The demographic growth and the urbanisation process that the planet has experienced in the last century has turned into the generation of slums and in the increase of population living in conditions of precarious habitability (HaP) result of the informal urbanisation, in contexts of poverty. According to the United Nations estimations, this situation will continue taking place in the next decades, especially in the cities of the least developed regions.

The world population increases in more than 70 million person per year, and it takes place - according to the urbanization trends of the planet- preferably in the developing countries' cities. Either the building sector nor the urban planning discipline have been capable of attending the problem and its scale.

The urban poor have to solve an equation with diverse variables: the need of access to soil, optimize housing costs, the dwellings quality, access to infrastructures and services, or the displacement to the work. The result is a mixture of high costs, absence of municipal services and insecurity in the property of the soil, and it makes up the slums of the cities inthe developing countries, where nowadays a third of its population lives overcrowded, without drinking water nor improved sanitation or in insecure and unhealthy housings.

Seven of every ten housings units in the world that are auto-built because the formal market does not have capacity of response: the poorest, trying to solve their habitat equation, invade areas where build a shelter.

Urban squatting or “invading” land that belongs to someone else is usually the initial stage of what, over time, become slums or tugurios, variously termed callampas in Chile, favelas in Brazil, limonás in Guatemala, ranchos in Venezuela, villas miseria in Argentina, pueblos jóvenes in Peru, ciudades paracaidistas in Mexico or bidonvilles in French-speaking countries. In 2012, such communities housed 32,7 % of the urban population in developing countries1. Around one quarter of the world’s urban population continues to live in slums. In Africa, over half of the urban population (61.7%) lives in slums and by 2050, Africa’s urban dwellers are projected to have increased from 400 million to 1.2 billion.

One of the building sector's challenge, is the overwhelming housing deficit and the new urban growth in the least developed countries. Urban plannig must work with and in slums, and should be able to anticipate even spontaneous construction.




Housing and basic habitability play a central role in reaching basic levels of human development. That's why the present seminar wants to introduce students to that problem -slums, informal city and new urban development-, and will try to provide them with some instruments to deal with some of the challenges they could find if they decided to work on developing contexts. Instruments on low cost and emergency housing.




Along the seminar, we'll address with the next topics :

Informal settlements – are residential areas where 1) inhabitants have no security of tenure vis-à-vis the land or dwellings they inhabit, with modalities ranging from squatting to informal rental housing, 2) the neighbourhoods usually lack, or are cut off from, basic services and city infrastructure and 3) the housing may not comply with current planning and building regulations, and is often situated in geographically and environmentally hazardous areas1 In addition, informal settlements can be a form of real estate speculation for all income levels of urban residents, affluent and poor. Slums are the most deprived and excluded form of informal settlements characterized by poverty and large agglomerations of dilapidated housing often located in the most hazardous urban land. In addition to tenure insecurity, slum dwellers lack formal supply of basic infrastructure and services, public space and green areas, and are constantly exposed to eviction, disease and violence.


Urban squatting. In informal urbanization—a process that guides the majority of human settlements in developing countries—the spontaneous growth prevails. Vulnerable and unsuitable land is occupied, or land allotment is inadequate or not properly planned according to precise measurements, which means that the development of a network of public spaces, which has not been clearly allotted, never occurs, and that the building process is limited to the very precarious construction of so-called housing solutions that the settlers, with their limited economic and technical capacities, are able to build themselves.


• Since 2003 UN Member States have agreed to define a slum household as a group of individuals living under the same roof lacking one or more of the following five conditions: 1) access to improved water, 2) access to improved sanitation facilities, 3) sufficient living area – not overcrowded, 4) structural quality/durability of dwellings, and 5) security of tenure. These ‘5 Deprivations’ affect the lives of slum dwellers and, since their agreement, have enabled the measuring and tracking of slum demographics though a significant data gap exists in relation to the more broadly defined informal settlements.


Squatting and slums (the latter defined here as in the United Nations publication3) are closely related, for they can be seen as two consecutive periods or stages of the same process:

Slums are the result of processes that graphically reveal the absence of urban planning in cities in nearly all developing countries. Squatting is the outcome of the pursuit by the less advantaged, nearly always domestic migrants, of employment and the health and education services lacking in their places of origin.


Basic Habitability (HaB) -theory developed by the ICHaB- UNESCO Chair on Basic Habitability at the UPM- consists of the satisfaction of the fundamental habitability needs but, in turn, or still more important, it is the hope of improvement and gradual progress of these elementary conditions. HaB means conditions that “ the essential need for shelter common to all human beings. Satisfying that need entails covering residential urgencies, but not as regards habitation alone, but also public space, infrastructure and the elementary services that together constitute a settlement that favours population growth. Basic habitability therefore includes a supply of potable water, wastewater collection, elimination of solid waste, basic social assistance, transport and communications services, low-cost roads, energy, health care and emergency services, schools, public safety, spaces for leisure, seed housing...”5The HaB is understood as a tool of development and fight against poverty. As a basic tool, it does not offer the ideal conditions, but it offers a reasonable way, which is considered to be possible, so that thousands of million persons who live in HaP or that seem to be doomed to have to do it, could gain access to better living conditions in shorter times.


Four stages in HaB. HaB is the best tool that disadvantaged or disaster-affected populations have to implement a systematic settlement process—not in an exclusively spontaneous way, as the majority have done until now, but in an organised way, and with assistance from the public sector. All systematic urban development processes take place in four consecutive, separate but interrelated stages. The last three, land allotment, urbanisation and the building process, are three successive interdependent levels. The first stage is perhaps the most important, the most significant in terms of the wider results of the urbanisation process. Therefore, the four stages of intervention in the HaB process:


1. Site selection: Carried out according to the established zoning and land use regulations. Based on a logical settlement system for the specific region, considering environmental repercussions and estimated vulnerability, selecting land apt for its planned use, striking a balance between different populations of the region and dividing work among them, establishing structures for the creation of transport, roads and other infrastructures, etc.

2. Land allotment: A tool for designing and subdividing the settlement. Subdivision of land into public/private plots through alignment/grading and replotting. Land use designations and ordinances for plots (dwellings and facilities). Fixing conditions for the Network of Public Open Space.

squatting as the starting point, and slums as the long-term result. The ultimate aspiration is to convert such communities into consolidated neighbourhoods in the shortest possible time.

Not all slums can trace their origin to squatting, however.

3. Urbanisation: Urban development and building projects. Public space (roads, town squares, highways, parks and open space). Urban development elements (aspects of layout, infrastructure, buildings, signs and gardens).

4. Building process: Housing solutions, Types of construction and variations. Construction process. Facilities/equipment. Health centres and schools.


Non-conventional housing polices.Present policy increasingly leans toward the acknowledgement and consolidation of informal settlements. The slum upgrading is one of the most active housing policies today and one to which sizeable resources are being allocated. This would help to explain that, except where located in vulnerable areas, the results of squatting are more a solution than a problem in response to “housing hunger”6Some countries have developed diverse programs of “regularization” of illegal occupations of lands, following the schemas of Hernando de Soto7. . These would be, therefore, “palliative” policies that address the existing housing problems. A more desirable solution would be to deploy forward-looking, “preventive” policies that anticipate slum creation or at least seek solutions that will not compromise the future of these settlements.


Ex-novo sites and services programmes represent the organised and public-sector-driven alternative to the urban squatting as "preventive” policies. The institutional, extended use of sites and services solutions can be said to have begun in the 1960s and peaked in the 70s. The new World Bank philosophy, which was influenced by the ideas of the English architect John Turner, stressed a “sites and services” (provision of basic “wet” infrastructure and civil engineering) approach to help rationalize and upgrade self-help housing. The state became an “enabler” of the poor, although in terms of need, the implemented schemes were a mere drop in the bucket.


• Between the non conventional housing policies started up from Habitat I in 1976, those of urban progressive fitting out, and more especially, the Guided Occupation -as the implemented by the Provincial City Hall of Trujillo (Peru) between 1995 and 2006-, has turned out to be, in contexts of economic shortage, a very interesting instrument to face the informal urbanization, a preferential and minimum paradigmatic instrument of ex-novo HaB implementation. The urbanization process that is favored is similar to that of the slums and squatting in what concerns the stages and mechanisms of growth. Nevertheless, the difference is in the conditions in which it takes place, in the levels of health and safety, and in the future projection.


Low cost urbanization: based mainly on the book titled "Elementos de urbanización8. The cost-efficient tool for establishing the infrastructures and services of the network of public spaces in basic habitability settlements depends on three fundamental aspects: the quality of services, design optimisation and materials.


• Access to basic infrastructures: water, sanitation and safe energy.


Low cost housing. Poor settlers build their inadequate housing themselves because their lack of economic resources means their housing needs cannot be met in the official, formal market, and because the public sector is not generally able to deal with their needs with conventional housing policies. There is a relationship between the growth of informal settlement and slums and the lack of adequate housing and land. While private sector investment in housing has been steady over the years, this investment has not translated into pro-poor, affordable housing. Some studies suggest that the affordable housing gap now stands at $650 billion a year and is expected to grow. Affordable housing mechanisms that fulfil the right to adequate housing for all income levels – including in situ upgrading and avoidance of unjustified forced evictions as per international guidelines, incremental auto-construction, security of tenure combined with livelihood and employment generation – play a major role in triggering people and cities’ prosperity9.


Local materials and appropriate technologies in order to reach the objective: low cost housing. HaB will use local, autochthonous materials, because they will be the most accessible, the most economic ones, which the population knows and have worked in order to facilitate his participation in HaB's process. And the technologies must be adequate and able to be appropriated that, in words of the Centro Experimental de la Vivienda Económica (CEVE), it can happens when they are respectful with the culture where they are inserted, allow local adjustments, are of easy learning, generate employment and regional materials use.


• There is another important topic: single family housing units versus density. In this contexts, the aim to increase density clash with the single family housing unit. The single family dwelling is not merely traditional: it is in keeping with the socio-economic realities prevailing in the areas. Collective housing usually is not feasible in this contexts, for it would have entailed foregoing self-building and called for larger family investments, which neither the families concerned nor the city could afford. But we'll study some cases where it has been possible.


Participatory slum upgrading – is a methodological approach that aims to address urban development imbalances represented by slum dwellers’ living. It engages and puts all key urban stakeholders – all levels of government, community representatives, civil society, non-government organizations, academia, private sector and, especially, slum dwellers – at the heart of the process to improve slums’ living standards. This multi-stakeholder platform is considered more likely to promote the necessary partnerships, governance arrangements, institutional structures and financing options which result in inclusive planning and sustainable outcomes. Slum dwellers, in particular, have important knowledge, skills and capacity to contribute, direct and own the upgrading process, and an inclusive approach towards the improvement of their living conditions brings fundamental socio-cultural changes towards a rights-based society10Participation: Some projects have been unsuccessful because they failed to involve local populations. Taking public opinion into account and involving the settlers in the process can help establish priorities and empowerment.


Emergency housing after disasters. Strategies, temps, solutions are really different if we have to work with population that has been affected by a disaster, and there are also great differences between natural and social disasters. After a natural one, when the emergency agents begin their work, the challenge lie on the housing solutions: find solutions able to short the emergency period in order to begin as soon as possible the next phase.




The seminar consist of lessons (L) and a workshop (W) based in Project Based Learning (PBL) methodology. PBL method consists of a collaborative teaching system. It focuses on a more active student participation, involving them in active search to solve a real problem in a real context. It encourages and motivates students learning technology subjects, taking an active role.

Therefore, there will be general lessons as well as particular lessons in order to help with the workshop.

We'll work in Makeni, Sierra Leona, where ICHaB hast collaborated with the San Pablo-CEU University, who has been working for several years with UNIMAK University, as well as the municipality in order to develop an urban planning for the city. Makeni has to deal with problems related to informal settlements, infrastructures privation, slums, new growths, low cost urbanization and housing strategies.

The students will work in groups composed by 4 people in different topics, all of them related with low cost housing.




The final grade (over 10), based on the workshop, mainly, will consider: - Students' participation along the seminar. They are invited to participate during the lessons as well as try to take advantage of the knowledge of every lecturer


- Proposal quality


- Innovation


- Context adaptation


- Final presentation, where all the group members must take part