Architecture Response-ibility and Housing

Seminar and Panel Discussion on the role and responsibility of architects in mainstream housing today
by Vidhi Bansal
30 March 2017

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The seminar, coordinated by Vishwanath Kashikar, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Architecture, aimed at discussing different policies and frameworks and their effects on housing for the poor, their affordability and efficiency. This was accentuated by the Dutch viewpoint, offered by guests, Dick van Gameren, Nelson Mota and Harald Mooij, housing experts from TU, Delft, Netherlands.

The same theme received traditional viewpoints from Mumbai (Sameep Padora), and from Ahmedabad (Madhu Bharti Sharma, Sejal Patel, Chirayu Bhatt, Yatin Pandya, Inigo Cornago Bonal, and Vishwanath Kashikar, all CEPT University). They spoke about policy frameworks, housing affordability and manageable solutions, and housing for the masses.

The seminar was in two segments, pre-lunch and post. The speakers during the pre-lunch segment were Madhubharti Sharma, Sejal Patel, Chirayu Bhatt, Sameep Padora and Yatin Pandya.

Watch the seminar here. 

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pre lunch

Madhu Bharti Sharma spoke about housing policies and frameworks that the government employed and the success rates associated with the same, whereas Sejal Patel spoke about bridging housing affordability gaps within government and private sector. Sharma analyzed the key issues on large metro cities housing most of the urban population of India whereas other smaller cities being empty, leaving 10 million vacant homes while 19 million urban people don’t have homes, and can’t access them. This staggering statistic brought to light the most fundamental problem faced by policy makers today.

Patel stressed on the fact that the government alone cannot take it upon themselves to provide housing solutions, it is the responsibility of planners and architects as well.

She suggested, decent housing for people for whom market price of minimum sized houses even substandard is also not affordable and that subsidy is required to bridge house affordability gap for families. Yatin Pandya posed a simple question. Are we massing the houses or housing the masses? He also questioned the smartness of so called “SMART” cities and ventured that cities of today reflect against modern and traditional views.

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Left to right: Yatin Pandya, Sejal Patel, Chirayu Bhatt, Madhubharti Sharma and Sameep Padora during the panel discussion in the pre-lunch segment.

 

Taking a different tangent, Chirayu Bhatt maintained that building regulations governed the housing affordability issue. He enumerated the building regulations such as ground coverage, height, setbacks and minimum parking requirements and their impact on the minimum cost of housing. He analyzed that we need to lower down the cost of housing in order to provide for masses. He also compared costs and managed a brilliant 34% reduction from the original cost through his proposal.

Sameep Padoraon the other hand, studied an already existing minimum cost housing scheme – Atmaram Chawl in Mumbai; and discussed concerns related to regulations. A fixed pattern of organization, which remained constant, developed within the community. He named this relationship the “binary between public and private”. 

They realized the greater need for common spaces within the community than for their own private gain. He introduced policy framework concepts such as mass transit being an indirect form of housing subsidy. He wished to protect the public interest, as the state is slowly losing interest in housing. He concluded – starting small is the best option because people take it upon themselves to expand according to their needs.

The Panel discussion raised key points on issues of migration, and the beneficiaries from various housing schemes in urban cities.

“It shouldn’t happen that we build big and build slow.”

It cited issues like owning a house being the cultural norm, and the take on house rental within reach of the masses in India. Another key issue discussed was the “Aspiration vs Low Income” debacle, to which Pandya stated an important point of people expanding within their own doors, to the extent of accommodating three generations! Hence architects should start by building less. “It shouldn’t happen that we build big and build slow.”

The last important point of discussion was the categorization of cities based on FSI, which raised the point that every city should have the power to decide their own FSI 3, as every city individually decides which group needs housing assistance.

 

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post lunch

Vishwanath Kashikar then introduced the next five speakers, the first three- guests from the Netherlands- Dick Van Gameren, on global affordable dwellings for growing cities; Harald Mooij, on the Dutch experience; and Nelson Mota on Architecture of Increment Housing. Next was Inigo Carnago Bonal, Teaching Fellow at CEPT speaking on domestic space, and understanding what the space may be. Kashikar, spoke about the apartment type, and “do we really design houses anymore?”

Where Gameren’s analysis offered an insight to Indian housing in various cities, Mooij and Mota brought in the Dutch perspective (something already achieved by Gameren in a talk on Dutch housing on the previous day). Gameren’s case studies cited in the seminar included Chandigarh’s Type 13, Sector 22; Incremental Housing, New Mumbai; CIDCO; Chengalchoola, Thiruvananthapuram; Sangarsh Nagar, Mumbai and London, UK (Western Europe).

Mooij discussed the Dutch experience of housing types and showcased different typologies of plan layouts, as a major design tool. “Layers can be reinterpreted to fulfil new needs,” he stated. He showed different sectional arrangements of houses by various Dutch architects with different schemes serving the same purpose, and also the tactic of making a puzzle type house by combining a row house and an apartment type. He also showed the famous, “Sea of Houses”, exclaiming that the motive was, “You don’t need to make green, there is so much blue around.” The Dutch perspective offered a very important insight to Indian listeners. They began to realize that the issues faced by Indians under the common tree of urban housing were very different from those faced by the Dutch. The Dutch faced problems of layouts, and spatial organization mostly, whereas India faces a much larger picture, of housing innumerable people every year because of the perpetually rising population, as well as migration issues. There are also houses with layouts holding accesses to six houses directly from the ground floor.  

Mota addressed the issue of Incremental housing and the key factor of accommodating growth and change over time. In India, 27 million housing units are required for the EWS. He asked a pivotal question, “What is the social role of an architect?” How, as an architect, can you influence life of people around you?

It is important to note what the people can do for themselves and based on that, how the architect understands their needs and designs accordingly. “Every encouragement should be given to citizens themselves”; a democratic housing which is BY the people, and not FOR the people. But when the people don’t know what they want, is where the architect enters as a facilitator.

Cornago discussed spatial agencies and their roles on understanding and producing of domestic space. Welcome to the independent republic of my home.” The way society interprets architects is very different. Transforming a house into a home is not just the job of you alone as the architect, but of many people together. Architects try to push domestication and that cannot happen.

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Left to right: Dick Van Gameren, Harald Mooij, Nelson Mota and Inigo Carnago Bonal.

“Housing should be seen as a human right, not as a commodity,” Cornago stated, which was extended by Kashikar’s observation that the people of today design houses, not homes. Kashikar, discussed “The apartment type,” and posed the question “Do we really design houses anymore?” He described a stark difference between how we see houses and how the public sees the house.

The Panel discussion brought up the question of tackling informal settlements in Holland. It was deemed that there was a national obligation for everything built to follow certain rules. What was also interestingly brought up was that the relationship between inside and outside was hampered by a simple thing such as the location of a balcony, which was in the innermost space of the house, instead of being a buffer space between inside and outside.

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Important Points from the Seminar

The seminar saw speakers like Sharma and Patel question various policies and frameworks associated with affordable housing. Sharma’s comparison revealed failure of plans like SRA where the government imposes their units on the people, however a project like Aranya Housing Indore, bore fruit as the people were left to design for themselves within the area regulations.

Sharma believed that the “Smart Cities” mission and “Amurt Mission” need to be brought into brighter light to solve such problems.

Where Sharma and Patel stressed on policies made, and Bhatt laid the regulatory framework factors, Sameep Padora went into the architecture tectonics (common spaces, corridors, etc.) of the housing scheme. He took Atmaram Chawl in Mumbai as his prime example and analyzed the basic layout to be bedroom—> common space —> kitchen —> common space. He mapped extension patterns and the need for expansion within houses and concluded that people adjust in accordance with their needs, and expand within their own units rather than encroaching community common spaces. He analyzed the visual and socio-cultural connect in the ratio of the courtyard width and height being 1:2. 

 This offered a most dynamic extension of their inner spaces which breathed out into an interactive, social space.

“The idea that we could look at alternative ways to produce this housing needs to be examined.”

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Gameren, analyzing Indian housing projects across various cities, had a very contrasting viewpoint. “We look at whether or not a building will stay or get demolished in 25 years- I think we shouldn’t look at sustainability all the time. There is always a housing crisis,, cities grow – people come in, there is always a lack of houses. We can’t completely make the problem go away.” What usually happens is that people somehow manage to break out of ill conditions and set manageable standards for themselves.

Cornago stated, Agency is the ability to transform reality, (..) actors do participate, but agents have the ability to transform the system.” An agent takes the initiative and has the power to transform the space. He discussed the housing crisis in Spain. People get evicted because of the way they access domestic space. They don’t work and have no money, hence their houses get mortgaged and they cannot pay it back. These situations are a result of many forces together but no one is willing to take responsibility for them.

Kashikar stated that a house can only be a home if we view what is inside the house and together with other family members and architect, convert it into a home. Citing recent newspaper apartment advertisements, the key things that the builder sells, are BHK value, area, and all the amenities available in the neighborhood around the house. “What is being advertised,” he stated, “is not what a home is. Nothing tells us what is in the house. Do we really care about homes anymore?” He has noticed how in mainstream housing discussions, apartment types are rarely brought up, and he believes that even though plan layouts today will be mostly based on FSI, land value and who produces this house, or the builder or even the state, the space configuration is still based on architects, and that is where architects need to step up and take responsibility.