July 28th, 2016 by urbzman
Exhibiting at the renowned MAXXI, claimed by the Guardian as ‘Hadid’s finest built work to date’ was an exciting prospect for us. We wanted to use this platform to present one of our homegrown concepts: the tool-house. In very basic terms, the tool-house is a space for living and working. Conceptually located between Le Corbusier’s “machine for living” (also sometimes translated as “house tool”) and Ivan Illich’s “convivial tool”, the ‘tool-house’ is an apparatus that fulfills economic and sheltering purposes.
urbz’ exhibit at the MAXXI, Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo or National Museum of the 21st Century Arts, a museum celebrating contemporary art and architecture.
Ever since the advent of the industrial age, the way that cities have been shaped is fundamentally rooted in the separation between the workplace and the house. Today, with entrepreneurial ventures, freelancing, and the hard to ignore start –up culture on the rise, lines between work and live situations are blurring. In a world where garage start-ups like Apple Inc. grow to become the most valuable company in the world, planners and architects have to reckon with the new challenges that this work-from-home phenomenon poses.
We noticed that the tool-house is a typology that is common in Dharavi and the local builders have both experience and knowledge of this type of housing. These contractors, as they are called, are generally seen as facilitators of construction. They manage large teams of specialized labourers, handle the relationship with clients, and make sure that the houses they build get the official or officious sanction of the authorities. We invited local contractors to design their ideal house for Dharavi. The brief only specified a typical Dharavi plot size (3.5 x 4.5 sq.m) and that the design should incorporate a live-work situation – it had to be a “tool-house”.
Local contractor, Datta, picks up the pencil and explores his idea of Dharavi’s ideal home
The outcome was not an extravagant architectural feat. For the contractors, ‘ideal’ was more in the small details like having 2 feet extra ceiling height, larger windows and well-thought staircases to access roofs for hot summer nights. For us, as urbanologists, this process helped us learn from some of the most active participants of Dharavi’s incremental transformation. Local contractors have shaped the fabric of Dharavi from the very first day. Their knowledge is based on a long experience of the neighbourhood where they live and work. Their design expresses a better version of the present. Not quite a radical departure from it, but a pragmatic, creative and at times audacious expression of potentialities lying within Dharavi.
Local artisan collaborates with the contractor to bring their design to life, using a material of their choice.
We then put the contractors in touch with local artisans to build a model of their design (at a 1:20 scale). As the contractors saw their designs come to life, they would realise existing design flaws and correct them on the spot, asking the artisan to make changes accordingly. Sometimes, the artisans offered their own suggestions. This exchange reflects the on-site, adaptive and evolving manner in which contractors work. Contractors operating in Dharavi and other incremental neighbourhood of Mumbai don’t use drawings or plans. They simply give instructions to the labourers on site, projecting the ideas they discussed with their client directly onto reality. For some, the models were the first time they saw their work as “design” rather than construction.
The contractor, local artisan and architect in conversation, developing and retrofitting the design as the model is being built.
These models are the ones that we are exhibiting at Maxxi to state that answers to what are considered ‘new’ problems in urban planning can be found in what is considered the ‘largest slum’ in Asia. We simply want to recognise that this is a typology that exists in homegrown settlements around the world and studying this typology further could be the way forward to reconsider the way cities are planned.
Three of Dharavi’s ideal homes fabricated out different materials: wood, metal and acrylic as chosen by the contractors, on display at the MAXXI
More photos of the exhibition on our Flickr album