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Bricks, reimagined

An architect from Mumbai, Rushabh Chheda, sought a way to tackle the twin problems of affordable housing for the nonaffluent part of the world’s population, and waste plastics. His innovative construction product – the UniBrick – not only provides a localised solution, it also has the potential to address both issues in one go. By Rushabh Chheda

Mumbai is a city of over 24 million people, of whom around half live in slum dwellings. Mumbai does not stand alone. Although unsafe, with poor living conditions, such dwellings are the only affordable option for a billion people in the world today – a number that has been forecast to rise to 2 billion by the end of 2030. 

Urban areas around the world are facing enormous challenges and changes compared to 20 years ago, including important systemic problems such as affordable housing, sustainable cities and social inequality, that society tends to assume will be solved by architects and designers. Yet in reality, architects happen to work for the richest 1% of the population. 

My challenge, during the final year of my graduation project at Technical University Delft, in the Netherlands, therefore became: “How can we as architects reach out to the rest 99% of the population?”

Additionally, another global issue – waste plastics – is one that had drawn my interest. Of all plastic produced since the 1950s, some 79%, or a staggering 5bn tonnes, has either been landfilled or has leaked into the environment, an amount equal to 700,000 Eiffel towers by weight. With annual plastic production expected to grow to almost 3 times the current rate by 2050, if nothing is done, this problem will only get worse. It is a topic I worked on in a few of my projects during my training as an architect.

Do-it-yourself housing

Plastic is the most versatile invention of our time and it has an unrivalled application at a material level. Yet the same properties that make plastics so versatile in innumerable applications – durability and resistance to degradation – make these materials difficult or impossible for nature to break down.

The concept of the ‘UniBrick’ was prompted by a desire to find a way to address the two mega problems – waste plastic and affordable, reliable housing – with a single localised solution able to deliver a strong social, economic and ecological impact. The idea behind UniBrick is to empower local communities worldwide to build their own houses, making housing construction simpler, cheaper, faster and more sustainable. It is a project that is focused on helping people help themselves – with a broader goal of doing this in a way that, at the same time, will reduce the impact on the environment.

» Publication Date: 30/07/2019

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