Dencity 2016: Special Mention


Entry by: Xin Chen, Ziqian Wang

Informal City and Information Exchange Demand

Many slums congregate in the core of prosperous metropolises. Unlike rural slums, which still lack access to clean water, electricity and gas, most urban slums already have basic access to municipal infrastructure. Recent reports suggest 65% of favela residents are a part of Brazil’s new middle classes. And despite these people’s relatively low incomes, many of these communities are a long way from being “slums” as they are often portrayed [2]. The same is true in many other urban slums, such as Shantytown in Shanghai, China, Dharavi slums in India, and slums in Kibera, Nairobi Area; these urban slums need more improvements on how to use energy and resources efficiently instead of how to access them; improvements on how to live more sustainably instead of mindless economic growth at the cost of environmental pollution, and the people need improvements on the access to information and education.

C.K. Prahalad, the economic professor in the University of Michigan, stated that “the informal city is the bottom of the pyramid that holds up the formal city”, which explained the mutuality relationship with informal city and formal city. However, the gap of wealth, lack of access to sanitation, local services, and most importantly, lack of education and information, isolated informal settlements from the formal city. Due to the lack of information, most of informal cities are still a mystery for the world, and vice versa. In order to soften the boundaries between formal and informal cities, information exchange is the first step and vital element. Only if slums are thoroughly studied and analyzed, could the effective, efficient, and targeted methods be conducted to improve living conditions in informal cities. Meanwhile, only if the slum dwellers have access to wider information, could they find the most adaptive means to improve their living conditions, and further obtain higher social identification and reduce social estrangement.

Mobility in Information Exchange

In the article “How Cities Can Get Rid of Slums by Supporting Them”, William Cobbett claimed that informal settlements disappear not through being removed, but by being transformed, not through being fought against, but by being encouraged and rewarded.

Informobile provides integrated online and offline service in two mobile means. It collects slums’ information through the app that is designed to reward local slum dwellers for information input. Collectors will get reward on various ways, including reduction of electrical, gas or water bills, tax exemption from the government, or discount on purchasing green appliances and furniture. The information will then be shared with local government, global business, non-governmental organizations, urban planners, architects, economists, sociologists and volunteers. The Informobile app can be easily downloaded with a smart phone or with the Informobile device that is fabricated and funded by Informobile program supporters, such as government, business groups, and NGOs. Slum dwellers, as the firsthand information collectors, can easily use the app to locate the place and report the relevant or surrounding information, including land use, natural resources, transportation, infrastructure, household information, pollution etc. Information can also be input with the computers in Informobile house.

Informobile is also a mobile showcase of self-sufficient dwelling that is tangible to slum dwellers. By providing information on affordable housing techniques, Informobile aims specifically at promoting living conditions of slum dwellers inch by inch. Utilizing the sustainable methods in the housing, slum dwellings will have higher energy efficiency, which results in lower utility expense. It will also benefit the environment by promoting material recycle and water filtration and reuse, which leads to fewer landslides, less air pollution, and water pollution. With a 17 feet by 9 feet (truck not included) footprint, the mobile house can fit into dense slum areas easily. Besides, the interior space can be extended three times larger by unfolding the envelope on the sides. The house can accommodate two volunteers’ daily electricity and water supply independent of any external resources by utilizing sustainable techniques. The mobility of Informobile house frees the work from the limits of place, allowing volunteers to live and work virtually, and can largely increase the chance of information exchange.

Information Input

  • Land use – information collection on property use, categorized as residential, business, police station, factory, office, religious building, vacant land etc.
  • Natural resources – materials or substances such as minerals, forests, water, and fertile land that occur in nature and can be used for economic gain.
  • Transportation – means of transportation; bus stops, vehicles ownership, bicycles, train lines, subway lines
  • Infrastructure – access to municipal infrastructure, such as water, electricity, gas, sewage. Road conditions, bridges, telecommunications.
  • Household information – names, personal income, household income, number of household members, birth dates, education levels, occupations.
  • Pollution
    • Water pollution – raw sewage running into lake or streams, industrial waste spills contaminating groundwater, illegal dumping of substances or items within bodies of water, biological contamination, such as bacteria growth, or farm runoff into nearby bodies of water.
    • Air pollution – exhaust fumes from vehicles, the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, or gas, harmful off-gasing from things such as paints, plastic production, and so on.
    • Land pollution – litter found on the side of the road, illegal dumping in natural habitats, damage and debris caused from unsustainable mining and logging practices; construction debris and waste.

Information Output

  • Photovoltaic solar panels and micro wind turbine – twenty PV panels and wind turbine can produce about 5kWh electricity per day to meet the daily energy consumption in the mobile house or a typical slum dwelling unit.
  • Energy Star appliances – the energy star qualified refrigerator, microwave, boiler and lighting fixtures save 20%-30% energy over regular home appliances.
  • Living machine – black water and bio-waste from toilet are treated by living machine to produce grey water and bio-fertilizer for toilet flushing and plants’ irrigation and fertilization.
  • Rainwater harvesting system – an average person use about 40 Gallons of water per day for drinking, hygiene (showering, washing face, brushing teeth), washing machine and dishwashing. Rainwater is collected in a 40 cubic feet cistern and is filtrated and stored in another 40 cubic feet cistern, which could apply the drinkable water for two person’s daily water use for a week long.
  • Water filtration system – rainwater is filtered by EcoWater filtration system in order to achieve drinkable standard.
  • Low-flush composting toilet – it uses little or no water and produces a compost that may be used for horticultural or agricultural soil enrichment.
  • Passive solar design
    • Orientation – the car can orient to make the best use of morning sunlight and prevent afternoon blazing.
    • Natural ventilation – with openings on both sides of the mobile house, the interior space gets enough cross-ventilation to eliminate the need for air-conditioning.
      Green roof -it keeps the mobile house cool in the summer. Grey water from dish, shower, sink, laundry and living machine are used for watering plants.
    • Thermal water bottles skylight – It allows daylight to reach into interior space while block the heat through the water inside.
  • Materials – all the wood that were used in the mobile house such as wall panels, flooring and furniture are reclaimed wood. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspapers, and is highly efficient, sealing the home against air infiltration to maximize energy efficiency. The thermal bottles are recycled.
  • Transferable furniture – folding bed, double function chair and bookshelf, joining table.
  • Transferable truck – folding floor and walls to create more space.


Informobile is both an online intangible platform for slum information collection and sharing, and an offline tangible mobile house for sharing sustainable dwelling information with slum dwellers. Online information sharing enables the slum information to be accessed broadly to governments, businesses, NGOs, specialists, and volunteers. Offline information sharing ensures the sustainable information reachable to slum dwellers. With the information exchange, Informobile strives to reduce the distance and eliminate the boundary between formal city and informal city.

About the entrant

Xin Chen and Ziqian Wang are both graduate students from Lawrence Technological University. Xin is in the Master of Architecture program and she is passionate about the sustainable design. Ziqian is in the Master of Interior Design program, and has previously obtained Master of Urban Design from Lawrence Technological University. We believe that we can utilize our knowledge of architecture, interior design and urban design to effectively improve living conditions in informal cities.