexibility and customisation, there are many interior planning possibilities, which gives the end-users an ability to personalize their living spaces both inside and out. Units can easily be arranged next to one another in desired patterns, joined and share walls for enhanced thermal performance, or also be combined to form larger units. The home’s ability to be easily modified gives families the capacity to expand their space as they grow.
Our intent is to create environments that support community interaction, economic vitality, and self-sufficiency. The Hex House units are arranged into various combinations of clusters to create shared spaces, such as green spaces and a central communal house that provides space for a range of activities, for instance: Shared cooking and meals in a well equipped kitchen, shared childcare for working parents, shared pantry, gardening, communal event celebrations and holidays, computer room, and public market. Whether linear or radial, these clusters can be oriented to allow for accessible drives and pedestrian walkways for internal movement as well as forming connections with the surrounding city/neighborhoods.
The inherent structural stability of the hexagonal form and the rigid construction of Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) preclude the use of added structural support. The wall and roof panels are designed to be self-supporting and when locked together with integral locking joints, form a rigid structural shell. The basic building components are galvanised tube steel for the base, structural insulated metal panel for walls, floor and roof and can be customised with conventional interior and exterior finishes.
The walls, roof and floor are fabricated from rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two sheets of steel known as Structural Insulated Panel (SIP). All exterior wall panels have the same dimension 3m x 4m with some variations for door and window openings. The roof and floor panel sizes are also standardized, ensuring efficiency in fabrication, packing and transportation.
Wall panel assembly
Each 150 mm thick insulated metal wall/roof panel is locked together using a built-in locking joint. The panels are designed to be self-supporting and don't require additional structure. The exterior walls can be clad with cement render (stucco), wood cladding, or other materials using typical mechanical fasteners. The 150 mm panel has a U-value of .054 (R18.5).
The walls are supported on a hexagonal steel frame with six perimeters and one centre support. The supports which are height-adjustable are anchored to concrete pier foundations. The structural steel base members are connected with steel bolts through predrilled holes. The floor panels are then fixed on top and span from one horizontal support to the other.
The interior spaces are designed with basic modern conveniences and are finished with simple and functional finishes, depending on the local low-cost materials and preferences. For instance gypsum walls, bamboo plank floors, ceramic tile bathroom floors, bamboo kitchen cabinets and solid surface kitchen counters depicted in the visual below.
Rainwater is carried through an integrated gutter and downspout system. It is filtered into a sub-grade storage tank from where it is manually or electrically pumped back into the house by hand pumps to be used for washing and flushing. There is also a refillable potable water storage tank below grade that is also pumped into the unit. Both tanks are insulated by earth's natural thermal capacity and sheltered by the house itself.
Passive cooling and solar panels
There are two ventilation shafts on opposite sides of the house. Air is diverted by operable baffles in floor openings, travels up the shaft and out through registers in the space. The air then moves up through the space via the stack effect and is allowed to circulate above interior walls and out through an operable exhaust vent. Solar panels provide supplementary power for lighting and small electronics. The hexagonal roof allows for optimal solar panel placement, with three surfaces oriented for maximum solar incidence as the sun moves across the sky.
OUR OTHER PROJECTS
We are currently designing a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths) school / learning center for our partner Haitian Schools Without Borders in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, which will serve approximately 800 primary and secondary students and train 200 teachers. See more here.
Read about our past projects here.
We are committed to human-centered design
The Hex House is committed to human-centered design creating a solution for the need as defined by the user rather than a solution imposed by the producer. To address this, we conducted field research in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon as well as townships/informal settlements outside of Cape Town, South Africa; sought input from a Gender Specialist based in Zambia who does projects for UNHCR to ensure safety and positive community outcomes for women and men; and gathered intel from the Royal Dutch Army. The fundamental needs of these different communities is incorporated into our core modular product, i.e. weatherproof, insulated, well-lit dwellings that create privacy and community, provide proper sanitation, and above all preserve human dignity. The hive shape of Hex House creates a feeling of “home” and includes spaces for community engagement.
While the design of the Hex House shell allows for mass production and lower costs, the modular system approach provides flexibility to customize many aspects of both the interior and exterior to meet the needs of the local construction and inhabitant. For example, in constructing the units, the insulation of the wall panels can be foam, batt or even hay, whatever is locally available. For the inhabitant, the size of the home can be expanded with the addition of modules to accommodate extended families.
In short, user needs are at the core of our Hex House design. The basic kit is a standardized system, but it is fully customizable depending on user needs and available local materials. We intend to setup up local fabrication shops to preassemble the components using local materials and labor. This way we create a self-sufficient system to build and maintain the homes as well as provide economic opportunities.
In our commitment to human-centered international design practice, we are establishing “best practices” for engaging with our target communities to facilitate a participatory, iterative design process to ensure the end result meets the needs of the users. This process includes on-going dialogue with the community and other stakeholders to get real-time feedback that can be addressed quickly and incorporated in future production as appropriate. Additionally, we will be developing metrics to gauge user satisfaction and overall project performance, which will include budget, durability, sustainability, social effects, health effects and environmental effects. We believe that both pre-design programming and post-occupancy evaluation are very important to overall project success and therefore intend to dedicate time and resources to both.