Designs on Dharavi

Designs on Dharavi

An exhibition at Italy’s Maxxi museum showcases architectural models designed by contractors and made by artisans from Dharavi.

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An artisan from Dharavi working on a model.

Murugan Sundaram believes that the design for a house should be a dialogue with the owners, and Joseph Koli, one who knows how to recycle concrete, wraps his homes around coconut trees. They don’t call themselves designers but these contractors, who live and work in Mumbai’s Dharavi, know how to fashion spaces. Their designs are seen in the architectural models exhibited currently at Maxxi, Italy’s national museum for contemporary art. The exhibition “No Future: Architecture for the Present” is a part of the group show by pan-European platform, Future Architecture. Chosen as one of the five finalists to argue the role of architecture in future cities, Dharavi-based URBZ, an experimental urban research and action collective, presented the “tool house” — a space that accommodates living and working areas.

Seen as a common typology everywhere in Dharavi, URBZ brought together artisans, builders, architects and designers for this project, which is a first-of-its-kind in presenting the point of view of contractors and artisans in building a home. The brief was simple. They did not have a budget or design restriction. They, however, had to work within the typical Dharavi plot, 10 x15 ft size. The work areas would need to generate income as well, which meant they could be rented out as a shop or an office.

“The contractors have a great knowledge of Dharavi, some have built over 100 houses in their short careers, more than most architects ever will in their lifetime. This project was a chance for them to see their designs without building anything,” says Matias Echanove, co-founder URBZ.

“Often plans for rehabilitation include demolishing the existing fabric and creating new buildings. But we want to show that there are alternative ways of redevelopment, and it already exists in Dharavi, where people live and work in the same place,” says architect Jai Bhadgaonkar, who has been with URBZ for the last three years. While the contractors, known for their ingenuity with space, came up with ideas, the artisans — carpenters and welders — were given the task of building the models.

“This is the first time that we could sit back and revise our ideas,” says Devraj Neigi. “Usually our decisions are instantaneous, and we rarely work with an actual plan,” adds the 47-year-old contractor.