Sem 06 / Settlement Studies

Environment as Built Form in Divar Island, Goa

Prasad Khanolkar

In Winter 2024, the Settlement Studies 03 course explored the relationship between environment and built form by moving away from the binary of environment / built form to explore the environment itself as built form. This exploratory study was situated in the khazan lands in Goa. Historically, khazan lands have been economically, environmentally, and socially significant to the human and non-human life in Goa. However, more recently, these lands have been slowly disappearing due to various reasons, including climate change, capitalist practices of urbanization, mining, and aquafarming, as well as a move away from pre-colonial governance systems and the growing dominance of post-colonial governance systems. The 2023-24 Settlement Studies 03 course aimed to study these transformations in the khazan lands of Divar Island.
Located at the intersection of the Arabian Sea and the Mandovi river, the silt deposits over time have given rise to the diverse ecology and terrain of Divar Island. Earlier, an estuary divided the island into two, which in the present day is under the Navelim-Goltim and Malar-Narao panchayats. The two panchayats together form the Divar Island. The early settlers of Divar, the Gaunkaris, settled on the contoured lands, and started cultivating rice. Over time, they realized that the farming could be done on the lowlands. A comunidad–a community organization–was formed to build bunds and sluice gates around the perimeter so as to avoid the influx of saline water as well as to maintain the upkeep of the bund and gates. The bunds, gates, and communidades together avoided flooding of paddy fields, controlled the intricacies of the environment, and allowed different economies to grow, including agriculture, aquaculture, and salt pans.
The khazan lands, located along the island’s periphery consist of several components such as bunds, sluice gates, ponds, salt pans, mangroves, paddy fields, as well as a series of cultural systems of tenure, governance, and maintenance. The study began with derive or a slow walk through the khazan lands. The first step was to identify an entity, which can be something physical, sensorial, or a particular species that one encounters. The students were then asked to follow this element throughout the day to observe its rhythms, its connections to other species and entities, and make observations and initial inquiries. Over the next four days, students expanded their scope of study to locate this entity within the larger histories, systems, and spatialities of khazan lands, as well as map the ongoing changes in the cultural and political life of the island's inhabitants and its relationship to the khazan lands.
The study, through its drawings, make three large arguments: One, the intricate environment of khazan lands is a built form that has been maintained through the tenure and governance system of communidades. Second, a series of shifts, including post-colonial land policies, the decreasing relevance of communidades, the unsustainability of agriculture and salt pans as income generating activities, and the growing economic aspirations of the inhabitants have resulted in the transformation of khazan lands into mangroves and water bodies for aquaculture. And lastly, an architectural understanding of the environment as built form requires a different form of drawing method that explores both time and space.

The work from the module can be explored here