How Should We Build & Design in the Post-Covid era?

“Address slums first and fast. We are creating communities to be ashamed of. We should be driven by what we can be proud of. Merely pushing a slum outside the city limit to create hi-end housing is not development”- Ratan Tata

By Namrata Kohli

We need to concern ourselves with the quality of life everywhere and consider urban communities as one- this was the key observation of
 Ratan Tata, Chairman, Emeritus, Tata Sons, during CorpGini’s virtual panel discussion on the ‘Future of Design & Construction’. He emphasized on development of the city keeping interests of the poor, as much as the rich. He minced no words in his critical view of city development and urged that there should be a re-examination of what we consider acceptable standards for quality of life. Slum redevelopment must be dealt with and fast.

Terming the COVID-19 crisis a wake-up call, Tata urged everyone to consider issues of the poor as being “our” problem and not “their” problem. We’re trying to remove slums moving them to another location, high value housing is being put over there. For the first time, the close proximity, low value structures that we have built are the cause of new problems. The last few months have taught us that we’re suffering from close proximity. We have the image we want to project of ourselves and there’s a part we want to hide. We have social responsibilities as architects and builders. 

Human centric slum redevelopment is need of the hour. We have around 1,500 slums in India inhabited by some 13 crore people, said another panelist Jimmy Mistry, CMD & Principal Designer, Della Group. Mistry pointed out that we have the highest density of slum population in the world, that allows only 36 sq ft per person. Architects have to be activists, and they need to work collaboratively with interior designers and developers to build a new India.
South Africa based star architect, Peter Rich, Founder, Peter Rich Architects, commended India for its intrinsic strengths and said that -“India can engage in natural materials for construction such as steel and bamboo and not concrete and glass. You can transfer the wealth of cultural skills to the world. Don’t look at the west. The answers are there in your own culture.” 

My Take: It is remarkable that in a session that was all about future of design and construction, Mr Ratan Tata did not talk of swanky subjects of technology and sophisticated minimalist design ethos, but he chose to speak on a far more hard hitting and relevant subject- one as he rightly said has always been “brushed below the carpet”. There is no ambiguity about how slums are the biggest embarrassment for us Indians and when a foreign film maker documents a Dharavi, we feel embarrassed, almost ashamed of ourselves. Slum dwellers living in congested spaces, are always negotiating with lack of sanitation and hygiene, little access to pure drinking water. The problem of slum dwellers need to become our problems and only a visionary like Mr Tata could have addressed such a core issue, touch upon a raw nerve and share an insight that should be at the heart of building cities of the future. 

But let’s also not pinpoint in one direction as only and solely responsible for the failures of slum redevelopment-  We as a society, as a community, as corporates, as individuals, as authorities- are all responsible for the current state of affairs. Covid 19 is a watershed moment and now it is payback time – a time to undo the wrongs that we may have committed. It’s time that we considered “their” (poor’s) problems as ours too. The entire builder community should look at slum redevelopment and authorities need to make it happen, and not entangle innovative minds into bureaucratic hurdles and red tapism. Make no mistake – coronavirus and other viruses can come and strike back. If we fail to rectify our mistakes and clean up the mess, we may only end up building more graves, not cities.

I also liked Mr Peter Rich’s comment on looking inward and not outward for design, construction at indigenous and inherently Indian building materials and solutions. The tall glass facade buildings dotting some of our so called “millennium” cities are anything but conducive to Indian climate. Rather than replicating a Manhattan, we need to put building solutions and techniques which are suited to Indian climate, are easily available and cost effective.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *