urbz founders Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove reflect on community-driven placemaking in the Indian metropolis.
urbz is taking the Design Comes as we Build project to the next level - the Homegrown street. This time we will be working with an actual bustling street in Dharavi called Sangam Galli. The street is lined with several tool houses - mixed use homes combining living and workspaces. An ethnographic study along with the spatial documentation of the tool houses becomes part of a design brief. This design brief will be shared with building contractors operating in the vicinity. The contractors will propose new designs for the houses keeping in mind changing aspirations and needs of the residents. They will work with architects from urbz to develop the designs. These design drawings will be turned into scaled models made by artisans from Dharavi.
The individual models come together to form the Homegrown Street. In the age of megaprojects, this project hopes to spotlight what homegrown, incremental (re)development using local resources could be like, both as a product and a process.
In November 2021, as the restrictions were eased, we were able to go back to Dharavi twice a week. We started meeting with our old respondents from Sangam gully. During these conversations we noticed a drastic change in the nature of livelihoods on the street. We spent the next few weeks reconnecting and reorienting ourselves with this post-lockdown street. This phase made us realise that the street had changed so much, that it would have to be re-documented. In December, we issued a call for participation from contractors, but we soon realised that we would have to contact them individually.
In January 2021, we began a fresh process of documentation. The usage of the built-form had changed, where there used to be a restaurant, there was now a garment store. Many old businesses had gone bankrupt and the owners had now resorted to renting these spaces out. We found- the tenants were mostly garment manufacturers, dealers, or sellers. One of the only remaining single-storey structures had undergone an upgrade and was now three storeys tall. We even met with older residents who had witnessed the transformation of the street over the last few decades. Documenting twenty houses and interviewing their multiple users took us approximately six weeks. At the end of this period, we had several sets of drawings, video interviews, audios from the documentation, which helped us produce a new set of briefs.
While one team was finishing the documentation, our other team started contacting contractors from Dharavi and other parts of Mumbai. Although Dharavi has interesting buildings, we made a decision to discover other parts of the city to identify different housing styles and aesthetics within the same typology. We reached out to contractors from various neighborhoods that have a similar built fabric as Dharavi. The design language of houses from these neighborhoods reflect in the contractors’ work.
While some contractors were patient enough to sit for a design discussion with pen and paper, others preferred a more practical approach. Shabbu, one of the contractors from Dharavi explained construction details by taking us to a few of his completed projects. These discussions were translated into simple architectural drawings and 3D models.