Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Aranya, not Arandia!

One of more pertinent projects I was planning on looking at India is BV Doshi’s Aranya housing scheme. It was very well published and researched as a generally successful and responsive solution to housing relocated poor people from the central part of Indore. I was able to meet with an architect in Doshi’s office, pick up some relevant literature and was assured it would be fine for me to go there. It was going to be a bear of a trip. It required on overnight train to get there, and I was anxious to get onto Mumbai, so I was going to take another overnight train to get onto Mumbai the next day. I arrived after sleeping a few hours in my non air conditioned sleeping car and 5 foot long bunk. Yes, the toilets empty directly onto the tracks, and trash just goes out the windows. A nice family shared their dinner with me. I tried to find some breakfast at 6am. Not much luck, had to go to a street stall and find an abandoned building to do my business. I then tried to describe where I needed to go, along with a vague map I had. No one seemed to have heard of Aranya, even though most architects around the world had. Big deal, turns out. Finally, someone who spoke a little English said he knew where it was, close to his college, Arandia. I said, no it was different. Anyway, the rickshaw driver agreed to take me up there for 80 rupees. The driver had to stop 4 different times for directions, each time looking a little more frustrated. I would hear him say “arandia”, and I would correct him and say Aranya and show people the map. They would kind of look at it, and point down the road and say some things to the driver. Off we would go again and again. After about forty five minutes, we ended up on a dirt road, the rickshaw completely unfit for it. We finally ended up at the college of Arandia. What a surprise. Then, there were about 15 students eager to practice their English and their keen sense of direction. No one still had any clue. My rickshaw driver was pissed at this point. We kept trying, asking more people. I decided to try and call someone at doshi’s office, as if was after 8 am. It is known as Sector 78, not Aranya. Ahhh. Now we are getting somewhere. But, not before my rickshaw has a flat tire. But, the amazing thing about India, is no matter how run down a place may be, you are not far from any of the essential goods or services you may ever need. And of course, there a tire fixer on the corner. Had his little cart set up. We finally made it two hours later. My driver charged me 300 rupees. I was exhausted.

Sector 78

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...

1 comment:

Rie said...

Hi Luke,
I am an graduate student in Architecture doing a research on the Aranya project. We are trying to find an aerial image of the development through Google Earth, but having difficulty locating it in Indore. Typing Sector 78 didn't give us anything. Any other suggestions? Thank you so much for your help!