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Insights from India's Collective Housing Movement

The Cultural and Architectural Significance of Collective Housing in India



In Indian languages, terms for "family" often translate to "the ones in the house", reflecting the traditional practice of housing multiple generations under one roof in close-knit communities of relatives and friends. The residential architecture of these homes was shaped by the needs of joint family systems, with spaces for social interaction playing a key role. The interplay between culture, traditions, and architecture can be seen in the spatial design of Indian housing.


However, the housing landscape in India is complex, shaped by a range of economic, social, environmental, and political factors. The country's urban areas are divided into informal settlements, residential colonies, and gated communities based on social and economic factors, and while Indian neighborhoods were once connected and suited to people's needs, the influence of capitalism in the construction industry has caused a disconnect between culture, community, and architecture.


© Sublime Ordinariness

Collective housing in India has been gaining popularity in recent years due to the rise in urbanization and the need for affordable housing solutions. The concept of collective housing is based on the idea of shared living spaces where multiple families live together in a single building. In this blog, we will discuss the key learnings from collective housing in India and how it is shaping the future of housing in the country.


 
The Need for Collective Housing in India:

© Ossip van Duivenbode

With an increasing population and limited land resources, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford individual houses in urban areas. Collective housing provides an affordable alternative by reducing the cost of construction and maintenance. This has led to a growing demand for collective housing solutions in India, especially among the middle-class population.

 
Advantages of Collective Housing:

Affordability:

One of the biggest advantages of collective housing is that it is more affordable than individual homes. This is because the cost of construction and maintenance is shared among multiple families, making it a more economical option.


Community Living:

Collective housing promotes community living and a sense of belonging. Residents have access to shared amenities such as parks, community centers, and playgrounds, which encourages social interaction and a sense of community.


© Ossip van Duivenbode

Sustainability:

Collective housing is more environmentally sustainable as it reduces the carbon footprint of each individual household. This is because shared amenities and facilities result in lower overall consumption of resources such as water, electricity, and fuel.


Improved Safety and Security:

Collective housing projects are generally equipped with modern security systems and are safer compared to individual homes. This provides a sense of security and peace of mind to residents.

 
Versatility: Sublime Ordinariness Housing Project / DCOOP:

DCOOP's collective housing project draws from the traditional chawl settlements found in western India. Chawls are typically made up of rooms connected by a shared corridor that also serves as a communal space, fostering social interaction and providing relief from the hot and humid climate.


© Sublime Ordinariness

The project, located on the outskirts of Mumbai, is designed with cultural sensitivity, offering flexible multi-purpose spaces that can adapt to the needs of each family. In keeping with Indian home life, which often sees activities flow from one room to another, the apartments can be used for a range of purposes - from sleeping to cooking, studying to eating.


The goal of the project is to encourage community interaction and foster a sense of belonging among residents. The shared corridor acts as a buffer between indoor and outdoor spaces, while the kitchen is positioned to overlook the corridor, allowing women, who are often the primary caretakers in Indian homes, to socialize and keep an eye on their children while indoors.

 

In India, outdoor spaces play a crucial role in housing due to the warm climate. Courtyards serve as communal areas for social exchange and are a common vernacular element in Indian housing. The Sanjaynagar Slum Redevelopment Project in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, is designed to provide dignified housing for 298 families and is organized around shared courtyards of varying sizes. These outdoor spaces serve as zones for daily activities such as washing, cooking, chatting with neighbors, and caring for domestic animals.


© Rajesh Vora

The design of the Sanjaynagar project was inspired by the traditional clustered settlements in the area, which were known for enhancing connectivity between people and their environment. When rehousing a community, especially one consisting of slum dwellers, it is important to maintain street-level socio-spatial connections for their overall resilience and solidarity. The project mimics the scale of the initial settlement, preserving the community's existing connections and cultural traditions.

 
Diversity: Future Towers / MVRDV:

The first project in India by MVRDV presents a new solution to housing while addressing the country's socioeconomic needs. India's urban population is divided into luxury apartments and densely packed slums, leading to a fragmented society lacking social cohesion. Future Towers in Pune, Maharashtra, aims to resolve this issue by offering affordable housing for a diverse range of the growing population.


© Ossip van Duivenbode

The vertical village comprises 1,068 apartments of different types, catering to the entire middle-class spectrum in the city. With apartment sizes ranging from 45 square meters to 450 square meters, the building accommodates families with children, young couples, single residents, and elderly individuals. Public courtyards and communal terraces encourage interaction among neighbors. Unlike the uniform, box-like apartments prevalent in urban India, Future Towers offers a unique and refreshing approach to housing.

 

In India, where families often consist of multiple generations living under one roof, homes must be able to expand and adapt to accommodate new members over time. Inspired by traditional methods of incremental construction and Charles Correa's Belapur Housing, Filipe Balestra & Sara Göransson have created a cost-effective solution for housing needs.


© Filipe Balestra & Sara Göransson

The design concept allows families to gradually expand their homes as financial resources become available, and gives residents the opportunity to personalize their living spaces according to their preferences. This approach empowers families to create homes that truly reflect their unique needs and lifestyles.

 
Collective housing is a rapidly growing trend in India and has the potential to revolutionize the housing sector in the country. The concept of shared living spaces provides an affordable and sustainable alternative to individual homes and promotes community living. With the rise in urbanization, collective housing is set to play a crucial role in meeting the housing needs of the country's growing population.
 

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