When BSB Design decided to create a prototype for affordable housing in South Africa, it approached the task with gusto. Representatives from the firm's offices around the United States mocked up several different concepts, eventually settling on a simple metal design they dubbed—and trademarked—Abod (pronounced “abode”). According to Jerry Messman, AIA, the BSB consulting partner who led the project team, the home's curved form is based on an inverted catenary arch—the same curvature used for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. “It's a natural shape that is very strong,” he says.

Working with partners Barclays Bank, Absa, and Africon, the firm created three models in the town of Soshanguve, just north of Pretoria, South Africa. Each 120-square-foot unit was built in a Minneapolis workshop, disassembled, and shipped to the site in a 4-foot-by-12-foot-by-2-foot box. The package also included a screwdriver, an awl, and a ladder—the only tools required to put the house together. A group of six local women assembled one of the models in several hours, proving BSB's assertion that a family could easily build it in one day.

Abod invigorated the firm's staff back in the States, according to BSB chairman Doug Sharp, AIA. “Our designers loved the challenge of coming up with affordable housing,” he says. But they aren't the only ones to benefit from the project. Soon, many more needy families could start inhabiting Abods of their own; Sharp is currently in talks with a South African manufacturer about mass-producing the units and hopes to have an agreement in place soon.

A coat of paint enlivens the units' corrugated metal walls.

A coat of paint enlivens the units' corrugated metal walls.

Credit: BSB Design

Abod's arched shape allows enough interior height for bunk beds and a sleeping loft.

Abod's arched shape allows enough interior height for bunk beds and a sleeping loft.