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Prototypes houses
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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low cost houses for basic shelter

image: collective studio | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
emergency shelter
under construction
collective studio
15 February 2013

Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, it has grown to become the nation's center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia. Since quite some time many families are moving to the periphery of Phnom Penh. This migration is happening mostly due to forced evictions, however in some cases the families give their consent and move to the outskirt of the city.

Currently some NGO's are operating in these periphery areas offering support to the communities by building houses for the families in need. Usually there is only one housing type offered by these organizations and it is commonly defined as "one fit all" design. This approach involve the development of one house typology for all the families of the periphery, with no basic variation and therefore no differentiation. For this reason and to give more choice and more flexibility to the relocated families, this one typology is being revised. The intention is to have a broader spectrum of housing types that the single family (with its own characteristic, needs, size, ...) can choose from.

The "one fit all design" has been studied and enhanced into 6 new different designs. The general basic principles for the study of the space were: improvement of living space, optimization of resources and exploration of different techniques and materials.

Site visit

image: public domain
Preliminary sketch

image: collective studio | CC-BY-NC_black.png some rights reserved
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cultural and social context

The current rapid urbanization of Phnom Penh is pressing a lot of communities to relocate in the outskirt of the city. Usually families moved to 5x12 meter plots. The housing typology built in this situation is usually a family detached house. Due to the family budget, donors and micro-finance institution regulations, the houses have usually a limited construction budget of 2500$.

The houses provided by NGO's have only one or very few housing models which are not adequate for the various needs and sizes of the families. The intention of this project is to expand the choice for the housing models and construction techniques in the following years, in order to offer a wider selection that could better host different situations. By doing this, in the coming future families will be able to choose from a diverse range of houses that would be more suited to their major needs.

Several visits to the local communities have been done before the start of design and before putting hands on. These visits were based on the essential scope to understand how families truly live and therefore estimate what their space basic requirements are. This helped us to take into considerations their living conditions as for example cooking outside and also having different types of cooking, or children sleeping space vs adults sleeping space, or even desire for expandable and flexible space. Furthermore, issues about possible neighboring regarding fences and rain water discharge were brought about.

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materials and building techniques

Essentially related to a budget matter but also to an ultimate practice of using available resources, it was decided to use locally available materials that are familiar to the community. Price plays a crucial role in the selection but also the fact that the families know the kind of materials their house are made of, made the future maintenance and repairs in a way cheaper and easier for them.

For this specific house prototype a lightweight construction was chosen primarily to avoid the use of reinforced concrete in the foundation and in the structure, which greatly influences the rise or fall of the overall budget. By considering this design expedient, more money could be capitalized to build a bigger roofed area. To what concerns the enclosed areas, all the walls were built using fiber cement board with wood structure.

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earth and climate

Cambodia's climate, like that of the rest of Southeast Asia, is dominated by monsoons, which are known as tropical wet and dry because of the distinctly marked seasonal differences. As typical from tropical climates having two distinct seasons only, this area also suffers from flooding during the rainy season. In response to the local climate, the design team opted for creating the largest roofed area to protect from hot sun and heavy rain. Many apertures were also playing an important role in the design, in order to improve natural passive ventilation. For heat reduction, lightweight fiber boards were used to maximize shaded surfaces and therefore creating shaded living spaces.


image gallery
Big roof house model

image: | CC-BY-NC_black.png some rights reserved
"big roof" interior

image: collective studio | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
view of the houses

image: collective studio | CC-BY-ND_black.png some rights reserved
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