Homes For The Homeless

Billion Bricks designs houses, shelters and master plans for people without a roof over their heads.

BY LOW SHI PING
PHOTO VERNON WONG

 

“If Billion Bricks can enable every homeless person to have a roof over his or her head, then I think we would have contributed towards building a more equitable world.”

Billion Bricks founding trustee Anurag Srivastava (facing page)


ABOUT BILLION BRICKS

Founded in September 2013, Singapore-based non-profit social enterprise Billion Bricks aims to end homelessness by offering sustainable building solutions through high-quality architecture design and urban planning.


HOW IT CAME ABOUT

Billion Bricks was started by Prasoon Kumar (pictured, facing page), 38, who had been an architect for 13 years before quitting his job to helm the organisation full-time as CEO. He noticed the dismal quality of housing designed for the poor in developing countries in the region.

“I have seen projects done so badly – imagine mould everywhere and leaking pipes – the underprivileged don’t even want to live in them. They would rather live in the slums,” says Kumar, who is Indian and a Singapore Permanent Resident

“I was told by the developers that anything better than not being on the street is good enough.” The lack of competition for such projects, therefore, adds to the situation as there is no demand for accountability and quality.

These concerns motivated him to set up Billion Bricks. He worked on a business plan for six months, before sharing it with Anurag Srivastava who is the CEO of architecture firm Space Matrix, where Kumar was employed at the time.

Srivastava approached Snehal Mantri, 52, a property developer in India. Together, they decided to fund Kumar’s idea, and became the organisation’s founding trustees. Says Srivastava, 49: “I come from a humble background so I understand how the safety of a roof provides one with the confidence to dream, as well as access to opportunities for economic improvements.”

The trio based Billion Bricks in Singapore because of its status as a design and innovation hub, and proximity to funders. The location was also ideal to manage its regional projects that are today in India, Cambodia and Malaysia.

HOW IT FUNCTIONS

Billion Bricks partners governments and non-profit organisations that provide housing for homeless communities to design scalable solutions that can be easily replicated. The solutions and products are creative and made of good-quality materials that are cost-effective, durable and result in a low carbon footprint.

“Up to two billion people live in poor conditions. If we want to help them, we can’t do so on our own,” explains Kumar.

For every project, Billion Bricks works closely with the community during the design process to understand their needs and wants. It does not copyright any of the designs or solutions, so that the community is empowered to continue building its own homes and is able to help others do the same in the future.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Billion Bricks is designing a 10,000 sq ft shelter that can house 35 homeless girls in Bangalore, India. It was started in partnership with Space Matrix and non-profit Hope Home last November.

Work began in April on a school for 240 stateless children in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, in collaboration with Malaysian non-profit Etania and Singapore-based architecture company Lekker Architects.

Billion Bricks is expecting to roll out its Winter Hyde shelters before the start of the cold season in India this year, and subsequently to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is its first product-based innovation developed specifically to prevent deaths among the homeless in cold climates. Made from insulated fabric, the shelters are large enough to fit five adults and are designed for easy installation and localised production.

Srivastava says: “Kids living in slums have the same hopes, desires and ambitions as anyone else. By providing foundational homes, Billion Bricks can empower communities and trigger a virtuous cycle to improve society.”

An artistʼs impression of the classroom for the Day and Night Children Shelter in Mumbai.

An illustration of the homes in Smile Village in Phnom Penh.


STATISTICS ON HOMELESSNESS

1.2 billion people in the world live in extreme poverty

More than 100 million worldwide are homeless

Some 863 million lived in slums in 2013, in contrast to 760 million in 2000 and 650 million in 1990

World’s slum population is projected to reach 889 million by 2020


EXAMPLES OF ITS PROJECTS
Day and Night Children Shelter, Mumbai, India

Shelter for 100 street children.

Day-care facility by day, and bedroom by night. The space is designed with wheels on the furniture to facilitate the transition.

A collaboration with the Salaam Baalak Trust, an Indian non-profit that helps street and working children in Mumbai and New Delhi; Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation which governs the city; Space Matrix; and Singapore’s DBS Bank.

“The shelter has been a boon for the children. They have put behind their day-to-day worries of finding night shelter for themselves. Instead, they are now able to focus on their education, and dream about pursuing careers of their choice.” says Zarin Gupta, the founding trustee and chairperson of the Salaam Baalak Trust.


Smile Village, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Comprises 160 homes, a community centre, a childcare centre and an enterprise centre.

Singaporean non-profit, Solutions To End Poverty (Step), approached Billion Bricks to draw up the master plan in July last year. Other partners are French non-profit, Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, and Singapore architecture and design firm, Urbnarc.

Built with design elements that reflect an understanding of the local way of life, such as the provision of shaded communal spaces, because Cambodians enjoy spending time outdoors.

Part of the brief includes the design of a modular home, 60 sq m in size, which can accommodate up to seven people. It can be built by the occupants under the supervision of a contractor.

“Throughout the development process, Billion Bricks engaged closely with the community and all other stakeholders for preparing the final master plan,” says Ong Ai Lin, the founder and director of Step.

(DATA OBTAINED FROM REPORTS FROM THE WORLD BANK AND THE UNITED NATIONS.)

 


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