Dharavi, Mumbai: The Future of Asia's Second Largest Slum

March 14, 2011

14 March 2011

"With India's economic growth hitting almost 9% year on year, property prices in Mumbai, India's richest city, are among the highest in the world and the 2 sq km of Dharavi represent a goldmine. One Mumbai newspaper last week called the redevelopment plan a "jackpot" and quoted gleeful officials claiming that £3bn could be generated for the municipality. The profits for the major construction firms that look certain to win contracts for the work, however, could top £8bn", writes Jason Burke, Asia correspondent for The Guardian.

The slum rehabilitation policy in Mumbai has generated fierce disagreements between politicians, developers and slum dwellers associations.

Authorities have been handing out to developers land for commercial use in exchange for building free houses for slum dwellers. Although the concept of free housing sounds enticing, it hasn't been of great appeal to the residents. As it generally works, developers have proposed to pack a lot of floor area in little land, positioning high-rise buildings incredibly close to each other. “There’s no gap between the buildings, no social infrastructure, no services or cross-ventilation,” says architect P K Das. 

However, urban density doesn't seem to be the main reason for the resident's dislike. Golibar, Mumbai's second largest slum, has seen 100,000 homes built in the last 12 years. 35% of those rehoused there have returned to slums. Fled residents blame the reduced size of the living space and high maintenance costs for their departure. With 80% of people self-employed in the slum, having a workshop next door is imperative. Residents say they will not agree to any development plan unless they are allotted the same amount of workspace they currently occupy. Associations battle for a living space of at least 37 sq metres, almost twice that foreseen in the original designs. Residents also prefer to live closer to their community, schools etc.

Besides the disagreements on living space and community preservation, there is the eligibility factor. 70% of slum dwellers in the city are ineligible for a free house. Slum residents are only entitled to free housing if they have lived in the area to be cleared since before 1995 (or, in some cases before 2000), do live on the ground floor (1st and 2nd floor residents are ineligible) and aren't renters. 

With current talks on hold, major players have come up with proposals to improve and ideally eradicate Mumbai's slums:

1 The central government, at odds with Mumbai's policy on slum clearance, says slum dwellers should be given proper rights. If they have property rights, they can access loans to improve their slum home so that over a period of time they will no longer be slums. Furthermore, if residents get property rights, developers can't evict them. At the moment, developers are buying the rights to the property from the landowner – so they can evict tenants and demolish the slums."There is a complete mismatch between the state and central government policy," says Chandrashekhar Prabhu, a former chairman of the state's housing authority. "While the state wants to give free houses through the builder, the centre wants to empower people, give them tenure, which should be the essence of slum rehabilitation."

2 Matias Echanove, urban planner and a founding partner of Dharavi based URBZ, says “the best way to work in a neighborhood where the economy is enmeshed with the urban fabric is to innovate within the existing dynamics of the place rather than introducing something entirely foreign.”

3 SPARC, a local NGO involved in Dharavi since 1986, proposes to "identify clusters of residents who can be brought together on the basis of common social, linguistic, ethnic and other attributes or on the basis of physical location in Dharavi. These clusters could become the nuclei of future housing cooperative societies that could play a proactive role in designing future developments."

Then there is Khushalani Associates proposal: a 1,5 km high development that preserves the idea of a work/live home and community providing plenty of open spaces for activities ...and circulation.

Dharavi's data
Area approx 223ha
Population: between 600,000 - 1 million
Population Density between 270,000 - 450,000 inhabitants / km2 (Manhattan 27,000  Manila 43,000) 
Average rent 185 rupees ($4 / £2.2) /month 
Number of businesses 5,000 and 15,000 single-room factories (Guardian data) 
Revenue estimated to be between $700 million and $1billion a year  
Where do the majority of increased incomes go? Education
DHARAVI Mumbai's Shadow City a video by National Geographic

National Geographic
Battle Over Mumbai's Slum  The Guardian 11/03/2011
Money, Power and Politics Collide In The Battle For Mumbai's Slums  The Guardian  05/03/2011 
The Perfect Slum
PoroCity: Rehabilitation for Dharavi by Khushalani Associates India. Honorable Mention at the 2011 eVolo Skyscrapper competition

Jonas Bendiksen

Dharavi, India: The Most Entrepreneurial Slum In The World? The Huffington Post 11/03/2011
The photographer capturing the reality of life in the slums  The Guardian 14/01/2009
A Flourishing Slum  The Economist 19/12/2007

Burle Marx' Hideaway in Barra de Guaratiba / Rio de Janeiro

December 29, 2010
29 December 2010

The Sitio Burle Marx is a delightful place 45 minutes away from Rio with wonderful gardens and inspiring open spaces. It has views over an estuary and the Mata Atlântica (tropical forest), interesting concrete pergolas embedded in vegetation and colourful hand painted tiles. Impressive also Marx' collection of Scandinavian and Murano vases, ex-votos and pre-Columbian objects.  

Roberto Burle Marx / São Paulo 1909 - Rio de Janeiro 1994 / Brazilian landscape architect.
At the age of 4 he moved to Rio, Leme, with his family and later with 18 to Germany to study music and painting. A highlight of his German stay was his visit to the Dahlem Botanical Gardens in Berlin where he became acquainted to the Brazilian tropical plants that he started using when back in Brazil.

1949 he bought the Sítio Santo Antônio da Bica (today Sitio Burle Marx) to store his collection of plants. The Sitio was an 80ha estate with an old country house and a small XVIII century chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony. Burle Marx refurbished the old house and built an extension, while allegedly architect Lucio Costa restored the chapel. Burle Marx lived in the Sitio for 45 years and used it as his atelier, as venue for his concerts, feasts and generally as a get together place for friends and colleagues. Among his visitors Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Pablo Neruda.

His work:  
Copacabana Beach promenade, Flamengo Park in Rio, Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo and Pampulha Gardens in Belo Horizonte.

Other Sources:
A mesa com Burle Marx (At the table with Burle Marx) by Claudia Pinheiro, 2008, Editora Batel
Photos by PS

Sitio Burle Marx / Estrada da Barra de Guaratiba, 2019 / Barra de Guaratiba / Rio de Janeiro  
T (021) 410-1412 / 410-1171  
Open by appointment only

James Turrell: Challenging Perception

December 14, 2010
The recent show at the Gagosian has been a wonderful opportunity to experience Turrell's latest on light/ colour/ space and to keep up with the Roden Crater project.  

James Turrell's has been exploring the possibilities of using light as a medium of perception for the past 45 years. The Roden Crater project, possibly his largest artwork, is designed to make the viewer feel the physicality of light. Since the 70s Turrell has been creating tunnels and chambers in this dead volcano crater in the Arizona desert and aligning them with celestial events such as lunar cycles and solstices. The experience will be unique, with no 2 visitors experiencing the same condition.  This "naked-eye observatory" is a work in progress and no date for a public opening has been set yet. The project was represented in the exhibition by pictures and 2 bronze and plaster models.

Allegedly the most interesting part of the exhibition was a white-painted metal sphere called Bindu Shard to be experienced by one person at the time. During the 15-minute optical voyage the visitor is bombarded with high-speed flashing to trigger a phenomenon called the Purkinje effect. "This is the secret of the bindi spot," Turrell says, "the spot you see when you close your eyes and meditate. The colour is only in your mind, there is no thing' in there, you are only dealing with light and space, and that triggers perception". Sadly the capsule sessions were fully booked and this makes me another disappointed visitor who missed the acid-trip-like experience.

Still, plenty to experience. Dhatu is a white room where light is projected into space
, creating a formless landscape without horizons. The experience is similar to skiing in whiteout conditions.

Roden Crater
Roden Crater model

"Through light, space can be formed without physical material like concrete or steel. We can actually stop the penetration of vision with where light is and where it isn't. Like the atmosphere, we can't see through it to the stars that are there during the day. But as soon as that light is dimmed around the self, then this penetration of vision goes out. So I'm very interested in this feeling, using the eyes to penetrate the space."  James Turrell

Dhatu 2010. Photo by Florian Holzherr
Dhatu 2010. Photo by Florian Holzherr

Sustaining Light 2007

I've been fascinated by James Turrell's work since I saw the pictures of his light installations at the Mondrian Hotel in LA. It was time ago, in 1997, and it was the first time I saw light being used to change the perception of space rather than to illuminate it. It took me a couple of years to finally be in one of his spaces. The chance came on 2000 with Night Rain, a walk-in light sculpture for the Millenium Dome's Faith Zone and later on 2006 with the exhibition A Life in Light at the Louise Blouin Foundation in London. Both were simple experiences with no message but with a huge effect on your mind.

One of Turrell's most interesting experiments are the Skyspaces: generally circular white-walled rooms with a bench around the circumference and a hole on the roof. You sit or lay and contemplate the sky but the experience is more sublime than what it sounds, since he carefully balances the interior and exterior light altering this way your perception of the space and the sky which seems to be within reach.  Turrell has created a few Skyspaces in Britain including in Kielder Forest in Northumberland, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. He also created a temporary one in Penzance, Cornwall, called Elliptic Ecliptic to view the solar eclipse on 11 August 1999.

James Turrell   
13 October - 10 December 2010
Gagosian Gallery / 6-24 Britannia St / London WC1X 9JD

Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

November 24, 2010

This year's Biennale was a sensual exhibition with no trace of the architectural complexities and ego show-offs of past editions. Displaying very few models of recently completed signature buildings, the show has focused on the feeling of space. 

The 12th Architecture Biennale curated by architect Kazuyo Sejima from the Tokyo-based Sanaa practice came to a close last Sunday in Venice with a record attendance of 170,801 visitors. The theme "People Meet in Architecture" was wonderfully explored in the several spaces created with conventional building materials and others less conventional such as light, water, sound, clouds, wind, mesh cubes and even birds. Simply and unpretentiously done.

The Arsenale was once again the setting for the large and spectacular. One of the first installations was the 3D film by Wim Wenders If Buildings Could Talk featuring the new Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne by Sanaa. The film is a time-lapse through a normal day in the building. The camera strolls in and around the building occasionally zooming to the users and their activities while the sound is a combination of solemn music and the words of the building talking to its users.

Cloudscapes (picture above) by Transsolar and Tetsuo Kondo architects is an indoor cloud created by pressure and temperature differences in the room and Your Split Second House (picture below) by Olafur Eliasson a pitch black room with swirls of water coming out of hanging hoses captured by strobe lighting.

Getty Images

Wind Wall by Fan Yue and Wang Chaoge for the Chinese Pavilion at the Giardino delle Vergine. "There won't be a real wall in our work at the Biennale, but audiences can sense it with their bodies while getting very close to it" explains Fan Yue to the Global Times. "We use wind and light to create a wall that does not exist" he says. To enhance the illusion of a wall they also use sculptural birds that change their flight patterns as if being forced to when hitting a "wall of wind".

The Golden Lion Award for the best pavilion has gone this year to Bahrain who is first time represented at the Biennale. Their installation Reclaim is an exploration of the decline of the sea culture in the island and recreates 3 fishermen's timber huts that have been displaced from their original sites on the island's waterfront.

Photo David Levene for the Guardian
Below one of Bahrain's fisherman's hut photographed by Camille Zakharia.

Moving on to the Giardini the Italian Pavilion showed Italia 2050 (photo below) an open-source concert hall installation done in conjunction with Wired Italia.

Fray Foam Home by Andrés Jaque Arquitectos

Aldo Civic presented Rethinking Happiness, a research project on new possible communities.

Preservation by OMA / Rem Koolhaas (Golden Lion 2010 for Lifetime Achievement) looks on how to deal with the existing. Below Lagos a city with 18 million people and an urban mess in appearance. "Closer inspection though shows its overlay of efficient systems of trade, transport, reclamation and exploitation".

The Dutch pavilion presents Vacant NL a foam city representing the many state-owned, unoccupied buildings in the Netherlands. The installation is a call for the intelligent reuse of inspiring vacant buildings.

Below installation at the US pavilion.

The 12th Architecture Biennale, Venice 29 August - 21 November 2010

Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa founded 1995 the practice SANAA in Tokyo. They are responsible for the design of the Serpentine Pavilion 2009 and the Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne and have been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2010. Kazuyo Sejima is the first woman to direct the architecture sector of the Venice Biennale. 

Pictures with no caption are by PS
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