When researcher Shreyasi Dasgupta introduced us with a new type of building she had observed in Dhaka, we were fascinated by the kind of need and intent they revealed. In Dhaka, local builders have recently gone on a rather feverish binge to respond to a seemingly insatiable demand for temporary accommodation that would be at once extremely affordable, centrally located and not stigmatising.
They created a stock of small rental apartments in mid-rise buildings that meets the demand of migrants on long cycles of work away from their villages. These structures are modelled on student housing and derive their name from the common place where students would eat together. They are referred to as ‘mess housing’.
This specific typology is part of an old lineage of urban housing, for instance, the Mumbai ‘chawls’—workers barracks—or even the ‘kuds’ or clubs of Goan migrants to Mumbai that still exist in the city. When seen through an even broader lens, the typology can be connected to other forms of temporary accommodation meant for short and long-term visitors to cities. Indeed, mess housing, chawls and kuds share a kinship with hostels, dorms and army barracks with their common toilets and facilities. According to Dasgupta, mess housing is now very much part of Dhaka’s urban fabric and is here to stay. Its arrangements are diverse. They are usually exclusively for male, female or for families.