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Winning Design for Phnom Penh Factory Worker Homes, a Model for Other Cities

Workers gather as they rally to mark May Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2018.
Workers gather as they rally to mark May Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2018.

An award-winning design for factory worker housing in Cambodia's capital will serve as a model for homes in other cities in the rapidly-urbanizing country, according to the charity that will build 3,000 units based on the blueprint next year.

The contest was hosted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as part of its strategy to encourage investment in sustainable development worldwide.

The competition required designs for housing for workers and their families at a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the capital of Phnom Penh, which would "improve the quality of life of the intended residents."

In the SEZ, "options for high quality, affordable, safe housing are limited", said David Cole, director of Britain-based Building Trust International, which will construct the homes based on the winning entry by India's atArchitecture.

"When construction of the winning design is complete, it should provide a precedent for similar affordable housing projects, which are needed to meet the growing demand in Phnom Penh and other cities in Cambodia," he said.

There are more than 17,000 workers in the Phnom Penh SEZ, with the number set to rise steadily as more people migrate from the countryside for jobs, according to the UNDP.

The competition, backed by the UNDP's SDG Impact Finance, tapped into the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to tackle the world's most challenging problems, from halting deforestation to reducing child mortality.

The U.N. estimates that achieving these targets by 2030 will require $5 trillion to $7 trillion.

The gap in developing countries is about $2.5 trillion, according to the U.N., so investment that provides a financial return as well as positive social and environmental impacts will be key.

In Asia, impact investing is especially needed for low-cost housing in booming cities that are struggling to meet surging demand, forcing workers from Mumbai to Manila to sleep on pavements or rent squalid rooms.

The design submitted by atArchitecture is low-rise, using clay bricks and concrete, making it cost effective, and adaptable to any tropical city that has a high density of occupants in buildings, said its head Avneesh Tiwari.

"It is designed as safe and secure social housing," he said.

This is particularly critical in the Phnom Penh SEZ, where more than two-thirds of workers in the apparel and textile factories are women.

"With minor alterations, the project can be adapted to any city in the tropical region because of its appropriate response to the climate and need for high density of occupants," Tiwari told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An exhibition next month will showcase other short-listed entries, as well, providing a resource for investors, developers and the government in delivering affordable housing, said Nick Beresford, UNDP's Cambodia country director.