India’s Radical, Incremental Housing Improvements

Two young architects are taking a novel approach to housing in one Indian slum: They’re working with the community to improve its houses gradually and organically, based on design input and support from the people who live there.

This may not sound radical, but it is, according to Canadian architecture and design magazine Azure (Sept. 2009). The bimonthly spotlights Filipe Balestra and Sara Göransson, whose incremental housing strategy is a departure from most slum “improvement” projects. “Upgrading a slum usually means tearing everything down and building housing blocks,” Göransson tells Azure. “We wanted to improve living conditions and allow [residents] to keep their neighbors and social networks.”

Göransson and Balestra are working with architects and nonprofits in India to roll out the project in Netaji Nagar, a neighborhood within a large slum in the city of Pune. After a series of community workshops, they settled on three house prototypes, all of which are easy for families to expand or change in the future. One of the prototypes leaves a “void” on the ground floor, so that the space can be easily used as a shop, to house livestock, or to store a rickshaw. All new homes will be outfitted with toilets, a luxury many of the current structures do not accommodate.

As of press time, the construction was scheduled to begin in September, after the end of India’s monsoon season. Read all about the project on Göransson and Balestra’s website (, which houses tons of fascinating details and beautiful photos, illustrations, and maps.

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