Where are YOU sleeping tonight?

With a couple of months to go until we announce the 2013 INDEX: Award Finalists, we are going to begin the countdown by posting weekly updates on the trends from each of the fifteen INDEX: Award Challenges. First up is the challenge of HABITATION – about creating satisfying, livable spaces for people in different contexts all over the world.

According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” so we have defined the Habitation Challenge as concerned with creating satisfying, livable spaces for people in different contexts all over the world. Among the impressive pile of Habitation Designs to Improve Life, one trend prevailed: Shelter for the homeless and temporary housing for those displaced by natural or manmade disasters and consequently find themselves ‘houseless’.

Homelessness – chronic or circumstantial – cuts across cultural and geographic boundaries, stemming from one or more of the following malaises: poverty, un(der)employment, war, drug addiction, unhealthy relationships, and natural disasters. A 2005 report by the United Nations estimated that 100 million people are presently homeless worldwide – a conservative estimate by any measure – and a further 1.6 billion people are living without adequate housing. Since the last INDEX: Award in 2011, our planet has been battered by numerous natural disasters – Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Typhoon Bhopa and Hurricane Sandy to name but a few – which have periodically robbed people of their homes. Millions have fled their homes as a result of the Arab Spring, consequently suspended in a liminal state in makeshift refugee camps awaiting asylum. And the systemic economic crisis, born out of the 2008 Financial Crisis has lead to what Dr Anna Tibajuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, has termed a “housing finance crisis”; whereby the subsequent rolling back of welfare has left the poorest to fend for themselves.

Luckily, many INDEX: Award 2013 Nominees (click and sort by Challenge) address the Habitation Challenge and provide us with a wealth of possible answers to these problems. For instance, Living Containers is a re-imagining of the ubiquitous container into a lockable micro-living space kitted out with disposable trash-boxes, drinking water canisters, freight-hold, a sewage system, and complete with an adjacent bathtub container. Though it does not exactly sound like a real estate ad, Philipp Stingl’s design proposes a rapid solution to homelessness that provides people with privacy and basic dignity.

Other nominations such as Home Sweet Street, Backpack Bed, Lifeshelter and RestQ have a more survivalist frame in so far as they provide the basic insulation needs for those sleeping on the streets, as well as warm emergency bedding in disaster zones.

ProtecTent goes one step further and offers disease-controlling shelter: The fabrics are permeated with insecticide and thus serve to reduce vector-born diseases, rife in the close quarters of refugee camps.

While addressing the immediacy of shelter, Shelter Project also address questions of sustainability by making sure that the construction is part of a sustainable life cycle process and recycling.

Another notable design is Social-Unit, which is a bed with inbuilt storage designed to maximize space and privacy in the context of homeless shelters. Social-Unit has increased comfort – but more importantly, it has been produced in social workshops staffed by former drug addicts and ex-homeless people, thereby creating accessible job opportunities, engendering self-confidence, and facilitating re-integration in society.

As you can see, our INDEX: Award nominees provide a wealth of solutions for problems of poor habitation, or lack thereof. And we hope that these designs continue to Educate people about the challenges that millions of people face with respect to the most fundamental human rights, Inspire them to continue to search for sustainable and better solutions, and Engage them in partnerships that can create more robust pipelines for change.

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