The dream to own one’s abode is a thought everyone cherishes and hopes to fulfill in their lifetime. In the past few years, for a developing nation such as ours, an inevitable and unregulated urban migration has resulted in an immediate need for provision of suitable housing. This is not only important for the well-being of the city, but has the greater ramifications leading to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country.
The government’s resolve for ‘Housing for All’ is one of the most humane and welcome missions, the credit for which should be given to the prime minister. However, the approach should not be to meet certain pre-defined targets, but rather an opportunity to organically build a better nation. Here lies a chance for us to transform people’s lives and shape a holistic environment and not be consumed by the thought of meeting our targets. Quoting former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us,” the question arises, what kind of a habitat are we going to create?
The term ‘Affordable Housing’ should not be misconstrued as an apology of a shelter to meet the needs of the homeless. As a progressive nation in the throes of development, the focus instead should be on developing a habitat which is able to provide appropriate living standards for our citizens even if it were to take 2-3 years more than a hypothetical target.
While the year 2022 might mark the completion of 75 years of Independence for the country, it should not become a reason for creating unsuitable housing which shall define our built environment for decades to follow. The design of affordable housing, in essence, has to not only address the functional needs of its occupants but also the geographical context of its location, the cultural and diverse patterns of living and above all, the aspirational needs of the family.
Our country has varying climates across different geographical locations. From the design perspective, this gives us a chance to explore the myriad possibilities of designs for a single housing unit as well as the relationship of the building with open space around it. Even if the size of the housing unit is modest, incorporating space such as balconies would not add to the cost but instead, can be a welcome change for the inhabitants. Shared spaces such as nukkads, semi-covered courtyard areas etc. within the overall design, would be able to create a vibrant character for the community. Additionally, inclusion of design aspects such as natural light and ventilation can contribute towards a more sustainable design as well as positively influencing the well-being of the inhabitants. As an example, for most parts of the country where the weather is extreme, creating cavity walls might marginally increase the overall cost but can majorly reduce the dependency in mechanical cooling requirements for citizens. We should also explore the concept of high-density, low-rise apartments instead of high-rise construction which leads to better community space, less dependency on energy due to self-shading of buildings, avoiding lifts, an increased sense of security etc.
To take advantage of the opportunity of this new built environment, we must not fall prey to our previous mistakes of finding cookie-cutter design solutions which were thoughtlessly repeated across the country like the Central Public Works Department housing built in the 60s and 70s. By carefully tapping on the opportunity at hand, we can lead the way to building a well-grounded society globally.
(Views expressed in the column are personal)