This is my entry for the international architecture competition rise in the city: the design of a low-income housing prototype in an effort to curb Lesotho’s housing problem in an environment challenged by: increased urban migration, climate change and scarcity of resources.
Let me take you to the Maseru I envision: a city where future inhabitants give shape to their culture by self-building their homes in a sustainable way, densifying the city, evoking the spirit of Lesotho, and elevating already present qualities to a next level.
Imagine ensembles of small houses being built all across the city. These ensembles form incentives for their neighborhoods, where community life flourishes and the beautiful Sesotho traditions come back to life. The houses seem to rise in the city from the red earth Maseru is named after. Together they resemble the mountainous landscape all around.
Walking the streets, the curved shapes and human scale make you feel embraced and protected, while every time again you are curious what to discover past the next corner. It feels as if this place is celebrating the Sesotho culture: the circular houses bring to mind the rontabole of the countryside in a modern way, the pattern of the pavement is like a litema drawing, the materials feel so natural because they are locally sourced, and the public space is shaped for storytelling, singing, dancing and markets. It makes you realize that these ensembles can only be built this way right here, in Lesotho. On the one hand they blend with their environment, but on the other hand they are very distinguishable and have a big impact on the city.
A bench marks the subtle transition from the streets to the entrance of each house. Inside, the house is organized around the living/dining room. The climate and atmosphere are comfortable: the earthen walls balance temperature and humidity, and plenty of light falls in through the tall windows which also breathe natural cross ventilation. The home feels larger – as if the exterior is just another room – because the interior materials blend with the ones outside.
To offer a more private outside space for the inhabitants within the dense ensemble, the roof is made accessible. Here you can take a break from the vibrant urban life, observe the activities below, meet with neighbors or hang cloths to dry. Each house can be enlarged with one room on top, which is then automatically linked to the roofscape. The possibility of growth, and seeing houses rise with time, gives a feeling of liveliness, hope and prosperity.
This vision for affordable housing in Maseru is based on the belief that most Basotho people are moving to the bigger cities for financial reasons, not for the wish to leave their families and traditions of the countryside. When arriving in Maseru, the current housing options are limited to building types like the malaene: indifferent boxes of concrete blocks, often unfinished and without any reference to the Sesotho culture.
My intention is to add quality to life in Maseru by translating traditional values into a more densified way of living. As J.L. Borges ones wrote: “The words ‘preserve’ and ‘create’, which are contradictions here below, are synonyms in heaven.”