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

[ID:4559] Abode for the Vulnerable - Rehabilitating the Affectees of Karachi's Mass Evictions


In psychology, self-actualization refers to the process through which an individual can reach his or her full potential. According to Abraham H. Maslow's hierarchy of human needs, an individual can attain this unless his or her basic and psychological needs are fulfilled. The need to reach the level of Self-actualization plays an important role in an individual’s personal development. A self-actualized person can find meaning and purpose in life and consequently contribute to society's social, cultural, intellectual, economic, and spiritual well-being. To realize one's true potential, an individual must fulfill his basic to intermediate, to tertiary needs in a hierarchical fashion. However, poverty and lack of availability of basic resources make it difficult for people to achieve their best, and hence they are not able to lead a quality life.

Housing rests at the most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Besides being an individual's primary need, it is also one of the most fundamental human rights. Our homes provide the scenography for our everyday lives. Our behavior and personality reflect the environment we live in. It is the place that enables an individual to sustain and meet his basic physiological needs. Having access to housing is an important aspect of health and general well-being. 

“I think of the self-actualizing man, not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away. The average man is a full human being with dampened and inhibited powers and capacities" (Maslow in Lowry, 1973)

Karachi, being the most populous, cosmopolitan, and bustling megacity of Pakistan faces major challenges when it comes to providing adequate housing for its more than fifteen-million urban population. More than half of Karachi's urban population lives in the slums or shanties, where people are mostly informally employed and inhabit difficult locations, often near 'Nullahs' (watercourses). The incentives-based housing initiatives by the government are inaccessible to them as they lack the physical assets to avail of housing loans. As a result, they form informal settlements and dwell on illicitly-sanctioned lands.

Recently, various urban development projects have been taking place in the city, which rendered more than a half-million people homeless due to the harrowing mass evictions amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The city authorities undertook these actions without adequate consultation with the urban professionals and affected residents, any relocation plan, and disparate and insufficient compensation for the evictees.

Karachi witnessed calamitous rainfalls during the summer of 2020, which led to record-breaking urban flooding in the city. This resulted in the near-collapse of the city’s infrastructure and took away the lives of many. Among the communities most impacted were the residents of informal settlements along the infamous watercourses known as Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs. Many of them saw their entire homes become submerged in water. Following this catastrophic event, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a judgment directing the Sindh-Provincial Government and the National Disaster Management Authority to clean up Karachi’s major stormwater drains. Following this, a large-scale anti-encroachment operation was initiated along the aforementioned Nullahs. The ensuing anti-encroachment drives saw the large-scale displacement of residents and the demolition of thousands of homes across low-income housing settlements.

The mass evictions took place abruptly, without any resettlement plan for the evictees before demolitions. It means the evicted people had nowhere to go, leaving them with no roof over their heads. These people are not only suffering socially and financially but also psychologically. They are the most vulnerable people. They have witnessed their homes and livelihoods getting bulldozed into rubble right in front of their eyes. In a matter of moments, their lifelong savings, which they spent on the construction of their houses, were blown away and vanished. 

This economic apartheid has sown the seeds of class-based and ethnic unrest and has already reportedly resulted in increased crime and suicide rates in the city. These people now live deprived of their basic physiological needs; under the open sky, without shelter, kitchens, or bathrooms. There is no security for them. On the other hand, when it comes to huge residential schemes built on land forcefully taken from the impoverished, such as housing societies built on the outfalls of sewers allegedly obstructed by poor working-class settlements, the authorities don't appear to bat an eye.

“A house is like a garment. If a house is demolished, the garment is snatched from the body.” (KCR demolitions affectee, 2019)

Humans are territorial animals. They feel adrift without their own homes. A home is not only a necessity for human survival but it is the nexus of an individual's right to privacy and property. A city's long-term success is dependent on the collective well-being of all of its residents. The happiness and well-being of individuals are inextricably related to the built environment. Unfortunately, urban settings in developing countries often disregard these factors, and the poor are subjected to adversities and injustices in the name of 'capitalist progress.' As a result, the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

Socially-responsive architecture is an all-encompassing and evolving architectural genre that aims to redefine architecture from a market-driven profession to a mix of social business, altruism, and activism that intends to eliminate poverty and social exclusion while forming an egalitarian global society. Urban environments need to adopt sustainable approaches to housing to help each member of society prosper and reach their full potential. Only then, can a city ‘develop’. 


Resettlement and Rehabilitation:

I believe that, in addition to resettlement, these people require immediate rehabilitation. This essay takes the Lyari Basti Resettlement (p.144) as a case example and examines its flaws to construct a housing project that will address the issues, needs, and aspirations of the aforementioned group of people while also contributing positively to the city's fabric. The term 'resettlement' refers to the physical resettling of displaced households, whereas 'rehabilitation' refers to the social aspect of this resettlement, which provides prospective users with an environment that allows them to achieve self-actualization and consequently contribute to society's well-being.

The site for this project would be in Karachi's Surjani Town, which is allocated by the government post the eviction drives in Gujjar Nullah for the resettlement of the evictees. It is located on the outskirts of Karachi’s north, at a distance of approximately 13 km from Gujjar Nullah. It is a growing residential area, where people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities reside. It is well connected to two of the six city business districts (CBDs) of Karachi and major roads of the city through a recently constructed Green Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), resolving the commute issues of the working class. 


  • Social architects: Social architects are the professionals who apply social research in planning and designing to modify human behaviors through carefully designed programs or workshops. They seek to involve the members of a population to improve, for example, the livability and safety or environmental impact of their communities. In Karachi, the number of social architects is nominal. Due to the land mafia, social architects are also often targeted to violence. This may be the reason why the concept of social architecture is still in its nascent stage. For my proposal, I intend to consult with Architect and Planner Arif Hassan, who is credited for urban research and planning and his contributions to the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) initiative, along with Nargis Latif of Gulbahao (NGO) who is involved in providing shelters, water-purification reservoirs, and environmental research for the social and environmental good.


  • Mental health professionals: Mental health professionals include psychologists, counselors, psychotherapists, rehabilitation professionals, and psychiatrists. They can help determine the psychosocial needs of the users. In Karachi, the growing awareness about mental health issues has given birth to various NGOs and private organizations such as Umeed-E-Nau at Bahria University and Karwan-E-Hayat, which are working to improve people’s lives through their various communities outreach initiatives. They can introduce the participants to the significance of understanding stress and anxiety, and their role in predicting stress levels, displacement-related distress, and community well-being.



  • Governmental bodies and International Funding Organizations: These authorities will be required to provide administrative and financial support. In this regard, Karachi Municipal CorporationKarachi Development Authority, and Sindh Building Control Authority can help. They may also help to set up physical infrastructure. For funding-related support, The United Nations Organization, and World Bank will be consulted. 


  • Social activists, civic and private organizations: To provide knowledge and other resources for capacity-building, volunteers and leaders will be required. I intend to team up with Karachi Bachao TehreekShehri-CBE, and Urban Resource Center along with print and electronic media agencies such as Dawn Media Group, who can play an important role in capacity building, raising awareness, and knowledge related support. NGOs like The Citizens Foundation, Aman Foundation, and HANDS can help set up social infrastructure as well. Private organize can also sponsor some community interventions.


  • Local Community: Their participation will be an important aspect of the design as they are the clients and users. Without their input, this proposal can't materialize.

Development model:

The envisioned project will be built on the public-private partnership model integrating self-help, incremental, and participatory design approaches in pilot projects. The project can start as a social experiment, beginning with a hundred households. The beneficiaries will be selected through a process of household surveys that will examine each individual based on age, gender, and physical abilities. The surveys will be based on qualitative and quantitative research methods. For strategizing ways to cater to their issues spatially, the qualitative survey questionnaire will consider their social, physical, economical, and psychological requirements, covering their housing aspirations, spatial needs for daily life activities, skills, vocations, income, education, culture, environment, health-care, etc. Some of the questions would be:

How do you define a home? What do you miss about your old home? What made it so special to you? What are your aspirations for a new home? Do you have any fears? How do you typically spend your day? How do you connect with your neighbors?  Do you have any skills unique to you? 

The quantitative survey will consider numbers of people, earners, children, and women, per household and their levels of education, average annual or monthly income, sources of income, persons employed or unemployed, area of land previously owned, etc.

Apart from the surveys, detailed in-depth interviews (IDIs) with selected residents, activists, state officials, along with focus group discussions (FGDs) and participant observations will be done. Community workshops would also be considered to ensure participatory development.

Planning and Designing Process:

After data collection, the plotting and planning of the houses shall be started based on the information collected from each beneficiary household. Through housing microfinance and interest-free loans, they can avail financial backing to start the building process. For the construction of their new houses, they will be given design, construction material, and planning choices to choose from based on their personal preferences and family size. The project will entail sustainably-designed physical, social, and economic infrastructure by using locally available resources.  To ensure sustainability, materials with a zero-carbon footprint will be used.  To ensure safety from environmental calamities such as urban floods, amphibious or seismic structures will be considered. The planning will be compact yet open and flexible to accommodate maximum functions in a single space. 

To determine the overall success of the project and maintain social inclusiveness, regular discussions, feedback, and surveys throughout different stages of the project will enable the users to provide their input in the design process. The proposal is envisioned to yield a positive, healthy, dynamic, and prosperous community of tomorrow.

Achieving Self-Actualization through Design Intervention:

For the vulnerable populations, having no other support to look up to, a shelter is much more than a dwelling because it constitutes their right to exist in a city. The built environment can have deep, quantifiable effects on both the physical and mental well-being of an individual. A healthy living environment is the basis of the successful long-term development of a person and an inclusive, affordable, and sustainable housing facility can sow the seeds to create a prospering, healthy society.

As a result, the housing project will meet Maslow's five basic human needs holistically.

1-Physiological needs include air, water, food, homeostasis, shelter, sleep, clothing, and reproduction. To fulfill these needs, the housing units will provide functions such as natural ventilation, kitchen, toilet, and bedrooms. The spaces will be well-oriented to achieve maximum efficiency. Sustainability will be the key priority in design. By providing sanitation through carefully planned drainage systems, applying the three R's concept of 'Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle' by installing bio-digesters and sewage treatment systems along with water purification, recycling, and conservation technologies, such as processing greywater from the bathroom and kitchen for toilet functions, can help alleviate the water crisis. To combat the energy crisis, electricity and gas supply will be provided through solar panels and biogas will be considered. Maximizing green spaces using native plant species that consume less water will create breathing spaces to provide a healthy environment through fresh air and pleasant surroundings. Urban farming can also be a worthy intervention for nutrition needs. Various colors have a positive impact on the human psyche; hence, colorful plants will be added to the overall landscape. 

2-Safety and security needs include personal safety, employment, resources, health, and property. The shelter gives protection from the external environment as well as a sense of security. Safety and security will be ensured by providing weather-resistant structures and quality assurance committees to maintain them. Interconnected neighborhoods will provide an environment that promotes emotional safety, which will improve people's mental health and well-being. People may be able to find work by constructing mixed-use single and multi-story buildings. In informal settings, women usually save money by forming committees. Such provisions will enable future safety and security, and they can invest in small businesses to earn.

3-Love and belonging needs involve friendship, intimacy, family, and a sense of connection. This can be achieved by providing indoor living spaces alongside outdoor interactive spaces for men, women, children, and the elderly. Communal spaces, such as places of worship, playgrounds, and neighborhood recreational spaces play a vital role in the social life of communities. Streets also play an important role in the public life of the target group of people. Hence, these will be designed to promote not only their inherent culture but also the sustenance of their daily life activities. Open spaces also play an important role in the lives of these people. They habitually communicate with their neighbors through balconies and rooftops, hence an open-planning layout with provisions of open spaces shall be provided in the form of courtyards, balconies, verandahs, and roofs, along with well-connected neighborhoods with safe spaces for people to interact with each other.

4-Self-esteem needs include respect, status, recognition, accomplishment, and freedom. Without self-love and esteem, a person cannot realize his or her true potential and can’t contribute positively to the environment as well. Access to education, health, and employment opportunities plays an important role in the social empowerment of people, which helps to achieve high self-esteem. This human need will be satisfied by providing community schools, clinics, skill development workshops, community centers, and commercial spaces.

5-Self-actualization: After having fulfilled the fundamental human needs, a person can contribute to society productively. This results in the well-being of the society and this is how a community can prosper.


"Building homes is about creating a sense of belonging, about participatory involvement and the expression of aspirations, relationships, and desires." (B. V. Doshi)


Performative Space - A floor plan representative of openness and flexibility.

Fundamental human needs - Sectional elevation representative of basic functional spaces in a house.

Aranya Housing – public spaces mix housing with narrow streets to act as open economic activities.

Colors, plants, and open/interactive spaces provide pleasant environment and sense of belonging.

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