Mumbai Contra-CT

November 28, 2011

Presentation at the Municipality of Milano, on November 28th, 2011

1.    URBZ: user-generated cities

URBZ is a global network of urban practitioners interested in user-generated cities around the world. These are urban spaces produced or controlled by residents and inhabitants. The URBZ studio is in Dharavi, Mumbai and acts as a space for urban practitioners to work and learn from the context. It also provides services to the residents of Dharavi and other neighbourhoods in Mumbai and India. These services include consultation, research, design and architectural inputs.

2.    City Makers

The City-makers, or the users, inhabitants of these urban spaces are a critical presence in all that URBZ does. They are people who energize the local economies and built-environments of these neighbourhoods – as producers and providers of goods and services, retailers and vendors, innovators and designers.

3.    The Contractor

Among this vast and dense networks of city-makers, the contractor has become a very special partner to us. The contractor is a person who takes on construction assignments for local residents – usually of his own neighbourhood. He connects with material providers, labour, local financers and other actors in the production of a structure that works closely with the needs of each client. Here is a video clip of Amar, whom we met in Bhandup.

This is a video rendering of the process of building a typical structure, usually on a 10 by 10 feet foot-print.

4. Neighbourhoods…

These new, improved structures are unfolding all over the neighbourhood and play a crucial role in the incremental improvement and transformation of the neighbourhood. The neighbourhoods have evolved over a period of time and continue to evolve. Their typology and ability to absorb a range of different economic backgrounds, along with providing community and local support to people at different stages of economic status has contributed tremendously in creating a practical, financially sound affordable housing template for cities such as Mumbai.

5. … in-formation

The contractor is constantly looking for ways to introduce new material and technologies so as to make competitive structures and get more clients. In this process we came across Pankaj Gupta, a dynamic contractor from Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, who was keen on using high-quality ready mix concrete. URBZ facilitated a connection with a high-end provider from the city and helped forge a strong partnership between two very unlikely collaborators.

6. Affordable Housing

This equation is slowly becoming part of a larger conversation between high-end material providers, architects and urban planners and contractors and clients from Mumbai’s user-generated cities. Our practice focus on the exchange between architects and other professionals and city-makers in various neighbourhood. Francesco, our intern from Milan, is presently working directly on physically constructing houses with a contractor from Dharavi. Such collaborations have become the basis of our new learning programs in architecture schools as well.

This poster announces a four month long pedagogic program to be done in partnership with the JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai in partnership with Lafarge and URBZ. Students will work closely with contractors, clients from local neighbourhoods in Mumbai as well as technical consultants from around the world and evolve ways of working together.

7. Tool-House

In this initiative, the question of urban typology becomes a very crucial factor in discussions with policy makers and other actors in the city. This is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome because it becomes a point of contention with developers and builders who work on a more high-end scale of the building market. We focus on the tool-house – the basic structure that shapes the landscape of the user-generated city and show how it is an economic, social and housing asset. In all consultations and conversations described above we look at the tool-house as the basic architectural concept that is integral to local initiatives.

The tool-house is at one and the same time integral to the production of the urban typology and the unit of production of goods and commodities. It helps in making the landscape dense and productive at the same time, by economising the spatial arrangements of the city. In Mumbai, more than half of the population of the city lives in such neighbourhoods but occupies less than 20% of the land and contributes hugely to the economy of the city. This is not a fixed statistic. As the economy improves and grows, this typology changes and absorbs newer forms and shapes. The Tool-house is at the heart of the user-generated city and brings in people, actors and resources together.