1st Edition

The Invisible Houses
Rethinking and designing low-cost housing in developing countries

ISBN 9780415840835
Published December 15, 2014 by Routledge
250 Pages 102 B/W Illustrations

USD $68.95

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Book Description

Winner of the ACSA/AIA Housing Design Education Award!

There is an increased interest among architects, urban specialists and design professionals to contribute to solve "the housing problem" in developing countries. The Invisible Houses takes us on a journey through the slums and informal settlements of South Africa, India, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Haiti and many other countries of the Global South, revealing the challenges of, and opportunities for, improving the fate of millions of poor families. Stressing the limitations of current approaches to housing development, Gonzalo Lizarralde examines the short-, mid- and long-term consequences of housing intervention. The book covers – among others – the issues of planning, design, infrastructure and project management. It explains the different variables that need to be addressed and the causes of common failures and mistakes, while outlining successful strategies based on embracing a sustained engagement with the complexity of processes that are generally invisible.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Learning from the Poor 1.1. The housing story of the Sanchez 1.2. Slums and informal settlements: part of the problem or part of the solution? 1.3. The formal and informal sectors and other problems of semantics 1.4. Why some ideas to solve the "housing problem" have failed 1.5. The need for new approaches 1.6. The "invisible houses" 1.7. A systems approach to housing: Dealing with complexity 1.8. The problem of information: Collecting information and using it in solutions that respond to users’ needs and expectations 1.9 The following chapters (introduction to the book)  2. The Invisible Dwellers and the Invisible Builders 2.1. Informal dwellers and informal workers: Criminals? Wrongdoers? Victims? Heroes? 2.2 Definition and boundaries of the informal sector 2.3. A categorization of slums and informal settlements (see here the CD ROM of the WB) 2.4 Case Box: The slum of Aguablanca, Cali (Colombia) 2.5.Patterns found in the informal sector and patterns (mistakes) found in the formal sector 2.6.The difference between fake developers and informal builders 2.7.Case Box: Pre-fabricated "shacks" in Cape Town, South Africa 2.8. Advantages and disadvantages of informal builders 3. The Invisible Market 3.1. Market distortions: residential market, land market, financial market: 3.2. The housing "gap": the pyramid of housing markets and the difficulty of families to "climb" the housing ladder 3.3. Financial mechanisms: mortgages, subsidies, loans, cash-for-work, micro-financing 3.4. Subsidized housing: the main challenges 3.5 Case Box: A $30,000 unit in the favela Santa Marta, Brazil 4. The Invisible Land 4.1. The value of land 4.2. Land tenure (modes of tenure and effects on housing) 4.3. Housing typologies: detached units, row housing, and mid-high buildings 4.4. Housing densities: the dilemma between community participation and housing densities 4.5. Case Box: Mfuleni Project, Cape Town, South Africa 4.6. Land and corruption 4.7. Case Box: Land management after the South Asian Tsunami 4.8. Land and vulnerabilities 4.9. Case Box: land issues and political games in Guatemala 5. The Invisible Process of Incremental Housing 5.1. Definition of incremental housing 5.2. Process of incremental housing 5.3. Technologies of incremental construction 5.4. Case Box: Previ, Lima, Peru 5.5. Unplanned incremental construction 5.6. Case Box: Project in Choluteca, Honduras 5.7. Planned incremental construction 5.8. Case Box: Project Juan Pablo II, Colombia 6. The Invisible Infrastructure 6.1. Public services: water, sewage, electricity, telephone, Internet 6.2. Collective services 6.3. Case Box: Infrastructure challenges in Hanoi 6.4. Transportation 6.5. Case Box: Infrastructure for slums in Bogota and Medellin, Colombia 7. Vulnerability, Resilience, and Reconstruction 7.1. Definition of disasters 7.2. The concept of resilience 7.3: The Cuban vulnerability reduction program 7.4. Reconstruction 7.5. Case Box: Reconstruction project in Haiti 7.6. Temporary housing 7.7. Case Box: Temporary housing project in Armenia, Colombia, and Turkey 7.8. Relocation: challenges and secondary effects 7.9. Case Box: relocation project in Tunisia 7.10. Truths and myths about post-disaster reconstruction 8. Actors and Capabilities 8.1. Project stakeholders 8.2. Temporary multi-organisation 8.3. Project governance: formal and informal structuring, stakeholder management 8.4. Myths and realities of community participation 8.5. Case Box: The Netreg project, Cape Town, South Africa 8.6. Definition of capabilities 8.7. Levels of freedom 8.8. The conditions for freedom 9. Strategies 9.1. Slum upgrading 9.2. Sites and services 9.3. Agency-driven construction 9.4. Cash approach 9.5. Owner-driven construction 9.6. Community-driven construction 9.7. Case Box: Housing reconstruction project in Gujarat, India 9.8. Incremental housing 9.9 Case Box: Habitec construction system in Thailand 9.10. Cooperative housing 9.11. Housing delivery versus the capability approach 10. What Type of Sustainability? 10.1. Levels of responsibility, objectives, and methods 10.2. Social responsibility 10.3. Economic responsibility 10.4. Environmental responsibility 10.5. Sustainable development as a strategy 10.6. Environmental certifications in developing countries 11. Informal Typologies 11.1. Rural vernacular solutions 11.2. Urban informal solutions 11.3. Shacks 11.4. Prefabricated one-storey units 11.5. Multi-storey multi-family buildings 11.6. Multi-family reused (and historical) buildings 11.7. Mesones 12. Conclusion: Complexity 12.1. The systems approach 12.2. Interventions based on capabilities 12.3. Reinforcing the informal sector 12.4. Planning and design within complexity 12.5. The design challenge

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Gonzalo Lizarralde is a professor at the School of Architecture, Université de Montréal. He has more than 15 years' experience in the field of housing and project management in developing countries. He has authored more than 50 articles on the subjects of housing, post-disaster reconstruction and project management. He is a founding member of i-Rec, an international network for improving post-disaster reconstruction.


"This refreshing read rallies around people instead of merely architecture or the bottom line of a developer. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above."L. B. Allsopp, University of Oregon, CHOICE Reviews