The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1873] Sparsha-a human touch


“For not all of us live the same,

Some fight to see daybreak,

Some squander treasures- vanity sake,

On tattered streets we walk, dreaming to rule,

Some car passes us by whizzing wind cool,

And as I sit in it and look outside,

I see ‘me’- not long ago, curled on the roadside,

For alas...not all of us live the same”

India has mothered so many great revolutions and

traditional comebacks throughout history. But it also has borne instability in her core, a certain unrest rising everyday on the streets of her metropolitans.

'"India is a rich country full of poor people" she thought to herself" indeed how true is this statement." Everyday of her life as an architect, as she walked down the lanes of this bustling city the cacophony of the horns and the blaring lights grew harsher but nothing she had not expected. What disturbed her more were toddlers running bare feet around their homes, if one could call them 'home' at all, stepping on stones, glass and dung alike, innocently smiling at her with mud-ridden faces and soiled clothes. They had never seen childhood the way she had and she had never been to their side either. But just the sight hurt her so. Just the sight hurt her…'

India is a land of limitless possibilities. A land of mystic forces and divine interventions wrapped up in the strong faith of the people, covered up in the colours of life and celebration. The growing economy adds shimmer to this modern-day India. But behind all this glitter of the country lies the stark reality of urban dwellers.

Fact: 70% of Delhi, the national capital, lives in substandard housings.

Fact: 40% of Chennai, the southern metropolis, dwells in slums.

Fact: 10,000 houses of the 'weaker members of society', a politically correct term for 'poor people' have been demolished in Hyderabad to polish up the face of this rising IT Hub of the world.

"Everything that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it's just yellow". Aptly put, in Oscar Wilde's words, such is the case in India as well.

'"Oh! How I long for those mango groves running around my grandmother's house in the village, stealing from the neighbours tamarind trees, riding on the bull cart to the village pond and running away with the maids' washed clothes". Those were the days... her childhood. The serene beauty of the Indian village was blurred in her memory; the smell of fresh wheat, but a smoky reality.'

India surged into the rat race of development and globalisation without taking into consideration that the rules and terms of the race were set to a criteria alien to our ethos and traditions. India has been a rural economy since time immemorial and this sudden and unplanned lopsided venture into urbanisation resulted into a catastrophe. This movement gave birth to a plethora of opportunities in a handful of cities around the nation leading to a mass migration of people from the rural to an unprepared ‘urban’ India with the dream of a better world in their eyes. Soon the reality caught up, the opportunities were outnumbered by the demands and cities were overcrowded with expectations.

Result was urban poverty and sub to below standard housing. Homelessness. The government instead of working out a solution for this epidemic fueled it with faulty policies and schemes.

Fact: Under the Slum Clearance Act of the 70s, later remodeled to the Slum Redevelopment Act of the 90s, 73,000 families were eradicated from the peripheries of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This was in lieu of a "public interest" petition filed in Bombay High Court. But nothing was as such done about the religious "Ashrams"(monasteries) built inside the park or the housing colonies built on its boundaries. This is today's scenario of Mumbai, the commercial capital of the nation.

The dysfunctional administrative and political machinery and complexities of a democracy add to the murkiness of how exactly the government channels work solutions to these social problems. The under privileged low income people have been thrown out of the cities and their livelihood taken. Government actions to clear settlements have been largely ruthless and abrupt leaving these homeless people even more desperate and abandoned. The reason behind this has been- the globalized economy offered on an environmental platter of ‘cleanliness’ and ‘beautification’ to every urban Indian. The worst affected are these poor roadside urban dwellers comprising of the workers- the labour force or the self employed who live close to the place they work at.

'She looked at the child smiling at her and did something she had never imagined to do. She asked for where he lived and ran behind him as he excitedly pointed to his home and said" Ma! I brought a friend…the lady who lives in that fancy Kotthi (bungalow) at the corner. She says she will play with me today." She was horrorstricken to look at his home. This was hardly home….but then again home is where the heart is. And sadly, for the boy, this was HOME.'

If one happens to take a walk down the 21 Indian cities with a population of about one million, one comes to notice the sundry make-shift dwellings, more like tents, made out of newspaper and polythene adding colour to the footpaths. These dwellings are not only inhabitable but also a breeding ground for health hazards. Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, ...all of these overboard with roadside dwellings founded on filth and unhygienic slums for the children and families of lower classes to live on. These slums are the breeding place of diseases and other ill- doings on a physical as well as a mental plane.

As the times have changed much too stealthily, so has our human vocabulary where the word ’home’ is largely being replaced by’ land or house ownership’ bereft of all human emotion that one’s home evokes.

In this scenario, who takes care of the increasingly homeless Indian toiling day in and day out and yet unable to provide for a safe roof over his family? Society today is made up of ambitious individuals but not as much of citizens anymore. The lack of community involvement and contribution at any level has resulted in a lack of ownership of the people. And so arises an individual who can only relate to his own needs and wants. The hard-earned metropolitan life demands it and so he too works, like an insomniac, like a machine programmed to do his job. He never sees himself in anyone else. No comrades. All are just collaborators working for a common goal- glamorizing the nation. It is important to be clear about this. The nation lies in the hands of the people and not the government alone. The community steps in here as the preserver of humanity, of values and traditions.

'The days passed by until one fine day her long evening playtime turned into a sleepover at her young friend's place. The night was calm but her mind was heavy with whizzing thoughts. The morning was like none other with the sun bracing her hair from the torn newspaper roof. She smiled and prepared to get back to her life, her work and her home. As she hugged him goodbye, Sparsh(the touch) was one of long-lost emotions. It moved her so very deeply.'

Architecture, it seems, has been relegated to a business today more than a noble profession. It holds the key to change the face of the earth but yet remains locked up today behind the chains of capitalism. It has become but a mistress of the wealthy. And thus the need to open up the young minds of future architects to a broader perspective of architecture as a social art through one such activity called "Sparsha- the human touch"

‘Sparsha’ proposes to convert junkyards into night-shelters for the homeless people as a humble start to a drive to provide permanent habitable space for the less-privileged.

To make this clearer it must be pointed out here that junkyards in India are nowhere close to what the word means in the western world. Junkyard in India is normally a small piece of land or an empty plot or open space originally reserved for greenery in the locality where soon after, the community dumps its daily waste. It is usually a useful piece of land relegated to a dump yard due to public negligence and municipal incapability. Apart from being an eye-sore for the neighbourhood, it pollutes the environment.

As a sociologist, artist and philosopher coiled up together an architect has the capacity to be one with his subjects, feel and emote like them, and help give solutions to this cry of help.’ Sparsha’ literally meaning ‘human touch’ in the ancient language of Sanskrit is an outreach to the community to tie up with the future architects of this nation and truly help architecture and humanity reach those nook and crannies of slums- the home of the homeless in India.

The activity is designed as follows:

Activity: SPARSHA

Number of participants per team: 3

Aim: Bringing to life any junkyard /local dumping grounds/waste land by sculpturing it into a night shelter for homeless.

Stage One Time period: 3 weeks

Stage Two Time Period: 8 weeks



1. Design proposals for the shelters and the junkyards have to be submitted in the form of site plan, site section, plans, sections and elevations and other necessary details on A1 sheets in the form of drawings and write-up wherever required.

2. Sheets can be hand drafted or computer-rendered depending upon the convenience of the participants. This is in lieu of the fact computerization of drawings may not be prevalent in all places and A1 print out facilities are restricted to a handful of institutions only.

3. A report on the microclimate, flora and fauna and the nature (type of soil, water-table, salinity or other overriding factors) of the current site must be elaborated. Also the demography of the locality may be attached here. (500 words max.)

4. Reports must enclose photographs and conceptual sketches necessary to explain the course of action chosen.

5. A letter or a signed petition from the community or the occupants of the nearby localities (within 1-2 KM radius) of where the project is to be located must be attached to the above proposal in order to work in hand with the community.

6. The entries will be judged on the basis of clarity of thought, precision of the approach, social and economic viability along with functional sustainability of the structures.

7. All entries must reach the mentioned destination on or before the submission date. Submission deadline shall be 3 weeks from the release of the competition.




1. Every team will be given a sum of INR 2000/- to start the project; further finance has to be generated by the team in the form of contributions from the local community or resale of materials(artifacts made from junk) from the junkyard itself.

2. A financial report of the planning and construction of the shelter should be attached as well. (500 words max.). Personal financial investment is discouraged as management of the budget and resources shall be reviewed on the basis of this report.

3. Teams have to make sure the local community takes active part in the project. A supporting feedback report from at least 20 local occupants is expected.

4. Materials for construction of the shelters have to be reused and/or recycled from the junkyard and/or locally produced. It is suggested to make use of traditional building materials like mud and/or straw

5. The structure has to be self-sustainable and climate responsive.

6. The junkyard has to be landscaped and beautified to make the shelter a welcoming space.

7. This shelter should be cost effective and have minimal necessary maintenance cost.

8. A time-based activity chart must be maintained and attached to the above mentioned report (maximum 500 words)

9. The designs will here be judged on the basis of the workability of the project, its harmony with the existing landscape, its social impact on the place and the local occupants.

10. It must also be reminded that the execution of the project becomes null and void if there seem to be no occupants over a period 3 weeks after the completion of the project during which the assessment of the second stage will be undertaken.

11. It must be highlighted that the purpose of conducting the whole contest is to reinstate a feeling of security and contentment among the homeless for whom the night shelter is to be designed. At all stages this factor must be kept in mind.

From the organisers' side, we would be highly privileged to invite the following jurors for the assessment of the entries other than the faculty members of the School Of Architecture and Landscape Design, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Jammu & Kashmir, India.

1. Ar. M N Joglekar, a former Executive Director of the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO),for his experience in the field of low-cost housing and standard knowledge of their construction.

2. Ms. Sunita Narain, an environmentalist and a well known social activist of the N.G.O.-C.S.E. - Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi". Her knowledge on the environmental needs of the time shall be a great asset to the contest.

3. Sir Mark Tully, a world renowned journalist and a man with a revolutionary insight on the Indian society. His social and philosophical understanding of the country adds a firm stand for the participants to convince through the social aspect of their designs.

4. Ar.Brinda Somaya, Architect, Somaya And Kalappa Architects And International Archive of Women in architecture advisor, for her familiarity with village earthquake rehabilitation and urban architecture in India.

The work of the winners may be documented by a prestigious television network and the winners may even earn an internship under the supervision of anyone of the esteemed jurors.

In the process ‘ Sparsha’ imbibes social responsibility in the budding youth of the nation teaching them the value of belongingness to and spontaneity on the site and with the users, qualities that mark true architects, sociologists or citizens and more importantly true humans.

'"Those rewarding moments where the maker witnesses his user discovering the usability of his creation are few, cherished and invaluably noble." She knew this for a fact just as much as the other one that' Sparsha’ had been an instrument to achieve this milestone and indeed a reawakening of her social conscience into a composite unit rather than a dissociated one. All journals put aside, all memories blocked away this treasured memory was one she shared between her friend, who once lived on the streets, and herself.' No full stops to India…

P.S.: from the faculty of the School Of Architecture of S.M.V.D.U. Ar. Arshia Khajooria (contact: S.M.V.D.U, Kakryal, Katra, Jammu and Kashmir,INDIA- ) is willing to be a part of our proposed venture through her personal guidance and supervision.

If you would like to contact this author, please send a request to

« Back to The Reserve

Copyright © 1998-2024 Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy
For permission for any form of re-use of any of the contents, please contact
The BERKELEY PRIZE is endorsed by the Department of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley.