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.