What if we saw scarcity not as an obstacle but as a tool?

How does not having “enough” change the way we solve problems? Can it make us better?

There is, perhaps, no better testing ground for innovation than after a natural disaster. In these times of extreme scarcity, innovation has to happen quickly and very often on a tight budget. After an emergency, thinking quickly, and thinking with long-term judgment can be a difficult thing to manage.

Today, we bring you the story of a brilliant solution that grew from challenging beginnings. This is the story of Villa Verde, a housing development that provided its residents with half a house.


Source: Elemental

After a devastating earthquake in 2010, the Chilean city of Constitución was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people were left without homes, leaving the city, and the country, in a state of emergency. As a part of the relief efforts, they commissioned the architecture firm Elemental to help plan and rebuild the city.

In addition to creating a master plan for the city, Elemental had to provide housing for those that had been displaced. The design they came up with to fit the tight constraints became the center of controversy, praise, and fascinating design.

Here’s the story from one of our favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, on this remarkable example of innovation in the face of scarcity. We love 99% Invisible so much that we feature them frequently – check out our other articles that share their content here!

A Beautiful Lesson in Scarcity Innovation

Whether or not you are a design or architecture nerd, this story speaks to something larger in us all, the spirit of innovation.


Source: Elemental

First, there is, of course, the design itself. An elegant solution to a larger problem that gives people ownership of spaces that could very easily feel confining, restricting, or never feel like “home”.

Second, there is the spirit of innovation in the homeowners. When given the space to work with, they are able to make these buildings their own, customizing them to suit their specific needs. In some cases, turning potential living spaces into places of commerce.

So often, we think in terms of what we “would have done” had we had the money, time, creativity, energy, etc., but what if we thought about these kinds of constraints as a way to drive innovation? Seeing the world in terms of possibility in the face of obstacles is a wonderful trait of the human imagination.

This kind of thinking spans so much further than architecture or design. It can give us the tools to deal with politics, business, and relationships in a more constructive way. Perhaps, we should turn to scarcity innovation thinking a little more often.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!



There are thought leaders and innovators of all kinds out there, but we so rarely celebrate them! If you are new here, welcome! At EWC it’s our mission to change the dialogue about our world by highlight the stories out there that can strike a chord in us all. If you’re wondering where to get started, check out our welcome page!

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  1. Greenspan, Sam, prod. “231- Half a House.” 99% Invisible. N.d. 99% Invisible. Web. 12 Oct. 2016. <https://soundcloud.com/roman-mars/231-half-a-house-1>.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

CEO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV