A new home for an impoverished family in Colima

Help us create a better life for the Jimenez family, and other families across the globe! Together, we can create a lasting impact on eliminating world poverty and providing a fundamental human right.

We are [inform]al, a design team comprised of Tobias and Sean, recent Master of Architecture graduates from the School of Design and Construction at Washington State University.

We intend to construct a new home for the Jimenez family, an impoverished family living in an informal settlement at the periphery of the city of Colima, Mexico. A new home will dramatically improve their living conditions and will serve as a functioning prototype of our unique design methodology for upgrading and empowering all informal settlements. We will use this prototype to analyze the success of our methodology before implementing it in other scenarios.


Informal settlements are defined by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) as “unplanned settlements and areas where housing is not in compliance with current planning and building regulations (unauthorized housing)”. Nearly 25% of the world’s population lives in informal settlements and in Latin America, 113 million people, or 1 in 4 people in urban areas, live in informal settlements. The UN, in a recent report on informal settlements, declared that this type of living is “a systemic violation of human rights” as it denies occupants health, safety, and a life with dignity.

We are constructing a new home for the family of one our team members: the Jimenez family, comprised of widow Lucina Pimentel and her son Leonel Jimenez. The Jimenez family is living in an informal settlement at the periphery of the city of Colima, Mexico, in a settlement which they built 14 years ago from any and all materials which were available to them at the time. While the settlement exists on land owned by the family, construction was not authorized, it is not in compliance with current planning or building regulations. Additionally, the settlement is a hazard to the health of the family as it is structurally unstable, does not adequately provide protection from the elements, does not provide security from wildlife or intruders, and is not appropriately tied to city utilities and infrastructure. These settlements also propagate centers of poverty, create unhealthy living conditions, and do not have formal connections to city utilities (such as running water, sewage, waste management, or electricity). These settlements result from the failure of governments to provide adequate affordable housing. As migrations from rural to urban areas in search of work occurs across the globe, it is vital that an effective solution to upgrading informal settlements is created to adequately house the existing and growing population.

Current solutions to upgrading informal settlements only provide a resilient, low-cost shelter. While this is an important part of the solution, we believe that upgrades must also respond to the unique conditions of the site and empower communities to maintain long-term improvements. Our solution, an architecture of empowerment, does this.

We define an architecture of empowerment as an architecture which achieves three broad goals: 

1. nourishes self-confidence through self-reliance and do-it-yourself-ism

2. facilitates a connection between architecture and the occupant, the community, and the locale [historical, cultural, and environmental]

3. is affordable in initial and whole-life cost

Using the above goals as a design methodology, a variety of programmatic features, architectural elements, and construction methods culminate to empower the occupants of this home. Rooftop agriculture, rainwater collection, passive shading, a flexible and adaptable interior layout, the opportunity for additional build-out, street-side vendor space, resilient and simple construction methodology, locally-sourced vernacular materials, and an interior courtyard which connects public and private domains all serve to empower the impoverished family who will occupy this home to live a life with dignity. 


Families in informal settlements typically cannot afford a new home, so they need a helping hand to rise from their inadequate living conditions. Due to the Jimenez’s financial struggles, we need YOUR help to acquire the  necessary building materials and minimal skilled labor for construction.

Any donations are greatly appreciated. Help us create a better life for the Jimenez family, and other families across the globe! Together, we can create a lasting impact on eliminating world poverty and providing a fundamental human right.

If you would like to keep up-to-date on our progress, visit our Instragram.

If you have any questions regarding the project, or would like to set up a presentation, contact us via email: [email redacted]

Thank you for your time and support!

- [inform]al team + the Jimenez family
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Tobias Jimenez 
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