Sem 06 | Localisations

Anuj Daga

In 1976, between 55,000 and 70,000 people were forcibly moved from the Janata Colony slum to Cheetah Camp -  a low lying area near Trombay, Mumbai, Maharashtra - by police force. The eviction of Janata Colony was to make space for the expansion of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). The area has become a settling transit camp for the displaced, where the population has continued to provide for themselves within limited resources, not necessarily connected to the grid.

In 2001, the Indian Navy raised concerns that the slum was too close to an arms depot. At this time, it was estimated there were 10,000 shacks in Cheetah Colony. There were five schools, a graveyard, a crematorium and four toilet blocks were being built. As per the current estimate more than 1 Lakh people live in the Cheetah camp. The development in this area is restricted and the navy depot which reside in the north to the Cheetah camp raised concerns regarding the building infrastructure's floor levels and were limited to two floors and the ownership of the land is limited to the owner and the government can shift them as they did in 2001.

The localisations studio aims to think of how architectural knowledge may dignify and elevate the resource scarce neighbourhood by learning from the social and material logics of the place. Two sites were chosen in order for architectural engagement: the Trombay Municipal School and the Public Toilet along with the pathology lab and baalwadi. The spatial patterns observed in the two sites demonstrate the need for distinct public space(s) for community and individual use. While the municipal school is a ready resource for various community events like marriages, political events, gatherings, etc. along with being the playground for the school kids, the peripheries of the public toilet double up for community meetings, parkings, loitering and chit-chats for various groups. The edges of the buildings serve privatization as well as claiming by the locals through several spatio-material practices.

Currently, both these “institutions” are being realized through technocratic logics that produce a disciplined solidified form in conception, while affording the corrosions from the community. However, what kind of form may be imagined for these places if these corrosive practices could be mainstreamed into design processes - allowing for safe occupations in both time and space while they continued to resourcefully function for the neighbourhood. In addition, how does one think of spatial detail through the material logics employed and improvised within the political economy of a place like Cheetah camp? These are questions that formed the premise for the studio.

Methodologically, students were asked to study the spatial patterns - intended as well as deviated - within the two complexes. These observations were recorded into postcards which narrate a layered encounter of the place, which then become the base for formulating spatial strategies for intervention. While several political aspects like land ownership or financial delivery mechanisms were suspended for studio exploration, the studio was focused towards articulating ways of imagining social possibilities of such sites where new infrastructures begin to ape insularised construction as seen in formal construction environments, despite having a strong sense of commons.

The studio attempted to open up the dimensions of political economy of built forms, and the aspect of dignifying space for marginalized communities. The group working with the Municipal school attempted to create new degrees of public- and private-ness so that the school is able to maintain a dedicated space for school operations while allowing the community to pass through. Several projects aimed at improving the conditions of light and ventilation within the classrooms, and introducing colour and play through tectonic explorations. Here, to localise was to imagine the school as a public resource for the community, in the register of the private. It was observed that the existing C-shape form of the school was most optimal and therefore seemed difficult to be challenged typologically.

The group working on the site with a public toilet, balwadi and pathology lab studied peripheral activities of micro-occupations by different user groups - men, women, children, and so on. Further, they also interrogated how these narrow slivers of space become “public” and redefine the notion of a localised public space. By coalescing the three programmes that are currently public, yet operate independently, students reimagined ways in which the built environment could gracefully afford multiplicities of activities while maintaining the scale of spaces within the neighbourhood.

The works produced in the studio can be accessed here.