Cheap Build House
Whenever the problem of providing low-cost houses for the Indian urban dwellers is discussed, it generally arouses feelings of dismay and pessimism. For when the requirement is presented in concrete figures, its cost seems impossibly high compared to the spending capacity of the people and the government. This staggering disparity between the means and ends is one of the reasons why not enough serious effort is being made to find realistic solutions to the problem.
However, the situation is by no means hopeless. The problem can be stated anew so that what at present appear to be its negative aspects are converted into assets. It is possible to provide a 40 meter plinth area—containing a room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a latrine—for Rs. 4, 000, inclusive of development costs, even in major cities. This means that such house would cost about Rs. 50 per month in installment payments spread over 20 years. It should, therefore, be possible even for a person earning Rs. 150-200 a month to own this house.
To understand how this is possible let us first look at the so called negative aspects of the present housing situation. The most difficult problem is that of the very great number of people needing houses. But all these people also constitute a vast and free labour force if the housing design allows the maximum use of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. This is a tremendous asset.
The second major problem is the land requirement of such a great number of houses. Densities of up to 250 people per acre can be satisfactorily achieved with only single-storey buildings. This results in surprising bonuses, single-storey buildings can be easily designed to be built on a self-help basis; situated at the ground level close to one another, they can generate a feeling of community among inhabitants and the land is used most intensively. After all, the argument that urban land is extremely expensive makes sense only if one accepts the present system of checkless private speculation based upon it. In fact, the cost in larger social terms is only equal to the value of the product that is foregone when it is taken out of an alternative use, such as agriculture. Thus, land can also be viewed in a positive light.
The third bogey is of the limited resources of the “poor” man, which make it impossible for him to pay for his house. The positive aspect of this is that it is precisely the “poor” man, with no other immovable assets who would be most keen to own a house, if the price is right. And, once he becomes a house owner, he might very possibly change from being a fringe member of society (for even being an anti-social clement) to become a responsible citizen, for he will then be having a positive stake in society. This kind of change might well provide a boost to the national economy. Thus, the contention is that low-cost housing, instead of being a depressing national problem, can be tackled to become a major resource for the country.
To illustrate how this can be done, a specific housing scheme was worked out in response to the house design ideas (urban) competition organised by the housing and urban development corporation (HUDCO) and co-sponsored by the Hari Om ashram trust, Nadiad (Gujarat) in February 1975. The scheme proposes a solution on a five-hectare urban site. The density proposed was 120 dwelling units per hectare, with provision for primary and nursery schools, convenient shopping and an electric substation. Out of the five-hectare total site, these community facilities occupy 0.82 hectare.
The houses provided are of two types—type A has a plinth area of 22.5 sq. m. and contains one room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a latrine: type B has a plinth area of 40 sq. m. and contains two rooms, a kitchen a bathroom and a latrine. Of the total houses (600), two-thirds (400) are of type A and one-third (200) of type B. All of them are single-story houses together covering a plinth area equal to 33 percent of the total site. Every house has, in addition to the plinth area mentioned earlier, an open-to-sky courtyard of about six sq. m. which is so attached that it is completely private and accessible from every room in the house.
The houses are grouped in threes—two of type A and one of type B—to share walls and plumbing lines. This basic module of three houses links up with similar modules in various ways to generate small communal open spaces joined by pedestrian paths which lead to the community facilities—the larger, open spaces and schools.
Close attention is paid to the design of the open spaces since one of the major objectives of the planning is to make intensive use of the land. Most of the cities in our country have a climate suitable for outdoor living for a major part of the year. Especially, if houses are small and the size of the families are large, people tend to be outdoors anyway into the adjoining open spaces. This can also make for a rich community life. However, this active community interaction takes place generally when the open spaces are small enough to be maintainable without an army of gardeners and their scale is intimate enough to relate directly to each house. Anyone familiar with the government housing colonies in New Delhi will recall how barren and desolate are the large open spaces between the houses.