konkanmapMovement of train users from Roha, on the Konkan Coast, India

Makers of Mumbai
Facilitating the design and production of ‘ideal house’ models by builders and artisans of Dharavi
Partner: Design Museum Dharavi
April – September 2016

An overwhelming part of the city of Mumbai is “homegrown”, that is made unit by unit by the inhabitants, over several years. Homegrown settlements are fabric of sustenance and shelter to millions of people. The alignment of finance usually raised by the family or community, the clientele’s needs and intent, politically negotiated temporary security of tenure, combine with the skills of a local, usually self-trained contractor from the neighbourhood, to give shape to this humble, ubiquitous and extremely intricate form. This project is an acknowledgement of the faces behind that form. Local builders have drawn on traditional skills – from carpentry to welding and stone-cutting. The space of local construction has become an evolved artisanal form that requires the coordination of several people and skills and deserves a story that spotlights its achievements and travails. The Makers of Mumbai project tries to do this by working with contractors who share their knowledge and visions for an ideal tool-house structure. Then, in partnership with a local artisan who specializes in a specific material, concretize his vision into a model for display. Each model encompasses a story of design and artisanship and its connections with the settlements to which it belongs.

Circulatory Urbanism, Part II: Habitats on the move in the Konkan Urban System
Commissioned by the Mobile Lives Forum (SNCF), Paris
September 2014 – December 2016

In this second phase of the study, we explore Mumbai city’s deep and unacknowledged connections with the Ratnagiri district of the Konkan, around 300 kilometers away from the metropolis. This is done through detailed ethnographies of four families. These belong to both places, their ancestral villages in the coastal district, as well as their neighbourhoods in Mumbai. The circulation of their family members from village to city and back, the anchoring of their ancestral connections and the sustenance provided by the big city, together make for one space of “home” that has grown roots in two places.  Their story is part of a larger universe of circulation of labour and movements that can be seen all over the sub-continent. The project is an attempt at understanding how habitats and networks of villages, towns and cities are enmeshed in each other in a manner that renders the urban rural divide redundant. The detailed ethnographies of the families, in which we document the stories of their homes in both places, the individual dreams and aspirations of the family members, the way the new Konkan railway network and the use of mobile phones has made this duality more real over the years, are a means to provide a stronger statement about how we visualize urban and rural policy in India in which these connections and linkages are somehow made redundant. We explore the possibility of urbanity that creates an arc of concepts and visions, that is inclusive of the history of the sub-continent with its continued connections and crisscrossing of habitats, and its powerful railway network and mobile phone connectivity.

Circulatory Urbanism, Part I: The Konkan Railway and Mumbai’s Urban System
Commissioned by the Mobile Lives Forum (SNCF), Paris
February 2012 – November 2013

This study seeks to understand the interface of railway networks and urban forms in regions outside the metropolis. The first phase focuses on the Konkan railway, a line connecting Mumbai to its coastal region along Maharashtra and Karnataka, passing through Goa. Less than fifteen years in operation, this railway provides us with a unique opportunity to actually see urban systems forming as stations take root, connect with others along the coast and the hinterland. We see urban systems as networks of villages and towns, with the movement of people and goods providing the needed economic lifeline. The study includes a theoretical examination of the idea of urban systems being the organizing logic of vast territories otherwise classified as ‘rural’. A 100 pages report was produced and presented to the Forum. It included surveys, maps, and photos by Ishan Tankha. Download a summary of the study here.

Strategic Plan for Khotachiwadi, Mumbai
Revitalization and preservation of historical precinct
Client: Khotachiwadi Welfare & Heritage Trust
March 2015 – December 2016

Khotachiwadi is a small urban village with a history pre-dominantly, though not exclusively, connected to the city’s East Indian community (who are catholic Maharashtrians). It is situated in the densely populated colonial neighbourhood of Girgaum, not far from old markets and hubs like the Crawford market. It’s own collective architecture reflects the larger diversity of the area, which tunnels into its own variegated and heterogeneous character. It is collection of small and big cottages, bungalows, working-class tenements and buildings. Marked specially as heritage because of the engagement and advocacy of its relatively more privileged sections, it has come to represent the story of the colonial city as a whole. One which points to its own dynamism, both physically as well as in terms of economic opportunities. urbz has worked closely with the residents of the wadi over several years – an association that helped enrich the more technical and collectively informed strategic plan for the neighbourhood that is being completed. The plan is an attempt to work within the ethic of change that the neighbourhood has always embodied, but without giving up on its distinct and extremely precious architectural and urban flourishes. The diversity of opinions and interests of the residents leave their fingerprints on the plan, while at the same time remaining a clear and systematic vision and manual of action.

Homegrown Things
Co-design and manufacturing of everyday life objects by residents and artisans of Govandi
Sponsor: Jindal Steel Ltd
June – September 2014

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 produced 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 aided by one interior designer and a mechanical engineer both of whom were raised live in Shivaji Nagar. 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. In 3 months the team produced 6 products, which were delivered to the families who had also been part of the research process. Each of the objects tell the particular history of the family, the home and the community for which they have been made. They are thus ethnographic tools that map the potential and press ahead the gradual improvement of everyday life.

Homegrown Cities
Construction of a pilot affordable house in partnership with local builders and architects in Govandi
Crowd-financed project
January 2014 –

urbz/Urbanology has developed partnerships with contractors in various Mumbai neighbourhoods, from Shivaji Nagar in Deonar and Sai Vihar in Bhandup. The Homegrown Cities project worked closely with these partnerships and connected them with legal experts and professional urban practitioners. During the course of the project, it facilitated the occupancy of a plot in Shivaji Nagar, and the co-designing and construction of a structure. The house was built by a local contractor and the process of construction was documented in detail. It was envisaged as being part of a chain of locally induced and controlled development projects, house by house, with the eventual aim of developing a collectively owned, neighbourhood level, housing society controlled by the residents themselves. The Homegrown cities project demonstrated that it is possible to create a network of co-operative alliances across professional and local expertise, insert these partnerships into existing exchanges and transactions and gradually help improve the neighbourhood physically, working in homes, streets and local civic infrastructure projects. Paying attention to legal constraints, working closely with local political and municipal authorities and engaging with local actors involved in construction processes are definitely challenging propositions, but with the right support can scale up efforts at urban transformation more effectively, and in a relatively short term period.

Reclaim Growth!
Elaboration of an urban planning and design proposal for Dharavi for a competition
Partner: Sp+A, Mumbai
October 2014

The plan envisages a set of inputs that combine infrastructural, civic and residential needs in the form of a grid that lays itself in the existing fabric of a specific neighbourhood in Dharavi, and expands in different directions in sync with the rhythms and moves made by the residents and users. It sees Dharavi as a place of continuous growth – in a manner that has given its residents a place for upward mobility, even with very low resources or capital, a place where skills, labour, community resources have acted as surrogate civic infrastructure for long periods of time. Rather than redevelopment, this proposal is based on recognising on-going processes and consolidating them with a forward-looking and fresh plan of action that involves a combination of new policies, radical urban planning, and innovative design. The proposal promotes a constructive system that allows people to consolidate their existing houses and provide the structural strength to add more stories, roof garden, or courtyard on top. It is about a systemic addition of scal­able improvements in infrastructure (water & drainage) and structural stability creating an open system that is susceptible to configuration as a palimpsest: incremental layers of growth. Water pipes and electrical cables run through the frame that supports the houses.

Homegrown Affordable Housing
Commissioned by Lafarge Affordable Housing Initiative, Mumbai
June 2011 – October 2013

We assisted and guided construction material producer Lafarge in creating and implementing a program that innovated in i) construction material and technology, ii) business models and strategies and iii) client-relations and delivery systems. We developed relationships, assisted and collaborated with local construction craftsmen in low-income, incrementally developing neighbourhoods in Mumbai. The aim was to improve the quality of construction and make a difference in the affordable housing sector in India, while providing Lafarge with a sustainable business model. After two years of inputs from Urbanology, the program is now taking off and functioning on its own.

The Lambha Project: Partnering with the Private Sector. Experience, Learning and Recommendations
Produced for the Mahila Housing Trust, Ahmedabad
August-December 2011

Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) is a sister organization of the Self Employed Woman Association (SEWA), a trade union with 1 million members in India. MHT has been involved in slum upgrading projects and pro-poor advocacy since 1994. Recently, MHT decided to build affordable housing for SEWA members. In order to do so it partnered with a private developer. This study documents that project and propose ways in which such partnerships between private players and non-profit organizations can be strengthened. Bottom of the pyramid market, affordable housing, social enterprise, collaborative development and philanthropy are some of the key themes investigated in the study.

microHomeSolutions: Context, practice and perspectives
Commissioned by microHomeSolutions, New Delhi
February – April 2011

This study looks at the workings of an innovative social enterprise to intervene in the field of urban development by working directly with clients building or re-building homes in re-settlement colonies in Delhi. mHS, in partnership with a micro-finance company, combined a market-driven approach with social concern to evolve a sustainable way to improve structures, build afresh using sound principles and provide architectural input. This difficult task required much thinking and strategizing. This study is part of this process. It includes a close examination of client relations, context of neighbourhoods and building processes in a few Delhi neighbourhoods. It also includes suggestions for new intervention strategies for increasing the impact of the project.

The Public Beach of Eaux-Vives in the urban context of Geneva
Under the direction of Dr. Luca Pattaroni of the Laboratory of Urban Sociology (LaSUR) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne. Commissioned by the State Government of Geneva.
August-September 2010

This study looks at one of the major urban projects in the city of Geneva, Switzerland. The government, which is planning to create a 3.5 hectares public beachfront along the lake, has asked the Laboratory of Urban Sociology (LASUR) to analyze the relevance of the project in the context of the urban development of Geneva, a city which is the economic and cultural heart of one of the most dynamic region in Europe. This study looks at the role of public space in a social context where the time for leisure has vastly increased, and where new forms of interactions are redefining both work and play time and space. It ends with recommendations on the design and program of the new beach as well as the participation of the public in the definition of the project.

Arts Education: The Kali Kalisu Project in Karnataka
Commissioned by India Foundation for the Arts
January – July 2010

This study looks at arts-education practices in villages and towns in the state of Karnataka. The idea was to review the specific initiative that the foundation had commissioned and envisaged in collaboration with the state government. The initiative included the organizing of workshops inviting artists and arts personnel to interact with teachers in school and thus act as a catalyst for enhancing arts activities in those schools. For us the study provided an opportunity to enter into the landscape of urban systems in Karnataka, understand its pedagogic issues as understood by its teachers, look at creativity as an essential ingredient in learning, examine why it is faced by resistance and what can we do to make it integral to institutional practices.