How Design Can Improve Substandard Housing

Colonias. Shantytowns. Gueto. Putri. Villas miseria. Regardless of language, these words mean the same thing all over the world: agriculturally worthless land in unincorporated rural areas on which clusters of low-income individuals live in substandard developments. These pose similar challenges to every government by straining existing social programs and public budgets. Crowding and limited access to necessary resources such as potable water and sewer services create challenging healthcare environments, often fostering communicable diseases. Page Technical Designer Duygu Yenerim, PhD, collaborated with Mark Clayton, professor at the Texas A&M College of Architecture on how design can help solve this universal problem.

They posit that a Colonias Building Information Modelling (BIM) Toolkit can guide policy decisions. BIM is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places. This technology was integrated into a toolkit that can model and assesses the incremental changes over time and the building performance. This will support educated energy estimates and allow for the development of housing policies that address sustainable improvements in informal settlements.

While the proposed technique is intended for application to any informal settlements around the world, it was tested in a colonia in Laredo, Texas on the Mexican border. The benefits of the toolkit were demonstrated through a home in this area, which was built in three stages over three years. The presenters hypothesize that BIMs of homes and communities can be stored in a database for use by policy makers and researchers to investigate their growth pattern and set up regulations on rehabilitation of these structures. If policy makers have data on existing materials and construction techniques and 3-dimensional visual data on the forms of the homes, they can monitor and control forms and growth of the settlements. Moreover, estimates of existing energy consumption can also enable policy makers to create regulations for more sustainable home rehabilitation and design.