The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2022
Berkeley Prize 2022

Ipsita Choudhury - Proposal

Making home a liveable place

Although 19 million people inhabit Delhi for its vast opportunities, an underrepresented population serves the greater city. At one end of its waste management system, lies an atrocious dumpsite at Bhalswa. In receiving over half of the city’s waste, the area has been laid to waste. Once home to a flourishing wetland ecosystem around a horseshoe lake, Bhalswa today is a living apocalypse. Despite year-round hazardous air pollution levels, and a severely contaminated water table leading to grotesque health hazards, Bhalswa isn’t uninhabited. Instead, it is home to over 200,000 people, and continues to be densified through public and private housing projects. This necessitates an important question - What is the state of housing at the city’s worst? Moreover, why house here at all?

Since mid-2020, I have been working on-ground with the community in a grassroots initiative called Better Bhalswa*. Nearly two years of research, outreach, design, and advocacy has reinforced my belief in initiating necessary dialogue towards social change for the marginalised. Housing lies at a pivotal point, with the potential to transform peoples’ life and aspirations. In my essay, A Place called Home, I take a deep dive into the plights of people living at Bhalswa, alternatively narrating ideologies to realising inclusive and livable housing. In the process of researching and understanding housing I’ve come to understand housing as a verb over a noun - the act of living, being, and sustaining. As opposed to the state’s understanding, housing isn’t just about creating new and more housing stock, it is an ecosystem facilitating one’s connection to live, work, play, and just be in. As a proposal for the Community Service Fellowship, I have worked with Better Bhalswa, to co-create a program to realise this ecosystem with a community at Bhalswa - the Bhalswa Dairy. As communities at Bhalswa are perturbed by the waste that makes their lives arduous, wouldn’t it be a turnaround to use this waste to knit the community together?

Worth in Waste, WoW, is a program to pilot decentralised waste management at Bhalswa Dairy, as a means to close the loop, and improve livability. The program aspires to create a visible change for the community’s living at Bhalswa through placemaking and light infrastructural interventions. By helping the community realise some worth in what they consider waste is the idea of incentivising waste management and ensuring it is carried out effectively even post the program. Finally, by engaging young children through the summer workshops is the intent of sensitising them towards waste management for them to impart ahead.

The program, to be held in Summer 2022, has four proponents.

1. Community Engagement and Sensitization through Public Informatics Campaign The program commences with engaging the community by addressing their concerns through best practices in decentralised waste management. These workshops are intended to help the people realise the benefits of waste management, including those pertaining to health, environment, and local economy. As a means to address a diverse audience is the intent to partake in a set of workshops with young children at the local primary school, and with adults through public workshops and focused group discussions with Residential Welfare Organisations. This is to set a dialogue towards much needed change, and create an active network of individuals from the community.

2. Stakeholder Mobilisation for Solutions Thinking Through previous research, Better Bhalswa has been able to thematise the area’s waste and identify action agencies and stakeholders towards remediation. In co-creating the program, we have initiated a dialogue with the following stakeholders to be mobilised through the Community Service Fellowship.

The North Delhi Municipal Corporation, is the civic authority responsible for provision of Municipal services including waste management and education. The authority operates a primary school at Bhalswa Dairy and owns considerable land parcels and public space in the area.

Arth, is an entrepreneurial initiative working with cow-dung and dairy wastes. They work with Dairy workers to create logs made with cow-dung to supply to crematoriums in a sustainable initiative. They also work with the industry, to create products such as diyas (lamps) and incense. Arth has cracked the city’s market for upcycled products from dung, and shall play an important role in community training, and facilitating waste management.

Evolve Engineering, is an organisation pioneering the development of floating wetlands in the city. The technology is a cost-effective and carbon-positive technique to fix contaminants in lakes. Evolve Engineering shall facilitate a role in community training, and lake remediation.

3. Participatory Design and Co-Creation for a Better Bhalswa Next is the intent of connecting the stakeholders with the community through design sessions and training workshops.

a. B for Bhalswa: Hands-on workshops with school children on the environmental condition of Bhalswa and its impact on their living, followed by co-creation of Floating Wetlands with Evolve Engineering, and development of dung products with Arth.

b. The unit economics of dung: Setting up of dung-to-log machines for the economic benefit of the community while addressing problems associated with waste. Demonstration and Training exercises with the audience.

c. Better through Waste: Demonstration of best practices towards waste management through participatory design and placemaking initiative.

Architects are often limited to the understanding that they have to build buildings to practice architecture, and this I believe often goes against the practice as a social art. Engaging in a program that aims to build little and yet generate meaningful change in an existing built environment shall reinforce my belief, and help me advocate towards a better means to practice. Working with industry experts in a multidisciplinary collaboration shall also help me understand how to function in a team that aspires to drive solutions, rather than conjuring buildings and hoping they will solve all problems.

Partaking in the endeavour through the Community Service Fellowship, I plan to partake in all activities as mentioned in the program. I also hope to assist and enrich the program through my skills in solutions thinking, architectural design, and informatics. I thank the Berkeley Prize for presenting such a valuable opportunity in furthering my understanding while contributing to the community I am a part of.

Links: Better Bhalswa: The WoW program: Why should our waste lay waste to another place: Arth: Evolve Engineering:

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At Bhalswa, one has to accommodate their lives into cramped boxes. Photo: Gunraagh Singh Talwar
At Bhalswa, one has to accommodate their lives into cramped boxes. Photo: Gunraagh Singh Talwar
Communities at the dumpsite edge face the worst living conditions in the city. Photo:Gunraagh Talwar
Communities at the dumpsite edge face the worst living conditions in the city. Photo:Gunraagh Talwar
Everyday health and sanitation woes at Bhalswa.
Everyday health and sanitation woes at Bhalswa.
At Better Bhalswa, community participation is our biggest driving force.
At Better Bhalswa, community participation is our biggest driving force.
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