“In South Africa, a lot of the population live in backyard shacks,” says architect Clara da Cruz Almeida. “So why don’t we make it better and desirable?”
With a burgeoning middle class and a high barrier to homeownership, South Africa presented a test case for a prefab modular housing concept that could address the country’s needs. The POD INDAWO (a indigenous word for place), which Almeida designed in Johannesburg with the interior designer team Dokter and Misses, tries to accomplish that lofty goal in roughly 186 square feet by stacking space, incorporating custom storage solutions, and—most relevant to the South African context—maximizing sunlight and outdoor exposure.
Within the small, bi-level dwelling of steel, wood, and aluminum, a system of space and energy conservation governs every feature, from the white-and-mint exterior that reflects solar heat to the inclusion of a slim ladder to reach the upper mezzanine. Adriaan Hugo of Dokter and Misses incorporated custom piecework, as well as a foldaway couch and table, to make the interior feel as large as possible. While the bi-level space gives the impression of airiness in a relatively confined room, those clamoring for more space can simply fold up the couch and go out on the custom deck, which the designers call the lounge, and rest under the retractable awning. There’s an easy expansion plan, too, since multiple steel-framed modular units can be linked together to create a larger, custom dwelling.
After creating the first prototype, the team is exploring manufacturing options, including a flat-pack system, to help simplify and systemize adoption. While they want to make sure it's right for their country’s climate, there’s also a desire to make a more universal system. Currently estimated to cost between roughly $18,000 and $63,000, depending on options, the pod not only offers a choice of on- or off-grid living (with the installation of solar cells), but presents a new framework for more local, sustainable housing, according to Almeida.
“We need to change the mindset, move away from brick and mortar, and establish these structures as places of permanence and value,” says Almeida. “We also need to get banks to lend money to people who want to do this.”