BSB Design was established in 1966 in Des Moines, Iowa, as a small architectural firm with a grand mission statement: Every family deserves to live in an architect-designed home. Forty-plus years later, BSB employs over 200 people and has amassed an award-winning portfolio of homes. So what would make a U.S. firm verging on mega status suddenly decide to focus its pro bono attention on solving a housing problem thousands of miles away? According to architect and chairman of the board Doug Sharp, all someone had to do was ask.
While Sharp was visiting South Africa in 2006, a local minister challenged him to assist in remedying the local shelter shortages. Upon returning home to Des Moines, Sharp immediately got started. “Worldwide, over 600 million people are living in overcrowded, inadequate, and poor-quality housing. Our firm has been so blessed, and we really wanted to give something back.” A special team of BSB architects and designers began working on the Abōd series—low-cost, low-maintenance, easily assembled dwellings designed to replace the world’s dilapidated shacks and shanties. After eight months of client interviews, user testing, and design, the first three Abōd prototypes were en route via FedEx (in 2-by-4-by-12-foot boxes) to their new home in Soshanguve, north of Pretoria.
The Abōd is most notable for the fact that it can be assembled—or disassembled—in one day by two people, using only the screwdriver and awl that comes with each kit. Also important is the fact that the homes qualify their owners for access to much-needed subsidized loans. Sharp has now enlisted a strong ally closer to home: Volunteers with Blessman Medical Ministries in Polk City, Iowa, are devoting their time, resources, and services in an effort to effect positive change in a country that no longer seems so far away.