Informal Settlements – Understanding + Interacting

After my research and other works in slums, I thought I should offer an elective in informal settlements, an approach where rather than designing, the emphasis would be on understanding and interacting; so as to introduce students to an alternate world, a world which is always hidden and out of bounds for us Architects.

Initially after I submitted the course proposal, I was skeptical about how to structure the course. Two things made it clear at that point – first one was the workshop with University of Minnesota where I was one of the resource persons and we did a study of a slum next to Govind Puri (Map) which gave me time to interacting with students and ways to engage with them on this topic, the other one is when I called Aditya from Slum Dwellers International to deliver a lecture about his work at the school, well the packed hall gave me an assurance that this subject will have takers…… that was just an assurance, I ended up having only 15 students. Though very soon I was happy that I have one 15 students who are enthusiastic, so less management, and a couple of them who were not never came to class.

The subject blog ( was made and students were allotted sites. The aim was not to go the usual way, so  the first step was to have a silent visit where the students went to site without any biases, some wrote their experiences as narratives while some others wrote poems. The second step was to study one aspect, where students took topics ranging from housing typologies to buffaloes to streets, in their settlement. The final initiative was a project which they had to do with community participation. The final project of all the three groups were really interesting, as there was specific mandate of it not being architectural. Also it was made clear that we are not looking for solutions and/or answers. A workshop with Shantanu (an Artist) and Mukta (a planner and researcher), made things very clear. In between these site works I took classes to generate discussions on different aspects, the students seemed interested and I satisfied my ego my declaring to myself that it was great.

First team based in Chirag Dilli (, had a sort of a bagpiper who roamed around gathering kids, so that they can participate in the utsav of which they compiled and installed in front of the historic settlement. Apart from the final installation the process itself generated a lot of interest in kids.

Chirag Dilli Team

Chirag Dilli Team

The second team worked at Anna Nagar (, they also worked with kids but the approach was different. They wanted to document a Sunday in their life, so they got digicams and gave it to the kids (of different age groups) to document it themselves. The over whelmed kids took everyone around to their everyday spaces, it was an experience for the kids to see their spaces in camera and an experience for students to actually see their everyday life.

Anna Nagar Team

Anna Nagar Team

The third team did their initiative in Nathupur village ( They wanted to have a fashion show for buffaloes and convinced people. They got colorful clothes and gave it to the buffalo owners and then they decorated the ground near by which became the ramp. Owners decorated their buffaloes and got them almost in time. The fashion show happened and the winner was actually a cow (and not a buffalo), got a neck bell.

Nathupur Team

Nathupur Team

There is nothing more satisfying than  to see the shine and happiness in the eyes of the students after the success of their projects. Probably my reward was this shine and for me that was the success sign for the course. After the juries I went home and started reading their initial silent visit write ups, and was amazed how they have transformed over the period of this course. Over the time they have covered the basics of participatory design principles without a formal intervention. I was comparing my work every time I was with them, on how I went around in Savda Ghevda like the Chirag Dilli team to get participants, even though my approach was very boring unlike theirs, how there was one person in Sunder Nagri who wanted to be all in all, like the buffalo man in Nathupur, and the super excited ben in Ahmadabad who showed me around and took me to almost every house, like the kids of Anna Nagar.

This is my first experience in teaching such a subject, I started off with introducing the students to a different world, and poked them to generate questions inside them, a curiosity that will question all the norms, a curiosity that will always ask what if and why not? a curiosity that may lead to an alternate future. I have no clue on how successful I was, how deep I touched them…… but I do hope that the quest will continue…


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