From Dharavi to Rome

July 28th, 2016 by urbzman

Exhibiting at the renowned MAXXI, claimed by the Guardian as ‘Hadid’s finest built work to date’ was an exciting prospect for us. We wanted to use this platform to present one of our homegrown concepts: the tool-house. In very basic terms, the tool-house is a space for living and working. Conceptually located between Le Corbusier’s “machine for living” (also sometimes translated as “house tool”) and Ivan Illich’s “convivial tool”, the ‘tool-house’ is an apparatus that fulfills economic and sheltering purposes.

urbz’ exhibit at the MAXXI, Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo or National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, a museum celebrating contemporary art and architecture.

Ever since the advent of the industrial age, the way that cities have been shaped is fundamentally rooted in the separation between the workplace and the house. Today, with entrepreneurial ventures, freelancing, and the hard to ignore start –up culture on the rise, lines between work and live situations are blurring. In a world where garage start-ups like Apple Inc. grow to become the most valuable company in the world, planners and architects have to reckon with the new challenges that this work-from-home phenomenon poses.

We noticed that the tool-house is a typology that is common in Dharavi and the local builders have both experience and knowledge of this type of housing. These contractors, as they are called, are generally seen as facilitators of construction. They manage large teams of specialized labourers, handle the relationship with clients, and make sure that the houses they build get the official or officious sanction of the authorities. We invited local contractors to design their ideal house for Dharavi. The brief only specified a typical Dharavi plot size (3.5 x 4.5 sq.m) and that the design should incorporate a live-work situation – it had to be a “tool-house”.

Local contractor, Datta, picks up the pencil and explores his idea of Dharavi’s ideal home

The outcome was not an extravagant architectural feat. For the contractors, ‘ideal’ was more in the small details like having 2 feet extra ceiling height, larger windows and well-thought staircases to access roofs for hot summer nights. For us, as urbanologists, this process helped us learn from some of the most active participants of Dharavi’s incremental transformation. Local contractors have shaped the fabric of Dharavi from the very first day. Their knowledge is based on a long experience of the neighbourhood where they live and work. Their design expresses a better version of the present. Not quite a radical departure from it, but a pragmatic, creative and at times audacious expression of potentialities lying within Dharavi.

Local artisan collaborates with the contractor to bring their design to life, using a material of their choice.

We then put the contractors in touch with local artisans to build a model of their design (at a 1:20 scale). As the contractors saw their designs come to life, they would realise existing design flaws and correct them on the spot, asking the artisan to make changes accordingly. Sometimes, the artisans offered their own suggestions. This exchange reflects the on-site, adaptive and evolving manner in which contractors work. Contractors operating in Dharavi and other incremental neighbourhood of Mumbai don’t use drawings or plans. They simply give instructions to the labourers on site, projecting the ideas they discussed with their client directly onto reality. For some, the models were the first time they saw their work as “design” rather than construction.

The contractor, local artisan and architect in conversation, developing and retrofitting the design as the model is being built.

These models are the ones that we are exhibiting at Maxxi to state that answers to what are considered ‘new’ problems in urban planning can be found in what is considered the ‘largest slum’ in Asia. We simply want to recognise that this is a typology that exists in homegrown settlements around the world and studying this typology further could be the way forward to reconsider the way cities are planned.

Three of Dharavi’s ideal homes fabricated out different materials: wood, metal and acrylic as chosen by the contractors, on display at the MAXXI

Some visitors take a seat to watch our movies ‘A House We Built‘ and a ‘A House We Built Bigger‘ while others explore the rest of the exhibit.

More photos of the exhibition on our Flickr album

Dense with waste

July 14th, 2016 by urbzman

Waste accumulated at Versova Jetty

Jai and Ketaki of urbz Mumbai have drafted a project for Versova Koliwada, a historical fishing village in Mumbai. The project was submitted to Shelter Global’s international competition “Dencity” and just won the 1st prize! Shelter Global is an interdisciplinary, not-for-profit organization focused on solving the world’s shelter crisis by providing safe, clean living conditions for everyone.

The project deals with a number of critical issues relevant to the Koli community of Mumbai. The Kolis, a fishermen community, are some of the earliest inhabitants of the city, having lived here even before it was named Bombaim by the first Portuguese colonisers. These fisherfolk, known for their convivial way of life, live in small settlements spread across Mumbai’s coastline. The Versova Village is one of about 38 Koliwadas in the city. Mumbai’s urban villages, which include the Koliwadas, are only vaguely acknowledged under the Gaothan Act. Yet, they provide its residents with affordable costs of living and livelihood opportunities.

Mumbai’s population has grown tremendously over the past century, and urban villages have densified and spread accordingly. Today, many of them are mistakenly considered as slums. The Kolis of Mumbai have been fighting for recognition and opposing the redevelopment plans of the government. urbz has always supported Dharavi-Koliwada’s efforts to be excluded from the Dharavi Redevelopment Project.

Versova-Koliwada, situated along the Malad Creek, is a lively village with 5000 inhabitants that is now classified a slum by the government. The community of Versova-Koliwada has managed to thrive in harmony with the help of various existing activity centers and ancillary industries. However, deteriorating environmental conditions have compelled the Kolis to migrate and look for opportunities outside their settlement.

The industrial effluents and solid waste, especially plastic debris from the neighborhood, pollute the 19 km long Oshiwara River before it enters into the creek. Due to the nature of the water current, the solid waste eventually settles on the banks of Koliwada. During monsoon, mountainous heaps of plastic debris accumulate on the coast. As a result, the nearby, polluted mangroves experience a loss of cross-breeding. The consequence of this extreme pollution has brought about an increase in the fish mortality which negatively impacts the livelihood of the fishermen.  These actions affect the local economy, allied skilled occupations in the hamlet, and fuels ecological concerns.

Active fishing harbour at Versova Koliwada

The proposed four-phased intervention encompasses a number of critical questions and tackles two major issues: integration and sustainable development. The intervention intends to blur the existing social boundary between the kolis and the city dwellers, and effectuate an integration across various levels: social, economic, spatial and political. This proposal wishes to address the issue of an ‘unseen future’ of these communities by exploring different methods that can sustain their existence and propel it forward in an exemplary environment-friendly manner.

The first phase aims to inaugurate a ‘Knowledge Center’ with the support of the already established Versova Co-operative society. This center proposes to facilitate new activities and services based on the principle of micro-intervention. One of the major pollutants responsible for the coastal and mangrove degradation is plastic debris. The first step of this phase designates focal points for waste collection and segregation. The center would use the skills of the net weavers to make filter screens, suspended 2 meters deep in the creek and anchored along the edge, imitating a water filter system. This ensures uninterrupted movement of fish while creating an efficient method for waste collection. The plastic debris collected from a comprehensive waste sorting would be recycled and repurposed.

Plastic filters in the creek: floating pods attached with locally made nets act as plastic filters allow easy collection points of plastic waste

The technology of ‘Plastic Boats’ will be used to make a ‘Poor man’s boat.’ This is a float which is made of plastic gunny bags with three compartments. They are filled with empty, used plastic bottles and stitched together to make a homogenous mass. Its design and the air in the empty bottles allow it to float, much like any inflatable swim-tube or ring. The proposed floating-island would benefit and prolong the lives of the mangroves and corals. A floating island of a base diameter of 18 m consists of two components: plastic nets made of tied bottles and a wooden board. This technology is presently used to build inflatable tubes/rings for closed system aquaculture.

The second phase aims at introducing to the creek a closed system aquaculture, one of the most environmentally conscious methods of rearing aquatic species. This would increase the fish population, help the fishermen in increasing their catch and strengthen socio- cultural and economic sustenance.

The third phase focuses on uplifting the economy and supporting the fish market by introducing ‘Inland Fish Culture’ where fresh water and ornamental fish breeding is carried out.

The final phase aims at setting up a Fish Processing Industry. This expansion would extend Koliwada’s economic reach to the city, establishing a socio-economic interaction between the two. This phase also includes setting up a restaurant, an aquarium and an information center. Creation of spaces designated for workshops and exhibits of local fish produce like the popular dry fish pickle, especially during the yearly Versova Seafood Festival, are also proposed.

Boats made of plastic waste and wooden boards along with fish culture floating pods being used

The proposal is envisioned to have a ripple effect across the various Koli communities of Mumbai. The ideas in this project could potentially be duplicated in different Koliwadas with the Versova-Koliwada as a starting point. The interventions in the project use technology as a means to empower local business and strengthen ties both within and outside the Koli community. Finally, the project hopes to erase lines of social division between the city and the ‘slum’, looking at both as one mutually beneficial and interdependent entity.
The urbz team is now looking forward to engaging with the Koli community at Versova to bring the project to life. The main goal of the Dencity proposal is to incrementally develop the existing ancillary industries, stimulate employment, and encourage the germination of more small-scale industries. The projects hopes to highlight existing skills sets and incorporate clever use of technology to enhance the social, economic and cultural state of the entire village.

Dencity Competition 2016 : Panel-1 (click on the image to enlarge)

Dencity competition 2016 : Panel -2 (click on the image to enlarge)

Article in Mid-Day, Sunday July 10th, 2016 (click on the image to enlarge)

Circulatory Bordeaux

July 7th, 2016 by urbzman

urbz’ exhibit at Arc en Rêve centre of Architecture, Bordeaux. Interactive sessions with the visitors of the exhibition

Summer 2016 was one that saw us presenting our work at renowned pavilions across Europe. We enjoy the opportunity to create multimedia to convey our ideas to the world. More importantly, we see these events as occasions to learn from the reactions, feedback, observations, praise and criticism.

Circulatory urbanism is a concept we have conceived and worked on for over 3 years now. Our initial studies for circulatory urbanism explored migratory patterns within the Mumbai-Konkan connection.  We followed various families on their trip between Mumbai and their respective villages, a recurring movement that could be as frequent as once a month, biannually or yearly. What really interested us in this circulatory movement between the village and the city is that people’s roots extended from one to the other. A person’s idea of ‘home’ is neither here nor there. In a way, they live in the intangible space that exists between the two.

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The video explains the concept of circulatory urbanism and our work involving the Mumbai-Konkan connection

This idea is not unique to an Indian context. In today’s world, more than ever before, people are moving across states, regions, countries and continents. Our own team circulates regularly between Mumbai, Goa and Geneva, and it is now growing new roots in Sao Paulo and Bogota. The question ‘where are you from?’ is not the same as ‘where were you born?’ When you move to a new place, your roots are not just left behind. Instead, they continue growing in new places, while maintaining a vital link to other homes.

The movement between the village and the city shapes a different territory and links the two together

People live in the in-between space between the city and the village keeping elements from both

After the first phase of our circulatory urbanism studies, we were invited to exhibit our work at the Architecture Center Arc en Rêve in Bordeaux. Rather than simply presenting a distant reality in India to the French public, we wanted to use this platform to explore whether circulatory urbanism was – as we suspect – a more generalized and universal pattern. During one-on-one interactive sessions with visitors we tried to understand what ‘home’ meant to each person and learnt that it is not restricted to one place. We then asked people to imagine their ‘ideal’ living situation. What would this invisible space look and feel like if it were to take form?

L-R: Matias, Wenwen Cai, Prof. Yehuda Safran, Ismini; mapping Wenwen’s movements and habitat.

We heard about many different trajectories but one thing was evident: nearly everyone lives in a world where habitats and lifestyles are shaped around circulatory movements. In a world where travel is becoming the norm, people identify with two, three and sometimes five places that they can call ‘home’. It’s not just about the movement between the village and the city. It’s about the connections that are formed. It’s about how this intangible space is an undeniable presence in people’s lives all over the world.

One of the mental maps we made during our interactive session with Chloe

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Draft video showing the outcome of 3 of about 12 interactive sessions conducted at Arc en Rêve, Bordeaux. (Work in process).

Dharavi’s Front-End!

May 20th, 2016 by urbzman

Our relationship with Dharavi is one that dates back to 8 years ago. Dharavi created urbz. Somewhere along the way, slowly, urbz started to be a part of Dharavi as well. This is where we opened our first, humble office on the first floor of a typical Dharavi house on MG Road in New Transit Camp after which shifted to Shivaji Nagar, Govandi.

In February this year, we moved our office back to Dharavi. This time, our office is a little bigger and much more accessible. Visitors no longer get lost trying to find a room in the maze. Indeed, our new office space is right at Dharavi T-Junction. Every day about 40’000 vehicle and 15’000 pedestrians pass right by. If you’ve passed by T-Junction you have probably seen our new space unawares, just at the edge of Koliwada bang opposite the Mahim Creek and BKC. Chances are that if you walk by looking for the office, the locals will help you find it.

Our new office is again a typical, Dharavi unit. Our office is not just a workplace. The front room of our office is  a  space which we envision donning many hats and playing different roles. We call it the Front-End. The Front-End is a gallery, a space that encourages conversation, a place where ideas are born, a room where people can work and most importantly, a platform for Dharavi, its residents and mumbaikars to express themselves. Simply, we want to provide a space for creation, exchange and interaction. The Front-End is a place dedicated to urbanism and homegrown neighbourhoods and we encourage everybody who is interested in these subjects to use it.

Tonight is our first public opening! We are rushing to get everything ready for 6PM tonight and having lots of fun in the process, as usual!

What we are presenting from tonight onwards, for about 2 months, is the outcome of a collaboration between urbz and the ‘Engineers for Social Impact’ lab at NYU Abu Dhabi. From March 20th-26th, urbz ‘handstormed’ with young engineers from all over the world, residents of Dharavi and local artisans.

The participants of the ‘handstorm workshop’ spent time in Dharavi and explored 4 main topics: roofing, community participation, water issues and space optimisation. We are quite thrilled about the potential impact of some of the projects we are presenting tonight. Rather than a big bang approach to innovation, these are down-to-earth ideas that are currently being tested in situ.

We are excited, hopeful and eagerly waiting to see you all at the Front-End! Our doors are open. Here’s to the first of many conversations.

Address: Room 56/AB, 1st Floor, T Junction, Dharavi Koliwada, Mumbai 400017

Landmark: Jhakaas Restaurant at T Junction

Directions: Second building to the right of Jhakaas restaurant when facing the Mithi River. The office is on the first floor, above a courier shop.

Contact: +91 8879184090, +91 7738467192

Viva urbz Colombia!!!

April 6th, 2016 by urbzman

Comuna 1, Medellin, Colombia

Bogota is distinguished by its geography. It is a city surrounded by mountains on the eastern side, framing and bordering its periphery. As in many other Colombian cities, this periphery has been the scene of constant arrival of rural residents and displaced people in search of opportunity and a new life in the capital city.

In this process, the periphery has lived for the past decades an accelerated and sporadic growth which is different from that of the rest of the city. Two parallel processes have been generated:  the planned or formal city, and the auto-build or sporadic city. This has generated a territory divided socially, between north and south, between periphery and centrality, between rich and poor. The city currently has ten million inhabitants, and it is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the city has been self-built through various social dynamics and collective processes of formation by their inhabitants in the periphery.

Eastern Mountains, Bogota

Many of these neighborhoods are consolidated progressively and organically, and they are in constant transformation and evolution. The structure of space, and the architecture of the houses, is a response to daily activities, and a reflection of the needs of its inhabitants and their cultural practices.

Each inhabitant reaching the outskirts of Bogota from different regions of the country, brings new ideas in shaping the territory, enriching it with new knowledge and a varied cultural value. It is easy to find in these homegrown neighborhoods a lot of artistic groups and community organisations created by the people, seeking to improve their conditions and strengthen community ties. However, in the Colombian context in particular, cities have been marked by armed conflict and the invisible boundaries of social conflict.

These emerging forms of organisation on the periphery of Colombian cities have led us to explore these neighbourhoods and to inquire into these collective processes commonly called “informal”: decision-making processes are not centralised here, and all inhabitants of these spaces participate in the construction of their neighborhood.

Workshop Participative Design Project Escape, Altos del Pino, Cazuca – urbz Colombia, Piloto University, Escape

In our passage through India and Brazil, we discovered that similar experiences were carried out by urbz, which motivates us to create urbz Colombia, with the aim of consolidating a network of experiences that seek to understand, value, recognise and generate knowledge in homegrown neighbourhoods. Although India, Brazil and Colombia are contexts geographically, socially and culturally different – where the production of space is a response to different dynamics – the fundamental idea, which urbz also advocates, remains as a connecting thread: We believe that residents are experts in their neighbourhoods. Their everyday experience of the places where they live and work constitute essential knowledge for planning and urban development.

Thus, with the creation of urbz Colombia, we understand and recognise the contribution of these communities to Colombian cities. Our goal is to understand how these conformation processes in the homegrown neighbourhoods could be valid tools in the collective construction of cities, taking as a starting point the understanding of social dynamics in production of space in these neighbourhoods.

Communa 1, Medellin

We imagine urbz Colombia as an open and experimental platform to generate and share information from homegrown neighbourhoods of Bogota and Medellin, also with India, Brazil and Switzerland, appreciating and understanding the point of view of the people, their daily experiences, their needs and their experience in the knowledge of the territory.

Taking off from an important and established urbz idea, urbz Colombia recognises that the inhabitants remain the protagonists in the production of their spaces. Through workshops and various activities urbz invites professionals, artists and anyone interested to participate in various projects created in neighbourhoods for mutual learning. urbz Colombia articulates and integrates the experience and knowledge of local inhabitants for future intervention or research projects, and make partnerships with universities, governmental entities, and different groups and organisations who want to intervene in these sectors.

From urbz Colombia we want to share and expand the ideas of millions of users and show the potential of ordinary people to collectively build sustainable cities in this region.

This is our first post written by the urbz team in Colombia.