Better Living Challenge


Connecting communities, BRCK by BRCK

May 28, 2014

The Better Living Challenge is looking for low-cost solutions that have been created, imagined and invented to address the dire conditions caused by overcrowded, informal urban sprawl.

The Challenge is designed around three categories: structural home, comfortable home and connected home. The first two are reasonably straightforward, focusing on well-built homes that are fit for purpose, built using materials that can protect occupants from fire, searing heat or biting cold. Comfortable homes provide basic levels of comfort, whether decent, dignified sanitation or sufficient lighting and facilities for families to thrive and children to succeed at school.

While structure and comfort are essential for ensuring that the country’s growing urban population can live safely, with dignity and decency, a community’s physical environment is a crucial extension to improving living standards. Informal neighbourhoods are generally unplanned, growing haphazardly with little or no deliberate spatial planning, often with devastating consequences. Fires spread quickly through informal settlements as incoherent, dense layouts hinder access for emergency services.

Community-led design

iKhayalami, another official World Design Capital project, is one example of how communities can lead the design of their own environments. The organisation conceptualised and pioneered a co-design process called ‘blocking out’, which empowers a community to design their own neighbourhood, reconfiguring the spatial layout to suit their needs, while at the same time dismantling their old shacks and replacing them with durable, fire and flood resistant upgraded shelters thereby saving lives.

Community-led design can lead to more rationalised environments, facilitating emergency vehicle access, safer roadways and paths that are more clearly demarcated, and more open, visible and safe public spaces.

This is the true spirit of what the World Design Capital programme is trying to achieve: to find ways to use design to transform lives.

The blocking out concept has set the standard for the design, configuration and layout of community settlements across the country, receiving the endorsement of both government and the Informal Settlement Network, which represents thousands of shack dwellers across the country.

This video gives a bit more detail on how iKhayalami works for communities that have suffered devastation from fire or forced removals. Visit their website, too, for more information.

BRCKs made in Africa for Africa

The connected home is also about technology. It has been said that the needs of the developing world can leap-frog first-world technology. Consider the rise and rise of mPesa and other mobile money services that can help millions of people conduct business every day without handing over a single bank note.

While mobile technology has been around for some time, the provision of universal internet access has been more challenging. An erratic electricity supply, lack of computing power and prohibitive costs means that, for many, internet access is a luxury.

Developed by Ushahidi, the BRCK has the potential to open up the world to many. BRCK is an internet modem that can be plugged into a mains power outlet, but can also run on a battery charge for eight hours. Much like a mobile phone, the unit is designed to switch between wifi, 3G/4G connections or a fixed-line broadband connection. It can support up to 20 devices at a time, offering limitless potential for micro-entrepreneurs who want to bring last-mile technology to their communities.

The designers have developed it so that it can operate wherever a cellular phone signal is active. Considering the ubiquity of mobile phones as a primary communication tool, this is just one short step from making internet access as much a part of everyday life in low-income areas as a basic cellphone.

“If it works in Africa, it’ll work anywhere”. Here’s more information about how Ushahidi is democratising information.

What can you do to ensure our communities are better connected? Do you have a great idea for better public spaces? What about the next generation in internet access? Enter the Better Living Challenge by 31 May and you could stand a chance to see your product design transform lives. After all, that’s what the World Design Capital is all about.