The thing

Alumnus builds sustainable houses in slums

3 min
Text Benedicte Van Paeschen
Image Tridealhouse

In the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, the first Tridealhouses will soon appear: triangular, sustainable homes designed to help lift residents out of poverty. Alumnus Fasika Kelemework (Faculty of Arts) is coordinator of the project.


With their triangular shape, they look somewhat like tents, but Tridealhouses are feats of engineering ingenuity. Every detail has been carefully considered to enhance durability. Rainwater is collected in concrete tanks and treated. Water from showering is reused. The toilet uses ‘Oxfam tiger worms’, which eat human excrement – ideal when there is no sewage system. The house has a solar thermal water heater and there is attic ventilation. The living space inside is 25m². The two mezzanines of 13m² together form the bedrooms.


But there is more. The way the slopes of the house are designed allows for residents to grow fruits and vegetables on them. The agricultural technology relies on hydroponics. This does not require soil, just water to which mineral nutrient solutions are added. The big advantage of hydroponics is that you can grow crops with barely 10 per cent of the water you need for traditional farming. Together with rainwater tanks that collect water, this form of agriculture is ideal for a dry continent such as Africa. The house is completely adapted to hydroponics: there are special gutters for water supply, sloping walls for the right amount of sunlight and the walls prevent mould from growing.


Out of poverty

The first prototypes of the houses are being built at Addis Ababa Institute of Technology. ‘The houses are thoroughly tested there’, alumnus Fasika Kelemework tells us through Skype. He is the director of Tridealhouse in Africa and is coordinator of the project. The houses have a clear purpose: to lift slum dwellers out of poverty. Every slum dweller should be able to buy a Tridealhouse. They will receive a micro-loan for this purpose. The house takes care of the repayment itself: the agricultural income is about $800 to $1,200 a year. The house costs $11,000, so it will be paid off after a little over ten years. Afterwards, the house becomes a pension insurance, as it is built to last up to eighty years.

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The big advantage of hydroponics is that you can grow crops with barely 10 per cent of the water you need for traditional farming.

Fasika Kelemework

Antwerp general practitioner

Tridealhouse (‘triangulated, ideal house’) was conceived by general practitioner Michel Loots from Antwerp. His NGO Human Info works with the World Health Organisation. With Tridealhouse, he aims to provide a structural solution for the world’s approximately one billion slum dwellers. For the technical development of the houses, Loots collaborates with several universities, including UAntwerp. ‘We developed a super-strong concrete composite with the Faculty of Applied Engineering’, he explains. At the university, Loots also met Kelemework, who is now in charge of establishing the project in his home country. Through Tridealhouse, Kelemework has reconnected with the country where he studied sixteen years ago, at the Institute of Development Policy. ‘The degree I obtained allowed me to work for the EU for many years. And even today, I use the knowledge for which the foundation was laid at the University of Antwerp.’

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