The State of Housing exhibition in Mumbai focuses on the country’s urban centres and the housing challenges faced by citizens,...

An exhibition, the ‘State of Housing’, which is running at Gallerie Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai attempts to illuminate how we got to this point, what responsibility the state has taken for housing its citizens and what architects and urban planners can do to alleviate the great divide.

Curated by architect and professor Rahul Mehrotra, poet and art critic Ranjit Hoskote and Kaiwan Mehta, the architect, educator and editor of Domus India, the show’s focus is ultimately on the country’s urban centres and the housing challenges faced by citizens, especially new migrants and low-income inhabitants in cities.

Charting a timeline from independence to the present, the exhibition moves through Nehru’s nation-building to the Emergency and ultimately to 1991’s economic liberalisation and where we stand in 2017.

Along the way, the exhibition, which relies heavily on text, data and historical records, draws viewers’ attention to the events both familiar (Nehru’s idea for planned cities, the displacement caused by large-scale infrastructure projects like the Bhakra-Nangal Dam) and lesser known (the establishment of the Building Materials and Technology promotion council to develop the application of build materials), that have led to where we are now.


Organised by the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) and the Architecture Foundation, the show with the tagline, ‘Aspirations, Imaganeries and Realities of India’, aims to illuminate a way forward for the private sector, as it partners with the government to achieve its target of housing for all. To do so, the government will have to build 20 million affordable houses by 2022, it is pointed out. The current shortfall is of 18 million houses in urban areas while in rural areas, the number shoots up to 40 million houses.

To look at the state of the country as a whole means that the exhibition is more of an overview than a deep dive into city-specific or even large-scale problems that plague the housing sector. With its sense of optimism, the show doesn’t look at some of India’s underlying problems – of corruption in land allocation, the different permissions needed that naturally favour well-connected, deep-pocketed developers and the artificial scarcity of housing that this creates. Instead, the data-driven approach is one that seems to want to galvanise stakeholders, without laying blame for the present state of India’s cities.

Rural populations and their challenges are overlooked, perhaps in the belief that rapid urbanisation will only see the housing shortage in urban centres get worse as the country sees more migration in the hopes of a better economic future.

In the 35-minute film, also titled State of Housing, which is a part of the show, Pankaj Joshi, executive director of UDRI makes the point that the government is now “creating rights for private developers on slumland”. In fact, it is only in the film that architects, social activists and planners share any opinions – valuable to those that aren’t familiar with the sector and its challenges beyond the headlines.

But what gets left out here is a discussion on the implications of the push by the government and the private sector to build towers where slums used to be