There goes the neighborhood.
November 15, 2007 8:50 PM   Subscribe

The dwellings made by people on the spot for local conditions are quite possibly better than something designed far away.

Perhaps the answer is to formalize the informal ownership of property in developing world poor areas. Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist advocates this.
posted by sien at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

I do not understand this. The solution to slums is more shitty temporary accommodation?
posted by wilful at 9:05 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

How does the "hexayurt" solve the problem of lack of plumbing?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:18 PM on November 15, 2007

Is this a hexayoke?
posted by humannaire at 9:19 PM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

The "solution" is probably direct 1:1 democracy, but that presents as many short term problems as it does long-term answers, and we know which one politics is better at pandering to.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:24 PM on November 15, 2007

So instead of living in rectangular shanties they will live in hexagonal ones? Two more walls = progress.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:25 PM on November 15, 2007

Wow, the photos from your rich/poor divides link are incredible. It's that stark, that clear. For years I sorta felt the same way about 96th street in NYC. It was startling how traveling one block north or south of that crucial street put you in another economic zone entirely. Haven't been up around that way in almost 15 years, though: maybe it's not quite as much of a leap as it used to be.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:42 PM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

The solution won't work. The hexagon will be heavy to one side, heavy side bunch to vertical, light side spread to horizontal.
posted by Mblue at 9:53 PM on November 15, 2007

Where's my tin foil hat? Oh.
posted by 45moore45 at 9:55 PM on November 15, 2007

If they were square we could stack them.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:00 PM on November 15, 2007

Ahoy Metafilterites. If you have questions, either get me a mefi account and I'll come post over there, or read my answers on the new FAQ page.

posted by wemayfreeze at 10:01 PM on November 15, 2007

1. Also classy: the hexayurter is the first comment on that first blogpost, pushing the yurt.

2. Won't the hexagonal shapes fit together too well? Like, honeycomb well? Like, no space between them?

3. I can see the yurt being useful for disaster relief, but how precisely are you going to replace people's homes with these yurts?
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:07 PM on November 15, 2007

...get me a mefi account...

posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:09 PM on November 15, 2007

How does the "hexayurt" solve the problem of lack of plumbing?


How does the "hexayurt" solve the problem of the rich/poor divide?
posted by mattoxic at 10:16 PM on November 15, 2007

Have we even tried eating the rich?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:17 PM on November 15, 2007 [10 favorites]

Or pooping the rich out after you've eaten one? It hexayurts. oy, that's a stretch
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:25 PM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Have we even tried eating the rich?

Last one I had was rather tough and altogether unappetizing. The fava beans and chianti were excellent, however.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:29 PM on November 15, 2007

Ahoy Metafilterites. If you have questions, either get me a mefi account and I'll come post over there, or read my answers on the new FAQ page.

Dream on, hexadork. If Matt let Buckminster-Fuller die waiting for an account, why should you do any better?
posted by felix betachat at 12:07 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Heh. You guys need to scroll all the way down to the first comment on the "Rich/poor divides" link to understand the post better.

Actually, that whole comments section is pretty priceless. "Economic Hitmen" theorists and a raging debate about birth control... it's popcorn time, people.
posted by krippledkonscious at 12:51 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

From hexadork's "MeFi FAQ" page:

- [I]t's up to us, the concerned citizens of the world, to take care of business ourselves. [...] Charity will not solve the problem. [etc. etc.]

and yet...

- If you snarked inappropriately on Mefi at my work, your pennance is to go and sponsor a child

[Which bizarrely and directly contradicts the entire "simply shifting money around and trying to make poor people richer doesn't work" premise of, like, the dude's whole life. Also, anybody who has this little sense of humor about themselves or their work is in serious trouble. What a self-aggrandizing egomaniac! How dare you snark at my work. Don't you realize how important both it is and I am? I mean, I have solved the problem of the shantytowns and global poverty in my spare time! I am that awesome!]

- get me a mefi account

- we survive on little scraps of money here and there, and not well at that. [...] If you'd like to change that, even a little bit, paypal to

[So everybody is responsible for their own actions as citizens of this world, and must work for themselves to make it better, because no, charity will not solve the problem.

Unless, of course, that charity is directed at ME!]
posted by ChasFile at 1:43 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, is it just me, or do these hexayurt guys have quite a bit of trouble cutting their building materials in straight lines?
posted by ChasFile at 1:46 AM on November 16, 2007

From a 10-question interview that goes on for five and a half pages with the hexadork himself.

[I had] a stint trying to start a Geodesic Dome company called WorldView LivingSpace with David Kinne, an incredibly talented Quality guru who taught me about Permaculture , Deming and the whole culture of quality. That left a deep imprint. WorldView had licensed a really superior dome technology from Wil Fidroeff and I’m still surprised that Wil’s dome tech hasn’t taken over the world!

First of all, a 10-question interview that takes words == self-aggrandizing jackass, but then we already knew that.

What really gets me is how out of touch, yet depressingly prevalent in the environmental and sustainability movements, is this notion that if only we could get to people the technology and the knowledge about how to build a slightly better dome they would see the light and everyone would live in one!

Its a deterministic approach that, for all these people prattle on about how much they care about humanity, is without a shred of humanism. Look, people do not want to live in domes. Its just that simple. Sure, you get enough people in a room, and give them hours of lectures about how superior domes are, and make them understand all the advantages it has, then some will eventually drink the kool-aid and live in them, as happened most notably in the 60's and 70's. Decades ago.

But real people, outside the "movement," aren't really interested in that. If the only way to make people excited about your home design is to explain, over the course of 5+ pages, all the various technological and environmental advantages it has (and don't forget the sidebar about the open-source nature of your design, perhaps with some quick background on the history of IP in architecture) then your design doesn't work. Period.

People don't live in houses for intellectual reasons, or at least not mainly for them. People want to live in houses generally like the ones their neighbors live in. They also want to live in houses that look vaguely like their parents'/ancestors'. People want to live in a home that makes them feel good emotionally. Now seriously, dude, looking at your tin-foil space-capsule in the dirt, can you - honestly, now - possibly imagine someone calling that "home"?

Now, conclusions. First, People don't want to live in domes, and that was decided a loooooooong time ago. If you seriously can't understand or believe that domed housing hasn't taken over the world, then you may simply be too out of touch to make any real, serious contribution on this issue.

Second, solving this housing problem is not simply a matter of building a better mousetrap. Much like mousetraps, people have been designing and building housing for thousands of years, and the reason that mousetrap designs and housing designs haven't really changed all that much in hundreds of years is that people seem to have hit upon one that works for them. Difficult as it may be to believe, that's the way it is. Simply coming up with a slightly better version of the dome - a failed f'ing housing concept, already! Get that! - is not going to get you anywhere!

Housing is a very emotional thing for people. Designing housing shares as much, as a process, with designing clothing as it does with engineering. Simply addressing the engineering problem while completely ignoring the emotional, affective, human sides of the problem will get you nowhere. Do you think it is coincidence that the slums in, say, Bejing all look the same? And is it coincidence that they look very different from the slums in, say, Rio (whose shanties all look quite similar, within the population of the city)? Could it be that there are f'ing powerful cultural and psychological factors at play, here? Could it be that people care alot more about the affective factors that the concept of "home" elicits than the engineering, environmental, and sustainability issues?

I mean, everybody in America knows the should buy a small car and a small house. But they don't, do they? No, despite the fact that just about everyone, these days, is well aware of the fact that their housing and their vehicle and their lifestyle is pretty un-environmental and un-sustainable, people buy homes and cars that go against what they "should" do intellectually, because they evoke powerful emotional responses. So is it possible that simply educating those poor, stupid shanty-towners as to the error of their ways and the brilliance of yours via SMS text message [Another big part of his plan, by the way, is spreading his gospel via cell phone. Bizarrely, actually not a terrible idea, in itself]. Do you think people build houses with 4 walls and a roof simply because they haven't ever considered any alternatives, and that educating them to these alternatives will instantly convert them, because environmentally and sustainability-wise it is what they "should" do? Or is it more likely instead that they build a house that "feels" right to them, even if it is costly and inefficient and un-sustainable?

I don't know, I'm kind of rambling, here, but it never ceases to amaze me how often people who profess to deeply care about the problems facing humanity seem to almost never take into account into their brilliant New Technological System For Ending World Poverty (TM) actual human factors. Seriously, hexadork, if it was just a matter of building a better mousetrap, somebody would have already built it - indeed, someone did: his name was Buckminster Fuller. But like any other issue where actual people making actual decisions is involved, its just not that simple.

Once the people involved in bettering humanity realize that solutions must address not only the engineering problems, but the social, cultural, and psychological ones, as well, the sooner real progress will be made. As it stands, things like the hexayurt are little more than a high school science class project run amok.
posted by ChasFile at 2:26 AM on November 16, 2007 [10 favorites]

These rich/poor divide photos are presented as shocking and ironic or something, but those poor neighbourhoods snuggle up against the rich ones because that's where the money is. The solution to poverty is to do exactly what those photos show: bring the poor into the economy. Read the source on Dharavi:
In a city where house rents are among the highest in the world, Dharavi provides a cheap and affordable option to those who move to Mumbai to earn their living.

Rents here can be as low as 185 rupees ($4/£2.20) per month. As Dharavi is located between Mumbai's two main suburban rail lines, most people find it convenient for work.

Even in the smallest of rooms, there is usually a cooking gas stove and continuous electricity.

Many residents have a small colour television with a cable connection that ensures they can catch up with their favourite soaps. Some of them even have a video player.

Dharavi also has a large number of thriving small-scale industries that produce embroidered garments, export quality leather goods, pottery and plastic.
It's only western elites who feel disgusted by people living in shacks; those slums are a sign of the poor getting richer.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:36 AM on November 16, 2007

I mean, everybody in America knows the should buy a small car and a small house. But they don't, do they?

no, they DON'T know that - they may have heard someone say it to them but many don't believe it - they think it's bullshit people have made up for political reasons

you underestimate the power of denial and refusal to face facts greatly - i still read letters to the editor in my hometown paper that suggest not importing foreign oil and just using our own for a little more money

THAT'S how far some people are from reality
posted by pyramid termite at 2:59 AM on November 16, 2007

- If you snarked inappropriately on Mefi at my work, your pennance is to go and sponsor a child.
Which bizarrely and directly contradicts the entire "simply shifting money around and trying to make poor people richer doesn't work" premise of, like, the dude's whole life."
There are children available that you can sponsor. He's joking with the "pennance" bit, it looks like to me. Those children you can sponsor probably aren't the same group that need shelters like the Hexayurt. The sponsorable children have basic infrastructure and housing. The hexayurt seems to be aimed at people WITHOUT such things, where money doesn't help them because there's nothing there that the money can change. So while I see the contradiction you offer, I still understand his point of view. Hexayurt and sponsoring aren't mutually exclusive, nor are they the same.

I don't exactly see the harm in offering a paypal address. You can believe in either or both of supporting poor people directly, donating to them, or supporting people who need hexayurts, donating to the Hexayurt guy. If you like. It's not like he's being super-aggressive about soliciting donations.
Do you think it is coincidence that the slums in, say, Bejing all look the same? And is it coincidence that they look very different from the slums in, say, Rio (whose shanties all look quite similar, within the population of the city)? Could it be that there are f'ing powerful cultural and psychological factors at play, here?
I believe part of the reason for the Rio slums looking like Rio slums, and Beijing slums looking like Beijing slums, is that Beijing construction materials are different from Rio construction materials, and the climate is also different. Part of the reason. The cultural factors are real, too, I'm not discrediting that, but they're not the complete picture.

If you look at Maslow's pyramid, I take it that Hexayurt Man is operating at the bottom tier:'s_hierarchy_of_needs

"Breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion." All of these can be successfully performed inside a Hexayurt. The psychological factors you talk about are near the top of the pyramid.

The fact is that there ARE places where the bottom tiers of said pyramid can not be a foundation for any of the higher stuff. Maybe we can fix that, and maybe the Hexayurt can help.

Surely it will help more than what I've done myself, which is nothing but spending a couple of pizzas per month on 3rd world aid.

So what if he comes across as self-important? Maybe the ISSUE feels important to him, and he's sharing how he got INTO the issue?
posted by krilli at 3:04 AM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

The means by which the hexayurt resolves the rich/poor divide is that you make rich people move in to them. Genius!
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:50 AM on November 16, 2007

It's only western elites who feel disgusted by people living in shacks; those slums are a sign of the poor getting richer.

Some things are only a wiki away.

"Dharavi has severe problems with public health, due to the scarcity of toilet facilities, compounded by the flooding during the monsoon season. As of November 2006 there was only one toilet per 1,440 residents in Dharavi.[4] Mahim Creek, a local river, is widely used by local residents for urination and defecation, leading to the spread of contagious disease.[1] The area also suffers from problems with inadequate water supply.[5]

But fifty of them have cable and tiny TVs!
posted by The Straightener at 5:13 AM on November 16, 2007

krilli, I was with you right up until you had to invoke Maslow. I don't know what it is with that thing, but for some reason its such a powerful heuristic that everyone from strident socialists to strident libertarians to strident social conservatives beat that damn thing into a million bloody pieces. If I had a nickel for every time Maslow's once good name is crowbarred into the polemic of otherwise intelligent people, I could buy poor Mr. Hexadork MeFi accounts till his user number hit MAXINT.

Anyway, if you are seriously suggesting that home construction and architecture are best understood through the lens of Maslow's f'ing pyramid, then you really should have taken some Psych classes other than just 101.

First of all, to suggest that the hexadump somehow magically fulfills base Maslow needs that other housing can't is patently absurd. Secondly and relatedly, many different types of housing, by definition, fills much of the base Maslow needs. What we are talking about here is what kind of house people live in, a slum shanty - but at least a socially and culturally appropriate and affirming one - or an absurd idiosyncratic silver dome. Thirdly, I will grant that some of the most very basic priorities and exigencies one considers when choosing or constructing a home at least partially coincide with those that appear on Maslow's cute little chart; however, once a particular shelter meets the most fundamental of these (and again, as stated above, in order to be rightly called "housing" or even just "shelter" it must, by definition, satisfy most if not all of the sub-social needs on Maslow's triangle [I also resent the crime against geometry perpetrated by those who insist his two-dimensional chart is a "pyramid"]) then the design and construction of that shelter incorporates a myriad of other concerns as well, among these social and cultural. And yes, of course available construction materials and local climate will also be among these considerations. I never meant to imply that social and cultural factors were the only ones at play, and why you inferred as much is beyond me. At any rate, by doing so I believe you're helping me make my point: housing is deeply personal and also deeply social, but also of course is an engineering and logistical problem, as well. These and dozens of other factors come into play, such that housing often becomes a deeply symbolic and iconographically important practice. People very often identify themselves not only by where they live, but how and in what context. "I live in a New York co-op" or "I live in a split-level ranch in suburbia." Not just people but whole societies and even whole cultures become deeply invested in their housing as symbols of who they are and how they live, and to suggest that the solution to the problem of inadequate housing is to simply try to ignore or discard all these deeply important personal, social, and cultural meanings and replace them with a sterile, boring, uninspiring domed structure - because it is the most "efficient" solution to the engineering problem of how to build houses that satisfy Maslow's most basic needs (and do little else) - is absurd in the extreme. People simply will not get on board with that; the great "let's all live in domes" experiment was tried and failed. Anyway, once housing satisfies Maslow's basic needs it can at the very least be called housing, but nobody will call such a thing a "home" until you start adding things to it of personal or social or cultural worth. These things, being sometimes decorative and sometimes old-fashioned tend to not be very efficient, and thus their exclusion as frivolities from the plans of people like Mr. Hexadork. But it is these very things that make a "home" a "home," and more than just a "dwelling structure." And in the end, people want to live in homes, not in some pedagogical, engineered "housing solution."

Anyway, I feel like I've repeated much of what I said originally, but perhaps my thoughts will be a bit clearer this time.
posted by ChasFile at 6:22 AM on November 16, 2007

If we are to mutually Grand Slam each other in this argument, let me say that your fear of Maslow's Fucking Pyramid seems a bit hysterical to me.

I'm not in the Church of Maslow, but his idea is still useful as a common reference. Also, I'm not happy when I'm hungry. Which is what the terrible pyramid is saying.

You're talking about HOUSING. He's talking about SHELTER.

It's at worth a look-see to check if technology has seeped sufficiently far into cheapness for it to be worthwhile to build this kind of shelter instead of the other kind of shelter. That's my take.
posted by krilli at 6:35 AM on November 16, 2007

Where am I going to find a couch/table/bookshelf with a 120° bend in the middle of it?
posted by Orb2069 at 7:10 AM on November 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is it just me, or do those hillside slums look like a lot more interesting place to live than the skyscraper condos?
posted by designbot at 7:56 AM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

It looks like I missed the hexadork's tiff with MeFi; it doesn't seem to be on his page anymore.
posted by klangklangston at 7:58 AM on November 16, 2007

posted by ND¢ at 8:13 AM on November 16, 2007

2 years ago I was in Rio de Janeiro; I went to one of the favelas there (I think it was City Park). Most of the accomodations were hand-built three to five story concrete buildings, with running water, sewage, electricity, and cable television (the tie-ins to the city systems were also all "hand-built" -- there was some impressive use of electrical tape, and I'm pretty sure it was mostly "hot work").

In short, the living acommodations were far far nicer than a hexayurt / cardboard shack.

The problems plaguing the favelas were not housing. Unemployment, crime, lack of government services, health care and property ownership were much more glaring issues than the housing.

I remember being very impressed by the citizen-organized services; for instance a community run day care center.
posted by noble_rot at 8:25 AM on November 16, 2007

From reading his faq, he forgets one of the central tenets of refugee housing (one of the institutionalized evils): refugee housing cannot be better than the conditions people are fleeing or they will never leave. Taking classes on the developing world, I saw plan after plan after plan (in fact, I saw a whole design and architecture show about it) that housed refugees or urban poor cheaply and with dignity. They have not been adopted, any of them, at least in significant part due to that cynical calculation by international aid funders.
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 AM on November 16, 2007

I'd add that the extremely poor are unwilling to pay money for untested stuff, since their margins are too slim to take risks. Also, if you're on a dollar a day, paying for all your needs, $100 is not cheap, and especially if it's a one-off-all-or-nothing bundle which seems not to allow for gradual upgrades if/when the household accumulates money. That's not to say it's not a possibly good innovation, it's just to say that if it's on the free market in the Kabul/Rio bazaar, it might be a while before it sells.

Klangklangston: "cynical calculation by international aid funders" - really? I'd be interested in examples. I'd have pointed fingers of blame more readily at the governments in whose countries they are working, who have no interest in supporting long-stay refugees.
posted by YouRebelScum at 9:04 AM on November 16, 2007

"I'd have pointed fingers of blame more readily at the governments in whose countries they are working, who have no interest in supporting long-stay refugees."

Yeah, that's definitely part of it. But there's also a preemptive rejection on the part of agencies like USAID in order to kowtow to those interests. I'll google around and see if I can get more specific; the last real discussion of this that I remember was in the context of Rwandan refugees, but I remember something about it regarding the treatment of Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon.
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on November 16, 2007

Is there a precedent for hexadork's response on the site? I've never seen a MeFi-specific response like that. And dude answered my question about leaving no space! Which was sort of rhetorical, but whatevs.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:20 PM on November 16, 2007

What's with the angry comments? This isn't somebody trying to make money from people with no shelter. The website is not slick, and the author is verbose. However, it's a clever use of standard materials.
posted by theora55 at 12:30 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there an example of a hexayurt ever having been used? I mean for it's supposed ennobling purpose of helping people- not as a toy at burning man...
posted by efbrazil at 1:21 PM on November 16, 2007

I can't say that I'm shocked that this project originated at Burning Man.
posted by padraigin at 1:25 PM on November 16, 2007

“Ahoy Metafilterites.”

Ok, that right there gets my blood up.

Metafilter: in the "part of the problem, not part of the solution" camp
Metafilter: it's a clever use of standard materials.

Using survival tech to create changes in the 3rd world is a pretty decent idea. And people have and are trying it. (Tough to over come some of the social stuff tho. And the folks with an interest in keeping poor people poor.) Not sure how hexayurt fits into that. Especially where it’s dogmatic. But where it works, great. But trying to push and make something work - horse, water, lead, drink, all that. The problem becomes something other than the tech/aid/item itself.

And some poor folks are kicking a good deal of rich ass - they’re called pirates. Like, y’know, on the sea, kidnapping, killing, etc. It’s not such a glamourus redistribution of wealth as one might evision.
Not that the folks assimilating weath are any less cutthroat of course.
I’m reminded of something (Woody Allen’s character’s) mom said in Radio Days: It would be such a beautiful world if it weren’t for certain people.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:52 PM on November 16, 2007

Another example of a great thing designed for the wrong puropse. These things would be great for disaster relief.
posted by tehloki at 5:06 PM on November 16, 2007

Now, if you are to accept the premise of this idea you will have to convince me that this design provides advantages over some seriously primitive structures like tents.

Based on what I saw on the web page, this is a shiny tent. Anything I can do with this shelter, I can do with a tent.

I have at times in my life, lived quite happy, fulfilled and shielded from the elements in a tent - I can't say that in the hunter/gatherer sense that I wanted for anything when I lived in tents, but I still like my house. I still fear being an old man who can't work and afford proper shelter, and I wouldn't want to see a young mother live in one of these hexashelters.

Psychologically, most of us paint our houses and adjust our climate controls to colours and temperatures which approximate the African plains. We are animals, and our housing speaks to our hard-wired human nature and to live in a place like this is probably against our nature. Put a chameleon lizard on a black surface and you will cause him a lot of stress and an early death because nothing in his natural habitat would normally require him to turn black. I would be interested in a experiment where this creator gave away a few of these shelters to inhabitants of some informal settlement and came back a year later to see if they if/how they were being used. I know where I would place my bet.

I kind of admire the creators' ambition, he has a good heart and I find the wounded pride he had by snarky web posts kind of charming but this really isn't a solution to any housing crisis.
posted by Deep Dish at 5:17 PM on November 16, 2007

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