Summary: This brief explored the theme of ‘Democracy through Design’. It encouraged participants to uncover self-similar patterns within all urban poor habitats, and then to (re)design spaces or structures within the existing framework in a way that - a) fostered self-sufficiency without having to go through creaky government machinery, and b) created a platform for knitting the communities together rather than fragmenting them, as insensitive planning does.  The central idea of the brief was this: Can ‘Architecture’ be used as an instrument of social justice? Also, can lateral thinking and design ability be cultivated from a young age, especially in the informal sector, through active engagement with the community?

“Truth behind the Urban Legend”

We despise the presence of slums in our urban fabric, we wish desperately that our villages would stop their exodus of relentless "pourings" into our megacities, and we deplore the vote-bank politics responsible for creating ghettos in our midst. Yet we are left with no other alternative than to condone this condition. How do we provide a humane habitat for the homeless? The question seems to be paradoxical, and yet unless one consciously engages continuously with the subject, no viable solutions would emerge.

PRIA president Rajesh Tandon said one-third of the country’s population is estimated to be living in urban areas and of this, at least 50 percent can be categorized as poor.

With the swelling population, if 32% of India is living in the cities today, and given the alarming proportions by which the influx, expansion & inclusion into Urbanization is being recorded, the year 2030 would easily see a 45% in our cities! Of these, a staggering 7 0% are estimated (by various differing sources) to be in the Urban Poor category.

So, what is "Contextuality" in the light of present conditions, with regard to the aspirations of society, the brainwashing by advertised consumerism, the real-estate market pursuit, the misfit of governmental engineering and planning solutions, political instability and rampant corruption?

The design competition brief uses 3 seemingly unconnected theoretical constructs to present a common thread which may be used to weave a mesh of probable answer s in the form of design solutions, to address the enigma of living conditions of the Urban Poor.

1. The Why: Interconnectivity

In 2005, Dr. Olaf Sporns at Indiana University and Dr. Patric Hagmann at Lausanne University Hospital independently and simultaneously suggested the term "connectome" refer to a map of the neural connections within the brain.

Building on this principle, I argue that the brains of us all, using the analogy of the theory of "connectomes", are connected in a much more tangible way than we care to believe. Limiting this theory, for now, to only the Indian sub-continent, it is possible to imagine that what happens to our fellow beings, automatically affects every one of us in strange ways. It is impossible to, therefore, keep on turning a blind eye to what has now reached catastrophic proportions. The numbers are simply overwhelming, so we can either choose to hide from the inevitable, or to use an old adage – take the bull by the horns. 

2. The How: As In Nature

"Contextuality" is the theme and it also carries the value of “relevance”. With design leanings going all over the place in search of iconic structures alone, it is about time we introspected upon such values. If one digs a little deeper into the meaning of contextuality, one realizes, that it is a many-faceted entity. There is one particular facet which is largely unexplored, that being the idea of the application of the theory of "self-similarity" prevalent in Nature, to use an analogy. It is observed that the building blocks of Nature possess a systemic similarity.

In Mathematics, a self-similar object is exactly or approximately similar to a part of itself (i.e. the whole has the same shape as one or more of the parts). Many objects in the real world, such as coastlines, are statistically self-similar: parts of them show the same statistical properties at many scales. Self-similarity is a typical property of fractals. Scale invariance is an exact form of self-similarity where at any magnification there is a smaller piece of the object that is similar to the whole. 

Using this as a platform, students are encouraged to explore the possibilities of discovering “Self-Similar” frameworks which may emerge during the process of engaging with the community.

3. The Where: Pan-India

The exercise here is to understand or reinterpret the meaning and application of "Democracy" through the vehicle of "Contextuality". Can we create in today's contextual climate, a morphology of Human settlement, which clings to the central principle of Democracy (of the people, by the people, for the people), and through this, use “Architecture” as an instrument of social justice?

Can we cut across boundaries of locations and provide design solutions Pan-India?

How can we make the community self-sufficient and completely independent of any external interference? In fact, can we go beyond this and make them a "giving" community instead of just a "taking" community?

4. The What: Design-Ideas Competition

Architects are programmed to flourish in the "re-invent the wheel" paradigm. Can we take the idea of the "ordinary", the idea of "Chalega ", the idea of "open source architecture" and improve the lives of people through design solutions which need not go through the creaky machinery of the government and the planning departments? What we need now is to combat the situation with an onslaught of inspired solutions from within the architectural student community (in whose purview this firmly lies). Contextuality is then really a study of who and what we are, as a PEOPLE, and how through design, we can create an ingenious mechanism which will bring about a humane India.

The competition is programmed to be a "DESIGN IDEAS COMPETITION" and the expected response framework is as given below.

Acceptability shall be a network of innovative ideas spanning across the layers of geographical, social, economic, and other relevant realms.

Alternatively, it could also be a detailed application of integrated design ideas specific to a given situation, but having the potential for application across India in most situations.

4. Key Phrases

Catalysts for tomorrow, Democracy through design, DIY, Self-sufficiency, What spurs CHANGE.

6. Design Focus & Evaluation Criteria

Design proposals will address the following concerns and be judged on their ability to respond to the considerations given below:

  1. To recognize and prescribe an emergent design framework which would evolve, given the contextual realities of geographic, socio-political, cultural, & economic conditions present in the selected location.

  2. The quality of design insight employed to decipher threads of commonality existing within prevalent similar conditions of the Urban Poor Habitat, pan-India.

  3. It is mostly observed d that designs which use the study & application of Cultural Heritage and Vernacular morphology, tend to be tinged with a sense of artificiality. “Contextuality” here is also perceived as enabling the present day creative expression to flow with unhindered constraints. The design ideas, therefore, seek frameworks which allow opportunities for self-expression through empowerment thereby creating conditions for positively knitting the communities instead of the recurrent fragmentation (as evidenced today in most places) which is a result of an insensitive planning approach.

  4. Habitat for the Urban Poor as a dynamic morphology, to be explored through frameworks - spatial, services, community, political etc. - to arrive at the “DNA of design” a phrase coined by the most revered architect of India, Shri Charles Correa.

  5. Contextual narratives, short stories of individual people and their historical antecedents can be knit together to form a broader fabric of the community at large. This will form the documentation part and this can be best showcased in the form of short films as a medium. (Here one is trying to see if the craft of filmmaking can be integrated within the architectural presentation)

  6. Participating colleges are free to select their own mode of presentation and the quality of innovation shall also be a part of the evaluation criteria.

7. Site Selection and Parameters

For the purposes of the competition, students are free to choose any part of any community affected by conditions described in the brief and necessarily categorized as the Urban Poor.

The site to be worked upon can be a minimum area of ½ Hectare, which is a “ part” of a real existing situation in an Urban Poor habitat which needs to be elaborated in the documentation. This addresses one of the conditions of the G-sen Trophy which is “redesign”. 

8. Submission Requirements

Panel: One 8'x 4' panel will be provided.

Presentation: Maximum number of sheets not to exceed 20 A1 (841m mX594mm) this can either be in single panel format or part-panel format.

Single Panel: This mode of presentations required the entire 8'x 4' panel to be covered which would be considered equivalent to 6 A1 sheets. The remaining sheets may be overlaid on the panel. The Shape and size of the overlays on the single panel shall be left to the discretion of the participants subject to each A1 (or part of) being counted as one overlay.

Part Panel: This presentation is possible in two forms either covering 2/3rd of the panel or 1/3rd of the panel.

  1. A2/3rd panel would be considered equivalent to 4 A1 sheets, along with which a maximum of 11 A1 sheets in a calendar and/or overlay format is allowed.
  2. A1/3rd panel would be considered equivalent to 2 A1 sheets, along with which a maximum of 13 A1 sheets in a calendar and/or overlay format.
  3. Each overlay (does not require a logo ) would be considered as one A1 sheet irrespective of the size not exceeding A1. (The overlay must be cut from an A1 sheet).
  4. No part of the presentation shall spill out the 8'x4' panel.
  5. All individual sheets and panels shall have NASA logo as per the NASA logo guidelines.
  6. Physical models are not allowed.

Two identical copies of a Report (hardbound) not exceeding 30 A4 pages (both side prints are allowed but including cover page, it should be 30 leaves) that give an entire overview of the project should accompany the submission. The report should feature the NASA logo appropriately on the cover page and one each page of the report. Both copies should contain the Institution code and name of the project on the cover. However, only one copy should have the name of the Institution featured.

Jury members shall short-list the Institutions for A.V. presentation. Time given for the shortlisted entries shall not exceed 8 minutes. Any Institution shall not reveal its identity in any manner either in sheets, reports or the presentation.

2 copies of the CD containing the soft copy (editable and non-editable) of each deliverable as a report, sheets and the A.V. Presentation must be submitted. Both CDs should contain the Institution code and only one should mention the name of the Institution.

9. Queries

The moderator will respond to queries only for one month after the release of the brief.

All queries can be mailed to: Ar. Nirmal Kulkarni, Moderator GSen 2013