The Homegrown Things project was a 3 month-long experiment into user-generated design and local production in Shivaji Nagar (Govandi), where the URBZ Mumbai office is located.
It drew from the Handstorm Workshop (held in March 2014), which brought together local artisans, artists and young designers from Shivaji Nagar and beyond to produce everyday life objects.
The URBZ team decided to continue this experiment and produce a larger range of everyday-life objects meant to serve the specific needs of some families. Most importantly, all the objects were to be made in the Shivaji Nagar area by local welders and carpenters.
Our design team was composed of two young product designers Ramandeep and Shweta. They were aided by one interior designer, Meenakshi and one mechanical engineer Rafique. Meenakshi and Rafique were both raised -and still live- in Shivaji Nagar. They were helped by the rest of the URBZ team: Alexis, Jai, Bharat, Rahul and Matias.
The team interacted closely with a few residents, identifying needs and potentials for their homes and businesses. Designing objects with the end-users required understanding their lifestyles, habits, needs and aspirations – and taking the time to imagine and test things together.
Space constraint is a major issue in Shivaji Nagar, where most families live in spaces as small as 150 square feet. People have to make the most of the little space they have and good design can help. Most of the objects produced were multipurpose space saving devices.
In 3 months the team produced 6 products, which were delivered to the families who had also been part of the research process. All of the objects are now being used. More are in the pipeline and several are waiting to be invented!
Each of the objects tell the particular history of the family, the home and the community for which they have been made. In that respect, beyond the immediate function they serve, they are also ethnographic tools mapping potential and pressing ahead the gradual improvement of everyday life.
The Homegrown Things project, which we hope to be able to pursue in 2015, aims at showing ways in which collaborative practices can help harness the potential of homegrown neighbourhoods such as Shivaji Nagar. Here, “user-generation” is not just a slogan or a concept, but a central aspect of how the neighbourhood is organized and developed. It is thus a fantastic learning environment for anyone interested in design and production.
The local economy is a crucial and often overlooked aspect of urban development. We worked with it and it proved extraordinarily resourceful. Local artisanship and know-how is a huge asset for any locality. While generating livelihood for themselves artisans also provide employment and training for others, along with much needed services to the community.
We believe that incremental improvement can be fast-forwarded with the right dose of creativity and audacity. It is of course based on the conviction that users know best what they need, and that they have the capacity to meaningfully contribute to the improvement of their own habitats.