New York, London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai have all one thing in common – a skyline, an element or shall we say more like the precious jewel, the city wants to showcase. Architects spend a considerable amount of time and work to design a building which would add value and a new angle to this skyline. Skyline also stands for something else, a city in its awakening. Life in the city is preferred by most of us for the amenities and services it offers. Cities are various nuclei on the globe with villages scarcely placed amidst it.
The rural areas in the Indian context are a stark contrast to the urban scenario. The roads where kicking up dust may seem like an understatement and the living conditions, there are hardly any worth living in. The nearest hospital might take a more than a few hours and online food deliveries, never heard of. The life at a rural setting is not what is aspired of, hence the growing pressure on urban settlements due to migration. There is a major imbalance in finances and material resources between the city and the villages around it. Architects also favour the imbalance as it helps in creating a better name. Nonetheless, architects can help develop rural areas to better and upgraded living conditions. And it is the responsibility of the architectural community to help shift focus from urban settlements to the rural settlements.
The focus on rural architecture can also shift the massive migration towards the cities which put extra pressure on the resources, infrastructure, sanitation and waste management. The extra pressure is often not dealt and end up damaging the environment more. The focus on the rural can solve a lot of mores faced in the city as well as the rural settlement. The city gets a little breather and the rural gets an uplift. The problems faced by rural setting, west to east or north to south, is the same: lack of shelter, lack of infrastructure, ageing population, lack of urban planning and waste management, and lack of community centres. Millions of tribal villages and rural villages lack the basics of living – a pacca shelter and proper drinking water and sanitation facilities. The living conditions are pretty bad if not to say worse. The poor sanitation and drinking water facilities have led to a lot of health issues, especially contagious diseases.
Architects are taught to provide better living conditions using bare minimum considering the climatic conditions and locally available materials. There are many architects across the country working in rural scenarios to help provide for better living standards.
Building in the rural setup can also benefit the architects – teaches one to use the local materials and learn more about traditional building techniques. The interaction between an architect and local crafts-people can train the later in modern construction methods with an integration of the traditional techniques, providing more job opportunities.
This symbiotic relationship can be explained further using the project of Anna Heringer in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries, wherein the lack of agricultural land is predominantly due to construction for housing. Anna and her team of students both from Bangladesh and Austria, strategically designed two-storey housing using local materials upgraded to modern building construction. The extra storey reduces the footprint while providing additional space for privacy on the first floor and cultivation on the ground floor. The traditional houses were cold during winters due to lack of insulation and warm during summers. The new buildings were done using rammed earth walls and bamboo for roofing for thermal mass during summer along with a layer of ferro-cement as an insulator for the winters. The construction involved the family members, teaching them a new craft to help make a living.
Since Independence, India has seen massive urbanisation and migration to the cities. We need to look at the reverse situation for a future in sustainability, wherein the villages are developed with invests from the city to sustain itself that the idea of migration becomes redundant.
To develop the infrastructure required for the village to have better living standards and job opportunities. Architecture Brio, Mumbai is constructing such an intervention at Konchur, Karnataka. Community toilets which are more women-centric are being built along with infrastructure promoting local entrepreneurship like dairy farming. The construction is being done using quarry waste limestone in traditional random rubble masonry, a locally available building material to reduce expenditure and carbon footprint. The toilets are designed for both community and individual houses after consulting with the end-users.
The Druk Padma Karpo School in Ladakh is another example of rural development. The school has helped rebuild the community and increased the income from tourists. Built using locally available stone and modern technology, the school provides opportunity for the children to get good education and a better quality of life. The village lacked proper amenities or a good educational institution. The school was built to provide a space for the children to grow up in a garden in comparison to the harsh exteriors. The classrooms are placed in a nine grid within a circle, each opening up to the exterior open space. The school has both day scholars and residential students allowing children from distant villages to come and learn. The school also provides employment to the villagers and also acts as a community centre to host events.
The development of a country is through the development of every part of the country and not just its urban centres. It is especially important in the Indian context as 70% of our population lives in the villages. Developing the villages will re-distribute the energy and resources, and help in the management of the various systems like waste management, LPG distribution etc. Therefore as architects, it is important to shift focus from the urban centres to the rural settlements.