Scale Up / Scale Down: Working with Objects, Places and People

December 29th, 2016 by urbzman

Mapping the productive ecosystem of Dharavi. This map shows the journey from an embroidery workshop to the wholesale shop.

24 young to-be architects from SAL University, Ahmedabad spent a week with urbz to explore and understand the Dharavi context. Both wary and curious about the baggage the settlement carried, widely and wrongly branded a slum, the students started out with some scepticism about the workshop. At the same time they had a genuine curiosity about Mumbai city as a whole. A large number of the students had come to Mumbai for the first time, which was a bit surprising considering they belonged to the neighbouring state of Gujarat.

Scale Up/Scale Down: Working with Objects Places and People was ideated to explore the different scales of a subject transcending time and place. For architects, dealing consciously with scale is crucial as architecture has to frequently work in various simultaneous moments, especially in a fabric that is user-generated like Dharavi. For example, a design of a newly built home has to keep in mind the growth of the family and the addition of more rooms or an added floor. Or, a house can be divided in spatial and temporal terms and have multiple uses like working and living together at the same time. The workshop was planned to be a fun experiment for the students to discover Dharavi in an unconventional way. Dharavi is known for its cottage industries and manufacturing units. The reason that Dharavi thrives and flourishes despite its shortcomings is the economic turnover that it produces yearly. urbz identified six families involved in characteristic Dharavi businesses: leather, idli, broom-making, embroidery, garments and papads. The students could then explore Dharavi through its businesses, a field whose language any Gujarati speaks fluently!

The students interacting with families and workers in Dharavi.

Team Idli in conversation with the Jeyanti who makes all the batter and preparation for the day’s work.

On the first day, each team was given a clue with a name and an address. The students started out eagerly, each wanting to be the first to arrive at their destination. In the process, they moved around Dharavi, asked for directions and by the time they arrived at the house of their respective family, were already familiar with the neighbourhood. The teams were encouraged to interact with the families, ask them about their roots, their lives in Mumbai, their livelihood and focus on unearthing each family’s’ story while documenting everything they saw and heard. What was most impressive is the speed with which they navigated the neighbourhood. With the help of GPS and their social skills, all the teams found the houses extremely quickly, considering the maze of roads that makes up the neighbourhood they were visiting for the first time.

Locals: the best kind of GPS.

Through the course of the week, the teams became familiar with the neighbourhood and the stories of their assigned families. After climbing two steep ladders to reach their unit, team Embroidery were surprised to find that the entire business ran out of a small room which the workers also used for sleeping. While documenting the structure they realised that live-work conditions are good solutions for businesses in Dharavi because of the all-day utilisation of space and the economic benefits that come with it. Team Idli discovered that idli vendor Ammavasai’s family also operated out of a ‘tool-house’ where the ground floor was where the parents would store their raw material, prepare the batter, make the idlis and also sleep while the top floor was left for the children to forge a new path. Ammavasai’s bicycle was the crux of their story as it transforms into a mobile idli stall across Mumbai everyday. The Garment Team learnt that in Dharavi the spatial arrangement of buildings allowed for entire businesses to run out of a single unit; retail showroom in the front, storage at the back, workshops and living space on subsequent floors. Team Papad made interesting connections of their woman entrepreneur’s life with Patrick Geddes’ interpretation of the key units of society: Work, Place and Folk. Mapping her activities through the day, they found that papad woman Rekha Gade takes care of the household, goes to other parts of Mumbai to buy the material for the papad, makes the papad from her home and uses the tree right outside as her ‘shop’ from which she earns an additional income to support her family.

Participants back at the office to discuss ideas and follow their trails to other parts of the city.

Every team realised that the business they were studying had a large footprint, one that extended beyond the confines of the neighbourhood. Team Papad discovered that papad, while laid and dried in Dharavi, is prepared elsewhere in Mumbai and occasionally sent somewhere else for processing. Team Idli followed their idli-wallah to Kurla to compare the business inside and outside of Dharavi. The leather and broom teams found links from the Dharavi unit to Karnataka and even Dubai. Some networks, like in the case of the Garment Team, led them back to Gujarat!

Documentation of a local Dharavi house showing both living and livelihood activities in the same unit.

The idea behind Scale up/Scale was to pay attention to how specific objects in the house represent larger relationships. For example, objects of daily use like the bed, the cupboard, the child’s study table or objects of exchange, such as food, clothes and tools made or consumed by people often form the heart of households. At the same time the house is embedded and networked with the street as a whole with people sharing walls, access streets, water, sewage, drainage pipes and electricity wires all of which are part of larger urban grids. The world from the outside can be omnipresent in the house through transport and communication networks – or embodied in the person who moves all over the neighbourhood and city and beyond for work or leisure. This is possibly the most important lesson we learnt from the workshop – Dharavi has strong ties not only within its boundaries but ones whose sphere of influence extend to the rest of the city, the country and often to various different parts of the world.

Students map the connections of their stories from Dharavi to the rest of the world.

The workshop also provided the students a platform to display their stories as their first public exhibition at urbz’ own gallery. Having invited all of the families with whom they had spent an entire week, the participants were hard at work to show all the material they had collected. Some even borrowed personal objects from the families and put it on display. Pictures, selfies, explanations carried on through the night. There seemed to be a sense of pride at having successfully exhibited all their work to the families that they had been intricately involved with over the past week.

Careful, final touches on the display material before the exhibition.

‘So, what do you think of Dharavi now?’ we asked the students on the last day. ‘I always imagined that Dharavi was a scary place. It’s not like that at all’, said one. ‘It was surprising to find that the families we interacted with have the same dreams and aspirations as us’, said another. Steering away from the typical architecture workshop which deals with building design and construction, the workshop pushed the students to think beyond the building unit and explore the networks that its activities creates. Most importantly, the workshop busted preconceived notions of Dharavi, with the students promising to return for part two.

The story of a lane in Dharavi

October 31st, 2016 by urbzman

Bareilly street, Social Nagar, Dharavi – with photos from urbz’s street exhibition last September.

Four years ago the urbz team documented a few “tool-houses” in Dharavi. One of them was the house of Waqar Khan’s family which included a garment workshop and a showroom. Mr. Khan, a businessman, community leader and social activist was born in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. His life is a Dharavi success story like few others. He arrived in Mumbai with nothing and thanks to his hard work, business acumen and social skills, built a solid business with a distribution network stretching all the way to Goa where he opened a shop several years ago.. A good share of his earning was reinvested in the community in the form of short term loans to fellow migrant entrepreneurs, helping many start their own businesses at a time when banks and formal lenders were red-lining Dharavi altogether.

Waqar rose to prominence as a community leader shortly after the Bombay Riots of 1991-92. Along with community activist, life-long Dharavi resident and urbz mentor Bhau Korde, he initiated a “communal harmony” movement, which aimed at healing the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, who had been living side by side as partners, neighbours, and friends ever since Dharavi welcomed its first Muslim migrants over a century ago. The riots had little to do with Dharavi and much to do with divide-and-rule strategies by unscrupulous politicians. They didn’t start in Dharavi, but were sparked by radicalized elements from other parts of the city. Nonetheless, they put the settlement, which was already struggling with poor infrastructure and prejudiced policies, into fire. The post-riot tension was particularly unbearable in the hyperdense context of Dharavi, where the codependency between communities was extremely strong. With time, owing to the communal harmony movement and the goodwill of Dharavi residents, the tension finally eased, and life and business resumed. When Wakar Khan passed away, in 2010, people from all communities and religions attended his funeral and praised his contribution in making Dharavi a better place.

Map and location of Bareilly Compound.

The street where Waqar lived and worked is located in Social Nagar, off Dharavi’s 90 feet road. A casual passerby would not really notice it. At first sight, it is just another busy, narrow lane. But in Dharavi, every street has a unique story to tell. These stories reveal as much about the personal journeys of the people who inhabit the street, as about the larger and rapidly evolving context of urban India.

Two months ago, three young architects from the urbz team -Samidha Patil, Perrine Cariou and Alex Albert- went back to that street to see how it had evolved. A couple of decades ago, the street was almost entirely inhabited by families from the city of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, like the Khan’s. This is how the area got to be known as Bareilly compound. Most of the workshops in the area were in the garment business. But when the competition in this sector became too fierce, many of the workshops turned to leather manufacturing.

Some of the families in Bareilly compound have been there for about four generations, but the street is now largely dominated by workshops, with a proliferation of retail activities at the ground level. The workshops almost always double up as dormitories, where seasonal workers sleep while they are in Mumbai. The main lane is rather narrow, but constantly busy with people passing through or stopping to make some purchase at one of the 8 leather shops out of 22 shops lined in the street. This street opens to a square around which there are 5 residences, 33 workshops and a public toilet. Around 245 people live and work in Bareilly Compound. They are predominantly Muslim, but not only from Bareilly. Several come from Bihar and other parts of India.

A leather shop in the main lane.

A workshop with young workers from Bihar and their manager.

Waqar’s son Gulzar Khan, runs the family business now. He says that many things have changed since the passing of his father. For one, the business has transformed a lot. His family still deals in garments, but they are no longer involved in manufacturing. He says that a tightening of governmental control has made life harder for big and small entrepreneurs in Dharavi. For instance, it is no longer possible for a workshop owner to borrow money locally to buy the raw material he needs to fulfil an order. Renting space for a shop is also more expensive. As a result, a lot of the production has gone out of Dharavi to places which are cheaper and less restricted. Whatsapp is Gulzar’s tool of predilection. His orders are manufactured in the periphery of Delhi (where space is much cheaper) or back in Bareilly where hundreds of workshops, often financed by Dharavi entrepreneurs, have opened up.

This shift in the market has affected the community and forced some of them to move out of the street. Today, the numbers of both, the community and the garment market, has reduced so much that there are few traces of its once bustling presence. This change is reflected in the appearance of the street. During the heyday of the garment market, there were many more families living in the street. Most of them involved in the production or wholesaling of garments. There are only a few families left in the street now. Their spaces have been replaced by workshops, which have multiplied in the street. People still live in the street, but most of the residents are single men, who have less of an investment in the improvement of the general conditions. Quite a few families have kept businesses in the street by moved out to find better living conditions elsewhere. The government has been neglecting infrastructure for years now and even the most invested families, such as the Khan’s feel disillusioned about possible improvement. Many efforts by inhabitants have been made, but without official support, things such as drainage or public toilets cannot be fixed.

A kid playing with a stick in the gutter at Bareilly Compound.

A single toilet block with 14 cubicles each for men and women caters  to 245 residents from the compound, and hundreds others from close-by areas. This toilet block is described by women and young children as ‘dark and scary’. The worst part is that it doesn’t have running water. So people have to go to the toilet with buckets. This really baffles us, because connecting a toilet block to the water system is no rocket science. People have managed to get running water for their own homes. The municipality have managed to provide a source of running water in the compound for domestic use which is few steps away from this toilet block. How come they don’t manage to bring running water to the toilets? The only plausible answer is that the authorities prefer to keep it that way, so people never get too comfortable and readily agree to the redevelopment plan that has been on the cards for decades.

Total neglect and laxity by the municipal authorities was again clear in the narrow lanes around the square with their uneven paving and open gutters. This seemed particularly unfair to the children who had to jump over a hole on the ground to get in and out of their houses.

Perrine Cariou, Larson A. Vaiti and Samidha Patil organizing a treasure hunt with the kids at Bareilly Compound.

In order to understand the neighbourhood from the children’s perspective, we organized a treasure hunt in the compound, painting workshops, micro-gardening and other activities. Over forty enthusiastic kids joined the fun. Many ideas for simple interventions came out of these interactions with the kids. The toilets were a big concern for them. The common square was a place they particularly liked, as kids from the surrounding areas gathered there to meet and play. We also talked to many young men in the street and as many women as we could in their home. Many of them expressed a very clear interest for improving the compound. At the same time a fatalistic feeling prevailed. Very few people have the energy of Wakar Khan when it comes to mobilizing neighbourhoods, advocating for change and getting involved. These local leaders are precious and often taken for granted.

We worked on a series of small projects like redesigning the toilet block to make its roof usable for small children and their mothers. We also proposed a child day-care center run by local women operating from some of the vacant units in the compound. Another suggestion was a system to close the gutters for safety, while making it easy to reopen them whenever they needed to be cleaned up.

Proposition for a recreation ground for young children and their mothers on top of the toilet.

Life-long Dharavi resident and activist, Bhau Korde explaining some of the ideas developed by the urbz team to residents of Bareilly Compound.

Jai Bhadgaonkar presenting a wood model of the area to residents.

A shop owner posing by a photo of him exhibited in during the street exhibition we organized.

Kids planting flowers as a symbolic gesturing expressing their desire for the improvement of the space where they meet and play. Far left, Gulzar Khan, Waqar’s son.

After nearly 10 weeks of study and involvement in Bareilly Compound, we organized a street exhibition that aimed at sharing our analysis and ideas for the street. Shop owner’s pictures were printed and hung outside their shops much to their delight. A wooden block model of the compound was the center of attraction with each resident coming in to identify their own house and shop. The interventions proposed were presented at a community meeting, organised in part by Gulzar Khan, where the residents voiced their opinions about the project. Those who were initially skeptical about our loitering in their compound were quite happy with the work we presented to them as they understood the purpose of the 2 month study.

What comes next is yet to be done. Our involvement needs to be met by that of residents, and ideally by the municipal authorities. We are now seeking financial support and authorization to fix the toilets and create a space for children and their mothers. We feel that rather than a big bang approach to social and urban change, an incremental, participatory approach has a better chance of being sustained. What this kind of approach needs more than anything is validation by peers and officials. The residents, for their part, have so far only relied on their own initiative to improve their habitats. It is time to take them seriously and help them move on to the next stage of incremental development and improvement.

The urbz team with lots of kids from the area.

Click here for more images of Bareilly Compound, the treasure hunt with children, the street exhibition and the architectural proposals for the areas.

Class(room) politics in Dharavi’s community schools

October 12th, 2016 by urbzman

Schoolchildren from a local Marathi medium school play together during recess.

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire”
Citation from the diary of a local Dharavi school, originally by W.B. Yeats.

For a few hours every weekday the streets of Dharavi, usually bursting with the honks of vehicles and the cries of hawkers, are turned over to a more discreet force as throngs of local schoolchildren follow their daily path back home, the patterns of their neatly-ironed uniforms cutting a sharp contrast to the furious energy around them. In the minds of many, Dharavi’s enduring label of ‘slum’ still carries with it many of the connotations of an uneducated urban poor scratching out a living through menial wage jobs. While this may be true for some of the older residents, education here is actually on everyone’s mind, and it has become a true industry in many ways. Some of the largest structures in Dharavi are its schools, whose multi-level concrete walls rise far above ordinary dwellings and house classrooms teeming with students eager to use any foreigner as the proof of their English skills. However, not all of these schools are created equal; ask Dharavi residents what their opinion of the local public school run by the BMC is, and you’ll likely hear a list of complaints ranging from inadequate teachers to lack of supplies, each flaw a roadblock against academic success.

Parents gather in front of the Kamarajar High School gates to pick up their children. One of the largest in Dharavi, this school was founded by a Tamil trust.

Yet hanging on lamp-posts along Dharavi’s main roads, it’s also possible to spy posters hailing the top marks of local students in high school exams. Many of them come from the numerous ‘private-unaided’ schools scattered around Dharavi, whose roots are deeply bound up with the evolution of the area. The various communities that have converged on Dharavi to make it what it is today have also played a significant role in its socio-political and economic form, most obviously through countless workshops and manufacturing activities but also through larger scales forms of collective organization. One of the most unique of these are what we can call ‘community’ or ‘homegrown’ schools, grassroots efforts started by local trusts during the past decades that have evolved to become respected institutions hosting more than 2000 students each. Stuck between the pressures of Mumbai’s ever-changing landscape and the constraints of the city’s perilous bureaucracy, over time communities in Dharavi have managed to mobilize along lines of caste and ethnicity to give rise to these thriving schools. During the past few weeks, and thanks to the help of Shyam, who is part of the urbz team, I’ve attempted to collect information on this phenomenon, looking at the school’s’ historical role within Dharavi as well as their current evolution to understand through the lens of education the agency of residents in shaping their urban futures.

Trustees of a local Dravidian society, who run the Ganesh temple and the associated high school. The general secretary, pictured on the top right, was kind enough to give some time for an interview.

A look back at the context where these schools were forged brings some elucidation about their present role. Indeed, although Tamil schools have been present in Dharavi since the 1920s, the current generation of schools dates back to the 1960s. At the time, the quality of public education to be found in Dharavi was dismal, and to make matters worse residents endured discrimination and exclusion from private schools outside the settlement in large part because of their lower-caste status. Trapped by the lack of social horizons, many communities had no one to turn to but themselves, drawing upon their own social ties and the resources of prominent members to organize trusts that would eventually fund these schools. Thus over the years, Dharavi has seen the establishment of various Tamil, Kannada or Marathi trusts, and from modest beginnings where students would pack into a single hut many schools have grown exponentially to welcome hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pupils. In some cases, the schools are linked to a religious organization; for example a local Dravidian society, who over a century ago collectively acquired the land where a Ganesh temple now stands, only managed to put together the funds for a school eighteen years ago. The forms of community ties that create schools can cut across not only social lines within Dharavi but also geographical lines, as linkages between the ethnic community that started the trust and their region of origin are formed through the generosity of wealthy individuals or the perpetuation of other socio-economic ties like celebrations and the recruitment of teachers.

Poster from inside the Al Ma’Rif English School, recently established by the local Muslim community to teach various Arabic and Urdu classes to younger children.

Distinguishing themselves through the instruction of classes in their native languages, such as Telugu or Tamil, it quickly became apparent that many of these ‘homegrown’ schools had also sought to emancipate themselves thanks to the constitution of their own narratives of self-assertion. Creating their own curriculum helped communities gain independence from previous constraints, and over time the ability to give their lower-caste students an independent instruction invoked pride as speakers described how “it’s a beautiful thing that those who are excluded then provide their own education”. For many, this sort of independence is inscribed in the lineage of discrimination and suffering that their forefathers had to endure because of their caste status. Schooling can also serve as a way to negotiate the modernity of so-called ‘backward castes’; with the possibilities of social uplift that education makes tangible, ‘homegrown’ schools are viewed as a lighthouse that will help dispel some of the prejudices surrounding the communities that founded them. Dharavi residents are able to show that “education is not the monopoly of one community”, but also question many of the longstanding traditions and beliefs of their own communities as was apparent when a headmaster told me that he urged the parents to donate money to the ‘real gods’, their children, and not the ‘stone gods’ found in the temples. These kinds of discourses, that aim to root residents within their own neighborhood by drawing on collective potential, contrast with those of ‘external schools’, also present but run by trusts from outside of Dharavi. For these institutions (who often manage numerous schools across India) the narrative is more one of need and deprivation, when talking about their students who are “ignorant, downtrodden, and vulnerable” but should be able to “enjoy the same standards as other schools”. Spreading education comes to be seen as more of a charitable mission than an emancipatory act, an aim different from the gospel of uplift, organization and social cohesion preached by the ‘homegrown schools’. There, the capacity to “Educate, Organize, Agitate” can even lend them a spirit of greater autonomy with regards to the local BMC authorities who are often the subject of protest.

The U.M. Thevar School, run by a foundation from outside of Dharavi and which operates schools all over India.

Nevertheless, in the words of one of the trustees of a longtime Marathi-medium school that had recently made the conversion to English medium, “The world is going so fast, but our own students are unable to catch the speed of the world. We are 100 years behind the speed of the world.” In many ways, this statement embodies the contradictions these community schools must grapple with. On the one hand, the interviewee evokes the drive to discipline and progress that fuels these schools, yet he also acknowledges the pace he must keep up with, and the metamorphoses that his organization and its students must bend to if they hope to succeed. Indeed, schools must now face a Cornelian dilemma: to maintain the diversity they sought to represent and celebrate the communities they were created to serve, or adapt their curriculum to reflect the more ‘universal’ possibilities of an English-medium school. For most schools, this decision has already been made, with many of the community schools choosing to conduct the vast majority of their classes in English. Seen as the language that will allow their students the best opportunities to become ‘world-class citizens’, the shift to English-medium can also become problematic since it contributes to a uniformization of these schools while also robbing them of some of the advantages they could provide by teaching classes in the ‘local’ language of the communities that had founded them. Yet in another way the introduction of English has also led to an opening up of the population of these establishments; in one of the Tamil schools I visited, the interviewee confessed that the Tamil Nadar caste, who had started the school for people of their community, were now almost absent and largely sent to study outside of Dharavi while it was Muslims who were now dominant.

The presence of Muslims in this school reflects a pattern of shifting demographics I could observe in many of the schools. Indeed, it seems that the rise of Muslims as a share of the student body is taking place, as well as the more recent creation by Muslims of their own schools. Such a trend can be a testament to a few social factors; different trustees and professionals discussed the changes in local mindsets that the presence of their community schools had helped to spur on. Muslims populations, who for long were plagued with exceedingly high dropout rates and carried an aversion to sending their children (and especially their girls) to school, are now beginning to shift their perspectives. Another notable point is that these Muslim schools were generally less than ten years old, much younger than other community schools that tended to be at least a few decades old. Gradually, they had started their own trusts, and were expanding to add more classes and courses to their programs while often maintaining strong community traditions (for example through the teaching of various Arabic classes). Here, it seems that these schools started by Muslim trusts are following a similar pattern as the older-generation of community schools in Dharavi as they use education as a catalyst for social cohesion.

Entrance of the Gandhi Memorial English High School. The trustee whom I interviewed is pictured at the bottom of the photograph.

So what about the future of these older schools, who from their humble beginnings amongst members of a downtrodden Tamil or Kannada community have grown to become landmarks for success? Currently, it seems as if there are two divergent paths that the community schools are beginning to take as they become increasingly exposed to the winds of change sweeping through Dharavi. One possibility is that the schools will become reshaped by commercial interests. In my eyes, this scenario would be a reflection of many of the market pressures slowly squeezing Dharavi dry; as the education competition in the rest of Mumbai becomes more and more cut-throat, the reverse movement that led to the genesis of community schools will happen, and they will attract families from outside who would begin to flock to these relatively affordable and less selective schools to alleviate the stress of admissions found in much of the city. Yet, while the growing commodification of these may be difficult to halt, it is met with resistance. For example, a trustee noted these changes with mixed emotions, saying that “they [the other schools] are all commercial centers. Their motto is ‘taking so many fees’. Our motto is ‘the last man’ ” Indeed another, more optimistic path, that some of the schools are taking is the maintenance of strong moral commitment, which translated into teaching devoted to social progress, the maintenance of some native language classes, and community programs or purposefully low fees. In their own way, these schools are working to rid Dharavi of its ‘slum’ label through the efforts of its own citizens, yet as each one of the students who has passed through their classrooms know this will be an uphill battle.

Raphael Gernath is a graduate student in urban governance at Sciences Po Paris’ Urban School. He obtained a bachelors from Sciences-Po’s Euro-American campus, and has studied sociology and history at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. An urbanist at heart, he is passionate about social movements in cities, political conflicts over land use, and their materialization in Indian metropolises. He spent 8 weeks with urbz researching community schools in Dharavi. This was done as part of the urbz collaboration with Design Museum Dharavi – an art project curated by Jorge Mañes Rubio and Amanda Pinatih/em>

Posters designed by local graphic artists that emerged from the project will be exhibited as part of the Design Museum Dharavi Initiative in Mumbai.

Circulatory Lives

September 13th, 2016 by rahul

What would be your answer to ‘what’s home for you?’ Is it a place, a city, certain objects or an emotion? In a world where people are constantly migrating between the cities, towns and villages, the answer is not very evident. A person hails from a certain place, grew up in another, migrates towards job opportunities and may move again to follow dreams, leaving a trail of footprints across their personal circulatory life map. Little parts of each of these places make up the idea of ‘home’. At the constellation.s exhibition in Bordeaux, we tried to understand what ‘home’ meant to various visitors. The questions we asked them were ‘where do you live now?’, ‘where do you hail from?’, ‘what other places have you lived in?’ and ‘what is your ideal habitat?’. These questions take away from the idea that the house is synonymous with home. In an effort to investigate the relationship between the different spaces that the individual has occupied, we directed our questions to differentiate between the house, home, habitat and the ideal living condition.

While the answers varied from individual to individual, a common expression for the ideal home emerged: home is not one place. For some, home was coming back from a long day and finding comfort in slipping into their bedroom slippers. For some, the ideal was picking little favourites from the various places they had lived in, and having it one place: their childhood house in the countryside, their friends from where they studied, their job from the city, their pool from a holiday house, their favourite food from their county and so on. For a lot of people, home was about the people that mattered, even if they were scattered across the globe. ‘Home’ could be multiple places which would move with people’s trajectories. For others, the ideal arrangement was in the movement of moving between the various places they were connected to. As one of the visitors put it, ‘home is not a place, it’s a condition’.

YouTube Preview Image

The video follows the lives of five of our visitors: Hubert, Eloise, Lucie and Chloé and explores what their ‘ideal home’ would be.

Special thanks to Maria Jose and Tanja Schlumpf for the English voiceover.

Form Follows Recognition

August 31st, 2016 by urbzman

A main street in Dharavi is a flood of activities. (Photo by Julien Gregorio for urbz).

urbz is a part of the Future Architecture Platform for which our take is No Future: Architecture for the living present. We notice that so much energy is invested in conceptualising ideas for a utopian future that a near blind eye is cast towards the current state of affairs. Around the world, clear lines of division exist between the city which embodies the ‘civilised’ and formal habitat, and the ‘slum’ which is the wild, unchartered territory. The existence of two separate terms to define these areas in itself represents the exclusion of one from the other.

My home is not a slum: A friendly couple welcomes you to their home in Dharavi – otherwise misrepresented as the largest slum in Asia. (Photo by Brooks Reynolds for urbz).

Working and living in neighbourhoods that are generally referred to as ‘informal’ has led us to question the validity of the term. Can settlements which are home to 5th generation settlements qualify as being ‘informal’? Informal is a political term to categorise what does not conform to the control of administrative powers. For this reason, ‘Informality’ is generally attributed to unregulated and user-shaped habitats. Governments and officials are constantly battling the existence of such settlements, in an effort to homogenise them to imitate the more planned fabric of the city.

A worker watches his neighbourhors chat on a porch. Back alleys are full of a variety of uses. Homes themselves often double up as work spaces. (Photo by Ishan Tankha for urbz).

Our case for such settlements is not to battle, but embrace them. It could be worth our while to adopt their variegated character, rely on their existing form and view them as components that are active from the start. The best way to deal with the present is to accept that we can’t build our way into the future, and that we must engage with the world as it is – messed up, unpredictable, toxic. At the House of Architecture at Graz, the theme of the exhibition, ‘Form Follows….’ curated by ISSS was an attempt to redefine Sullivan’s popular and widely accepted statement that form follows function. Form can follow more than just function; form can follow economy, habits, necessity, crisis, society and many other factors. urbz’ take was one that reflected its practice: Form follows Recognition

The Form Follows Exhibition at the Haus Der Architektur, Graz (c) Thomas Raggam

Visitors spend a quiet moment at urbz’ exhibit at Form Follows…(c) Thomas Raggam

We prefer highlighting the role of architects as agents of incremental growth and not as creators of a future that doesn’t yet exist. The urbz collective acknowledges that urban development is -whether we like it or not- largely user generated. From this understanding, we try to facilitate change, based on the user’s needs. Our projects ‘A House We Built’ and ‘A House We Built Bigger’ are experiments in bringing architects into an urban realm totally dominated by local builders, where houses are usually built without any plan or drawings. The second movie shows how end-users appropriate the house and make it uniquely suited to their needs in a move that no architect could have planned, but that local builders can perfectly execute on the go.

Semi-fictional street in a neighbourhood of Mumbai, based on architectural ideas provided by artisans in Dharavi.

A diagram illustrating the propensity of homegrown neighbourhoods to push up, spread out and root themselves into the city.

Work in progress… Multiple activities in a homegrown neighbourhood.

A ‘blank sheet’ approach to resolve them is an impractical method to conceive feasible solutions. A more realistic path is to accept the existence of these problems, try to understand their roots and take it forward from there on.