A global pandemic has made us all reimagine our lives restricted within the confines of our houses. Domestic architecture or housing, in general, has never been more important to us. Architects and designers have been writing and researching in the field of housing to expand our know-how of architecture’s cornerstone— a house. How do we live in one? How does it sit within a city, or community? And now, how do we work and live inside one, for most of our day?
A life inside houses– if we are lucky– is spent with our family, significant others, or roommates. Much like the setting of a sitcom. Sitcoms or situational comedies are a television subgenre involving a few characters situated around one location. In most settings (especially India), invariably, this has mostly been a house with a family. A house with many people. A house with different generations of a family. Two apartments next to each other. A house with many families…
Studying situations and settings like these— which play on how different characters relate to one another in space— can give us an interesting insight into how we design houses, how we live in houses, and how our collective aspirations of a house shape our lives.
Diving into the world of sitcoms is a cheering thought but one must restrict the scope for the sake of this research to Indian sitcoms, ones that specifically allow a particularly interesting take on domestic architecture because of how diverse the landscape of India is.
First, there’s Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, arguably the best-written sitcom in Indian TV history. Set across two apartments opposite to each other in an upper society south Bombay highrise, the show revolves around the opposing dynamics of the two houses occupied by the father, the mother, and their younger son in one and the elder son and daughter-in-law in the other. The two apartments— one prim and proper in shades of blue and the other, disorganized and disheveled in red— are drastically different, almost encapsulating a whole world high above the city. The dichotomy shows how houses are personal, they are what we make of them. No one housing typology can satisfy the frugal mind of Monisha and the pretentious Maya. Also, high-rise apartments for all their benefits are isolated from the rest of the city. As an audience, we witness the limited interaction of the characters beyond their immediate family and the rest of the building or their friends and family. Another learning to be drawn from Sarabhai is the layout of the houses, the largest volume is dedicated to the open plan living cum dining room cum kitchen, acting as a funnel for the activity to take place, for the family.
The polar opposite of this domestic architecture paradigm is seen in Khichdi– a sitcom set in suburban Mumbai in an old rundown, haveli, or courtyard house of the Parekh family. The show explores a multigenerational dynamic among the many members of this kookie family: the grandfather, the elder son, his wife, his brother-in-law, the younger daughter-in-law, and the kids. Each member seems to have their area of interest and influence under the same roof. The grandfather is firmly placed in the center of the courtyard, the couple the verandahs serenading in their stupidity, the kids their rooms, and the daughter-in-law and brother-in-law the kitchen. The close-knit nature of the family is testament to the design of their house— one that is centered around a courtyard with verandas, encouraging circulation and interaction to become mutually inclusive— which is a typology Indians are all too familiar with but it is becoming a relic in times of expanding density and urbanity. In later series, the show has explored the crumbling structure of the house and how it might be bulldozed anyway.
Expanding the discussion on standalone residences, Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hai Hain gives us two residences in a neighborhood in Kanpur. The series plays on banter between two couples that develop feelings for the other’s partners while peering into each other’s homes. The two houses— although right next to one another— appear to be from different parts of the world, inside and outside. One Western, one local. This aesthetic clash plays well in the narrative but speaks to how neighborhoods in India tend to be a mishmash of styles.
Neighborhoods and housing bring us to one of Indian television’s most successful sitcoms, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, set in the Gokuldham Society, a social housing cooperative society. Families with different cultures, languages, and beliefs live harmoniously in this low rise housing complex with different sized houses in suburban Mumbai. There are three things to note here. One, the diversity within the society’s cultural and social fabric is directly reflected in an architecture of egalitarianism. The houses, some flats, some duplexes all look like one building from the outside. Two, the large public nature of society. Each house opens out to common spaces shared by everyone. The common garden and landscape are witness to all sorts of social gatherings: festivals, sports, weddings, and everyone is welcome to attend. Third, is the self-sufficiency of sorts. The housing has a market, a school, a physician, and other amenities close by, an aspiration that ought to be the norm in all housing.
Lastly, looking at Permanent Roommates. This series explores the millennial mindset and a collective aspiration to find a house of one’s own. Domestic Architecture in urban India is as diversified as the country and is as difficult to solve. 63.67 million urban and rural households across India do not have adequate housing. While a younger generation looks to diversify and break away from a large family setup, housing needs to diversify and expand to accommodate this shortage for families and individuals, one where roommates and daughters-in-law coexist in houses.
A house is not just a house, it is the representation and an embodiment of a collective aspiration to live a fulfilling life. Sitcoms or pop culture is a representation of our socio-cultural existence. Although the learning can be limited in comparison to statistical housing data, this method of architectural exploration opens the avenue of tapping into the zeitgeist while we design the houses of our dreams.