Earl Forlales' Cubo homes can be built for around $77 per square meter. Photo: handout

A young Filipino designer has scooped the top prize in a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) competition for his low-cost modular housing solution that could bring relief to low-income families across Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Material science engineering graduate Earl Patrick Forlales, 23, pipped 1,200 competitors from all over the world to win the prestigious £50,000 (US$63,900) Cities For Our Future prize with his “Cubo” home concept. Made mostly of bamboo, components for the Cubo can be built off-site in one week, and the house erected in situ in only four hours.

With its modular design, Cubo housing components can be linked together to create quality living space for families. Photo: handout

Inspired by the bamboo shack on the outskirts of Manila that Forlales’ grandparents called home, the Cubo is first and foremost devised to be economical to build. Estimated to cost only $77 per square meter, it is constructed almost entirely of bamboo, which grows in abundance in poorer parts of the world, and is uniquely sustainable. Bamboo is also inherently good for the environment, releasing 35% more oxygen into the environment than trees, according to a report in the Guardian.

The judges agreed. “One of the reasons Earl’s entry stood out from the other finalists,” said Dr Beth Taylor, “was through its use of traditional, sustainable technology and materials, to solve an issue facing modern cities across the world.”

The target is to give the urban poor a chance to embrace affordable, yet dignified housing. Photo: handout

With a third of Manila’s 12 million inhabitants living in slums, Forlales now has his sights set on building Cubo homes in the Philippine capital.

“Engineered bamboo is here and it is going to stay,” says Forlales in a short video explaining the qualities and attractions of Cubo. “We know how to work the material and we can build our future cities around it.”

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