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Participatory Architecture for the Rural Community

Participatory Planning for Rural Architecture

Participatory Planning in Rural Architecture provides avenues for people to be involved in the design and construction process.


This post is based on a talk and presentation by Architects PK Das & Peu Banerjee at India Habitat Centre in Delhi (February 12, 2018). The Founders of Studio 1860, Architects Das & Banerjee have designed and executed several projects in rural parts of India and other countries like South Africa and Samoa Islands. In this article, we focus on community involvement in the building process – commonly known as participatory planning or participatory architecture.

Since its inception in 1994, Studio 1860 has worked on a diverse range of Rural and urban projects from Development Institutes, Factories and Housing, to Institutional Buildings. Schools and Old Age Homes. Their focus is on incorporating local and traditional building techniques, especially in rural areas, and fostering involvement of the people in the building process.

rural 1860 studio roofing
Concept of Fale in Samoa Islands – large, one-room family dwelling
rural 1860 studio audience 2

The GREHA Series talk was held at India Habitat Centre on February 12, 2018. I happened to notice the event on the IHC’s official calendar. GREHA has been working extensively on the Architecture and Society Series of talks, and there is one taking place on April 13 next week. Since i would be attending a smart cities event in Patna on the same day, won’t be able to make it.

During my college days, i had worked on design of low cost housing and on a CBD Revitalization project based on stakeholder participation. I also briefly studied and helped out in preparing teaching material for Vernacular Architecture in India – which is based on traditional wisdom and climate-centric practices which have evolved over time. During study trip to Bangalore, i also came across practices like Good Earth Homes (Kengeri Housing) and Biomes by Chitra Vishwanath (her personal home). Seeing their buildings live was another level of experience – given how the natural elements were incorporated to reduce dependence on electricity for light and ventilation, particularly for cooling. even human waste was being recycled in some homes.

Hence i was interested in attending the Talk, which was presided over by the renowned architect and academician MA Ganju, a Founder member of GREHA. Presently Prof. Ganju is working on sustainable architecture in the Himalayas, and has taught at prestigious institutions like School of Planning and Architecture and IIT Delhi. He was founding Director of the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi, Visiting Professor at the University of East London, U.K., and the Universita IUAV di Venezia, Italy.

The GREHA Talk on Rural Architecture : An Event on 12 February, 2018

The talk itself, held at Stein Auditorium, was attended by more than 35 people, and presided over by Prof. Ganju. The audience mostly comprised experienced architects, students, professionals in rural development and related fields. I met a recent graduate who had studied land development in Canada and UK and had interned on rehabilitation projects in different parts of the world. A senior founding member from the DElhi-based Development Alternatives was also present, with whom i had a chance to interact briefly.

The team from 1860 Studio discussed mainly 4 case studies related to Rural Architecture and Housing:

  • Samoa Islands
  • South Africa
  • Bidar in Karnataka
  • Village in Tripura

It was really interesting to note how local materials and techniques helped to save costs. I took some photographs of the presentation. I will add more information and better snapshots from the actual presentations soon. Having worked on urban surveys and participatory planning oriented projects during college days, i can vouch for the fact that engaging in such an endeavour in Rural areas isn’t easy at all. To step out of our comfort zones and plush offices itself is daunting, although urban traffic is a nightmare reserved for another blog post… perhaps we could all consider staying in rural areas a bit 🙂

Being at the talk was a delightful experience, and i felt re-inspired by the exemplary work being done by 1860 Studio.

rural 1860 studio projects
Architect’s Role in Participatory process
rural 1860 studio karnataka example
Example from Bidar (Karnataka) – all designs developed by women
rural 1860 studio tripura example
Example of “Shram Daan” by a woman in Tripura

Talk on Participatory Planning for Rural Architecture : Questions by the Audience

rural 1860 studio audience
The agenda focused on more interaction that just presentation. The audience was active and asked some good questions.

The interactive session followed the insightful presentation. Some of the prominent questions that the members of the audience asked are:

Is it viable to practice design for rural housing in villages?

To this the team explained that there is plenty to be done in terms of rural housing in India. Especially for improving infrastructure and for generating livelihoods. Community involvement leads to an iterative, experimentation based method where inputs is also taken from local craftsmen, masons and labourers who would be building. The Indian Government is also having an ambitious plan to build over 51 lakh houses in rural areas – scope of work has no dearth for those who have expertise. Studio 1860 has been working in the Rural housing segment for more than 20 years now.

In villages, what are the challenges related to building toilets? Are there cultural stigmas attached? How does the team overcome it? (Reference was also made to popular movie Toilet: Ek Prem Katha)

The team took this question with great enthusiasm. They rightfully explained how toilets are a tabooed entity in homes. No one wants them inside the house, and sometimes while designing the homes, the villagers do not wish to touch the toilet drawing with their hands. Now under Swachh Bharat scheme, Government is giving Rs. 12,000/- subsidy to have toilets built in houses. Perceptions are changing since sanitation and hygiene are also important factors.

My question: what is the cost of a typical dwelling in villages? For example in Tripura?

Generally a complete family house costs around INR 1.1 Lakhs to 1.25 lakhs. In some cases, for example in Tripura, families could save anywhere between INR 10,000 – 30,000/- by giving “Shram Daan”, or working as labourers in the construction process.

My question: Having worked in so many regions and with different cultures in several countries, did language ever become a barrier in communicating?

Since construction is mostly a practical process, the teams could explain each other by way of demonstration. By using materials and tools to show the construction method was effective, despite the language barrier. For decision making purposes, there were local partners who helped in the process by way of translation. But language was never a barrier.

In villages where people mostly build houses themselves, is there any relevance of formally trained architects?

Again, an interesting and pertinent question, to which the answer was that majority of Indian population lives in buildings designed and built by untrained professionals. However, in regions where there is frequent calamity and temporary dwellings get destroyed easily, it is the architect’s responsibility to combine best practices from formal education and traditional wisdom to create innovative solutions. Multi-skilling the villagers for long term employment is also an area where young and qualified architects can contribute significantly.

rural 1860 studio featured 2
Women and community members preparing scaled drawings before the construction

On the whole, it was an engaging experience to hear more questions from all participants. The Q&A was followed by short networking session and interaction among other visitors.

Rural Architecture : Other International Projects by 1860 Studio

In addition to rural housing, 1860 studio has also carried out post-disaster rehabilitation projects in countries like Myanmar, completed a school for children in Sri Lanka, and a community based education centre program in South Africa. Major highlights of the projects are:

Cyclone Shelter in coastal Belt of Myanmar

For this project, 1860 studio was mainly consultant to UNDP. Areas of the delta  were affected by cyclone Nargis (2008), one of the worst recorded natural disasters in Myanmar. during the reconstruction exercise, appropriate technologies that promoted the habitats and livelihoods of the people were promoted. Safety norms had to be followed and training modules were developed for Masons/artisans of the villages for construction of low cost disaster resistant housing.

The team also had to develop specific designs of construction of village infrastructures like jetties, culverts and other water passages including drainage systems. Consultation with other stakeholders, identification of requirements and suggesting specific areas of intervention were also part of the project.

Child Friendly School in Mannar District, Sri Lanka

Participatory Planning for Rural Architecture
School for children in Sri Lanka, a Ministry of Education project

As consultants to Room To Read, the 1860 Studio team’s scope of work was to train R2R engineers, conduct resource mapping exercises and identify cost-effective technologies. They also had to carry out participatory design exercises in war affected Northern province of Sri Lanka. Emphasis had to be given to girl children and special children and environment friendly cost effective technologies based on local materials. The Northern Province Ministry of Education had appointed the Indian studio for this project.

You can find more information on all of their projects here. IN

Rural Architecture : Paradigm shifts practiced by other Architects in India

Delhi-based Kamath Design Studio has a very well documented list of projects, videos and lectures. It is a good starting point for those interested in learning more about the field. Some of their highly acclaimed projects include Kohima Cathedral, their own mud-house built on an abandoned quarry and Tower House. Architect Vasanth Kamath studied at University College London while Revathi Kamath is a graduate from School of Planning and Architecture.

Lest we forget, for the uninitiated, it was Laurie Baker who made regional practices in architecture quite mainstream! One can also find great influence of climatic design and nature-friendly, cost-effective abodes in Auroville and even those by DuStudio.

Other Indian architects who are blending norms towards sustainable buildings are Auroma Group in Puducherry, Biju Bhaskar in Tamil Nadu, Footprints EARTH by Yatin Pandya, Mosaic in Goa, Benny Kuriakose in Chennai, Made in Earth (Bengaluru) and Eugene Pandala in Kollam.

Personally i also wish to see more popular architects emerging from Eastern parts of India who give stress on cost effective, regional and vernacular building practices. As alumni of Jadavpur University, Architects PK Das and Peu Banerjee have set an example for fresh graduates who wish to work towards building India. Even in urban design, stakeholder involvement and participation is crucial. In fact, or Local Feedback aims to build a culture of “active participation” for large-scale transformation!

Dr. PK Das is a member of the National Task Force on Rural Housing and Habitat, Ministry of Rural development, Government of India. Mrs. Banerjee is the current visiting faculty member at School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. The two renowned architects are founding members of 1860 Studio.

Selfie with village hut at National Crafts Museum

Recently i was at the National Crafts Museum in Delhi, which has mock ups of regional village dwellings. The complex also has a handicrafts museum and Tribal art gallery. Even in the summer, i felt pretty comfortable in the heat, since most of the huts and structures were made of mud!

You can read the full blog post here. The entry fees are a mere Rs. 20/-, and you can also dine at Cafe Lota, which offers fusion regional cuisine, or buy handicraft items at the Museum Shop.

And of course, do share your knowledge if you happen to know more about such talks on Rural+Participatory architecture in India and outside, or would like to recommend us a  design studio for a visit. Keep sharing! INT

2 thoughts on “Participatory Architecture for the Rural Community Leave a comment

  1. Wonderful article Cogratulations, LOCAL FEEDBACK. and Sushmita

    The participatory projects by architect Durganand Balsavar who had collaborated with Ar. Laurie Baker and B V Doshi are very interesting and appropriate.Ar Dean D Cruz too has collaborated with Architect Balsavar,

    Down to earth magazine has documented Artes projects in “ROLLING BACK THE ARCHITECT”.

    • Dear Harini, first of all, regrets for the late reply. Our thanks for your inputs and the information on the said participatory projects… We will try to compile a feature on it and share with you soon 🙂

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