The Rural Housing Brick (RHB)

The rural housing brick is a new experiment in the framework of the rural housing studio, a studio dedicated to help underprivileged rural families in developing countries. The targeted communities know what type of housing they would like to live in, however, they are unable to design and engineer them without external help. Regular development aid offers ready built solutions without involving the inhabitants and their communities into the process. The rural housing studio offers internship (BSc) and graduation positions (BSc & MSc) to students, who will advise and inform rural families to build their desired housing together with their community. Ultimately it is suppose to generate self-reliant and resilient communities with improved houses, which do not depend on development aid programs anymore.

The studio is lead by researcher and architect Michiel Smits (PhD candidate) who has been working as a pro bono architect since 2004 in the rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and has an extensive expertise in helping rural communities.


Overall Research Project: The Rural Housing Studio

Experiment Round: 2

Research Leader: Ir. –arch. Michiel Smits

Date: 2018-2019


When I started my PhD in 2014 I believed that one of the crucial factors in enabling rural communities to build houses by themselves was to offer alternative, cheap and local building materials. An important aspect about this material would be the ability for inhabitants to build with it themselves. My aim was to find a Lego or Duplo like brick that wouldn’t need mortar, could be easily stacked and was earthquake resistant. After months of searching I found a manual machine, which was sponsored by Elimu Mount Elgon.

In my literature review and expert interviews I concluded that without teaching the inhabitants on how they could design and build with such material the intervention wouldn’t have much of an impact. Because of that I started my search within my PhD to articulate a framework for engineers and designers to successfully research and teach rural communities. To test my framework the Rural Housing Studio was born and was successfully executed in the past 5 months on Mt. Elgon Kenya.

Johan Spånberg & Atdhe Lila volunteered to experiment and engineer The Rural Housing Brick for both foundation (strong and water resistant) and walls, in this first round of the experiment. The outcomes will help to instruct the teachers and students of the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) on Mt. Elgon to make the bricks by themselves. The bricks will be sold to the local community for less then the locally made burned brick (the bricks are extremely bad for the environment: illegal deforestation, CO2 emission etc.). The generated income will help the students to cover their school fees, the VTC to get more income and most importantly the local community to build a cheaper alternative way of housing.

In August 2018 we would like to realize a shop and guardhouse for the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) where local inhabitants can buy the brick. This building we need to be realized in corporation with the students and teacher of the VTC. Moreover, would we like to realize a bus stop in Sokomjinga together with inhabitants to give shelter to boda boda drivers (motorcycles).


Two design/engineering students (BSc/MSc) 3rd year of above


August/September 2018: Preparation research proposal and field-experiment

October/November/December 2018: Conducting research and field-experiment

January 2019: Writing research report


The Mount Elgon Trust will only allow you to stay for a maximum of three months.

Estimated costs

All costs below are estimated on experience, they might however differ a lot based on your insurance and lifestyle. Eating locally and sober will make your stay very cheap, eating everything at the guesthouse will be expensive.


Interested? More information on request.



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