Main Feature | Sep-Oct 2018

TWO PLACES, ONE SPACE
Vernacular architecture and urbanisation in India

by Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava

Bhandup in Mumbai is a dense home-grown settlement, notified as a ‘slum area’ by the municipal corporation
 

HOMEGROWN NEIGHBOURHOODS

The Kule family lives in a small brick house on a hillside in the suburbs of Mumbai. They are part of a
majority of Mumbaikars who reside in settlements officially designated as ‘slum areas’. The Kules belong to a
farmers’ caste from the Konkan, a region that stretches for hundreds of kilometres from Mumbai to Mangalore
along the Arabian Sea. Parshuram Kule, the patriarch, came to Mumbai over 50 years ago to finish his primary
education, leaving behind his ancestral village near Chiplun 250 kilometres away. He never lost touch with the
village and made sure his children also developed strong bonds. With savings from Mumbai, the Kule family
purchased farmland, which they cultivate. They also opened a shop on the roadside, and built two houses where
Parshuram now resides with two of his four children.

When Parshuram first arrived in Mumbai, he stayed with relatives and only moved out when he secured a
job as a mechanic in a factory. As soon as he could afford it, he bought a plot of land from a farmer near his
factory, in the neighbourhood of Bhandup, in the northeast of Mumbai. He and other natives from his region
were among the first settlers on what was then a forested hill. They used skills acquired in the village to build
small mud and straw huts. They levelled the ground and built wells and pathways. When Parshuram first moved
in, the area looked very much like the region he came from—a jungle dense with wildlife, including snakes,
monkeys and panthers. Today, it is a highly populated suburb in the sprawling metropolis.


Parshuram’s small house was rebuilt once in the 1980s and then again in the 2000s. It is now a G+1 brick
and cement structure measuring 15 feet by 20 feet that opens to a courtyard, with a well and a cage to keep
chickens and ducks. Since it was built on a slope, he made sure that the foundations were strong. Parshuram
became well-known in his neighbourhood for his ability to make monsoon-resistant structures. The furious
Mumbai rains could wash away houses built on shaky ground. He remembers how a particular resident, who
declined to follow his step-layered style of construction, had his house destroyed twice over.

The Mumbai house is now occupied by Parshuram’s son and daughter-in-law, along with their son, his wife
and their young daughter. Parshuram has built a grand house near his native village where he now lives with
his other son and one of his three daughters—both of whom were born in Mumbai but chose to move to their
ancestral village. The relatives in Mumbai manage the daily operations of a spice business that Parshuram
started with his son. Both sides travel regularly between the city and the village, and maintain strong familial
and business bonds.



A well and patio in front of the Kule family’s house in Bhandup; what looks like a ‘slum’ from outside is a village-like neighbourhood on the inside

In many ways, Bhandup embodies the rural origins of its inhabitants. However, the neighbourhood, like other
such home-grown settlements in Mumbai, is also intensely urban. It is densely built with bricks, concrete and
steel. Residents are actively involved in city and national politics. They have a strong voice in municipal elections
as they often vote along communitarian lines. At the same time, the demographics of Bhandup reflect the
cosmopolitanism of Mumbai. Marathi is spoken in its streets with various regional accents. One can also get by
with Konkani, Hindi, English and other regional languages. The kind of educational and professional opportunities
that Mumbai provides is unmatchable in the village. Many people have government jobs, run small businesses
or are employed in large corporations. Most families have reached middle-class status in income and education
levels. Electricity rarely goes off nowadays and most homes have running water and access to toilets.


Eligibility for a rehab unit is not guaranteed to all slum dwellers. And even those who are eligible may
not want to live in a tiny flat (about 300 square feet) from which they cannot run a business. The threat
of redevelopment, which is always looming over Bhandup and other such settlements, helps explain why
most families keep investing their savings in ancestral villages hundreds of kilometres away. However, while
many migrants and their descendants project their future in the village, especially as it keeps improving and
developing, they also want to keep one foot in the city.


CIRCULATORY URBANISM

Third or fourth-generation migrants value the contact with nature and village life, but they also want urban
comfort and opportunities: brick houses with modern kitchens and ‘western’ toilets. Paradoxically, the urban
lifestyle to which they aspire to may be out of reach in the city, where they must live in crowded neighbourhoods
that are redlined by municipal services. It is in the village that they can build the modern urban house of their
dream, which they cannot afford to in the city. Konkan villages receive massive financial flows from the city—
not only Mumbai but also other Indian cities and from abroad, especially from the United Arab Emirates where
millions of Indians are employed. Money is invested in land and homes primarily, but also in water systems,
temples and schools. Sometimes, it is used to help deserving children pursue their studies away from the
village. Many also invest in farming tools, vehicles, or help their relatives start a business.

Circular migrants are perhaps today the first actors of urbanisation of India. User-driven development has
been somewhat recognised as an important phenomenon in cities. Home-grown settlements around Bhandup
are the first sight the city offers to visitors who land in Mumbai. Other such neighbourhoods—Dharavi in
particular—have been featured in movies, documentaries and books. They are usually portrayed in a dystopian
way as the city’s failure to modernise. Little attention has been given to their economies, in particular to the way
artisanship and the local construction sector contribute to improve the neighbourhood from within. Their role in
maintaining village cultures in the heart of the city is hardly even acknowledged. Likewise, user-generated forms
of urbanisation have been completely unaccounted for in Indian villages, because they are small, scattered all
over the country and out of the public purview.

The story of the Kule family is the story of hundreds of millions of migrants who have settled in towns and
cities while maintaining active ties with their villages hundreds of kilometres away. It is the untold story of a
user-generated urbanisation that eludes statistics. Officially, India, which is still about 70 per cent rural, lags
far behind China as far as urbanisation rates are concerned. This preoccupies the government, which endorses
the orthodox view that it is only by increasing the statistically urban that the country can achieve first-world
standards. The mantra of development through urbanisation, however, rests upon assumptions that are
challenged by a new generation of researchers.

 


The Kule family on its way from Mumbai to their village near Chiplun in Konkan, 250 kilometres away
 

To read the complete article, get a copy of the Sep-Oct 2018 edition at our online shop or at newsstands/major bookstores; subscribe to FuturArcor download the FuturArc App!
 
 

Previously Published Main Feature (Abstracts)

Jul-Aug 2018

Green Infrastructure through the Revival of Ancient Wisdom

This article argues that the grey infrastructures made of steel and concrete, which we built to connect our physical world, are shallow or even fake connections that are actually the murders of the real and deep connections between human beings and nature, and among various natural processes and flows.

 
   

May-Jun 2018

FAP & FGLA 2018 Winners

Read more about the winning design ideas and projects, as well as the jury comments!

 
   

Mar-Apr 2018

The New Workplace by Heather Banerd

We are in the midst of a work revolution—a major shift in when, where and how we work. With this shift, our needs and expectations of the workplace have evolved, and the typology of the office building is evolving as a result.

 
   

Nov-Dec 2017

Urban Portraits: Kuala Lumpur by Dr Zalina Shari & Hans Lim

In line with the aspiration to use the country’s green heritage to provide recreation and promote tourism, many parks and new open spaces have been developed within the KL urban centre over the past six decades.

 
   

Sep-Oct 2017

Singapore: Asia’s Little Blue Dot by Heather Banerd

With a shared passion to create a Greener environment, this is a story from FuturArc Prize 2017 winners where they share what winning the competition means to them, plus their aspirations and hopes for the future.

 
   

May-Jun 2017

FuturArc Prize 2017

With a shared passion to create a Greener environment, this is a story from FuturArc Prize 2017 winners where they share what winning the competition means to them, plus their aspirations and hopes for the future.

 
   

May-Jun 2016

WE ARE 10!

In celebration of FuturArc’s 10th anniversary this year, we dedicate the Main Feature of this issue to look at how FuturArc has evolved over the past decade, what our readers think about us, and what their favourite stories are.

 
   

Jan-Feb 2016

REINVENTING THE MALL by Miriel Ko

The crisis to which architects and engineers in Asia must now respond is not an energy crisis. The world has plenty of high-yielding energy left to convert—coal, natural gas, uranium, and even unconventional oil. The crisis is ecological.

 
   

Sep-Oct 2015

EARTH, NOT ENERGY by Jalel Sager

The crisis to which architects and engineers in Asia must now respond is not an energy crisis. The world has plenty of high-yielding energy left to convert—coal, natural gas, uranium, and even unconventional oil. The crisis is ecological.
 

 
   

Mar-Apr 2015

THE BIOPHILIC OFFICE | RECONNECTING NATURE TO THE WORKFORCE 
by Miriel Ko

How often do we say in the workplace that we could use a little vacation? And more often than not, what are the places we think of when we envision that place? Perhaps we think of a beach, a trail through the forest or a quiet place in our very own backyards.

 
   

Jan-Feb 2015

SOCIABLE ARCHITECTURE? by Patrick Bingham-Hall

“The strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilisation’s success and the primary reason why cities exist…we must free ourselves from our tendency to see cities as their buildings, and remember that the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” Edward Glaeser

 
   

Nov-Dec 2014

EDISON VERSUS TESLA FOR ARCHITECTS: BUILDINGS, ELECTRICITY AND THE FUTURE by Jalel Sager

The debate between DC (direct current) and AC (alternating current) is an old one, stretching back to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, two inventors working in the United States at the dawn of the electricity age, beginning in the late 19th century.

 
   

Sep-Oct 2014

LIVEABLE CITIES; THE ART OF INTEGRATING TODAY WHAT WE NEED TOMORROW  by Herbert Dreiseitl

In much of the world today, space in cities is scarce. With growing populations and new demands for workspace, production, mobility, and recreation, cities are fighting for shrinking land resources.

 
   

Jul-Aug 2014

BUILT TO LAST: ADDRESSING LONGEVITY IN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT  by Dr Forrest Meggers

The new era of Green building brings to light the opportunity for improving indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Particularly, with a growing number of people entering the urban workforce and spending prolonged hours indoors, the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in building materials, poor indoor air quality, etc., are all causes for concern.

 
   

Jan-Feb 2014

BEYOND EDUCATION by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle

We all know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it appears that it also takes a school to raise a village, as educational facilities progressively transform into centres beyond their live functions for all ages—young or old—to live, learn, work and play in, all at once.

 
   

Sep-Oct 2013

A NEW ERA OF GREEN BUILDING: HEALTH & PRODUCTIVITY IN THE INDOOR ENVIRONMENT by Miriel Ko

MPAS Awards 2014 | Feature Article of the Year (Trade) | WINNER

The new era of Green building brings to light the opportunity for improving indoor environmental quality (IEQ). Particularly, with a growing number of people entering the urban workforce and spending prolonged hours indoors, the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals in building materials, poor indoor air quality, lack of contact with nature and other workplace stress are all causes for concern.

 
   

Jul-Aug 2013

ASIA'S INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE: A FORCE FOR GOOD? by Vesdasri Kada

In an ideal world effluents from industry would be rendered completely harmless before they see light of the day. In an even more ideal world, the industrial city would be a great place to live. Is this possible?


 
   

May-Jun 2013

SMALL PROJECTS, BIG IMPACTS by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle

MPAS Awards 2014 | Feature Article of the Year (Trade) | Merit
MPAS Awards 2014 | Single Article Design of the Year | Merit

It’s not the size that matters. Small projects can make a big impact. Community-supported construction of sustainable and appropriate facilities is an effective social development concept, proving that architecture in underserved areas is more than development aid or environmentally-friendly construction, but a means for building a community.


 
   
Mar-Apr 2013

ASIAN ECO-CITIES: A CRITIQUE by Judith Ryser

The case of rapid urbanisation, scarcity of resources, climate change and thus the need for sustainable development has been made extensively worldwide, so the focus here is on eco-cities, a specific ecological solution conceived to redress urban development deficiencies.


 
   
Jan-Feb 2013

HOUSING, SUSTAINABILITY AND COMMUNITY by Chang Jiat Hwee

“Housing in the twentieth century has been one continuing emergency.”
Charles Abrams, The Future of Housing, 1946


 

   
4Q 2012

HOW GREEN ARE URBAN HOTELS AND RESORTS? by Dr Rachel Dodds

Tourism is big business internationally. In 2011, there were 983 million international tourist arrivals and this number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030. With this growth, however, comes negative impact and threats. In addition to tourism being consumptive of natural resources such as water and energy...
 

 

3Q 2012

GREEN BUILDINGS IN ASIA: ARE THEY SUSTAINABLE? by Nirmal Kishnani

Green is not, by definition, the same as sustainable. Green is a relative measure, an argument to do less harm. A building is deemed Green if it consumes or emits less than a predetermined benchmark. To be sustainable is to live within the carrying capacity of our planet...
 

 

2Q 2012

BETWEEN THE TOWER AND THE HUT: (GREEN) BUILDINGS AS CULTURAL OBJECTS IN AN AGE OF OPPOSITIONS by Jalel Sager

Culture is slippery. Here we'll talk about it as an abstract but pervasive field that guides relations between individuals, groups, and wider nature. While scholars debate the extent to which a society's production patterns determine its culture...
 

 
1Q 2012

MALL MADNESS by Vincent Lim

I spent 11 hours in Dubai Mall. Despite spending half a day there, I saw and bought from only a fraction of the 1,200 retail outlets. My time was consumed by other experiences. I rode the high-speed lifts to the viewing deck of Burj Khalifa, gawked at marine life through an enormous picture window and marvelled at the astounding...
 

 
4Q 2011

A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH? TOWARD BIOPHILIC LIVING INTERIORS by Jalel Sager

"No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions." – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac... 
 

 
2Q 2011

ASPECTS OF CONSERVATION by Chu Lik Ren

In recent years, conservation projects in Asia involving cultural properties have gained increasing sophistication and respectability. Yet, like the proverbial tale about how different vision-impaired individuals feeling up an elephant would perceive...


 
4Q 2010

RECONNECTING WITH NATURE by Dr Carlos Alberto Montana Hoyos

The relationship between man and nature has evolved greatly in different periods of history and across diverse cultures and regions. In the past, generally most indigenous tribes had a special connection with nature and many different communities had in common their respect of “mother earth”...
 

 
2Q 2010
 
EDUCATING ARCHITECTS FOR THE FUTURE by Robert and Brenda Vale
 

SUBSCRIBE TODAY
SGD 67.00*
 
6 ISSUES A YEAR
 
 
* Regular Price SGD 90.00 for 6 Issues  


FuturArc Collaborators
 
           
           
           

   
           

FuturArc Supporters