“Essential Homes”: prototype
prefabricated home, Venice
Architecture Biennale 2023

Development and construction of a full-scale prototype prefabricated home.

The 2023 edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale (20 May–26 November), under the theme “Laboratories of the Future” and curated by architect Lesley Lokko, was the scenario chosen by the Norman Foster Foundation and Holcim, the Swiss multinational specialising in cement, aggregates and alternative fuels, to unveil a prototype prefabricated home designed to improve the quality of life in refugee camps. This is the second collaboration between the foundation and the company: at the 2016 edition of the Venice Biennale they presented another prototype, the “Droneport”, a hangar for drones used to distribute medical supplies in Africa.

In terms of housing solutions, the prefabricated home represents another example of the use of technical advances from other fields, in the same way that Buckminster Fuller—greatly admired by Foster—did in the 1940s. It also builds on earlier projects in emergency architecture for humanitarian purposes, like those of the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.

The salient aspects of this new form of alternative accommodation are the fact that it is designed to be built according to circular economy principles, with recycled materials; it has energy-efficient thermal and acoustic insulation systems; and it employs low-carbon concrete. Although this type of home was originally conceived to meet the basic needs of refugees, its creators believe that it could also be an option for affordable housing.

While the Palazzo Mora hosts an exhibition of all the documents related to the definition of the “Essential Homes” project (from blueprints to photographs and scale models), in the Marinaressa Gardens Empty and BAU have assembled a full-scale prototype: a home that doesn’t need foundations and that adopts the form of a capsule spread across 36 sqm on a single level, with an exterior shell of rollable concrete sheets.