Or how can 100 men build 100 hoses in 100 days
In 1968, Skopje was shook by a devastating earthquake. Much of the central areas became no-man’s-lands overnight. The international community– a much too cold phrasing for people who devotedly and compassionately involved themselves in this city’s drama – started an emergency project the surprising results of which certainly deserve telling. A decision was reached that some wooden shacks will be built each 8 by 25 meters. Each country donated a few such homes and temporarily the relocation problem was solved – or so it was thought. The city has a few hundreds of such buildings quasi-identical in their exterior appearance, monotonous and anonymous at first sight but amazingly different as purpose. Across the hotel where I stood one of the sheds hosed a private constructions enterprise with a grand view towards the best park in town, extremely well finished inside and right next to it – the HQ of the most important political party in Macedonia. I would have never learned this except that in my documentary innocence I took some photos that worried the guard somewhat. “Politikal party!” he said. “Small!” I said looking at the poor building with pity. “No, Grand. Numero uno, Macedonia”.
The social/emergency house: plan of the ground and those of the floor.
Down, possible modulation of the plan.
Across the street – the marriage registry, across the park – the City Hall, two blocks away – the County Hospital, Drama School, etc. You must not get the impression that all institutions are housed in such buildings (let it be said though that they look better inside than most public institutions in Bucharest). Most are regular homes. The most delightful phenomenon occurred in time: at the beginning only the poorest inhabitants lived in wooden houses; today to live in a “shed” is a luxury. The chance to transform, infinitely improve, the small garden in front of the house and the fact that you live on the ground level raised the prices and their status. The eagerness to build bigger and more expensive as well as the temptation to tear down what can be thorn down were replaced by the pleasure derived from escaping the concrete buildings that the communist regime had endowed Skopje with, after a most familiar model.
The theme we proposed was a home that would be useful to families in need: whether a family with modes income or refugees. Technically they are called “social homes” and are destined to those who cannot afford to pay rent or “emergency home” for refugees and cataclysms victims. Wishing to test a project that may be reproduced on a larger scale we respected the legal norms regarding habitable surfaces for our first version of the project. The home we built is less a classical “home” and more of an utility building that will serve the museum and the foundation for various events.
Two imperatives were utmost: it had to be cheap and modular. Regarding an investing value (complete it will not surpass 10000 Euros if built in house) we can say that the price will drop impressively if it will be made industrially and if the materials needed are produced in Romania. We can say a lot about it being modular: standardized elements lead to uniformity even in combinations. The warm feelings created by a space modeled by the owner lack here. That is why we opted for a small module, easily maneuverable and typologically “weak” – its industrialization can be replaced without loss by the beneficiary’s semi-qualified work. The structural constraints are minimal and one has the possibility to “break the shell” in numerous instances – all these leave enough room for adaptation of shape and façade according to the site, creativity, money, execution time available, etc. The working model starts from the chosen finishing materials and mediates between the standard cardboard-plaster plank, the standard thermo-insulation planks and the cheapest and most common wood planks. Nothing is lost from the cardboard-plaster planks because all cuts are down the middle width, the same is valid for the insulation and it is even possible to make a variant of the model where all wooden elements that compose the frame have the same length.
The module: 363X363 cm (left) was used to the house and also to the church.
Building the social/emergency house
It is the result of an effort to use a minimum of technology (I am not saying low-tech because that would involve esthetics and such buildings have none). It is possible to build the entire house with just a handsaw, a drill and a hammer. Aside from a few stairs and some of the joints in the modules all angles are right. All materials used have deadweights calculated so that they will fit in a Dacia automobile pick-up. We can imagine then a group of 100 voluntaries that will transport various modules for 100 homes in improvised locations. They can transport and maneuver the materials at a disaster area and they can build them in maximum 100 days.
We are not talking here about an exercise in architecture nor about a very rigorous essay in economics efficiency but rather about the testing of an honest work formula. Honesty is what we need for this program. We have to be honest when dealing with tools, materials and resources. More and more competent and sad people keep telling us that in today’s Romania one cannot build for less than 220 Euros per day. What if….