Fellow Since 1997
Tlholego Development Project
This profile was prepared when Paul Cohen was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997.
The New Idea
Paul Cohen is addressing South Africa's acute shortage of housing by creating family dwellings that contribute to sustainable rural villages. Most of the country's housing initiatives are urban, where political power is based, and require adherence to rigid standards. To date, those standards have precluded the inexpensive earth materials Paul uses, which are rooted in African building technology that has been discarded over the years. He is demonstrating, however, that his design can meet the government's technical requirements for access to construction subsidies. Moreover, his system addresses environmental and resource problems not usually considered in South African low cost housing, and it incorporates unusual amenities and owner preferences, all for a price of little more than half of what the government usually spends per subsidized unit. Although the system was conceived as a solution to the low end of the housing market it is in fact applicable to all sections of it. Paul's model for a family home incorporates a passive solar energy source for hot water and cooking, natural waste management, household food security, and high quality, attractive construction. It challenges the government, developers, and the community in general to become open to new housing construction techniques. It also challenges the assumptions that poor people are so desperate they will grasp at any solution, and that people in rural areas already know how to organize their physical environment.