Innovative housing solution for displaced populations: The ‘Essential Home’

Norman Foster Foundation Holcim Essential Home
Image © Chiara Becattini

The global crisis of forced displacement is an ever-growing issue. As the figure stands at 103 million, the number of individuals displaced from their homes continues to rise at an alarming rate. Displaced populations often find refuge in settlements, intended to be temporary solutions, but they end up residing there for prolonged periods, sometimes extending to several years or even decades.

In response to this pressing issue, the Norman Foster Foundation and Holcim, a global frontrunner in sustainable building solutions, have formed a collaborative alliance. They come together driven by two powerful beliefs: everyone deserves the right to a home, and everyone should be able to access sustainable building solutions.

Emerging from this collaboration is the Essential Homes Research Project, a blueprint for respectable and sustainable housing for displaced individuals. The project was recently unveiled at the Time Space Existence exhibition, an event hosted by the European Cultural Center during the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale.

The Essential Home prototype, displayed in actual size, merges Norman Foster Foundation’s groundbreaking design approach with Holcim’s sustainable building methods. This building exemplifies a low-carbon, energy-efficient, and circular design.

One of the standout features of this home is the exterior shell, constructed from rollable low-carbon concrete sheets. This design choice guarantees the residents’ physical safety and ensures the structure’s durability.

Norman Foster Foundation Holcim Essential Home Construction
Image © Mika Cartier

Thermal and acoustic comfort, along with energy efficiency, are central to the design. The home employs Elevate RESISTA AK boards for floor insulation and low-carbon Airium mineral foam for roof insulation.

To keep moisture at bay and eliminate the need for excavation, the home is situated on an Elevate EPDM membrane. A permeable platform made from Holcim’s ECOCycle, composed of recycled construction and demolition materials, serves as the base of the home, offering enhanced weather resistance.

Norman Foster Foundation Holcim Essential Home Community
Community Creation Scenario. Image © DBOX for Norman Foster Foundation and Holcim

The home units are interconnected by pathways constructed from permeable ECOPact concrete. This low-carbon concrete aids biodiversity by enabling rainwater to seep through to the ground. Furthermore, this concrete possesses a distinctive characteristic – luminescent aggregates. These aggregates absorb light during the day and radiate it at night, contributing to safety and energy conservation.

The Essential Home is designed to be entirely recyclable. Once it reaches the end of its lifecycle, the home can be deconstructed, with its components either reused in new constructions or recycled for different purposes. This sustainable project leaves a CO2 footprint roughly 70% lower than a comparable traditional housing solution.

Norman Foster Foundation Holcim Essential Home Inside
Image © Chiara Becattini

The modular design of the Essential Home can adapt to the changing needs of families. When replicated adjacently, these homes create open spaces that foster a sense of community.

The Essential Homes Research Project signifies a crucial step forward by Holcim and the Norman Foster Foundation in advancing the conversation about the viability of sustainable building for all.

Norman Foster Foundation Holcim Essential Home Prototype
Image © Mika Cartier
Norman Foster Foundation Holcim Essential Home Roof
Image © Chiara Becattini

Source: Holcim