Better Living Challenge


About our Finalists: Transition POD

Aug 27, 2014

Transition POD offers a long-term alternative to shack dwelling


Rooted in the universal principles of sustainable design, this inspired solution addresses the unique challenges facing South Africa’s informal communities


The Transition POD is a self-contained, fully sustainable housing solution targeted at low-income residents who are making the move from informal to formal housing. Each unit incorporates the basics elements that all of us need for survival: shelter, warmth, energy and water.



Image: Transition POD team members Dirk Coetser, Anton Bouwer and John Saaiman 


Now a finalist in the Better Living Challenge Showcase, the Transition POD has been developed by three young South African designers – Dirk Coetser, Anton Bouwer and John Saaiman – whose passion for innovative architecture grew from the hands-on experimental projects they undertook as students. These involved extensive research, interviews, site visits and academic study into the harsh realities confronting informal communities. Since graduating, the team members have continued to invest significant time, commitment and resources into prototyping the Transition POD concept, which is specifically designed to address the unique challenges and hazards that define low-income living.


To prevent flooding, for example, the structure is supported on nine foundation plinths that keep it clear of the ground. With warmth in mind, each wall incorporates five layers. Because house fires are one of the biggest dangers facing informal communities, all construction materials are fire resistant. Each Transition POD comprises four walls, a roof and a floor that are pre-fabricated off-site, dismantled then transported to the designated site, where they can be speedily erected.



Image: the Transition POD being constructed onsite 


Not only is the Transition POD concept specific to South Africa’s low-income communities, notes Dirk, but it is also rooted in the universal principles of sustainable design. “These structures are 100% self-sufficient, which means each unit can be located on any site without the need to tie it into the existing infrastructure. Its shape was driven by the need for efficiency. The slant of the roof, for example, was designed to provide shade and make it easy to collect rainwater through gutters that are connected to a 1000-litre water tank.


When it comes to energy, each structure is equipped with a photovoltaics (PV) panel that charges a 12-volt battery unit that powers four internal LED lights and two external LED strip-lights at night. The same solar-powered system can also recharge cellphones. During the day, a skylight illuminates the pod with natural light.


As Dirk points out, there are similar pre-fabricated products on the market but most of them are too expensive for people surviving on low-incomes. Cheaper alternatives do not offer the same level of comfort as the Transition POD. What’s more, they are often incompatible with their harsh environment. “The unique strength of our solution lies in the fact that it has been designed and prototyped specially for people living in South Africa’s informal settlements,” notes Dirk.


The benefits of the Transition POD could potentially go well beyond providing affordable, warm and dry living spaces. Looking ahead, Dirk and his team are optimistic that their concept will also open up new business opportunities by giving people living in informal settlements the chance to become Transition POD sales agents. In addition, manufacturing and assembling the pre-fabricated panels close to informal settlements will also help to create new jobs among the communities that need them most.