SUMMARY: LIFT provides a sustainable solution for housing of low-incomes families in low-lying flood prone urban areas around the world. The amphibious project, with an emphasis on renewable resources, allows dwellings to move up vertically as flood water rises and return to ground level as the water recedes.

PROBLEM SPACE: The design solution addresses the critical need of low cost housing to provide shelter for the rising number of slum inhabitants in flood prone areas. With the alarming rate of urbanization along with projected effects of global warming, flood protection will soon be a necessity for many low income communities. “”The city of Dhaka in Bangladesh was targeted as a site to test the LIFT design. Dhaka is the fastest growing mega city in the world with 28% of the population under the poverty line. Rapid urbanization in the city has forced a large portion of the city’s population to take shelter in substandard housing in slum and squatter settlements deprived of basic services. Frequent floods in the city have further deteriorated the lives of the urban poor, creating great economic losses and an array of health problems. By 2100, experts anticipate a 1 meter rise in sea level which will result in a loss of 17.5% of land area in Bangladesh, effecting 13 million people. In collaboration with the local Ministry of Housing, local NGOs and design professionals, the first implementation of the LIFT design is taking place in Dhaka. This new typology of housing for the urban poor will not only protect them from floods, but also respond to the lack of infrastructure and deterioration of the environment by being completely self-sustaining through solar energy, rainwater harvesting and composting toilets.

The LIFT house is currently being constructed as a small scale pilot project that will house two families. The pilot project will test the feasibility of the design against environmental stresses and Dhaka’s local culture. The projected date of completion is January 2010.

SOLUTION: The LIFT strategy is to work at the small scale. Large infrastructural interventions often prove to be inefficient in solving the most fundamental problems of our time; environmental degradation, poverty and natural disasters, among others. LIFT recognizes the importance of small interventions where the individual takes actions which together results in great change. If flood protection is provided in the scale of the house, the need of large scale infrastructure is lessened. In a similar way, in today’s energy crisis and fresh water shortage, the LIFT design redefines dwelling as a provider of all services instead of depending on the city grid.

Construction methods and local materials are used to ensure that the target group can be heavily involved in the construction phase. The project is divided into two phases. Phase one is the implementation of the static service spine which will have the water cisterns, greywater filtration system, and compost storage. Phase two of the project is the amphibious dwelling designed to be constructed by local skilled workers along with the residents themselves. The amphibious dwelling is attached to the service spine to allow vertical movements that allow it to rise up and down with water level changes. The funding of this portion of the project will be the responsibility of the residents through local micro-credit loans. The bottom-up approach that this design will implement can only be attained through the scale of a community to encourage the pre-existing relationships to flourish. Humans organised in a small unit will take better care of their share of the land and natural resources. Therefore an important idea of the design project is that residents must own the dwelling portion of the project and use their natural abilities of self-reliance to complete their dwellings. The house therefore becomes a provider of shelter, energy, water and most important, empowerment.

LIFT is simple and innovative in its response because no longer is the house dependant on the services provided by the city. For the first time a house is designed for the poor to empower them instead of merely helping. For the first time a community is built on the needs of the poor. For the first time a defense is built to work with nature rather than restrict it.