While studying at an architecture college in Chennai, 23-year-old NG Arun Prabhu did some research on slum housing, and was struck by the poor utilisation of space in these structures. Residents would spend somewhere around Rs 4-5 lakh to build a house, but it would not have a toilet.
“I was researching slum housing in Chennai and Mumbai, and realised that these small spaces that could be improved by instituting a proper design, to create toilets, bedrooms, etc. and make the house more habitable,” says Arun, speaking to The Better India.
Arun graduated last year, and since then, has been raising awareness about small scale architecture that entails better utilisation of space and affordable housing by building a portable house on an autorickshaw.
He spent Rs 1 lakh (excluding the cost of auto-rickshaw) building this 36-sq ft portable house on wheels called ‘SOLO.O1’, which he believes can fulfil the needs of two adults.
“My objective is to use small scale architecture and show people what we can do with such tiny spaces. Also, portable housing can inspire better temporary housing for construction labourers and emergency housing during natural calamities,” he quips.
Small is Beautiful
Born and raised in the Tamil Nadu town of Namakkal, which is known for its lorry body building industries and poultry farms, Arun grew up with a fascination of art and design. But why did he choose an auto-rickshaw as his platform to build a portable home?
“It is a practical design of a compact 6’x 6′ space into a portable/detachable housing at the back of a three-wheeler auto-rickshaw that can accommodate a solo individual like an artist, traveller, homeless people or even a small scale vendor. It has been designed keeping in mind the concept of affordability and lifestyle of nomads and societal groups under the poverty line. The three-wheeler structure is a space with dual functionality that includes a residence and commercial space,” says Arun, in a note addressed to The Better India.
“Planning has been done with the kitchen, bathtub, toilet, foyer and living area on one level and sleeping space, workspace on the mezzanine level at 3.5 ft height. Also, there is the solar panel (600W), water tank (250 litres) and a lounge space with shade in the terrace. By incorporating all these features, the structure might be expected to be on the heavier side, but it is far from it. The weight is distributed equally,” he adds.
He started in August 2019, and it took him five months to construct the entire house using scrap materials.
What SOLO .01 does is extend the lifespan of discarded materials like metal scrap thrown away from old bus bodies and demolished structures. Nonetheless, Arun maintains that the house is durable regardless of the functions and renovations.
Despite every space being efficiently utilised, the structure is adequately ventilated throughout. Meanwhile, the structure is attached to the auto-rickshaw with just six bolts which can be easily unscrewed and robust supportive stands.
“If it can fit on top of an auto-rickshaw, it can be fixed atop any vehicle,” says Arun. This structure can be utilised much as the temporary housing for people like construction labourers who work at a particular site for a few years or months only and nomads, besides emergency housing during any natural calamities.
Today, Arun is working on four similar ideas with his architecture firm The Billboards Collective, which he started in 2018. He has also applied for a design patent on his portable house. With his patent and other potentially innovative designs, he could offer some real solutions to cities that are facing a housing crunch and struggling for space.
You can follow him on the The Billboards Collective Instagram page here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)