The main source of inspiration for this project was the press article “Bombay sells its legendary slums”. The author drew my attention to the problem of slums in contemporary big cities. He vividly drew the contrast between gleaming steel-and-glass facades of modern office and apartment blocks and the neighbouring slums. In his article he presented the situation in the biggest slum of Asia – Dharavi. This district, which is over a hundred years old and it is located in the centre of Bombay, had been put up for sale by the city authorities. For 2.3 billion dollars the purchaser will acquire not only the grounds in an attractive location (it is only 10 minutes from the centre of the metropolis to the financial centre of the city and the famous Bollywood), but also almost a million people living there at present. According to the law the investor will have to provide each family with living quarters of 20.9 sq.m. with an independent water supply and a sewage facilities. However, the problem is that the law obliges the investor to provide housing only to the people registered in the slums. There are only 300 thousand such people while in fact the number of those working and living in Dharavi exceeds 1 million.
Dharavi is a unique place. It is the only slum in the world which generates profits and provides work for its residents. There are between a few and a few dozen thousand small factories and craftsman’s workshops here, formally established or not. They supply the whole Bombay with the most necessary products. Yearly it produces goods worth 500 million dollars. The people who live here earn 300 rupees (6 euro) a month, but there are also such whose monthly salaries exceed 300 thousand rupees (over 6 thousand euro). In his documentary “Slamming it”, Kevin McCloud, a British art historian and the designer of the well-known program about architecture “Grand Design”, is taken on a guided tour of Dharavi by a millionaire Shaikh Mobina who has lived and worked in Bombay slums since his birth.
People who live there are happy, they create a community. Obviously they want changes, changes for the better, they expect the city authorities to help in building a water supply and sewage system, but they do not want to move from the slums to high-rise buildings with the classic flat arrangement which the city and the potential investor offer them. The substitute accommodation offered by the local authorities do not meet the needs of this unusual community. The majority will receive much smaller flats than their present houses in Dharavi. These flats will not allow them to run craftsman’s workshops and other businesses. The buildings proposed draw on western models of housing construction which utterly ignore the cultural roots and social needs of those people. In my opinion this is not a good idea. Thoughtless copying of western patterns is not always successful, even if the concept has been proposed by one of the most eminent architects of the 20th century. This is illustrated by the capital of the Indian state Panjabi – Chadigarh. Le Corbusier’s experiment, though very accurate in terms of urban planning, proved to be thoroughly unadapted to the living conditions of the community living there. He completely disregarded certain habits, the lifestyle, the need for individualism of those people. Within a few years white modern shapes have been painted by the people vivid colours and the fountains designed by Corbusier as elements enhancing axles are used as public laundries today.
Trying to find a solution for the dwellers of Dharavi I had to adopt a totally different attitude of this society toward space and privacy. It was important to me to create a structure, a construction cheap to erect, in which those people could settle. Such which will not make them feel uncomfortable, whose functions they will be able to shape and modify freely. The families themselves are to decide on the number of rooms, how they will be arranged and the materials used. They are to be architects as they will shape their space, draw its boundaries and adapt it to their needs, to their lives. New residence will not weaken strong interpersonal bonds in this community. Also it was important for me to preserve those places which centers of social life such as a laundry, a well, toilets, marketplaces, temples, or simply streets.
Another problem was the uniquely attractive location of the city. On the one hand the thriving metropolis cannot afford to maintain a council housing district in the city centre. On the other hand, if the people move out, the city centre will be deprived of cheap workforce. The new location had to guarantee that they will be able to continue their business activities. Due to the fact that most of the craftsman’s shops is to a greater of lesser extent connected with recycling (employment for almost 300 thousand residents which generates profits of about 72 million dollars a year), I decided to locate the building I proposed near the dump Derona. It is from this dump, 7.5 km from Dharavi, that thousands of the residents bring to the slums about 6 thousand tons of garbage every day. Materials recycled in Dharavi include almost all the glass, aluminum, paper, plastic, paints, cans, cables, electric garbage or soap from nearby hotels. Dharavi segregates and recycles 80% of the plastic garbage in Bombay. By comparison, in Great Britain only about 20% of plastic garbage is allowed to be recycled.
The solid of the building.
Dimensions of the building (outline in projection) are the outcome of the analysis of the buildings that surround the dump. The planning and development of the region is based on the 70 x 70m planning grid. The east part of Dharavi has a similar grid. So I decided for the dimensions of the building to be multiplications of the quarter 70 x 210 (one unit by three units) plus the streets surrounding those quarters, which gives in total 84×220.5. The height of the building corresponds to that of the highest block of houses in that area, that is 50 m. Next the solid of the building was divided with two corridors into two parts: the residential one to the south and a recycling part to the north. The corridors provide air circulation and thus protect the residential part from foul smell coming from the recycling part. The whole solid of the building was lifted in order to create an open ground floor. The last element is the addition of a double steel net elevation from the north, which prevents the garbage drifting from the dump.
The designed facility is a structure without a designed function. The function of this building is to depend on the people who will decide to live there. The building is divided into 7 x 3.5 m units like the multi-storey car park. There are 5820 units that were marked off and their residents will independently decide on the materials to be used and arrange the functions themselves. There is a possibility to take over two-storey units.
The only element of the building that was suggested by its function is the recycling part located in the part of the building facing the dump (separated from the residential part with a corridor). The ground floor is open not developed and serves mainly to supply garbage from the dump to the recycling part and export goods produced by the residents. The basement floor is technical; this is a place where biogas is produced from waste and excrements, which can become another lucrative source of income for the community.
Communication takes place around the perimeter of the building, that is on the streets. They are 7 m wide due to the fact that in this society the streets fulfill not only a transport function, but also they are a place of social meetings and trade. Between the residential units there are also streets which are 1.5 m wide. In my design I did not decide to use any modern technologies such as lifts, because this community has no habit of taking care of common good and if they broke down, they would not be repaired.