There are apartment-like homes in Karail that are made up of a cluster of single-room dwelling units (SRDUs), where each room houses a family. Multiple SRDUs share common facilities such as kitchens, toilets, and a common entrance hallway. These clusters can range in size from a single room to 50 rooms, but 8-unit clusters are the most common. The availability of resources, material constraints, and even the owner’s gender, all influence cluster size. The overarching element, however, is the social limit of sharing common facilities such as toilets, stove points, and wash areas. Throughout the neighborhood, a strict ratio of one toilet to eight rooms is observed.
The communal internal corridors of the clusters connect to the publicly accessible road network to create a permeable urban tissue. During the day, these communal corridors are kept open and serve as an extension of the public laneway, which is only available if you know the families in the cluster. As a result, in Karail, social capital becomes a defining factor for accessibility.
Other than commercial establishments and residences, Karail houses thousands of rickshaws and large-scale rickshaw garages towards the north of the settlement. Such garages are often the only function suitable for freshly infilled land, which is over time converted to housing as the land stabilizes. Karail has only one major public street connecting it to the rest of the city.
The streets within the settlement are made to accommodate two-way pedestrian traffic and in some cases rickshaws.
The incremental growth of Karail is accompanied by a trend towards a preference for permanent structures, which are typically associated with stronger tenure security. In most cases, newer construction technologies or materials are linked to the building practices in the migrant resident’s native place. For instance, the first two-story timber houses in Karail were built by migrant residents from the south of Bangladesh, where such construction is common. The timber construction has limited the urban form to two stories, preventing the settlement from becoming vertically dense. In Karail, non-governmental organizations have built a limited infrastructure of drains, latrines, and water points. The NGOs function as silent partners, providing microfinance loans for infrastructure and urban services, ranging from toilet blocks to schools and clinics, all of which contribute to making Karail more liveable.
Over time Karail has developed peripheral edge-oriented commercial activity, which generates a lot of visits to the settlement. Most of the differentiation of functions has been a result of an adaptation of the typical 3-meter by 10-meter housing form into different functions such as schools. An exception to this is the construction of community institutions of the mosque and the bazaar, both built much larger and sturdier than the rest of the urban fabric. Both institutions are established through collective efforts and financial contributions of the community, they are important in the formation of a collective sense of the neighborhood.
In the aftermath of natural disasters and fires, even people who are left unaffected by the tragedy self-modified and altered the urban fabric. Such disasters often drive attitudes towards the adoption of more rigid materials. The flood of 1988 resulted in a transition from bamboo-mat to lintel-post constructions. The fire of 2004, resulted in the adoption of tin metal sheets as a building material and the fire of 2016-2017 resulted in a rapid transition to brick-and-mortar buildings, which also allow for vertical incremental growth.
Karail residents are constantly under threat of eviction to make way for the government's plans for an IT park and a lake beautification scheme. The fires have fueled speculations that these are state-sanctioned strategies to evict them. The people of Karail's everyday lives are shaped by this affective realm of uncertainty - whether to plan, build, or expand their house. The formation of Karail however is indicative of the desires and aspirations of its residents.