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

[ID:4633] Development to serve all: Questioning the social gentrification in the name of development


Jawad is dejected. His tiny abode of a room that houses 7 members of his family is threatened to be demolished to widen a Gujjar nallah (drainage) to “solve” the problem of repeated urban flooding during monsoon. The haunting green splashes of paint on the selected walls; “a. Like Jawad, residents are clueless of their fate and future. While documenting the leftover structures, I observed the vibrant green building with pink strokes on the wall, exposed; a dispirited man collecting the remains commented `We are often seen as a scar to the city`. The plan to acquire 4’ more of the land for footpaths has stirred the discussion among the elderlies of the community. For the road, mere 4’ length is just a footpath but for a home as small as 540 sq. ft. shared by 7 to 8 members, it is a considerable chunk of land, enough to allow them the privacy of their own bathroom. Up till now 8000 homes are destroyed, displacing more than 100,000 people who, in reality, run the city. From being the house helps, to rickshaw drivers, construction laborers to street vendors, Gujjar Nalla had been a safe dwelling to the service providers of the city from the 1960s. But the local government of Sindh decided to demolish the community for the construction of a 36' wide road, debilitating 8000 households.

Gujjar Nallah was not always a sewage water drain. This rain water drain was once a source of clean water for the people living alongside the Nallah (drain). Utilizing the water to do the dishes or the laundry was the norm. What started as a tiny community on fertile land in Karachi, on both sides of the storm water drainage of Gujjar Nallah, is now in shambles. This situation did not happen overnight but the neglect due to the informality of the settlement is consistent. The intimate community of the Gujjar Nallah started as an informal settlement along the rain water drainage because of the fertility of the land. But the lack of infrastructure resulted in turning the clean rain water drainage into unplanned runoff where the sewage of the metropolis conveniently gets dumped.  To worsen the matter, the inorganic plastic choked the drain resulting it to be flooded during heavy monsoon. The example of the asperity of the situation can be measured from the urban flooding that was caused due to the heavy monsoon in 2020.

While it is easier to blame the natural calamity for the catastrophe but on factual ground the encroachment of natural drains for gated housing schemes, numerous development projects and years of treating the rain water drains as the sewage dump resulted in the urban flooding. Even the heavy monsoon was the resultant of humans’ inhumane activities. With total black out due to power shut down, the severed power cables, and open gutters took more than 100 lives. The monsoon exhibited the infrastructural shortfalls of the city but more than that it Exposed the prevalent inequality.  While both, the elite as well as the low income groups suffered, their homes and belongings submerged into water, the help reached to the elite and the underprivileged had to find their own means to curb the situation. The test of their resilience did not end there; in order to ensure that the city does not face a similar situation in future, the local government of Sindh decided to clear the drains, widen it and build roads along both sides of the drain.

In order to put their decision to practice the government issued eviction orders, giving a month of notice to the inhabitants, without providing any Feasible alternative to the residents. What more is the fact that the Supreme Court ordered to deal with the encroachment in the region and not the eviction of the people. Infact, those dwellers who were granted a 99 years of lease by the former City District Government as per the law of Sindh Katchi Abadis Act 1987, are legal residents of the area yet the legal status of their properties are infringed and dishonored by demolition without their consents and without the legal order issued by the court. Not only that but the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, Government of Sindh and National Disaster Management Authority did not reveal their plans of construction of roads along the nallah to the Supreme Court, evidence enough of their unjust intentions. The metropolis has a surging population; as of 2021 the population was 16,459,000 which is 2.27% more than that of 2020. With the population on continuous rise and the inequitable distribution of land and resources, more than 60% of the population have no option but to find shelter in informal settlements, slums or even footpaths. 

Gujjar Nallah is no different; from the 1960s it became a home to many migrants or internally displaced people. This major waterway, flowing down from Manghopir is 12.6 km in length, passing through the city central district, it falls into Lyari River. The significant location of the Nallah connects it with two major city highways and expressways. The settlers of the GujjarNallah served the city by providing the basic services to its inhabitants. With women working as house helps and men working in factories as operators or running small businesses as fruits/vegetable vendors, providing services at home and offices, they contribute significantly to the city’s economy yet they and many like them have to pay the price for the inequitable development of the city.

Historically from 1949 to 2006, six varied city development plans were proposed but none of them were implemented. The unplanned growth of the city to accommodate the growing population resulted in widening the segregation of the communities and Emergence of informal settlements. No lashes were batted when such informal settlements were emanating but now when these settlements are home to millions of people, instead of regularizing their abodes, they are being evicted. On face value, demolition of homes is relocation of individuals but in reality it is forcing individuals to disconnect from their sense of belonging, evicting them from their land property and people, and disrupting their community and culture. According to the survey conducted by the local activist movement Karachi bachao tahreek , (89.5% dwellings  are completely demolished, 2.6 % are partially demolished whereas only 7.9% marked homes are intact. Uptil now no documented resettlement plan is announced by the concerned government and instead of accommodating all those who suffered only a percentage of people were poorly compensated with Rs.90000.

The streets that were once buzzed with children playing, girls cycling, women chattering and men debating politics and daily lives, now echoes with cranes and commotion due to ongoing demolishing and eviction. This culturally enrooted, multi-ethnic community, a safe haven to third gender,  could crumble if reforms are not made to impede the eviction plans.

Gujjar nallah community does not need relocation but a viable plan and basic interventions to survive. The fact that even during demolition, the residents supported each other and provided spaces to their affected neighbors, shows their confederacy. A social housing with shared communal spaces and flood resilient structures, designed and built by the community is a workable solution. Instead of widening the drain, cleaning it and limiting the plastic waste can avoid flooding in future.Wetlands and urban farming should be the part of the planning, not only will it help in cleaning the drains but urban farming can be a profitable income generating opportunity.  Demand of road infrastructure by the government can be evaluated and recommended to go underground so the surface can be utilized for community engagement activities. As per water management experts, eviction and widening of the drains will not solve the problem of urban flooding, if anything it will add to the homelessness of the city, that is why feasible and sustainable  design and architectural solutions should be sought. 

Before making any plans regarding the community and the area  it is imperative to understand and enquire about the needs of the residents, the culture and traditions that they have developed in all these years and the requirements and ambitions with the space. Though internal spaces and living conditions can be improved, the need is to provide the opportunities that could sustain the region in the long run. When the urban planners of Urban Resources Center were interviewed, they pointed out the major drawback is the lack of practical infrastructure. With people living with inadequate resources, poignant living conditions with sewage water flowing in front of their residence, the need is to revitalize the area taking inspiration from the proposal of the Orangi Nallah proposed by architect Christophe Polack. Community based revitalization proposal for Orangi nallah corridor initiated the idea that the redefinition of architecture and planning is required to create an impact on individuals as well as society. There is more to the community than providing them with well-designed shelter spaces. 

The proposal for redevelopment of Gujjar nallah is profoundly based on community participation and engagement at every step, from decision making to the design implementation on ground. Involvement of the community members, that can create a sense of belonging, is crucial  to revive the communities, as the  more experiences and ideas are shared, higher are the prospects of an inclusive design. Though many assume that the community is illegal, the reality is otherwise; the legal documentations were proof enough to support their claim of legality. This small community is deeply grounded in its inclusivity; upon inquiring about the community livability within the squatters, one proudly replied that such an inclusive community cannot be seen elsewhere in Karachi. He climbed the stairs passing through the neighbor courtyard, a shared staircase.

Their bond can be honored by utilizing their skills in reviving the community. Besides providing services to the city, some of the residents of the Gujjar Nallah are also skilled laborers, therefore, it is necessary to make use of their services for the project. To have an understanding of their vision of their area it is compulsory to comprehend their perspective and discern their opinions of the design. This will be helpful in understanding their anticipation of the spaces, place and the region. 

Nothing can work in isolation, although individual efforts can create a ripple effect, campaigns such as “Karachi Bachao Tehreek” (Save Karachi Campaign), and Gujjar Nallah Affecters’ Committee can work as the catalysts in uplifting the community. As stated above, there is a dire need to facilitate the community with proper infrastructure therefore organizations like Natural Disaster Management Authority, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and local government bodies need to review their policies as these organizations are built to serve all the citizens and not the selected few. Civil engineers, maintenance engineers and water engineers should be part of the team. While architects can design the housing, urban researchers and planners can be contacted for a thorough research and documentation of the area, this will facilitate the designers, planners and architects to seek viable design strategies for the community.

The drainage conditions can be evaluated by waste management experts and Karachi Water and Sewerage Board. The nallah is not just a putrid smelling drain, overloaded with plastic and sewage, it is a health hazard to the locals living near it, the reason why water health experts are to be consulted who can inspect and analyze the condition of the drain. The sewage analyst can even provide suggestions regarding the maintenance and cleanliness of the drain. Organizations such as Hisaar Foundation can be contacted in order to propose viable solutions pertaining to usage of water ethically and reusing it to deal with the water scarcity problem. Wetlands provide a natural way to clean the water; how and if  they can be part of the design strategies for Gujjar Nallah, should be researched, Hisaar Foundation and Urban Resource Center can give better insight in such researches.   It has been observed that the community has a very eminent street culture, its vigor and liveliness can be celebrated by providing them with a variety of communal spaces. While some pause spaces can work as nooks for conversations, the green junctions can serve as mass gathering spaces. Besides the opinions and choices of the residents, urban ecologists, street designers, horticulturists and environmentalists should be consulted as well to design healthier and inclusive urban communal spaces. Self-sustenance is essential for the community to thrive and be financially strong, economists and financial advisors can give their inputs regarding producing income generating opportunities, for example the plastic pollution in the area can be taken as an opportunity and plastic collection and sorting can be conducted along with the people. Not only will it educate the residents about the environment, but will aid them in understanding how threats can be converted into opportunities.

It should be accepted that political and social representation is necessary to bring a positive change or to voice out the concerns of the community. To make this housing and community project a success, a political or social activist like Jibran Nasir, or organizations like Amnesty International, who work on human rights, should be included in the team. Apart from giving voice to the community, it can help in speeding up the process as legal jurisdictions will always be followed.

Such projects need financial support from the government, and the non-profitable organizations who can adopt a cause and work on it. But the government solely cannot aid it; NGOs like Zindagi Trust, Citizen Foundation can take community building and resilience in their hands to build schools and skill development centers, whereas health care facilities can be funded and provided by trusts like Indus Hospitals and Jafaria Disaster Cell. Architect role here is to provide technical assistance through retrofitting additional space using on-site material resource, leftover after demolition and empower the people throughout re-building process. Incremental strategies can work to minimize the construction cost and minimal space can be used to its maximum by proposing shared communal spaces like staircases and courtyards.

Nothing can be done without people owning their space but the sense of identity that they built themselves has much more power than the one they would be forced to make if relocated. Instead of robbing them of their rights, sensitive solutions are de rigueur. In order to nurture equitable societies, instead of building hostility and creating pandemonium, humane and empathetic design solutions should be sought. At the end of the day, every citizen matters and every member of the community counts. Without scrutinizing poverty, encouraging inclusivity and respecting environment, community wellbeing and sustainable development cannot be achieved.


Thankyou Sadia Siddiqui, for motivation, constant support and critical feedback. (

Thank you Ar. Zain Mankani, who critically analyze and gave his valuable feedback. (

Thankyou Ar Wajiha S Mehdi, thesis advisor at deptartment of Visual Studies,(Uok), for her valuable insights regarding the topic.

Thankyou Urban planner Arif Hasan (URC), Dr Noman Ahmed (Dean NEDUET), M. Mehdi Hyder (WM creative studio) for their thoughtful insights.

Thankyou inhabitants of Gujjar Nallah for their hospitality and interviews for this essay research


Self-Help: The Unshakable Resilience.

Building with the Community for the Community. image courtesy:

Charpoi(traditional woven bed): Making most of the "communal time" Image photographed by my self

Age of innocence : children's playing in their partially demolished home.

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