It’s not unusual for children in an anganwadi to study by a pile of stacked fodder or in the balcony of a house that is barely five-foot wide, or to sit under a leaking roof as they read their lessons. When the anganwadi programme was launched, nearly four decades ago under the government’s Integrated Child Development Scheme, there were no regulations for the building that children would study in. Most often, these structures are not purpose built and are either rented or chosen from existing buildings. There are more than 14 lakh anganwadis in rural India, and the Union Cabinet has approved a hike for the workers. Yet, there’s still a lot to be done.
Delhi-based architecture firm, Morphogenesis, has put together a handbook on constructing anganwadis, after researching several such day-care centres across the city. Their design places a premium on hygiene and security and, in the evenings, can morph into a multi-utility space. “The idea to design an anganwadi came through Leena Prakash, a human resource associate, who has been involved in advocacy for early learning enrichment for children. She brought to our attention the pitiable conditions in which children study and play in anganwadis. The Morphogenesis paper helps understand the space requirements of an anganwadi. The spaces are designed to be flexible enough to mould itself to the physical constraints of the site. Starting with the minimum space requirements, we have designed several additive models wherein spaces can be added and modified,” says Sonali Rastogi, Founding Partner, Morphogenisis. Besides a “classroom”, better toilets and washing areas, community and storage spaces, some of the spaces even have a green area. While semi-outdoor areas such as the kitchen can be accommodated in verandahs, vaccination schemes of the government could be executed in the day-care areas.
“These are anganwadis for rural and semi-urban locations, with three to six-year-olds as the key users. The ones in an urban setting such as Delhi are now exploring a clustering concept where five anganwadis are clubbed into one location to optimise resources. We have done interior planning for such hubs,” says Prakash .
In south Goa, nearly two years ago, Mumbai-based architect Sachin Agshikar, who worked with well-known architect Charles Correa, built an anganwadi that would reflect his mentor’s ethos and style, and respect the context and its users. “Located under a large rain tree, this structure is basically like a large verandah with openings in all four directions for cross ventilation. It has a multipurpose open space in the centre along with kitchen, toilets and store rooms placed in the four corners,” says Agshikar. With a black kuddapah floor, white walls, orange shutters and bright red exteriors, he ensured the anganwadi would be a palatable palette for the children. He also played with the changing light on the rain tree to effect patterns on the red wall.
Recently, the Assam government called for design entries for rural anganwadis. Design professionals in Australia have been working in Ahmedabad and Udipi with NGOs to provide architectural support for construction and renovations of these day-care centres. While it’s not uncommon to see them using recycled materials and local labour, it’s heartening to see how design comes alive in places one least expects.