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HABITAT PROJECT: a low-tech smart home designed and built by students

Program: Parcours Ouvert General Engineering, Institut Catholique d'arts et Métiers - Icam 

Campus: Recife, Brazil

Project coordinator: Ana Luisa Rolim

Presented in the Brazil-France Workshop - Curricular Review and Outcomes of the Parcours Ouvert Program, Year 03, Icam Grand Paris Sud, June 29 – July 2, 2022.

The project involves designing and constructing a "habitat project" focusing on low-tech smart housing over two semesters. It was implemented for the first time across four Icam campuses globally: Paris, France; Recife, Brazil; Quito, Ecuador; and Douala, Cameroon. As part of the 3rd Year of the Parcours Ouvert, an international undergraduate program in General Engineering, students are prepared for Icam’s Master’s Degree in General Engineering, emphasizing creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and entrepreneurial skills.

Constraints for the project included using a 20’ container, bio-materials, and solutions for energy efficiency, smart water and waste management, and hygiene systems. Each campus had unique local requirements, with Recife focusing on designing a compact, affordable home for a retired woman in an informal community (favela), within a total construction budget of 8K Euros or 50K Reais. The house would be located at Unicap Icam campus to educate the community on sustainable home design.

Recife utilized recycled-content concrete blocks as the main building material, collaborating with a local company to develop a modular and affordable "kit casa." After designing various houses in the first semester, one project was chosen for construction in the subsequent semester. Recife presented the most thoroughly designed and built house among the campuses, laying the foundation for future iterations of the habitat project initiative

A video about the experience and its outcome produced by students is available here.

Aerial view of the habitat project

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The project aimed to develop a kit of parts named "Kit Casa"

The guidelines by Holanda (1976) on how to build in the Northeast of Brazil were adopted in the Habitat Project

The Habitat Project low-tech approach borrowed inspiration from local vernacular architecture

Resulting from a partnership with a local company, we used recycled-content concrete blocks as the main material, a versatile and affordable alternative.

Learning by doing: students practice basic compositional operations.

Site visit: an immersive experience to access an informal community settlement

Site visit: getting familiar with the way of living of an underprivileged community prior to designing the habitat project

A series of building mock-ups were built and presented in the studio

Interdisciplinary sessions with experts were part of the studio: water treatment, passive lighting and ventilation, and parametric design.

At the end of the first semester four projects were presented.

The project selected by a jury of experts and tutor to be built in the second semester.

Passive ventilation studies

Thermal analysis using Kozibu software

Humidity analysis

Environmental impact

Budget analysis

In the second semester the selected design was streamlined to fit the timeframe and consolidate its experimental nature

Roof design

The systems included in the Habitat Project

Construction kick-off meeting with students, support crew and experts

Construction process: building walls and testing mortar types

Construction process: walls and openings are finalized

Wood roof being fabricated, assembled and finished by students and wood shop workers

Final stages of construction

The habitat project is almost ready

Prefab concrete window frames and hydraulic installation in the interior

Overall exterior and interior views

The team is happy with the result

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