Using Architecture for Social Change – Nebula with Hatch Workshop
“Aavaas” by Nebula is an Indian affordable housing development venture established in 2016. Aavaas is a socially impactful business that believes in the mantra of “Affordable Living not just Affordable Housing” and seeks to provide Social Infrastructure on its projects – Affordable School, Health Clinic, Fair priced shop. In keeping with its impact goals it also aims to improve the lives of its construction workers with the philosophy of “Building the future of those who build our future homes”.
Its promoters are the Pacifica Group (a US based global real estate company with 40 years internationally and 10 years in India), and the Futura Group. There are currently 2 Aavaas projects under development Changodar (Ahmedabad) and Miyapur (Hyderabad) with over 6,000 affordable apartments under construction and another 5,000 apartments in entitlements stage. Projects in planning sanctions stage are Sanand & Bechraji (Gujarat), Chennai, and another project in Hyderabad.
A noteworthy part of their projects is the one that has been constructed for migrant construction workers, who belong to an unorganized, vulnerable and low income group and for whom living on the construction sites is the only feasible option. This is an excellent example of collaboration used for the betterment of the underprivileged.
The temporary workers’ housing project implemented by Nebula at Changodar is a contextual adaptation of an Archiprix winning thesis design by architectural graduates Hannah Broatch. Nebula has endeavored to address problems faced by the migrant workers and set a benchmark on improving their living conditions and social provisions and partnered with Hatch Workshop for implementing the project.
Hatch Workshop, a research, design and build partnership, consisting of Hannah Broatch and Mason Rattray, from New Zealand and their work in India specialises in socially focused schemes for migrant populations. As a design – build duo, they partner with local craftspeople and workers with an intention of improving the quality of housing and associated amenities such as sanitation, cooking and childcare facilities through appropriate incremental interventions. They strive to create solutions that are low cost, comfortable and relocatable.
Living conditions for the migrant workers tend to be overlooked owing to lack of attention from their host construction companies and the workers are forced to build makeshift shanties to live in (commonly known as ‘Jhuggis’) due to lack of resources and foresight in design. These shanties are generally too weak to withstand strong winds and rains or have proper electrification which reduces the safety of women and children. Toilets are often not functional, without access to water or flush systems or even absent in such settlements of migrant workers which lead to open defecation and that create an unhygienic and unsanitary surrounding for the residents. The kitchens or cooking setups in such shanties are mostly mud hearths which use firewood And cooking over open fires inside or close to living spaces in the absence of proper ventilation lead to prolonged exposure to toxic fumes, which is harmful especially for pregnant women and young children who are more prone to the development of respiratory disorders. Lack of access to education, basic necessities, clean water, proper drainage and waste management are also commonly seen in such settlements which lead to unhygienic living conditions, rodent problems, high rate of infections, communicable and water borne diseases and diseases like malaria and dengue which all result in deplorable living conditions.
In this project, the original design for the construction workers’ housing came from 18 months of architectural and site research from top architects and academics in India and New Zealand. The design aims to be as low-cost as possible, flexible and for almost the whole structure to be dismantled, re-assembled and re-used. It aims to provide a realistic solution for housing the migrant construction workers. This endeavor followed a systematic process, with constant interactions with the construction workers and other stakeholders keeping in mind the socio-cultural behaviour of the different groups of migrant workers in order to enable long term sustainability and sustenance of the project and the related activities.
Consultations were regularly done to inform workers of the planned workers’ housing project and to garner their feedback specifically on the living, cooking arrangements and waste management plans.
The complex consists of 5 blocks which has 56 units, a crèche and a community kitchen. This includes 40 3×3 m units which can accommodate 4-6 people and 16, 3×6 m unit which can accommodate 10-12 people. The clear height of the rooms, from floor to roof is around 2.5 m. The design has focused of ensuring that rooms are ventilated and for this, agro nets and windows have been put in all the units. In the process of designing the living quarters, the daily routine of the workers were kept in mind in order to complement their everyday lives.
Open social spaces have been incorporated in the design of the quarters allowing inhabitants to socialize while engaging in daily activities. This is essential to create a sense of community and positive environment. All the units and social spaces are well lit and rooms have proper conduiting and plug-points.
The complex has been built on land that has a very high water table with ananeffective, off-grid and eco-friendly solid waste management. Nebula partnered with Banka BioLoo for implementing bio-toilets blocks which is an innovative technology for disposal of human waste through use of bio-digesters. There are separate male and female toilet blocks which includes bathing rooms as well and the design ensures privacy and safety with adequate lighting, signage, lockable doors, accessible water source inside and outside the toilets and easy to clean tiled surface, hence encouraging the use of these facilities. The toilet to people ratio is 1:15.
Hatch Workshop has designed the crèche cum learning center along with a playground in a manner that it is airy, colorful and has a fun environment. There are jaalis incorporated into the design not only for ventilation, but also to allow parents to come and see their children from outside without disturbing the internal sessions. This prevents the children from roaming around on the construction site which is usually a commonly seen sight on Indian Construction sites.
Nebula provides daycare services, nutrition and education for the children of the migrant workers for mainstreaming them for advancement to schools for a formal education through its partner organization Saath Charitable Trust as a part of this project.
Since families living on construction sites do not generally have access to such facilities, it is hoped that this will be the differentiator in managing attrition on site, thereby being beneficial for all the stakeholders.
A system of waste segregation and disposal has also been put in place which includes training the workers to segregate the waste into dry and wet waste and put the waste in the respective wet and dry bins placed at specific locations across the complex. The wet waste gets converted into compost using an automatic composter on site and the compost is used for gardening purposes. The dry waste is collected by NEPRA which recycles the waste and provide diversification certificate and CO2 mitigation report to Nebula denoting how much waste was saved from going into landfills.
As a part of this project, Nebula has also partnered with Aajeevika Bureau, for providing free healthcare services, medicines, immunization services, sanitary napkins and contraceptives and for organizing awareness programs for the migrant workers.
This is a good example of how sufficient and dignified housing solutions for migrant populations are not only possible, but easily replicable, and how architecture can be utilised to create a wider social change within existing areas of work.