Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Upon arrival to Dhaka, I called up a professor at
The introduction into village life was fascinating and a bit rough, considering my body was feeling worse and worse. Still, many found great interest in me, and I in them as well. We were working in one particular homestead with three houses and a whole crew of rambunctious and really fun kids. Things happen slowly here. Lots and lots of talking. The carpenter crew didn’t show up. The wood took an extra day to get cut. Fortunately, the second day offered me a chance to rest under the palm trees with a gentle breeze flowing through. It was blazing in the sun, but very comfortable in the shade.
In many ways, it seems as if time is perpetually in slow motion. Electricity has not yet reached the households we were working with. They didn’t even have a toilet, or a latrine. It was open air. At night, we would ride the rickshaw back to where we were staying. The driver would hang a lantern from the bottom to cast a glimmer of light on the otherwise pitch black road. The stars, as always, were timeless and extraordinary. In the mornings, we would get breakfast at one of the little “restaurants” in the neighboring village. You walk in and it feels like the old west or something. Only men. The TV is blaring some cheesy Bollywood movie, but everyone seems transfixed. The naan is being cooked right in the back room over an open fire, and the smoke finds its way into the whole place. People are moving in slow motion. Their faces are worn. Their bodies ripped, every muscle exposed. It is a surreal scene. Life is hard, raw, and real here. Kids crap in the front yard. Bricks are hammered into small pieces to make road base. Everything is done by hand. The reality, though, is anything but slow motion. People age fast. A 20 year old looks 35. A 30 year old looks like he is 50. Time gets turned on its head.
Even walking around or traveling on the rickshaw, life almost seems in full motion. Until someone sees me. Then, it is as if everything stops. It is like I keep going in full speed, but everything else stops. People stop, they turn, they stare. Everything they are doing slows down, eating ice cream stops. The guy with 50 pounds of mud on his head stops and turns and stares. The girl walking to school is briefly interrupted by the dinging of the rickshaw bell. She stops, turns her head as the rickshaw passes, and then she smiles slowly. It is crazy. It is one of those movie scenes where you keep moving, but the rest of the world stops.
Riding down to village on the bus, I was sitting in the front seat. There was a family directly in front of me sitting on the cushion directly over the engine. There was a beautiful little girl. She started throwing up. Bad. Of course, the bus driver continued barreling down the road like he was driving a sportscar. I was waiting for it to flip, or at least have a head on collision. Somehow, the dance of the streets continues to work under some higher power. Anyway, she kept puking, and all they had were bags. I offered my seat, at least it had a back rest. After making a scene as the driver turned on all the interior lights, we switched seats. The guy in the seat across the aisle said,” You know there is really nothing you can do. It is a common problem with women and little girls: motion sickness.” I just kind of shook my head, hoping I didn’t just make a cultural taboo or cause an incident on the bus. Then, the husband turned and thanked me, and I remembered throwing up in
Yet, it was a clear indication of the status of women, especially in rural areas. I would almost not know there were even women around here. Most of
I guess they leave that up to the kids, because they are having a blast. Or at least seems like it. Everything is a game and fun. At one point, we were resting under the trees as the wind was blowing through. One of the boys, about 12 or 13 all of sudden made a windmill out of a palm leaf. It was crazy, and worked amazingly. And it was beautiful. So, why aren’t there real windmills everywhere here? Because they will get blown away by the cyclones.
Fortunately, they had a tube well. I am thankful for that. Even the women knew nothing of
The carpenters were a sight to see as they rolled in with their planers, saws, hammer, and chisels. It seemed most of the time, as least one of them was sharpening one of the above. All by hand, baby. And boy, that wood was crooked. The most crooked I had ever seen. I thought #2 SPF lumber in the
I am reminded of the importance of such quality homes upon my return to
After trying numerous times to get in touch with the famous Indian architect, Charles Correa, my friend and I found out that he was going to be giving a lecture at our workshop, and we figured that was probably going to be good enough. Correa discussed housing and the importance of people to be involved in determining its design and use. He said that in housing, he cannot know how people are going to live, it is up to them to define and determine such environments. But, for a one-off building or a public building, he likened it to art, his art, saying that he wouldn’t tell Mozart how to write music. Additionally, he also emphasized incremental housing as a centerpiece to any solution that was proposed for a place like Dharavi. Buildings must be able to start small, and then grow over time. He cited his design for Belapur (Artist’s Village), in New Mumbai, a project that just happened on to be on my list to see. They were specifically designed to be added onto over time. The rules were that any walls built along the party walls couldn’t have any windows or openings. Those built along the public zones or squares could.
I made it there on my last day. I am thankful for the woman who told me that I probably wouldn’t recognize it from any pictures that I had seen. Sure enough, the place looked nothing like the serene pictures I had seen. In fact, Correa had shown a picture just a few days before that was the housing right after it was built. A quaint, series of whitewashed houses with tiled roofs were clustered around a public square with a tree centered in it. Lush, rolling, green hills were in the background. When I arrived, I could tell I was in the right place because there were some of the original houses still standing, but most of them looked different. The trees had grown up and shrouded the whole complex in shade in growth. There was a range of housing there. I did an informal count, and found that roughly one third of the original homes had been torn down and completely rebuilt. Another third had been significantly altered and added onto. The rest were in somewhat original condition.
Unfortunately, these original houses, which have looked so beautiful in the pictures looked anything but in real life. Their roofs were rotting, there were gray and had large water stains all over the walls. And they were quite small compared the rest of the housing being built there. I met a nice guy living there, and he invited me into his home. I asked him about the original houses, one of which he lived in, although he had renovated it about ten years ago. He said the people didn’t like the sloped tiled roofs, they reminded them of the village, and now they wanted flat roofs that would be used as outdoor spaces as well. Additionally, the houses were built cheaply and didn’t last too long. Finally, they were too small.
So, the incremental growth here has been quite extraordinary. Too much, maybe? I am curious why Charles Correa continues to show a photo that is 20 years old of this particular housing project. As people have been able to garner more capital, they have completely torn down the original houses and built newer, and much bigger houses. So, should this be considered a success? And what impact has this had on the original tenants and artists who were slated to live there?
Looking at some of original intentions and stated goals, some of it could be considered a success and some of it a failure. The clustered organization and overall layout seems to work pretty well, as the movement through it is varied, rich, and dense, and the scale changes work well. It is what happens within each plot where it seems to have broken down. This project originally had a range of income groups: Low-Income
Group (LIG), Middle Income Group 1 (MIG2), Middle Income Group 2 (MIG2) and High Income Group (HIG). The range of the budget for each of these groups was 1:4, while the actual plots sized only were arranged with a size ratio of 3:5, thereby trying to establish a fairly consistent plot size, limiting the inequality. Unfortunately, my informal assessment is that there is now a greater range of incomes and housing types and sizes there, as many people have built new homes. They seem to be larger, but more than that, they express the materials of the
In some regards, this isn’t the fault of the architect, as people have advanced and want that expressed in their built environment. But, at the same time, it has put strain on those at the bottom of the ladder in this particular context. It seems as if gentrification is clearly taking place in this housing scheme, and how exactly is an architect supposed to challenge that. He did propose a plan for the houses to grow and improve, as people garnered more income, while still keeping the language of the community. But, recently, the incremental growth switched to total growth and the new homes challenge the language of the community and further increase the inequity that this proposal was supposed to limit. Should incremental housing and growth incrementally change the people that are living there as well? It is possible that the original language of the housing was too rural to be able to support the changing aspirations and dreams of the modernizing urban Indian citizen?
I am still trying to dig up more information on the current day demographics of this community. If anyone has any ideas or leads, please let me know.
Every day is an assault on the senses. Every sense. Especially around the area were staying in, one of the densest on earth. It all fills out onto the streets and alleys. During Holi, Christians were celebrating Easter and Muslims were celebrating Eid. It was crazy. On Saturday, I suddenly noticed 10 or 15 goats as I walked down the street. I saw a man grab one, and turned my head as he put his knee on its neck and slashed its throat. This continued throughout the day, as the goat hides piled up and the guys were pulling out the entrails in the shop next door. The blood and inside just got washed into the street and from there….???? The air smelled of dead animals, but it was festive. Music blared, people hollered, the sun baked, the dust kicked up. Upon leaving Mumbai, I was maxed out. After my roommate left, I moved to a cheaper room. But it was on the top floor, and had small amounts of pigeon feathers and droppings filtering through the ceiling when the fan was on. There were only a few food options around, and I was very tired of rice, curry, paneer, samosas, and biryani. It was hot. The parties ran through the night, and all the smoke from the bonfires and general Mumbai continuously found its way into my room. My 7 day headache was now on day 3.
I hate to use cliché’s, but Mumbai truly is a ‘maximum city.’ The trains here make the trains in
“If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you run up to the packed compartments and find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway…Your fellow passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss the train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them. And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning or whether you are from Malabar Hill or New York of Jogeshwari. All they know is that you’re trying to get into the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust.
The workshop culminated with the incredible Hindu celebration of Holi. This celebration of color glorifies the end of the winter and the dry season with the expectation of rain and the summer. Bonfires are lit the night before and the following day people throw colors all over each other, in hopes of keeping away the fevers and cold that come with the changing weather. We were very fortunate to be able to celebrate with a community especially known for its Holi celebrations.
As we were waiting outside our guest house to meet up everyone, we were quickly drawn to a large group of men shouting and dancing to Sean Paul’s ‘Temperature’. Somehow, they had found a 20-foot long tree trunk about three feet in diameter and were moving it to an open lot where they were going to burn it. I have no idea where it came from. There were no trees to be found anywhere near this area. Amazingly, they were moving it just with a terra cotta pipe, picking it up, moving the pipe forward and then the rolling the tree on top of it. A couple of us jumped in to help, much to the joy of everyone there. It was an infectious energy, of intense celebration.
We made it to Koliwada and found hordes of people already packing the streets and then filtering into the main square, the one decent sized open space in the whole community. We had an amazing vantage point to watch the proceedings, as it seemed all of Dharavi had made it there. The celebrations began with fireworks, music, and the lighting of the massive bonfire. Beautifully dressed women then began the procession into the square with elaborately decorated pots on their heads, walked around the bonfire 5 times and then threw the pots in. It was hot enough without the fire.
We then proceeded to find our way out into the streets where the real partying was going on. As if people weren’t pumped up enough, the sight of 20 or so foreigners definitely got people jazzed up. At different locations, there were DJ’s set up blasting out the latest Indian and Western dance hits, all to the crazed energy and joy of the pulsating crowds. For the next three of four hours, we passed from party to party out in the streets and the alleys. We culminated in a small square in the heart of Koliwada, where the intimate space infused with the elaborately dressed people, the lights strung from above, and the continuous dance music made for an extraordinary time. Did I mention it was hot? I was drenched at this point, and most people were just getting started.
The next day offered a good bit of anxiety about whether or not to even leave the hotel, as the word was that you would get covered colors, water, eggs, you name it, whether you liked it or not. Having come this far around the world and wanting the experience such a festival, I decided to briefly wander out with a couple of other folks in search of bananas. Some kids instantly saw me and tried to shake my hand. They were covered in color, and covered my hand and arm. As we walked around Dharavi, we began to notice how entire streets and alleyways were crazy shades of purple and red, with music still pumping from the night before. We noticed a particular active group of young people and looked a little closer and that was our downfall. Upon my being noticed, I was immediately pummeled with eggs, powder, and colored water as young boys put their covered hands all over my body including my face. Welcome to holi. It was hot. I was sweaty, covered in eggs, probably toxic powder, and the hands from all kinds of kids. And it felt good. At least for a bit. I took 6 showers that day. The color did offer me some defense for the next couple of times I went out.I did wander back to Koliwada and found small groups dancing away (still, as it was late afternoon), mostly with water this time. One group had rigged up a hose to a one liter bottle and punched holes in the bottom of it and strung up over a small area in front of someone’s home. Instant shower. The sun was filtering through and we were able to dance away all the sweat, eggs, and color from earlier in the day. It was awesome. Total cleansing. Once again, there was something about space in between these buildings that was able to activate and facilitate such a gathering and exchange of energy.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Moving through the city, it unfolds itself as the complexity, contrasts, and confusions. Old colonial architecture, deteriorating and taken over by clothing, plants, rain, time, and people sits above the bustling markets but below the towering new residential high rises. The very essence of the city seems to remain in these spaces closer to the ground, and seems to evaporate as the buildings get newer and higher. Yet, they are the symbol of development, and the aspirations to which many in the city aspire, and may eventually achieve.
After time in Koliwada as well as rural
Much of the time in Mumbia was spent participating in the Urban Typhoon Workshop which took place in Dharavi, which has often been coined “
Basically, the plan of the redevelopment scheme is to take the entire area of Dharavi, which is about 530 acres. Within this space, approximately 500,000-1,000,000 people live giving it a density of around 315,000 people per square kilometer, which is 6 times denser than the daytime population of Manhatten. Many people say it is precisely this density and the conditions it has spawned as the need for it to be redeveloped. But, the reality is the land has become too valuable ($9 billion?). Dharavi used to be a suburb, but Mumbai has grown so much that now Dharavi is in the center of the city. Even more than that, it is situated strategically at the nexus of the three major train lines and immediately adjacent to the Bandra Kulna Complex, host to major financial and IT companies, and some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Many feel the land is just too valuable to remain as an informal settlement, that most would consider a slum. Just do a google search and you will find a myriad number of articles dealing with the complexities of Dharavi. Read this one from the National Geographic.
The government would redevelop the entire area, rehouse those who could prove their residence there is in 1995 and rehouse them on the same land, but in highrise homes of approximately 225 sf per family. These high rises would free up room for open space, better infrastructure, and the government would relax zoning regulations developers to make a killing on market rate residential, commercial, and office projects. The selling of this land would subsidize the housing and redevelopment of the much of the public works. Or so it goes in theory.
We ended up working in one specific community of Dharavi, known as Koliwada. It was originally a community of fishermen, called Kolis. It is unique in Dharavi, as they have maps and records proving their ownership of the land. As far as I am concerned, Koliwada is anything but a slum. And much like such densely packed settlements, the activities and ways of life are directly tied to types of physical space there. Most of the time, I wasn’t exactly sure what the purpose and reason of the workshop was, as it was left up to the leaders and each group to develop their own proposals and processes. The great thing about this workshop is that it had serious community involvement. Many local people were involved from the get go, and some outstanding young people were teamed up with each group to serve as liaisons with the rest of the community.
It quickly became clear how deeply established this community was. We spent the first afternoon just wandering, talking to people. People had customized the whole area to give it a sense of place. Local income producing endeavors were everywhere. Tea stalls, glove making, festival decorations, pipe threaders, stores, restaurants, you name it. It was there. The place was dense. Most walkways were 3-4 feet wide and would flow and move like a maze, until occasionally, they would open into an intersection or larger space between buildings. So much of what I have been hearing, and subsequently seeing is that the most important spaces are between the buildings and housings, not just the buildings themselves.
The crazy thing was instantly how much my impression of a slum was shattered. Well, maybe not what my idea of a slum, but how easily groups of communities are labeled and described as a slum, without acknowledging the unique complexity and diversity within those areas. Certainly, some parts of Dharavi are a slum, with very difficult conditions, but this particular area was one of the oldest in Dharavi, and probably contributed to its strength as a well established and developed community.
There were about 7 or 8 teams working separately, and my team spent the week engaging with residents trying to better understand their sense of place, what makes it unique, and what are some of the hopes and fears. The diversity of the housing was pretty amazing as well. What was fairly common about many of the homes is that they had incrementally grown, both horizontally and vertically, and used some part of their space to generate income. Some homes rented out space to be used commercially, some had their own businesses within their home, and other rented out their spaces to others. We saw a range of housing sizes, from about 200 square feet to 2000 square feet.
One thing we were interested in looking at was juxtaposing the very dynamic nature and quality of the home to the static and prescribed notion of new housing, often in highrises. In fact, part of the new proposal is to give each family 225 sf. But, through interviewing families, we were able to see very clearly that not only do family sizes change (births, deaths, marriages), but the home changes as well (income, availability of land, etc). By mapping this reality against a so-called fixed notion of 225 sf, it became very clear that this would fundamentally change the nature of families as well as the entire community. The flexibility and malleability of the homes over time allow the family to better adapt and hold together as it changes. For example, when a man gets married, it is still very common for him to live at home, and it is generally accepted that his wife will move in as well. And soon, they will have children. Many families have had to extend their homes to make this possible. If this were not possible, many would have to move, and most likely move out of Dharavi, thereby fracturing the family, and further losing such sense of community. Click here to see the dynamic nature of one household.
We were fortunate, as we were there during a very festive time, as the Hindu festival, Holi, took place at the end of our workshop. This helped give us an interesting look at the variety of ways of which space is used and how it is activated. The many small nodes actually serve as gathering spaces for different groups of men and women to gossip, play games, and generally catch up. They are almost like cliques, and they have specific places to which they go. The small alleyways keep shade and keep the areas cool, serve as small areas where neighbors can easily communicate, and even serve as conduits for different kinds of games that take place at night, which are totally dependent on small spaces. I would suspect that much of these activities would not have developed if they spaces were not as they were. This, in essence, ties people to place, and makes wide ranging fully redeveloped and planned proposals dangerous.
It also seems as if these alleys serve as filters from the outside world, thereby serving as gateways on multiple levels where people can monitor their streets without having to erect physical gates. I very quickly felt comfortable moving around in these spaces, as you receive very warm, gentle, sincere, and affirming smiles, hellos, etc. The public spaces were some of the most intimate and active that I have ever been in, and they grew organically over time without much planning. Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be much more open space, but it should not come at the expense of the quality and type of spaces that already exist. The question remains, how can you maintain and allow such spaces to still exist while continuing to develop and improve infrastructure, open space, economic opportunities, etc?
One of more pertinent projects I was planning on looking at
I could tell I had arrived due to the distinct language of balconies, stairwells, and proportionings, but it did look like a fairly typical Indian community. Yet, the streets seemed to have extra vitality. The built environment was a little more controlled, but not in a way that most would notice, the variety of stoops, stairwells, doorways, colors, heights, were all in a richly developed manner. I could also tell by the street patterns that I was in the right place. Each one sort of staggered, leading to public squares, which were typically non-attractive places. People were involved in their activities, cleaning, gossiping, sitting, walking, buying, etc.
Each was designed for it to grown incrementally. Being a sites and services project, each house essentially started with a service core (water lines, and toilet connection) from which the house would grow. Doshi’s office designed 80 or so units as a demonstration project as a way of communicating to the future residents the possibilities of design and individuality. I asked the architect, then, what rules they gave to people when building the subsequent houses on their own, and he replied absolutely none. Certainly, the public spaces seem to work well. They don’t look pretty, but there is activity in them. So, in some ways, it was a very hands-off approach, saying here is how we did it, now you have it your way. And people certainly have. But there remains a subtle and strong language of identity that is everpresent throughout the sites, clearly delineating it from the different housing ringing it.
I was showing some pictures to an architect in Mumbai, and he brought a more critical eye to it, saying it looked like a typical Indian village. He struggled to understand what the actual architectural gesture was, if people were still left to build how they would see fit. Another person told me that many of the people who were originally settled there can no longer afford it or sold off all of their original plots. I have not been able to make a solid critique of the project, partly because of the little bit of time spent there, having spent much of my energy just making it there, and there is a lot of follow up research that needs to be done. Regardless, it was a fascinating visit, of course with much, much interest from the locals...