Sustainable, well-designed homes positively impact low-income families

By Fai Au, Hong Kong architect and Habitat for Humanity Youth BUILD 2013 ambassador

Editor’s note: Fai Au founded Hong Kong’s O Studio Architects and has led his team to create award-winning projects — most famously, the Church of Seed in Huizhou, China. As a Habitat for Humanity Youth BUILD 2013 ambassador, the 37-year-old shares his thoughts on why housing design is so important in fighting global poverty.

Often unwittingly, the designs of the buildings in which we live, eat, sleep, learn and work every day have a huge impact on us. Nowhere is this more obvious and important than in the homes of low-income families around the world.

Houses built with concrete — rather than dirt — floors can lessen parasitic infestations, which reduces diarrhea and favors child development. Well-ventilated homes remove the excessive moisture that can cause mold or rot and the fumes from cooking stoves, lessening respiratory diseases like asthma or pneumonia. Healthier homes mean children don’t miss school because they’re ill and breadwinners don’t miss out on securing a daily wage.

Similarly, a house that isn’t well-built and either constantly leaks when it rains or lets in cold winds also can lead to poor health. In rural China — and many other places around the world — households are constantly occupied repairing their homes, rather than tending to crops or going to school.

A home that has more than just one room helps a family further — children aren’t interrupted when doing their homework, everyone gets a decent night’s sleep making for more productive days, and there is space to set up home-based businesses generating more wealth.

Houses should be built using locally available, durable materials; be easy to build and maintain; and be energy efficient and disaster-resilient. This uses less of the planet’s resources, helps a family save money and keeps them safe.

All of this starts from the way a house is designed. A well-designed, decent, affordable home means healthier, more prosperous and better educated citizens. Habitat incorporates all these design features and takes into consideration local cultural suitability.

This is why I am supporting Habitat Youth BUILD 2013 in Guangdong this weekend: to use my professional design knowledge to help low-income families break the cycle of poverty.