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The Awards were established in 1985 by the Building and Social Housing Foundation for the identification and the promotion of good habitat practices. They were initiated in 1987 as BSHF contribution to the United Nations International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. The concept of identification of good practice was virtually unknown in 1985 and the Awards were supposed to run over three years only. However, the response was so positive that BSHF decided to keep the competition running. After 30 years, the World Habitat Awards are going from strength to strength.

Over the years, a large range of excellent habitat projects were identified in the countries of the global North and the global South. These projects of different sizes and shapes tackle a wide range of housing issues. From the very beginning, the focus has been not only on the identification of good housing practices but also in the sharing of knowledge and experience to others who can transfer them in their own situations. The first international peer exchange to a World Habitat Award project winner was in 1987 and the exchanges have continued ever since.

The first awards were presented in 1986 in London by HRH the Prince of Wales and the Dr Arcot Ramachandran, UN-HABITAT Executive Director.

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