A dispatch from the "Incremental Adequate Housing" project

 This article is a dispatch from the "Incremental Adequate Housing" project led by Sophia van Greunen and collaborators from the Namibia University of Science and Technology. Read more about the project HERE


In 2019 the growth rate of Namibia’s informal areas is at least three times that of its formal areas.1Experts warn that “new forms of poverty and inequality will be entrenched over generations to come if towns fail to develop in ways that facilitate the transition from rural to urban society”.2 With the president worried, not only about these living conditions, but how they influence the safety of residents at large3; there is more pressure than ever to come up with adequate sustainable systems that could offer solutions to the ongoing crisis.  While many so-called low-cost housing solutions are being developed, they remain unaffordable for most of the lower-income groups. 

The City of Windhoek categorises residents according to their income groups to establish what housing costs they could afford, if paid back over 20 years.  Most of the current so-called low-cost housing models only cater to 17% of the current demand in Windhoek.



PERCENTAGE of current demand




N$3,000 or below





N$3,000 - N$5,000


N$101,000 - N$250,000

N$1,100 – N$2,500


N$5,000 – N$15,000


N$251,000 – N$600,000

N$2,650 – N$6,100

FIGURE 1: extract from City of Windhoek Council Minutes 2019-03-28

It is within these ultra-low-cost categories that a team of staff and students from the Department of Architecture and Spatial Planning  at Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) saw the opportunity to develop a housing model that would provide both adequate and incremental housing to the lowest income groups. 

Design Concept

Based on existing housing models and previous experience working in informal settlements; parameters were set for the proposed design.  The structure should:


provide minimum acceptable inhabitable space for 6-9 people


be within a budget of N$3.4 – N$3.8 per m2 (rates from current City of Windhoek tenders)


have comfort levels above a shack in terms of thermal comfort, ventilation, security and daylighting


identify as a dwelling in its aesthetic,


be suitable for incremental growth,


be able to be modified and adapted as financial circumstances change,


provide some level of flexibility in the use of space,


conform to building regulations for eventual approval,


be suitable to qualify for finance by Institutions in future,


have a foundation type suitable to various terrains,


be able to be easily dismantled;

    • where development levels do not allow for individual land ownership
    • to allow for settlement upgrading or relocation
    • possibly a steel frame structure


A Primary Design Objective was to have a washroom, whether connected to services or not, as part of the most basic module;

    • as close as possible or ideally connected to the house
    • accessibility from the outside and inside would be good for backyard tenants
    • Some level of flexibility and adaptation for various individual families’ needs

FIGURE 2: first design concept – section through the proposed house

The house took shape as a steel frame structure which could be filled-in and multiplied incrementally over time.  The Structure is suspended slightly above the ground with limited connections to it.  The advantages of this above that of conventional block houses with strip footings are manifold. 9

Prototype Implementation - learning through doing

Metallum Fabrication pledged their support to the project early on in agreeing to construct a one-unit prototype. Metallum has also supported NUST with technical development of the steel structure.  Through a seed grant from the Integrated Land Management Institute the construction of the first prototype is being actively pursued.  NUST has allocated a site on their Windhoek campus where the prototype will be erected by a team of staff and students from the Department of Architecture and Spatial Planning.   Besides contributing to invention in the ultra-low-cost-housing sector; implementation of the prototype also creates a unique opportunity for education.  The project is continually integrated into the design studio through workshops. Not only will architecture students be exposed to real-life construction first-hand; they are also actively involved in developing the details for construction.    The prototype aims to test various finishes and materials as infill to the steel structure; demonstrating the structure’s ability to grow and to adapt over time.


FIGURE 3: Mezzanine- and Ground Floor Plan of one module prototype

The future of ultra-low-cost housing

In contrast to conventional mortar and brick construction this system really allows development in the smallest of increments once the main structure has been erected.  Sheet metal cladding or board floors could be replaced over time with brickwork or concrete.  The building could also be expanded as user needs and financial situations change. 




FIGURE 4: Incremental construction

The type of construction system that is proposed could really flourish through a proses of mass-production in future.  Most of the main structural material components could be pre-manufactured. It is envisaged that local material suppliers would stock certain standard components that could be easily assembled and expanded by people themselves over time; a system that allows maximum user adaptation and real incremental growth.  Of course, the construction of the first experimental prototype is the first step in testing this unique concept for Namibia.

FIGURE 5: Plan of possible expansion of unit over time