Better Living Challenge


Better Living Challenge goes digital to support local informal sector builders

Sep 02, 2020

The Better Living Challenge (BLC), a project of the Craft and Design Institute, has taken steps this year to adapt to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The BLC is producing short instructional videos to complement a full toolkit which explains basic design and building techniques. The combination of the videos and toolkit will help local builders in the informal housing sector to gain new skills remotely.

The BLC has been running for several years and was initiated as a flagship project for Cape Town’s designation as a World Design Capital in 2014. Using design-led processes, the BLC has helped in surfacing innovations and solutions for the low-income housing sector. This iteration of the project is funded by the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements (DOHS).

The first phase of BLC surfaced affordable and environmentally friendly products for home improvement: water saving and harvesting, insulation, fire warning systems, alternative materials, and off-grid energy use. The publicising and commercialisation of these is aimed at popularising and scaling up alternatives which generates better living but also economic opportunity.

The second phase involved extensive research and user-testing using design process methodology. The research revealed that people needed home improvement products, systems and services as well as access to information (i.e. how to improve their home and where to access support) and skills development (how to build better, how to design better building processes, and how to use different materials and solutions effectively). 

As a result of this, in 2019, a first-of-its-kind skills development Design + Build Incubator supported 15 small scale builders operating in the informal housing sector, giving them the chance to develop their technical design and building skills, as well as their business acumen, with the goal of helping them design and build better structures in local communities and improve their livelihoods. Over the period of two weeks, the 15 small-scale builders were empowered with a wide range of skills. This successful Incubator was later a finalist for an international design award.

This year, the BLC had planned to run two additional pop-up Design + Build Incubators in Western Cape communities to pass on the new skills and knowledge to another cohort of small-scale builders. However, these soon became impossible due to COVID-19 and the lockdown. In April, when it became clear that lockdown in some form or another was going to continue for a while, the BLC team began investigating the feasibility of filming the ‘build’ instead.

And so – after a difficult hunt for a good location that met all the requirements – including being COVID safe – filming started on the 28th August and will continue for 10 days. The instructional videos will live alongside a BLC Toolkit as a very useful resource for small scale builders.

“The BLC has adjusted to the circumstances and these tutorial videos will ensure the Design + Build Incubator lessons reach new local builders. During our filming we will be utilising previous small-scale builder ‘graduates’ from the first-ever Design + Build Incubator who will demonstrate the design and building methods,” says the BLC’s project manager Jacqueline Dyson.

“We will focus in the short videos on the building of a 3m x 3m structure and double storey structure, and the build will take place under controlled conditions with the necessary health protocols in place. These videos will complement the more detailed BLC Toolkit we are completing at present to aid informal sector builders. The Toolkit will be an important deliverable in the next few months. It will essentially be the very first comprehensive resource for informal builders covering all aspects of building in low-income communities; and it will be available for free as a resource, and shareable online via various platforms.”

Image: Zihle Matolweni of the BLC team presenting content for one of new BLC videos