A project involving building sustainable low-budget homes to improve living conditions for people in rural Mexico is on display as part of a new exhibition at Customs House.

Rural Habitat features photographs, multimedia and architectural models of this unique collaboration within the 2013 Sydney Architecture Festival.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the frère exhibition shows how clever architecture can help change lives and build sustainable futures.

“Rural Habitat gives Sydneysiders a remarkable insight into the challenges faced by people living in rural Mexico, and raises awareness about some of the solutions being introduced to improve their lifestyles,” the Lord Mayor says.

“It demonstrates how architecture can help people live in harmony with the environment while respecting their culture and traditions.”

Rural Habitat began as a project between architecture studio Mobile Workshop Architects and non-government organisation Vasco de Quiroga PS XXI. Its aim is to raise the quality of life for rural Mexicans by providing affordable, low-cost housing and sanitation.

The idea was to build low-cost housing by minimising architecture and incorporating sustainable design. The homes resemble Nissen huts, which have a semi-cylindrical roof that also serves as the side walls.

Don Goyo at his new house, State of Mexico. Image: Isaac Smeke Levy.

A completed house, which includes a 17,000-litre rainwater storage cistern connected to a 250-litre everyday use water tank, a bio-digester for human waste and a solar panel to power the house, costs about $9,000 and takes 18 days to build. Two have been completed and Mobile Workshop Architects hopes its design principles could one day be adopted in rural Australia.

Sydney University-educated Isaac and Jacob Smeke, directors of Mobile Workshop Architects, said the project celebrated cultural heritage and sought to improve rural life through constructive and culturally sensitive means.

The exhibition runs until the 26 January 2014.