Architectural design plays a crucial role in sustainable city development. In fast-growing cities in developing countries, it can be a challenge to reach sustainable results. In this paper, we propose the use of Empathic Design, borrowed from the human-centered design field, as one means to support the work of architects and other stakeholders in these settings. To investigate aspects in which this method could be helpful, we have synthesized two existing sustainability models and applied them to three examples of affordable housing from different low-resource settings. After analysis of the examples, we propose a model with an equal balance between the four different dimensions of sustainability—environmental, economic, social, and cultural—where the aspects that need inhabitant engagement are highlighted. We argue that, to be able to hold the balance between the diverse dimensions of sustainability, the architect needs to understand in-depth the living conditions of people for whom he or she is designing. This calls for a fine-tuned participatory approach when designing in low-resource settings. It may not always be easy to reach this level of participation, but we propose that it can be achieved when the architecture is created through empathic involvement. The use of Empathic Design methods throughout the design process thus supports the endeavor towards sustainable results.
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