You might end up designing buildings with your training, or you might use your degree as a way for understanding reality, and given the global challenges we are dealing with, that is desirable too.

Architecture for the poor - Sheet1
Slums of Mumbai, India_©kristianbertel.dk

Thinking it is important for both architecture students as well as architects to provide ‘architecture’ for the other part of the society too – the poor. Architecture is often considered something for the wealthier part of society. Breaking the stereotypes, architecture should be considered as something which provides comfort and a better quality of life to every living being. Architecture is about being creative, imaginative and at the same time being able to provide an economical yet functional space for all groups of people. More than providing a luxurious space (which is something humans want), we must focus on tackling the challenges faced by society (which is something humans need). Young architects must be trained in a way to take up and face challenges thrown at societies.

Now, India being the second most populated country in the world should be way ahead in terms of urban planning and architecture when it’s the exact opposite. As the population increases, the quality of life decreases here – which is the major problem in this industry. The above issue can be solved up to a remarkable amount if the mindset is changed. The present mindset is tilted more towards providing modern solutions to every context rather than understanding the challenge and providing a solution based on one particular context.

In India, many parts of various cities are fulfilling housing needs in terms of slum dwellings which of course is because there’s a lack in providing a comfortable quality of life to this group of people. These slum dwellings are occupied by people who are below the poverty line. Problems faced in these slum dwellings in terms of architecture are many – congestion, dingy houses, no regard for safety, overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, absence of basic amenities like water supply, drainage system, sewerage, and disposal of garbage. These dwellings are often set up on previously unused land like hillsides, ravines, floodplains, and landfills. The housing system here is unplanned, haphazard, and random. There is no particular pattern of settlement, they are all clustered and constructed with poor materials.

What can we as architects do to improve this situation? One must provide energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable, safe, and comfortable low-income living. 

Now, we must focus on modifying the entire pattern of settlements and then break it down into smaller modules for smaller solutions. As a whole, proper planning of dwellings must be done in an organized manner to avoid overcrowding and random clusters. This overall planning includes the placement of settlements, the grouping of settlements, circulation spaces, networks, drainage lines, sanitation lines, water supply, electricity, and an appropriate system for garbage disposal. Once this is planned properly, we can move on to the details of each individual module. 

Architecture for the poor - Sheet2
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There are a lot of ways one can incorporate energy efficiency into these buildings and at the same time implement these methods as cost-effectively as possible. Energy-efficient homes include appropriate placement of openings to incorporate an adequate amount of sunlight and ventilation into the houses. An airtight building envelope is one of the most cost-effective opportunities for making a home energy-efficient. This can be done by using highly insulated doors and windows. Thick layers of insulation get most of the attention in cold climates, but insulation needs less emphasis in warm climates.  Highly energy-efficient ventilation systems must be installed in order to expel stale air from the homes and returning fresh air to homes.

The interiors of a building are as important as its exteriors. For the interiors too, energy-efficient lighting, appliances, and electronics must be used. One must always try to use natural lighting as much as possible. Apart from this, there is a range of cost-effective lighting methods for artificial lighting as well. A lot of energy is drawn from lighting, appliances, and electronics, therefore selecting high-efficiency products in this category becomes the final step needed to minimize home energy use. Using the sun for renewable energy is a major step to energy-saving homes. Energy from the sun can power all the energy needs of a home including lighting, heating and cooling systems, appliances, and hot water. 

Lastly, one must choose an approach that matches their climate, skills, and budget. The project’s energy use must be estimated during the design phase itself to ensure that the goal of energy efficiency can be achieved while keeping costs down. Landscaping must also be provided in every unit and around different areas within the settlement so as to achieve an environmentally stable atmosphere. Most importantly, there is a need to educate those living in the slum about their basic responsibilities to maintain their homes and communities for a better living.

Author

Sanjitha Suresh is an architecture student from Bangalore, India. She is aiming to become an Architectural journalist through which she can spread knowledge about architecture and make it understandable even to the common man, rather than having it confined only within the field of architecture.

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