A house for just US$20,000? They're not dreaming. Architecture students at Rural Studio, Auburn University's design-build program in a tiny town in West Alabama, have spent more than a decade working on a seemingly impossible project—designing a desirable home that someone living below the poverty line can afford but also providing a living wage for the local construction team that builds it.
After years of building prototypes, the team has recently finished their first pilot project in the real world. Partnering with a commercial developer outside Atlanta, they built two one-bedroom houses, with materials that cost just US$14,000 each. Now they're trying to figure out how to bring the ultra-low-cost homes, called the 20K Home, to the broader market.
"We're in a kind of experimental stage of the program, where we're really trying to find out the best practice of getting this house out into the public's hands," said Rusty Smith, associate director of Rural Studio. "Really this first field test was to find out all the things that we didn't know, and to find out all of the kind of wrong assumptions that we had made, and really find out how we had screwed up, honestly."
"The houses are designed to appear to be sort of normative, but they're really high-performance little machines in every way," said Smith. "They're built more like airplanes than houses, which allows us to have them far exceed structural requirements. ... We're using material much more efficiently."
To bring the house to everyone else who wants to build it, the team realized they would have to create a detailed guide that explained everything from how to build each piece—with Ikea-like instructions—to how to educate local officials.
"The goal of 20K House is really to design a house that's affordable, that anybody could have—and that anybody would want," said Smith.