Jayati Sinha, a San Francisco-based designer, has come up with a potential solution called Pop Hut, an an easily transportable, foldable and flat packed housing concept.
In April 2018, Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, reached out to a number of architecture and design schools for guidance in designing bridge housing (a temporary shelter) for homeless people. The mandate was to build structures that felt private and secure, where the homeless could enjoy a sense of community. Responding to this was a team from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena led by Professor James Meraz, who teaches environmental design there, and Jayati Sinha, who at the time was doing her Masters in environmental design.
“This project was extraordinary and very attractive to me because it was directly transferable to any country in the world that faces some version of homelessness,” says Jayati Sinha, who is currently based in San Francisco, in a conversation with The Better India.
The 26-year-old adds, “I’ve been followed, threatened and taken advantage of by strangers. Even these small experiences instilled so much fear in me. Not having a place to go back to at night must feel immensely vulnerable. Imagine feeling like that every second of every day. People deserve to feel secure and have a safe place.”
There are an estimated 1.8 million homeless people in India, with 52% based in urban areas. A further 73 million families lack access to decent housing (IGH, 2018; Habitat, 2019). This number is far more serious than the estimated 5,53,742 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on a given night. So, what is the solution they came up with?
Introducing Pop Hut, an easily transportable, foldable and flat packed housing concept featuring a shaded entry, which is intended to give the structure a cosier feeling of coming home.
(Image above of Jayati Sinha and the Pop Hut)
“The Pop Hut has a front door with a keyed lock and a tiny front stoop completed with a motion-activated porch light. Inside the hut, we used colour and transparency as therapeutic tools to make users feel secure and cared for. The interiors also had some open shelving so that the user can customise it with their personal aesthetic and belongings to make it feel like home and for the users to regain a sense of belongingness and foster love for the community The total footprint of the Pop Hut is 5 square meters. So, this is an ideal solution for temporary housing to be provided at construction sites, defence installations and even for slum dwellers. Pop Hut was built for about $2,000 (about ₹1.5 lakh) which could be made even cheaper if made in bulk and using lower cost of materials in India,” she explains.
Being a temporary housing solution, the design focuses on:
- Being flat pack for mobility and ease in deployment
- Corrugated sheets in the structure to give it strength without making it heavy
- Natural ventilation and light
- Slanted roof to give more room for solar panels and protect the roof from retaining water
- Open wall shelves for users to personalise their house
At this moment this hut prototype is made up of birch plywood, polycarbonate panels (translucent material), aluminium tubes for frames and honeycomb panels for insulation.
“However, those materials are not the highlight of this concept and can be defined further, depending on need,” she says adding, “What makes this concept great is the flat packed design that can be reassembled, expanded and contracted into different sizes because of the panel design. See, materials can be interchanged with local available ones that are more relevant to the location they are being set up in. I would classify materials as sustainable rather than eco-friendly. If you look at the line diagrams below you will also notice that the house does not lay flat on the ground but has feet that keep it above the ground that can be very helpful in places where water can get trapped due to heavy rainfall. The aluminium frames give it a sturdy structure for it to stand heavy weather conditions.”
It took Jayati’s team about six months to develop this prototype micro-dwelling. The process involved a lot of field research so that they can understand the demographics and conditions for the set up. After that teams came up with a few concepts and they further kept refining them until it was time to build it into life size structures for the homeless.
Temporary But Sensitive
The project prioritises empathetic design values, while offering a low-cost solution that could be of high value for such a populous country like India.
These Pop Huts can easily be deployed and moved to different locations to create a safe environment for temporary workers, victims in flood and other disaster relief projects, armed forces, refugee camps, and poor people, claims Jayati.
“These houses could be useful in so many contexts that in my opinion are worth investing in. It makes people’s lives a bit more bearable and my hope is that it provides them a sense of security and place they could call home. The adjustments I would make to build these structures in India would be changing materials, depending on the weather conditions and what is available locally. Apart from that the design is built to sustain in different cultures. I would love to talk to the people who would be living in these houses and make some changes according to their preferences where possible that would make this structure ‘a home’,” she adds.
In a recent interview with Mid-Day, she said, “In a way, it’s [Pop Hut] sensory-based design that goes beyond aesthetics to consider the links between the psychological, physical, emotional, sensory and ethnographic effects of design.”
Speaking to The Better Indian, she explains, “The sensory and empathetic side of the design isn’t tangible. It is psychological and those are the experiences that make people feel like their home and help people feel like we thought about them, among other things, from the use of colours to the selection of translucent materials to give a sense of privacy yet openness and light. These features will change depending on the demographics and the kind of people that are going to be living in it, their needs and desires. I think the psychological, emotional, sensory side of the design comes more from the desires of people.”
The Future OF Homelessness
Born in Kanpur, Jayati Sinha graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in 2017 before leaving for the United States to do her Masters in Environmental Design. Following her stint at the ArtCenter College of Design, she worked at a renowned design agency called fuseproject from 2019 to 2021, but currently works at Fjord, a global design and innovation consultancy based out of San Francisco which is part of Accenture Interactive.
While she has moved onto other projects, reports indicate that the Pop Hut prototype has been a huge success among the crowds. She hopes to see the idea incorporated by the Mayor of Los Angeles as intended.
“We have already got funding to develop the prototype. Now, we are just expecting that the concept is integrated into LA’s future housing developments. Our intention was to help LA in finding solutions to this big problem and our show was very successful. Since then the idea has been pitched and showcased in many places for the same reason. There is also a book coming out soon too since I last heard. If the idea gets enough traction then I would definitely love to develop this and make it real in India. That was always my intention and that’s why I am trying to talk about it and put it out there. It is definitely a challenge to work with the government in any country because of so much red-tape,” she says.
Nonetheless, at no point is it being claimed that these shelters will solve homelessness. After all, this is temporary housing. As Shivani Chaudhry, the current executive director of the Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network, said in 2013: “Shelters for the homeless are but the first step in the continuum of housing rights, with the ultimate aim of realising the right to adequate housing for all, which is a legal obligation of the Government of India.”
Structures like the Pop Hut are not a one-stop solution to the problem of homelessness. Governments need to first understand people living in homelessness to determine their needs and thus a comprehensive survey is required in all major cities first. As the HLN recommended in a recent press release describing their state during the pandemic, governments must “adopt a ‘Housing First’ approach that prioritizes housing for homeless persons in all schemes”.
In addition, governments must develop “housing options along a ‘continuum of housing’ – including hostels, short-stay homes, and access to subsidised rental and ownership housing with access to adequate finance.” Also, they must have “universal coverage under the Public Distribution System and their children have access to the Integrated Child Development Services scheme,” not to mention access to regular electricity and basic sanitation.
And these are only some of the things governments must do for the homeless.
“My hope is to inspire people in India to bring change through this emergency temporary housing initiative,” Jayati concludes.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)