Growing urban population in India is a serious problem that necessitates a unique design approach, according to noted expert on urban affairs and a professor of architecture at McGill University Prof Vikram C. Bhatt.
Drawing from his first-hand research, Bhatt advocated for a more innovative, cost-effective design strategy at a lecture, sponsored by the South Asia Institute and India GSD, at the Center for Government and International Studies in New Delhi on November 10, 2014. He focused on concerns about urban design, and suggested that certain aspects of the design of slums can be more efficient than planned housing.
“Governments must understand [that] the broad urban landscape of India has turned into slums,” he said. “An urban landscape is a mix of various strands.”
Bhatt argued that the traditional approach to low-income housing projects is too theoretical and overlooks the basic question of how inhabitants actually use space. In offering an alternative solution, Bhatt introduced the concept of a “jugaad” city. The term refers to innovative design hacks that solve technical problems with limited resources.
In the 1980s, Bhatt studied informal settlements around India, comparing the use of space in slums and planned cities. Assessing landscapes, house extensions, workplaces, and commercial areas revealed the weaknesses of traditional urban planning.
Bhatt noticed, for instance, that the slum communities often planted trees. “A coconut tree which gives you 25 coconuts in a 30-day cycle…[is] a great contribution to someone who is earning a dollar a day.”
He also analyzed the use of stoops and porches as literal extensions of the house. Like with trees, most low-income housing developments fail to incorporate porches or stoops, with some considering them unnecessary luxuries.
In slums, these extensions “host a whole variety of domestic activities: washing, sleeping, [and] storing domestic materials,” Bhatt said.
Bhatt stressed that using “jugaad” strategies would make future urban development more cost- effective.
With India’s population at more than 1.2 billion people and its urban slums growing every year, he said his research is more relevant than ever before. “Professionally, politically, from the business point of view, the opportunity is very much there…to arrive at a more positive solution,” Bhatt said.