Video interview with Architect & Urban Sanitation interventionalist Pratima Joshi

Pratima Joshi, Director and Founder, Shelter Associates, has worked in the area of sustainable low cost housing and sanitation for the urban poor for nearly 25 years.

Using concepts like multi-stakeholder consultation, user-centered design and participative governance long before they were fashionable, her approach has evolved to include the following principles:

1. Understanding the true situation before making plans—collect data and speak with all involved parties
2. Designing spaces, whether building for the poor or toilets, must account for habits and ambitions of residents/users, rather than aiming for the lowest cost solution—this means engaging the final users rather than thrusting a well-meaning solution upon them
3. Managing infrastructure is more important than building it—hence, accountability and management systems must be put in place from the start, not as after-thought

She is widely recognized as a leading planner and designer of slum infrastructure, co-founding Shelter Associates to convert slums into housing societies for the poor, to provide safer and cleaner environment that also retained the community and access to services that urban slums provide. After a few successful projects, she, realizing this is a difficult and slow process due to political and financial challenges, expanded attention to sanitation in slums so that existing situations could be improved in the short-term while waiting for systemic long-term changes to happen.


After working on various approaches and seeing first-hand that the conventional thinking and policy of building community toilets is driven more by convenience for the government rather than meeting needs of users, Shelter’s approach has been to advocate for and build household toilets in urban slums, proving that it can be done, at scale and at lower cost than community toilets, while meeting all expectations of the users.

pratima-1Pratima has participated in policy discussions and advised government programs including the Rajiv Awas Yojna (RAY), and speaks and presents this work extensively across the world at universities, to government and other social sector organizations.

A much celebrated personality, Pratima has recieved Aga Khan Scholarship in 1986. 2007, Ashoka Fellowship for outstanding work as a social entrepreneur. 2005, Identified by BBC as a leading slum architect of India. 2008, ‘New Asian Hero’ by Strait Times, Singapore. 2009, Google Earth Hero Award. 2011, ‘Amazing Indian’ by Times Now. 2011, Only Indian architect invited to speak at the 24th World Congress of Architects in Tokyo. 2013, Winner, Google Impact Challenge (Shelter Associates). 2015, Winner, HUDCO Award for Best Practices in Sanitation (Shelter Associates in partnership with Pune Municipal Corporation)