“They are not houses but homes where a happy community lives. That is what finally matters,” says B.V Doshi, the shaping hand behind Aranya. Strong recognition of relationships between humans and the environment, the association of our lives and culture, sensitive approach towards society, its traditions, ways, and a conscious response towards the ecosystem are some key factors that made Doshi’s architecture instrumental in crafting the environment for people.
With the coexistence of functionality and poetic element, his idea behind architecture remains self-evident and expressive of its intent. During 1970 and onward, the emerging need to house large numbers of people gave rise to various housing projects. Doshi designed Life Insurance Corporation, Ahmedabad in 1973 and Aranya Low-Cost Housing, Indore in 1989, which was one of his best-known projects. This project was remarkably unique in terms of its approach, design philosophy, and the way it played a role in the life of users.
Aranya Low-Cost Housing situated in Indore was commissioned by Indore Development Authority and co-funded by World Bank and India’s Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), for Economically weaker sections of society addressing the shortage of houses and shelter at that time. As the number of slums, illegal settlements, and scarcity of shelters increased, it became important for the government to tackle this issue in an affordable and well-served manner.
There were various case studies done; the housing situation then was understood, where affordable housing was equal to a repetition of a series of modules, units that were a standard response. Aranya Housing spans 86 hectares consisting of six self-contained neighbourhoods.
Doshi’s integrated approach for mixed-income groups was with an idea to get them together. The response came purely from the understanding of the fundamental needs of people and the fact that space and design eventually revolve around the user. The housing township spans across six sectors and accommodates over 6500 residences. Doshi decided to provide the families with a framework of things, where the plot consisted of provision for services, a toilet block, and a brick plinth to build over.
Instead of a finished house, this framework allowed people to shape the space according to their fundamental needs and lifestyles. This idea also allowed the house to grow subjectively, influencing the connectivity, human and adaptability, private and public buffers, indoor-outdoor relationships, and flow of spaces.
Hierarchy and Connectivity
The street network has clear vehicular and pedestrian traffic segregation, drawing the vehicular road towards the peripheral main road and pedestrians or informal pathways. This affects the nature of pathways and streets that the houses share, making the heavy traffic inactive and instigating informal public activities and interactions. The entrances, buffer spaces between public and private, streets, space between two houses, the scale of these pathways concerning the built spaces allow ease to spaces and functionality.
The community public spaces follow a hierarchy, with an even distribution of community sub-centres with active pedestrian movement. The main public space being connected with all secondary spaces maintains a link throughout the township. As the sector roads connect to a central spine, this spine is staggered at 2 points to reduce the traffic.
Planning, Masses and Form
Every 10 clusters of houses shared a courtyard. The six sectors had their own green spaces and one larger public space for the whole township. The user was given the freedom to choose how much to build, the combinations to build. As every entrance, staircase, verandahs, buffer had variations, it gave a unique character to every house.
Doshi had a kit of elements that included a staircase, Openings, railings, overhangs, verandahs that allowed families to adapt it according to their needs. He planned and constructed 80 sample homes for the families with variations in terms of size, spatial planning, mass, and movement. Houses ranging from one bedroom to bigger were available for people to choose from depending on the income group. The proximity of two houses helps shade the common courtyard shared in between.
Construction and Materials
As the soil at the site was black cotton soil, Doshi used shallow concrete piles for footing. Every house was provided with a plinth, load-bearing masonry walls, and concrete slabs. This also reduced the overall construction cost. The longer side of the house was oriented in the north-south axis, residing the heat exposure. Owners were free to choose the decorations, material, and colour palette for the house.
Doshi’s vision to have a unified sense of belonging by including the user in the design process was an effective and practical approach towards the housing. The growth of houses and the evolution of spaces were purely out of need and the lifestyle of families. Design parameters like hierarchy, movement, scale were instrumental in the Master Plan. Every neighbourhood is connected through smaller public spaces and informal pathways.
This framework provides the space for users to grow and move organically. This project stands to be one of the exceptional attempts towards its purpose. This approach not only maximized the functionality and usage of space but also uplifted the weaker class.
“Design is nothing but a humble understanding of materials, an instinct for solutions and respect for nature.”
Doshi, B. (2019). Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People.Thames & Hudson.
Manon Mollard (2019). Revisit: Aranya low-cost housing, Indore, Balkrishna Doshi
. [online]. (2019). Available at: https://www.architectural-review.com/buildings/revisit-aranya-low-cost-housing-indore-balkrishna-doshi