How Focused Design Can Actually Solve Human Problems: Housing

Director of Healthabitat and architect Paul Pholeros and his team was assigned a simple mission: Stop people from getting sick in south Australia. While it “may sound simple,” Pholeros stresses the significance and difficulty of this project. He couldn’t simply send medical attention to the area- he was asked to fix the environment itself. 

Healthabitat's 9 Health Priorities for Southern AustraliaTheir team identified 9 different health priorities: Washing, clothes, waste water, nutrition, crowding, animals, dust, temperature, and injury. They had done extensive research, but one in order to help these majorly illiterate people understand these priorities, they actually had to create cartoons depicting the necessary actions for executing them.

Once the information was illustrated for the people, the innovative solutions from Pholeros and his team came in. Some of the best examples were dust-stopping mounds of dirt and fly traps that drastically reduced occurrences of trachoma, a bacteria carried by flies that infects the eye and possibly results in blindness. The seemingly simplest ideas had profound impacts on the health of the indigenous people.

Their end results were astonishing: They increased functionality of the showers from 35% of the population to 86%, safety of the electrical systems from 10% to 77%, and finally functionality of the toilets from 59% to 90%. Their organization also reduced the admissions to hospitals for environmental reasons by 40%! His claims are no exaggeration- he is really proving the feasibility of focused design and innovative solutions.

But their solutions don’t apply only to the people they helped in Australia. Pholeros also went to Napal where he ingeniously replaced smokey wood burning cookers with methane releasing communal toilets that allowed clean flames for hours.

His projects have hopeful implications for the rest of this planet. If he and his team can lift thousands of people from poverty using simple ideas, there’s a good chance the rest of our species can be helped too. As long as the focus is on human health, we can increase the life quality and length of any community anywhere.

He closes with a quote from former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela: “…poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”

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