OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

The $300 House

I came across a blog about an experiment designing a 300$ home for the poorest. I think the issue is to "design with" those who will live in such a house and not "design for them". After I read the article, I could not answer the question

Photo of Krassimira Iordanova
20 13

Written by

" Who would want to live there?"

The 5 building principles of the 300$ home:
- Livable Housing: replace these unsafe structures with a mass-produced, standard, affordable, and sustainable solution
- Look and Feel: Furniture — sleeping hammocks and fold-down chairs would be built in. The roof would boast an inexpensive solar panel and battery to light the house and charge the mobile phone and tablet computer. An inexpensive water filter would be built in as well
- World Class Design
- The Reverse Innovation Pay-Off- Participating companies will reap two rewards. First, they will be able to serve the unserved, the 2.5 billion who make up the bottom of the pyramid. Second, they create new competencies which can help transform lives in rich countries by creating breakthrough innovations to solve several problems (scaled housing for hurricane victims, refugees, and even the armed forces).
- Affordability- Micro-finance must surely play a role in making the $300 House-for-the-Poor a viable and self-sustaining solution.

What do you think about this idea?
I believe there is potential to adjust this idea to the needs of the people in Caldas only after we find out what they actually need, how do they imagine their "perfect home"....

Source of the inspiration:


Join the conversation:

Photo of Laci

While I think there are some compelling features of this project, I would like to point to a Times Op-Ed that rather well points out the $300 House's unintentional consequences. Not to say that we can't improve upon this idea here. Thanks for posting this, so that we may discuss and expand upon!

Hands Off Our Houses

Photo of Laci

It seems that my embedded html is not loading. So here, the old fashioned way...

Hands Off Our Houses:

Photo of James

The idea of an affordable house is great although not sure this is priced correctly, nor drawn to a realisable concept. Of the $300 budget, how much does the tablet PC and the solar panel cost?

For related content on affordable housing.

Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis

Photo of James

Six designs for $300 by FastCompany

Photo of Avi

I found this $300 Cob house design to be both viable and beautiful:

Photo of Krassimira

Avi, I think this is a great find; I like the fact that people receive quick training and they build the homes themselves. I think it would be interesting to find 1) if people like this types of homes 2) if the houses can survive the heavy rains. If microfinance schema is applied to this to, it will give people the chance to buy a house. I'm not sure how this works with the property rights on the land if someone wants to build a house on the land.....

Photo of James

Kevin McCabe's house on slide 4, I have been there and did a training weekend with him last year, very nice guy!

Photo of Avi

I'm a graduate of Cob Cottage meself:)

Photo of Avi

Krassimira, The houses can survive heavy rains: the Cob walls are built on top of a raised foundation wall (with provision for drainage) and a impermeable roof along with moisture resistant plaster for the walls. See here:

Photo of Ian

Been trying to comment on this all day (it wouldn't let me for some reason).

Anyway, my concern with this project idea is, are these houses acceptable as long-term solutions that meet the basic needs of people. Would building them let the authorities off the hook for providing decent accommodation - or do people think these single room houses are decent accommodation, for say a family of 2 adults and 2 children.

Excuse the pun, but for me, in this form, it's a halfway house between what people currently have and what they desire. How can this idea become a step towards higher standard low cost housing. Like they're building in South Africa

Photo of Koos

Very valid point. I think many slum dwellers at least initially consider a shack a very temporary solution. Besides shelter, your home gives you social status and dignity. A shack-replacement-solution should probably more look like an apartment than like a shack.

Photo of Krassimira

Those at the BoP define their lives more by the people they spend their time with than by the assets that they have; so I beleive it is a not an easy job to built affordable and desirable houses....

Photo of Jeroen

I love this idea of making a $300 house and I was already thinking about adding it as an inspiration, but you beat me to it. Anyway, the point is that it has been included. In fact, the idea of putting out a challenge like this, must be quite powerful. One could imagine a challenge to design a $10 health insurance or a $100 school year or something like that.

Photo of Krassimira

Jeroen, I like taking the idea further and designing $10 health insurance (there is one for $3 in India) and 100$ school year- this sounds like a whole new challenge and opens so many venues!

Photo of An Old

Incredibly innovative idea!
This could easily be scaled to masses. The scalability would probably make it even cheaper in the long run.
These are the kind of ideas needed!

Photo of Eric

This is an interesting challenge, I think a more interesting take of the problem is not only whether we can build a house for under $300 or not, but how we can grow that $300 to live people out of poverty. Many local indigenous people use wattle and daub method of construction for much less than $300. I think the question is whether we can use $300 (or any other sum of money) to use the act of construction to help build the people's livelihood, provide a sanitary basis for living, so that for the long run the $300 increases in value towards building a more stable financial future. I agree with you that local conditions needed to be adapted vigorously depending on the context.


Photo of Meena

Krassimira – you & others might be interested to explore the work of Nabeel Hamdi who's a big proponent of participatory architecture: And especially check out a project by one of his students who took this approach with low-income communities in Thailand: Certainly down the avenue of "designing with, not for" ...

Photo of Snehal

Thanks for sharing Krassimira, I agree that if someone has to design such low budget houses, they have to put the needs in the core, needs of the people who are going to live in it. I think there are millions of adobe houses around the world who are build under 300$, well they do not have solar power, solar cooker and hey common tablet PC?
For financially poor people, shelter is what they need and one can make a comfortable house for 2 to 3 people under 300$ for sure.
Check out on Kenaf, can be grown easily and can be used as temporary shelter, and later used as food.

Photo of Krassimira

Snehal, thanks for sharing this info....seems kenaf is widely used as an alternaitve to jute. From what I was able to find out seems kenaf likes hot weather, so that might be a good alternative for housing in Colombia....

Photo of Srinivasan

I knew this was coming from someone! Thanks for posting Krassimira.

I am a big fan of VJ's 'Frugal innovation'. But, the problem with the $300 house is that, while it may be paltry in the US. Can it still be afforded in Caldas?

I agree with you, we must identify the needs of the Caldas people and modify the original idea to suit the local needs.