In the face of ongoing global challenges surrounding affordable and sustainable housing, projects like Housing NOW, by parent architectural design company Blue Temple, are addressing the crisis head-on. Housing NOW is providing low-cost housing solutions and making significant strides in Myanmar, where the need for affordable housing has become urgent due to factors such as climate change, poverty, and internal migration driven by war.
Raphaël Ascoli, Co-Founder of Housing NOW, moved to China at age 13 when his parents relocated from the United States for work. After attending a Chinese boarding school, learning Mandarin, and working in Japan, he eventually founded his architecture design studio, Blue Temple, in Myanmar in 2017. Genocide against the Rohingya ethnic group began the same year and the market became unpredictable. Ascoli couldn’t find a job and opted to work with university students. On February 1, 2021, a military coup took place, followed by a civil war.
“I couldn’t find a lot of projects and the economy was crumbling. My associate and I did three years of research to find new ways to build [houses] with bamboo–to make it not only faster but cheaper, which led to Housing NOW,” recalls Ascoli.
Housing NOW, Acolli’s second business, focuses on social impact and sustainability. While their architectural design studio undertakes various projects, their subsidiary, Housing NOW, specifically targets low-cost housing in Myanmar. By utilizing locally sourced materials–specifically small-diameter bamboo–and employing local staff within the communities they serve, the organization aims to empower and provide affordable housing options to those in need.
“There are about 350 species of bamboo in Myanmar. In typical construction, we use seven to eight of those species because they can bear load. The other species aren’t that strong alone, so they’re cheap and used for fences and brooms. We saw that as a huge opportunity to [repurpose them to] build affordable houses,” says Ascoli.
Housing NOW's innovative construction techniques involve prefabricating the structural frames in a workshop and then assembling them on-site like an IKEA kit. Local community members are involved in the assembly process, receiving training, fair wages, and opportunities to contribute their ideas and expertise. “We bring some of our own workers and hire 50% of the necessary workforce directly from the community we’re building in,” says Ascoli.
The cost of Housing NOW's units is remarkably low, with individual units priced at $1,000. The organization emphasizes modular construction, allowing for flexibility in the number of units built and the community it will serve. Ascoli typically seeks building projects that ask for at least four units. When two units are built, they can be connected with an additional in-between unit, thus increasing space and increasing value for the buyer. “We put together two units in a single house, the middle space is the same size as an actual unit and we only charge for two,” explains Ascolli. “Our buildings are modular, so we can build as many units as a project requires. Anytime we add one house, we build three. It multiplies every time.”
Since their participation in the Solve program, Housing NOW has made significant progress. They have completed the construction of four out of six houses initially crowd-funded on Indiegogo for a Chin-State refugee community in Hmawbi. They are also in the process of collaborating with the UNHCR to address the urgent housing needs of Arakan refugees on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, though travel permits have posed challenges in accessing the area following a devastating cyclone.
Housing NOW's impact to date includes the successful completion of 10 housing units, with plans to expand their reach and make a more substantial difference in the future. Ascoli expressed a desire to further collaborate with other NGOs to explore additional opportunities for providing affordable housing solutions in other regions.
Housing NOW's commitment to sustainability extends beyond its current efforts. Ascoli spoke about the possibility of creating a new subfield in bamboo architecture and collaborating with other organizations to develop innovative solutions. For instance, discussions are underway to partner with Habitat for Humanity in Uganda to construct a school using bamboo, in conjunction with three other Solver teams specializing in timber, flooring, and installation techniques.
Housing NOW's mission to revolutionize affordable housing solutions through its innovative use of bamboo and community-driven approach is making a profound impact in Myanmar. With its continued growth and collaboration with other organizations, Housing NOW has the potential to extend its reach and positively impact communities facing housing challenges worldwide.
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