“Stop people getting sick.” This was the brief given to Paul Pholeros, Paul Torzillo and Stephan Rainow when they arrived in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands in northwest South Australia in 1985.

In response, Pholeros (an architect), Torzillo (a thoracic physician) and Rainow (a public and environmental health officer) designed a methodology to quantify the links between health and housing. The trio (who met for the first time when they arrived on site) became founding Directors of Healthabitat where they established a methodology that became the ‘Nine Healthy Living Practices’ – principles used to systematically assess and address the living environments of disadvantaged Indigenous communities in remote Australia. To date, 195 ‘Housing for Health’ projects, based on these principles, have improved 7,829 houses across Australia, with successful projects also underway in rural Nepal and Brooklyn, New York City.

The Healthabitat design process is explained in CUSP through a series of interactive displays that invite the audience to connect housing design with health outcomes. Participants are encouraged to discover the simple solutions that can dramatically alter the experience of life for inhabitants, such as fixing power points, creating better insulation and designing working kitchens.

In addition to ‘stopping people getting sick’, Healthabitat have statistically debunked an equally virulent myth: the belief that the poor state of Indigenous housing is the result of neglect or abuse by the inhabitants. In actual fact, more than 90% of faults in houses are due to poorly designed, poorly built and poorly installed utilities such as poor quality taps, energy inefficient materials and design, and faulty wiring (often resulting in no lighting or hot water). As noted by Pholeros, “If any of us were put into houses of this quality in this environment, we would all experience similar health and social problems.”

Despite operating for more than 28 years, Healthabitat remain at the vanguard of social design practice, relentlessly working to effect positive change in the lives of ‘the other 90%’.

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