February 22, 2011
by: Lisa Delgado

Event: Design for a Change: Informal Settlements and Low Income Housing in India
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.12.11
Speakers: Sara Göransson – Co-founder, Urban Nouveau; Filipe Balestra — Cofounder, Urban Nouveau; Darshini Mahadevia — Faculty of Planning and Public Policy & Member-Secretary, Centre for Urban Equity, CEPT University; Brotin Banerjee — Managing Director and CEO, TATA Housing Development Company; Earl Jackson, AIA — Associate Director, Urban Design and Planning, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM); Scott Duncan — Senior Designer, SOM; Neera Adarkar — Visiting Faculty Member, Academy of Architecture, Rachana Sansad & Chawls Expert; Vyjayanthi Rao — Assistant Professor of Anthropology, The New School for Social Research
Moderator: Reinhold Martin — Associate Professor of Architecture, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
Introductions: Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 President, AIANY; Yamina Djacta — Deputy Director, New York Office, United Nations Human Settlements Programme; Kanu Argawal — Curator, “Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities”
Organizers: AIA New York; Center for Architecture Foundation; India China Institute at The New School; Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC); Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects (SIAEA); Symposium organized with UN HABITAT
Sponsors: Grants: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; Underwriter: Duggal Visual Solutions; Lead Sponsors: Hitachi; Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Sponsors: Grapevine Merchants; Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects; Supporters: Bittersweet NYC; CetraRuddy; Kingfisher LGER; Friends: Arup; Benjamin Moore; IBEX Construction; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Perkins Eastman; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Incremental Housing Strategy in Pune, by Urban Nouveau.

Urban Nouveau

Rapid urbanization can be a good thing — sometimes. Cities can provide economic opportunities for their residents and act as incubators for innovation and creativity, remarked Yamina Djacta, deputy director of the New York Office of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. On the other hand, population growth overburdens cities’ resources when it isn’t planned for properly, leading to the growth of slums and environmental problems, she added. India provides a vivid example: around 93 million people (7.75% of the population) live in slums, and that number is only expected to increase in the coming years, said AIANY President Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP.

Swedish architect Sara Göransson, co-founder of interdisciplinary platform Urban Nouveau, presented one housing strategy that could help allay the strain that population growth is putting on Indian cities. She helped develop an “incremental housing” strategy for Pune, a city where about 40% of the residents live in slums. While some of the existing housing in slum areas is well-constructed, others are dark, poorly ventilated, and made of makeshift materials, she said. Developed in collaboration with two Indian organizations — Mahila Milan and the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres — Urban Nouveau’s strategy involves improving the houses that are in the worst condition while maintaining the existing urban fabric. The designers came up with three 25-square-meter housing prototypes. Featuring a simple four-column structure, all three types are designed to be expandable and customizable, depending on the inhabitants’ needs.

Brotin Banerjee, managing director and CEO of TATA Housing Development Company, explained that there is a shortage of around 25 million housing units in India, and his company is working to help fill the gap by providing market-driven affordable and low-income housing. All of TATA’s housing is LEED Gold certified, he added.

Earl Jackson, AIA, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, discussed a couple of projects in Mumbai, including a master plan for “Santa City,” a slum-rehabilitation project. Like Urban Nouveau, SOM decided to avoid the boxy, barrack-like look sometimes associated with low-cost housing by creating a few different housing typologies with visual diversity. By incorporating pockets of open space family businesses and other activities would be able to thrive.

As land values rise near Mumbai’s international airport, new developments seem inevitable, and slum rehabilitation brings some clear benefits in improved hygiene and access to basic services. However, Jackson expressed concerns for displaced slum dwellers. “Very large areas of land are falling under greater and greater development pressure,” he noted. “The idea of displacing people like ourselves, who fight for every square inch we can get here in Manhattan and other cites around the world, is always a topic of conflict.”

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for OCULUS, The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Blueprint, and Wired, among other publications.


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