The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2018
Berkeley Prize 2018



“Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed”

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

India is a culturally diverse nation that has achieved great strides in development in the past few decades. Various initiatives have been implemented by the government in the development of the urban areas of the country. Hundred major cities have been selected under the leadership of the new Central Government to be converted to smart cities by the year 2030.

Master plans and city development plans are revised periodically to accommodate the ever increasing population of the urban areas. Yet the failure in these plans have always been in its inability to account for the increasing migrating population from the rural to the urban areas. This population that contributes to a major labour force in construction sites and local markets, reside in illegal dwellings or slums in the very heart of the city.

This scenario is not different in Karimadom, in the city of Trivandrum , capital of the State of Kerala.

Kamalamma and her husband had migrated to the city of Trivandrum from Tamil Nadu , 25 years ago, seeking better employment opportunities and better income. She aspired for good living conditions to raise her children in. But what awaited them is a completely different scene.

Kamalamma is now a widow, who is the sole provider of her family consisting of her two children and four grandchildren. She had lost her husband to cancer in 2012, due to his excessive smoking habits. Her husband’s prolonged illness has put her family in heavy debt and fell prey to being an unemployed slum resident of Karimadom, deep in the pangs of poverty.

This is the story of just one out of the 540 families that live in the Karimadom slum, one of the most ill reputed slums of the city, notorious for its drug dealing and increased crime rates. This government property of around 9.6 acres has been their home for the past 25 years consisting of a series of row houses densely packed together with limited street space. The families own nothing but a dilapidated shelter made of plastics or thatch with no sanitation, water supply or other basic amenities.

There are a large number of families, headed by women, who are either widows, abandoned women or single mothers. There is no regularly employed person in the family. The male members of the family are employed as wage laborers, head load workers and vendors in the local market and the women often take jobs as housemaids.

Afsal , a resident of the Karimadom slum,has been working as a head load worker in the local market for the past 10 years. His day starts at 3’o clock, when he walks to the market, which is in close proximity to the slum and ends at 10 am. He receives a minimum wage of Rs 400 per day but a very little of this income reaches his home as most of it gets consumed in alcohol. The rest of the day he remains unengaged.

Domestic violence resulting from alcoholism was a common sight in most dwellings here. The drug dealing business of Karimadom was a means of livelihood to majority of the residents. Moreover, the families used their children to deal in these drug businesses, and only a handful attended school.

The slum has a very prominent location at the very heart of the city with proximity to major sources of employment, the Chalai market and the Railway Station. It also has good accessibility to various religious and tourist attractions. But what makes this prime location a habitat for the poorest of the poor in the society?

The slum has evolved over generations close to a large sewage pond connected to the drainage system of the city. Moreover, open drains connected to other city drains carrying untreated sewage also flows through the middle of the slum, making the inhabitants prone to various communicable diseases. The worst case scenario is during the monsoon rains, when the entire area gets flooded , bringing along with it, the sewage waste into their homes.

The most unavoidable and prominent feature of the slum, is the city level garbage dump right across the road. The stench from the dump is so overpowering that the children often fall sick. The slum residents have learnt to cope with these hazardous environmental conditions over the years.

Since the 1970’s, various initiatives have been taken to improve the aesthetics of the city of Trivandrum by either demolishing , rehabilitating or relocating the slums to better locations with healthier living conditions. These initiatives have failed miserably in the past.

A fully grown tree when uprooted and placed in a new location never survives for long, as potentially serious damage occurs to its root system. Even those trees, that have been successfully replanted suffer transplantation shock. The case is similar to the slum residents. When forcefully demolished, these slums spring up again in the other parts of the city. They have intertwined themselves so intricately to the fabric of urban life that it is almost impossible to uproot them from their current locations without their livelihood being affected.

As a solution to this cyclic process, the idea of ‘Human Conservation’ is brought into picture. Conservation has been a major field of architecture in which various principles for conservation are laid down in order to protect buildings and towns of historic and archaeological value. The very core of conservation is to “preserve the building in its original context rather than to reconstruct it”. But why do humans need to be conserved?

Labeeb is a 15 year old boy, who has been in the Karimadom slum since his childhood. He goes to a nearby school every day and loves to play cricket with his friends during his free time. Labeeb , though he does not like the place much, wishes to continue to stay here when he grows up. When asked for the reason, his reply was that the slum was the only place he has known and that all his friends and family were there.

The new philosophy of ‘re-humanisation’ have been considered in deriving a more practical solution for slum development. Re-humanisation does not involve merely the provision for housing facilities and basic amenities but also the upliftment of the backward classes culturally, socially and economically. It is the concept of reinstating the identity of such people in the society and providing them opportunities to voice their grievances directly to their elected heads.

The first and major step that has been recognized is to bring them out of their poverty by provision of all basic amenities including housing. A decision was taken to develop the housing facilities at Karimadom colony which was taken up by the city corporation. This fell in line with the vision of providing basic amenities to the urban poor through the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission by the Central Government .

COSTFORD – Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development is one of the premiere organizations who willingly undertook the reconstruction of this slum by using the underlying land, as a resource. COSTFORD is a Non-Profit Organization founded by the famous architect Laurie Baker which promotes low–cost, eco-friendly building technology, approved by the government system.

It proposed the design of a 28 blocks of apartments to house the slum inmates, along with a study centre cum library, two ‘Anganwadis’ (government run health centre) and community open spaces with planted trees to serve as gathering spaces and play areas. It includes infrastructural provision such as sanitation, clean water and electricity. The inmate can take ownership of the unit with just Rs 24000, which would otherwise run into lakhs.

The proposed model has many tangible benefits. A 30 square metre apartment unit houses an average of 5 people. Each unit consists of a bedroom, kitchen and a hall with an attached toilet. Barrier walls are being built to reduce the foul smell and to prevent flood water from washing into the site.

The construction ideologies of Laurie Baker and COSTFORD have further increased the economic and environmental efficiency. The walls devoid of plaster work save upto 15% of the construction cost. Using filler slab saves 35% of the concrete estimated in construction. Rat trap bond requires only 420 bricks per metre cube as opposed to 500 bricks in the case of Flemish or English bonds. Load bearing walls are reinforced at wall junctions in the building. The absence of columns or beams save on construction costs significantly. Standard windows cost upto 10 times the amount of wall space they consume, whereas ‘Jaalis’ (latticed screen) cut down the cost of the wall and if placed efficiently provide passive lighting and ventilation. Incremental development is possible in individual units as each unit is given additional space in the form of a terrace or a verandah.

In 2008, the initial design was presented before the entire community, their inputs and concerns were recorded and implemented into future iterations of the design. Initially the inmates were unwilling to give up their illegally acquired land for the demolition of their temporary homes and construction of these apartment structures. The reason for their anxiety is because there has been similar government initiatives in the past and examples of many slum redevelopment projects which have been left halfway through construction due to lack of funds.

This is where organizations such as COSTFORD and Kudumbasree played an important role. Kudumbashree is an innovative women-centered poverty eradication program operational in Kerala since 1998 in rural areas and since 2000 in urban areas. It was implemented through Community Development Societies (CDSs) of Poor Women, serving as the community wing of Local Governments.

Kudumbasree has been actively working among the slum women and has played a significant role in women empowerment in the city. They play a major role in the provision of micro-finance to set up small businesses such as fast food centers, snack corners, soaps business and marketing them too. Not only in encouraging financial freedom , they also encourage women to fight for their rights in the community. This oraganisation encourages women to attend night classes and become educated to run small businesses and to send their children to schools.

Before the initial planning of the redevelopment of Karimadom, meetings were held with the help of Kudumbasree to gain the confidence of the slum dwellers in the upcoming project. It is mandatory by law in India that slum redevelopment will be initiated only if 70% of the community agree to it. A survey was conducted and the design and layout was prepared which were revised several times. After the plan was finalized, there were meetings held on 3 consecutive days to explain the project to the slum dwellers. The architect took the initiative to interact directly with the slum inmates to gain support from them.

The construction process has been divided into various phases with 20 units yet to be completed. Even during the construction many hurdles were faced as the inmates wanted the apartments to be completed as soon as possible as they had no other alternate dwelling units. Residents have occupied the first 8 units which have been constructed.

Most of the families especially women and children are well satisfied with their new dwellings. The children especially love the open spaces in front of their dwellings that they use as a playground. The women are satisfied that their children can have a more healthier and peaceful lifestyle unlike a few years ago.

Today, Kamalamma has established a small fast food joint inside her slum, selling tea and snacks. Most of the days, her family has to go hungry due to lack of money to buy food. Yet she is positive that she would earn enough by the end of the day to feed her family.

Even the neighborhood has benefited from this project. As the slum dwellers are provided better living conditions, their aspirations to contribute back to society have increased. The primary challenge faced by COSTFORD and Kudumbasree was to pull them out of the death trap of drug dealing and alcoholism. The women of the family were the only ones who aspired for a better condition of life for their children. The society and neighborhood at large have appreciated the efforts of these institutions, in providing alternate employment opportunities and means of livelihood and eradicating the drug business at Karimadom.

The aspirations of the inmates are that their children acquire good education, buy land elsewhere in the city and relocate their family to a better neighborhood. Many children from these slums are aspiring engineers, nurses and lawyers, fighting their way against the social current to enter the mainstream, competing with their counterparts from wealthy urban families.

Though one of the most successful slum redevelopment projects in India, the Karimadom project has its limitations. The lack of community participation in the planning and design process is evident. As an architect, the needs of the client have to be considered at the initial phase of planning. This is only possible through meetings and discussions with selected representatives of the community who are well aware of the issues and aspirations of the local community.

Another paradox is that the families who had houses on the ground floor and had open spaces to setup small businesses, have been given apartments accessible only by a long straight flight of stairs. Though this might seem to be the most practical solution for slum redevelopment, there might be some ambiguity in the criteria of allotment of units. The upper stories are not preferred by the aged population and women due to the difficulty in climbing stairs, but the upper units have better terrace, storage facilities suitable for a larger family. It is most essential to involve the community both in the planning and the construction phase of the work done which will imbibe a sense of ownership in the slum dwellers and will reduce monotony and inculcate contextual aesthetics in the building design according to the choice of the owner.

The sloping roof of the units is interconnected and is easily accessible from the terrace, similar to most of Laurie Baker projects. Due to lack of parapets and the possibility of accumulation of slippery moss due to seasonal monsoons, the buildings do not seem child friendly.

Karimadom is one of the few success stories of slum redevelopment in the country and the winner of three prestigious national awards, as a joint venture of the government and a NPO. Humans must themselves be considered as a resource, which must be protected within their community, in the land of their choice, with the provision of basic amenities. Hence, the true concept of “re-humanisation” will be fulfilled in the context of urban development.

A bird's eye view of the newly constructed Karimadom units

Straight flight of stairs to acess each unit

Well planned units with basic amenities provided

Multipurpose use of the terrace for storage and for outdoor kitchen activities

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