Housing for Urban Migrants
A human-centered research project to inform future housing solutions in slums in Karnataka, India.
As a student in the International Service Learning Program and sociology course 435: "Partnerships for Participatory Development" offered at the University of British Columbia, I was lucky to be able to take my industrial design and sociology background to the solar energy NGO, The Selco Foundation.
In my three months in Bangalore, Karnataka at the Selco Foundation, I worked on projects with the built environment team of architects, engineers, and product designers. It was a privilege to be involved in these important projects working alongside such focused and empathetic professionals.
The state of housing
In many parts of India, there is movement towards urban areas to work in the construction industry because of reduced crop yields in rural areas due to the negative effects of climate change (Barney and Ramanathan 2014, Kumar et al. 2004).
Slums and temporary illegal housing are created in areas near theses construction sites. The houses are traditionally set up using bamboo, wood, plastic, and tarpaulin. The tarpaulin sheets are scavenged from different areas of the city and then laid across the sides and roof of the structure.
The main issues that the Selco Foundation tackle are stagnant water and air ventilation. Water issues amplify during the wet months from June to August. “800 million (~60%) in India use traditional biomass energy sources – indoor air pollution in India is associated with 300,000 to 400,000 deaths per year and other chronic health issues” (Jagasia 2017).
In its previous Housing for Urban Migrants (HUM) house iterations, Selco tackled the main issues of water penetration and air ventilation. In Belgaum, a “needs assessment” in the slum led to solar energy interventions like an energy center with lightbulbs and televisions provided with a small monthly fee. With lightbulbs, access to healthcare and water, the HUM house was the next step for this community. However, the installed prototypes still face water and air ventilation issues. In response, Selco Architect Sruthi Ravi and I designed a new window to install on the forthcoming 8th prototype of the house.
I was both an industrial designer and a sociologist at Selco. In my first month, I redesigned a window to combat the main issues of water penetration and air ventilation. With Selco Architect, Ms. Ravi, we designed a window above the cooking area for effective ventilation to be installed in the next iteration of the HUM house.
1. Window Design
2. Journey Map
I collaborated with Noorain, an education leader, to design print materials for students at university workshops in India. I focused on a special visit in the slum community called Belgaum about nine hours from Bangalore. I interviewed a resident named Tanvi (name-changed) who lives in the current iteration of the HUM house. I learnt more about the living experience inside the HUM house in the context of the slum.
These print materials helped to communicate Selco’s process of implementing housing solutions in slum contexts to post-secondary students. The journey map and storyboard I created were more effective in helping the reader understand Selco’s approach to technological, financial, and social interventions than the traditional academic posters.
In this journey map there are three key stakeholders:
1. Community: The slum community in Belgaum started from 2006 and 2009. It established as a result of several communities in urban areas being pushed by development to the peri-urban area.
2. Mahesh Foundation: In 2013, the Mahesh Foundation provided healthcare resources and a multi-purpose space to the community. They remain involved in the community and provide ongoing resources.
3. Selco Foundation: After developing a relationship with the Mahesh Foundation, the Selco Foundation implemented an integrated energy centre (IEC) that evolved into housing interventions for community members.
The journey map is good at giving us the big picture. On the other hand, the storyboard from Tanvi’s perspective is great at telling us the details. It allows us to see how a stakeholder engages with a solution in the community and communicates their point of view in a compelling way.
This experience illuminated the power imbalance that exists between the researcher and the participant. It's a really delicate relationship and it made me feel uncomfortable in India. How might we engage participants and offer them power too? How can we make moments in which this imbalance is neutralized? I felt this imbalance of power deeply when interviewing three groups of children to inform their classroom redesign. After asking them my questions, I put by notebook away, stopped recording, and offered them the chance to ask me something. They asked me questions like, "What do you you like to make?" I showed them parts of my portfolio and some sketches I had in my notebook. I really enjoyed that exchange. How else can I navigate the power imbalance and my privilege as a researcher when doing research?
Burney, Jennifer, and V. Ramanathan. “Recent Climate and Air Pollution Impacts on Indian Agriculture.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111, no. 46, 2014, pp. 16319–16324. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43190221.
Jagasia, Shradha. "Selco solar products marketing." LinkedIn SlideShare. N.p., 03 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 May 2017.
Krishna Kumar, K., et al. "Climate Impacts on Indian Agriculture." International Journal of Climatology, vol. 24, no. 11, 2004, pp. 1375-1393.