Building innovation for the BOP: Experiences in Israel

Pyramid Scheme, appearing in one of Israel’s main newspapers,, offers an instructive look at the intersection between innovative architecture, building and affordable housing and models that might unite diverse social, design, environmental and business objectives. This residential project, the Pyramid building in Be’er Sheva‘s Dalet, Israel, is a great example of why affordable housing has to respond to climate and social needs, as well as being a worthwhile business model.

Building innovation for the base of the pyramid (BOP). Experimental and innovative building can be more than just aesthetically pleasing.  More importantly, it has to provide infrastructure that responds to the needs of disadvantaged and excluded citydwellers living in extreme heat conditions. This should go for any built project for the BOP whether it’s in flood prone areas or in seismic zones or any other risk/hazard/climatic extreme.

Mainstreaming maintenance. It is people who maintain these public spaces, not the developers, as the now decrepit Pyramid building testifies.  Maintenance, often ignored, has to be mainstreamed into any model.  Low-income immigrants with limited experience managing community physical space, especially common spaces, need guidance from NGOs or community-led organizations in order for these spaces to flourish as communities.

Deficient developers or inadequate models? Developers aren’t generally interested in experimenting in BOP markets. As things stand, it’s mostly at the top end of the real estate market that developers have space to add innovation to their bottom lines.  Private developers in the affordable and low-cost housing markets normally focus on the “lowest common denominator,” which means little innovation.

Living buildings are responsive. The article mentions another experimental project that a living building can expand and grow over time.  The article highlights another social housing project, the multistory “drawers” building, where many of the spaces were closed or converted by inhabitants. So, “perhaps because of the apartment’s ability to expand, the building has been kept in pretty good condition.”  This is how habitat evolves for people of limited economic means, and a model that takes that into account may be more successful. See Elemental as an example.

Know-how and experience for all, not just building. Developed countries, like Israel, which face both needs for social housing and extreme climate conditions, can illustrate worthwhile and innovative building techniques and experience on the ground. This should be leveraged for developing countries.

So, where are the missing pieces for an urban-built environment that responds to the needs of low-moderate income people?

  • No cost or low cost, environmentally sustainable design elements appropriate for these projects
  • Entrepreneurs willing to think outside the box on business models that integrate both design and investment
  • Business models that integrate the need for collaborations with NGOs and other community driven organizations
  • Developing knowledge networks to pass on that information and help users understand what does and doesn’t work
  • Investment capital that is informed and capable of supporting these massive but challenging opportunities

Smart Cities Advisors is working on all these issues. Talk to us if you’d like to help.

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