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The contribution of building centres to low-cost housing in India


Kiran Keswani

120 Flensburger Burse, 24943 Flensburg, Germany

The author argues that the government’s role could change from being the provider to becoming a facilitator. Progress in the Building Centre Programme in India has

r ules,

been slow and a three pronged policy is advocated – examining archaic

disseminating technical information, and training in updated technologies whilst continuing with those technologies that are cost-effective.

D’apre` s l’ auteur,

L’avancement du programme de ‘ Centres de construction’ en Inde a marque´ certains retards. On

pre´ conise, pour en acce´ le´ rer

re` gles archaiques, la diffusion d’ informations techniques, la formation aux technologies re´ centes – ainsi que la pre´ servation des techniques s’ e´ tant re´ ve´ le´ es les plus rentables.

Keywords: building centres, low-cost housing, role of government, India

la mise en oeuvre, une action sur trois fronts – l’ analyse critique de

le gouvernement pourrait passer du roˆ le de prestataire a` celui de catalyseur.


An analysis of the housing situation in India involves primarily a study of housing for the poor, of which there are two kinds – the urban poor and the rural poor. Can the poor in India ever hope for a house? How can the government ever forward aid to such large numbers of homeless and for how long? Who will pay? There could be free housing for the poor or subsidized housing. But, if we are trying to build so many free and subsidized houses, the cost per house must not be high. And, therefore, can houses cost less, can they be affordable? What do governments in other countries do to house the poor? Is ‘providing’ housing to the poor the only solution? Can the government facilitate income- generating activities to increase the earning capacity of its people? Can it facilitate the building of houses through easier building norms, through new, innova- tive, low-cost building materials, through supporting research on indigenous building methods? Perhaps, the housing needs of every developing country are different. The scale of the housing problem may vary, the expectations of the people may differ, their priorities may not be the same. There cannot be one answer to ‘better housing’, because in some countries, like India, it is more the question


countries, like India, it is more the question 0961-3218 1997 E&FN Spon ‘ Can I ever

1997 E&FN Spon

‘ Can I ever have a house?’ instead of ‘Can I get a better house?’ Some people literally may need only a roof over their heads. Should we offer them a four- sided, concrete box instead? Can they not be allowed to decide for themselves how much they need, what they can afford, and what they can do without, until better times? Can we promise them better times through better employ- ment opportunities? Can we remove obstacles from the path they take, to obtain the shelter that they must have? In 1991, urban housing shortages were found to be 9.6 million units. The government policies have changed over the years from slum clearance to slum upgrading to slum redevelopment. Subsidies and loan schemes have failed to make a signi cant impact on the housing situation. It is being increasingly felt by governmental agencies and non-governmental organi- zations (NGOs) that technological diffusion may be one of the solutions to the housing problem. Technological diffusion seeks to reduce the cost of dwelling units to the minimum so that it matches the affordability of the people in the low-income group. It achieves this by developing and disseminating more cost-effective, technological alternatives for building houses. In India, technological diffusion is taking place through building centres. The concept of building centres in India, is less than



ten years old. These training-cum-production building centres are targeted to help improve the housing situation for the poor. The building centre in India designs building components that are cost-effective and that preferably use local materials. It undertakes the design and implementation of housing projects for the low-income groups. Innovative building materials produced at the centres are used with indigenous building technologies in the execution of these pro- jects. On-site training programmes help provide the necessary skilled labour for the projects. Thus, the building centres achieve affordable housing for the poor and at the same time, increase the income- generating capacity of the artisans. The rst such centre was started in Quilon in the State of Kerala by the District Collector on 28th August 1986. Based on the success of this centre, also called the Nirmithi Kendra, the Ministry of Urban Develop- ment and HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Authority) decided to start a model building centre in Delhi at Nizamuddin and subsequently establish a network of centres all over the country. In 1988, the Nizamuddin building centre was estab- lished in Delhi with nancial support from HUDCO and the Ministry of Urban Development. To date, HUDCO has helped and encouraged the setting up of many more building centres in the various states in India. These centres have proved already to be a success- ful strategy in some parts of the country. In other areas, the centres were established with the same fervour, but the growth pattern is relatively poor. In spite of this, HUDCO continues to sponsor more centres. This paper will try to study some of these building centres, to know which centres have been more successful, what were the factors leading to their success, what are their working methods so that these may be replicated. It will be useful also, to see the building centres in relation with each other, to see if they work in isolation or sometimes also with one another. Before the government provides nance for more such centres an analysis will maybe help guide some of their decisions. A study of earlier centres could help make new and better proposals for building centres in the future. There are two kinds of building centre. There are those set up by NGOs, who make applications to HUDCO for loans and set up a building centre in their respective areas. Alongside the building centres supported by the government, there are also the centres established by private entrepreneurs. Both these kinds of centres have served their purpose for being outlets for technological innova- tions and skill upgrading. Some of them are now rethinking the roles they can play in the housing sector. As grass-root institutions, being in close proximity to the people and with a deeper under- standing of the factors that may help or hinder the housing process, they are able to de ne what the government can or cannot do to facilitate housing delivery in the country. The author also looks at the generation of new ideas with respect to the wider policy context and studies if these will in fact be acceptable to the government and what will be the implications of such guidelines if they come into effect. If building centres

all over India identify such measures that would relate most appropriately to their local conditions, will the government be able to incorporate these in their own planning strategies to make the approach to the housing problem as realistic as possible?

The research question

How do building centres contribute to low- cost housing in India?

Housing in India has been unaffordable for the poor. Building centres hope to contribute to making housing more affordable. Are there reasons to call the Building Centre Programme, a successful programme? This will be the subject of this research. The primary objective of the Building Centre Programme is to make possible houses that people can afford. No amount of subsidies can solve the problem of housing delivery in a country where the per capita income is as low as it is in India, where almost half the population in some cities live in the slums, where the growth of the economy of the country is not going to be high enough for timely solutions to the shelter issue, where people must continue to live on the pavements because they work tirelessly through the day only to be able to afford food. This paper looks at one of the constraints that comes in the way of the poor obtaining their house, which is its price. It is always too high. The building centres are offering innovative building components and techniques that make houses less expensive.

The approach for this study

How do these building centres achieve a low price? Is it really a low price, i.e. are these ‘appropriate technologies’ cost-effective? Or, do the houses that cost little to build become expensive to maintain? Can they be liveable houses or can this housing provide an environment that the people can identify with? Are these innovative technologies accessible to the poor? The investigation for this paper has included visits to three of the most active building centres in India – the Nizamuddin building centre in Delhi, Nirmithi Kendra in Kerala and Anangpur building centre in Haryana. It has observed the functioning of the centres, to measure, to record and to interpret, the meaning of their efforts. It was also considered necessary to study the housing situations in other developing countries where similar centres are in existence. This part of the study must be limited to the literature available on this subject and to docu- mentary lms on these issues. The paper will study the role of building centres in the housing delivery system in India. The building centres contribute to it through technological innova- tions (in the form of improvised building components using local materials, and cost-effective method- ologies of building demonstrated in the housing projects implemented by the building centres them- selves), skill upgrading and policy formulation. The study will be divided into two parts. It will rst undertake a study of three building centres: (i) Nizamuddin building centre, Delhi; (ii)


Nirmithi Kendra, Kerala; and (iii) Anangpur building centre, Haryana. These case-studies were selected because these centres seemed more successful than the others. The study de nes their philosophy, their approach, the strategies used in resolving housing issues, the context in which they functioned and the nancial aspects of the schemes undertaken by the centres. Of these, Nirmithi Kendra in Kerala was the rst building centre started in India in 1986. On the basis of the success of this centre, the Government of India initiated a National Building Centre Programme through the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) and the Nizamuddin building centre was set up in Delhi. The Anangpur building centre was set up by a private entrepreneur in Haryana without nancial support from HUDCO. The paper will also look at the role of entrepreneurial grass-root institutions in housing policy.

The relevant factors

An analysis of these building centres in India high- lights a few relevant factors. There are the govern- ment-sponsored building centres that are managed by non-governmental organizations and the private building centres that entrepreneurs have developed into viable enterprises offering viable housing. The building centres work with indigenous materi- als and alternative technologies. It is to be seen if these technologies are really cost-effective. They also have skill upgrading and information dissemination programmes. This ensures that there will be a continuity of skills and ideas, that there will be techno- logical diffusion; what one has discovered, more will bene t from; where one has made mistakes, others will not repeat; where one has failed, others will inspire.

The underlying assumptions

The assumptions underlying this study are:

· non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can make

valuable contributions to the building centre pro-


· indigenous technologies can be more cost-effec-

tive than the present building techniques that follow western standards;

· policy suggestions by grass-root institutions may

help the housing delivery system at a broader level.

Some of the building centres in India

The Ministry of Urban Development and HUDCO had decided to launch a national programme of setting up a network of building centres all over the country for promoting innovative cost-effective technologies and training artisans. Most importantly, they would offer affordable housing solutions. These building centres were expected to be auton-


omous societies under the managerial control of a combination of public institutions and professionals. Due to an inherent resistance to change from the municipal authorities, the programme took consider- able time to pick up and received mixed responses from the various states. Often, it was not just the state agencies who were hesitant to adopt the new technol- ogies but also professionals and contractors. The Government of the State of Kerala took a decision to set up building centres in all the district headquarters. Sites were identi ed for this purpose. The area of the site was required to be 1.5 – 2.0 acres. Today, there are 14 such centres in Kerala. Their activities are co-ordinated by a state level Nirmithi Kendra (building centre). The Government of India exempted levy of excise duty on various building components produced at the building centres up to November 1991. This acted as a major incentive to the building centres. HUDCO initiated a dialogue with DDA (Delhi Development Authority) – Slum Wing, to collaborate in setting up a building centre in Delhi in order to improve its own perceptions and to create a model, where visitors from various states in India could get inspired. The Slum Wing made land available in Sarai Kaley Khan, Nizamuddin. The Nizamuddin building centre was developed on this site. A society was registered with representatives from HUDCO, DDA, the Ministry, CBRI (Central Building and Research Institute) and the School of Architecture and Planning. Anil Laul, who had been involved in developing and promoting innovative technologies, was placed in charge of the centre and designated Chief Consultant, Building Centre Programme, HUDCO.

Nizamuddin building centre (NBC), Delhi

The philosophy Why are we not able to satisfy the basic housing requirements of the landless? Perhaps because there is nothing ‘ basic’ about ‘basic housing’. A de nite misnomer, the term seems to negate all that is imaginative, relegating the priorities of the needy to those of municipal authorities, reducing lifestyles to statistics and an idealized set of criteria. Any success in providing appropriate, low-cost solutions for the shelter problems of the urban poor has been questionable, any solution seems to deny conventional planning orthodoxy. A new set of pragmatic and responsive settlement standards must evolve. Studies of slum settlements seem to indicate an apparent inversion of values where space often takes precedence over perma- nence. This seems especially true of the public spaces in slum areas, which are characterized by their richness and diversity. However, most sites and services projects minimize these circulation spaces, making them rudimentary and inadequate, and inhibiting the dwellers’ social and spatial lifestyles. The building centre hopes to propagate the use of innovative building technologies that are low-cost and which could be the grammar for a new architectural language that can lead to a more humane environ- ment. The Slum Wing, Delhi Development Authority entrusted to the building centre in Nizamuddin, a



number of slum redevelopment projects on a turnkey basis, many of which have already been completed. The centre hopes that when housing schemes are implemented in the future by the government or by other agencies, they will also develop settlement patterns that are more suitable to the lifestyles of the communities they are built for. The Nizamuddin building centre believes that it is not enough if the poor are given a minimum built-up area. It is important that this is more than just a unit comprising walls and a roof. Thus, providing the right kind of spaces is more important than providing permanent structures that do not adapt suitably to the needs of the inhabitants. Often, Slum Rehabilitation Schemes have not in- cluded in their programming the impact of the relocation of the slum on the income-generating activities of the slum-dwellers. Therefore, it is essential that efforts be made towards designing better settle- ment patterns to accommodate and even improve further the possibilities for income-generation. The layout of the roads within the settlement should be informal and in tune with the earlier character of the slums and also responsive to the gradual growth of the community. Provisions may be made at the relevant road junctions, turnings and cul-de-sacs to incorporate small, public squares for open market activities. The Nizamuddin building centre states that studies of slum settlements has indicated that ‘space often takes precedence over permanence’ . This implies that the nature of the existing spaces in the earlier settlements must be studied to be replicated in the new design, i.e. whether the spaces utilized for the slum-dweller’s enterprise are enclosed, semi- enclosed, or open. Does the enterprise ourish speci cally in only one or the other kind of space? For instance, if there is a diamond-cutting industry, as in the town of Surat in Gujarat, it requires natural light conditions and workspaces are necessarily semi- enclosed (verandahs) which have ample daylight to allow accuracy in diamond-cutting. Or, as in the case of Dharavi, the large slum area in Bombay, many of the inhabitants of the slum are part of the leather industry that is thriving in the slum settlement. The tanneries obviously cannot utilize indoor residential spaces as work areas. Any new housing scheme must identify the different kinds of spaces that may be needed in the new settlement. If an open space is being utilized for income-generating activities, then, is this open space, a private open space/a public open space? Is it the street or the verandah or an inner room? Accordingly, in the new layout, external public spaces may be designed to be extensions to the houses, if required.

The approach At the Nizamuddin building centre, traditional technol- ogy harnesses natural materials (like stone and mud) and waste products (such as using yash to make bricks). Local artisans hone their skills to match the changing times and circumstances. The centre has designed and produced various types of building blocks in mud and in concrete with attractive fascia in stone, brick-bats etc. It has designed funicular shells, octa-geodule roo ng systems in various materials, the thermocole core

reinforced cement concrete (RCC) panel, egg-crate panels, space frame, improvised beams, columns and foundation systems, doors, ooring and other building components. The centre has also developed and implemented interlocking cluster planning layouts for housing projects, to improve land utilization and social responsibility. The NBC recruits the construction worker in the city, who is the artisan and returns him to his local background as the habitat worker. He returns to help solve the local housing problems with appropriate low-cost building technologies and to teach others what he has been taught for better employment, income generation and better housing.

The strategies supporting technological innovation For better construction with appropriate low-cost technology, the NBC suggests that a housing scheme should try to:

· reduce land saleability to a minimum through cluster planning;

· reduce density and contain future growth per hectare;

· reduce development costs to the bare minimum;

· remove material judiciously to increase the strength of structural elements;

· utilize elements in compression (as in traditional construction that used building techniques such as arches and vaults which give rise to compressive forces) instead of in tension.

The basic aim behind the various schemes of the building centre is ‘to use less material to achieve the same, if not better results’.

Cost reduction The centre tries to achieve cost reductions through its innovativeness in design of building components and building techniques. Costs are affected by the design of a component or technique, but also depend on the speci cations (i.e. the material mixes varied to suit requirements) and on the availability of the raw materials at a particular time. However, the prices would then vary only if there is a change in the market rates of raw materials like cement and steel. The recommended building systems try to reduce the input of expensive materials. They try to increase instead the labour input, since labour is abundant and cheap in India. Overall, the systems suggested by the NBC achieve an approximate saving of 25%.

The common sense approach to architecture The certi ed professional often does a great deal of harm to other people, by assuming that he knows more than the ‘uneducated’ by virtue of his schooling. All that second- and third-hand information and intellectual exercising does for him, however, is to reduce his ability to listen and learn about situations signi cantly different from his own social and economic experience {1}. Governmental agencies had in the past, developed housing programmes for the low-income groups in the urban centres. These usually took the form of identical, row-houses or identical, detached units which were repeated over the given land allocation. In their hasty attempts to provide shelter to the home-


less, the voluntary organizations and the government had sacri ced the human need of identity to be expressed in the architectural and interior designs of houses. The easy and quick solutions had created an alien environment for the people. It was felt that if cost- effective solutions were adopted for housing the urban poor, the people would even begin to make demands for this appropriate indigenous technology. It would be a low-cost architecture with inherent aesthetics that bore a relationship to traditional forms, to climate, to culture as well as to modern day-to-day needs.

Functioning of the Nizamuddin building centre as HUDCO’s national centre

The centre implemented a number of projects for Slum Wing, DDA and also other organizations. These projects were Paryog Vihar, Bhartiyam Gram, night shelters, pay and use toilets, etc.

It has also assisted HUDCO in promoting building

centres in other places. In order to motivate local

authorities to set up similar building centres it took the responsibility to execute projects outside Delhi. It built 32 houses in Faridabad and trained local arti- sans. It assisted in building transit accommodation for 500 families in Jammu for migrants from Srinagar thereby activating the building centre in Jammu. In Technology Park, linked to the Gas Victims Housing in Bhopal, it built a cluster to propagate their technolo- gies. Apart from training professionals and artisans for meeting its own requirements, the NBC has been training of cials of HUDCO and professionals and artisans of other building centres to give impetus to the Building Centres Programme. Young architects recruited for appointment as Development Of cers in Manipur and Sikkim and masons for these states underwent training here. Similarly, there have also been engineers and masons from the Goa Building Centre who trained at NBC.

A large number of visitors including union and state

ministers, chairmen, chief executives, engineers and architects of state authorities, practising architects and engineers, private developers as well as home own- ers, frequently visit the Nizamuddin building centre. The NBC also organizes various exhibitions on behalf of HUDCO not only in Delhi but also outside, in Lucknow, Gwalior, etc. Thus, the building centre at Nizamuddin has been functioning as the research, training and developmental centre of HUDCO at the national level.

Nirmithi Kendra, Kerala

The philosophy The work of the Nirmithi Kendra is based on the efforts of Laurie Baker, the architect who has been offering cost-effective housing solutions to the people of Kerala for the last two decades. The work of this building centre can be characterized, as noted by Anita Katyal (in the Times of India , August 1990):

Laurie Baker’s work has amply demonstrated that houses should be designed and built for people with names and not for categories labelled ignominously as EWS, LIG and


HIG (Economically Weaker Section, Low-Income Group and High-Income Group).

The approach The Nirmithi Kendra at Quilon in Kerala often supple- ments the efforts of organizations such as COSTFORD (Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Develop- ment) which is a non-pro t voluntary organization that trains masons, artisans, carpenters, architects and engineers in low-cost constructions practices and transfers them to the eld through its housing projects. Their projects provide simple layouts, economical house designs, use of locally available material resources and indigenous construction techniques which reduce material costs and are labour-intensive.

Urban – rural continuum

Today, Kerala presents a pattern of human settlements quite distinct from the rest of the country. Over the past years, the large cities in Kerala experienced considerable growth resulting in a signi cant increase in land values. The money earned in the Gulf states by the large number of workers who moved there during the oil boom, further fostered this growth. The investors, however, soon found the high land values unaccepta- ble and started investing along the highways where fairly developed rural settlements were already exist- ing. This has led to a signi cant upgrading of the rural settlements along the highways which have assumed numerous urban characteristics. Kerala now presents an urban – rural continuum where large urban centres are linked together in settlements along highways which combine urban characteristics with an essen- tially rural economy. This pattern of development has led to a signi cant dispersal of populations and reduction of pressure on the congested cities {2}. However, the houses produced during this period sought to imitate western trends. Concrete was used predominantly instead of the less expensive, local materials and constructions were mainly multi- storeyed. Multi-storeyed housing was less suitable to the life-styles of the people here and therefore, perhaps not the most appropriate system to be utilized in this region.

The strategy Two housing colonies developed in Trichur at Laloor and Nallankara are good examples of the strategies proposed by COSTFORD and the Nirmithi Kendra towards solving the housing crisis in Kerala. Baker construction systems are propagated through

the Nirmithi Kendras. Examples of numerous jali (brick lattice) designs are to be seen at the Nirmithi Kendra in Trichur which show that a verandah jali may sometimes suf ce to lend individuality to a house. It also demonstrates the versality in designs of brick compound walls with reinforced cement concrete (RCC) coping and various kinds of gate posts. Innova- tions such as patch-pointing, brick jali, cowdung and

have been

y-ash ooring, brick corbelling, etc

incorporated in the housing projects. Sometimes, these centres develop products such as the hollow

concrete block, funicular shells, etc.



Needless to say, this has to be done with a certain amount of trial and error, based on the availability of only theoretical guidelines to suit Indian social and physical conditions. Often, the buildings do not need separate and costly ‘good nishing’, since the materi- als used for structural purposes are put together to render aesthetics that are more natural and pleasing than marble cladding or walnut polish can ever provide.

Design and execution The process of design and that of execution on-site overlap to a great degree at Laloor and Nallankara as in most of Baker’s other works in the eld of housing. No elaborate drawings exist for either of these projects. Most of the construction is based on sketches (and not on pre-determined, elaborate designs) made by Laurie Baker who prefers to also allow for innovations on-site by the labourers. The staff members of Nirmithi Kendra and COSTFORD super- vise the on-site development and improvise as and when necessary. Some of the architects who worked here had earlier participated in Laurie Baker’s other projects and hence were themselves skilled artisans in brickwork. Some of the labourers who helped build these two colonies had received training at the Nirmithi Kendra in Quilon.

The nancial outlay There are different funding programmes at the state level for the implementation of such housing projects:

· DST program (Department of Science and Technol-

ogy): This consists of ten training programmes for masons in order to create an awareness of cost- effective and innovative technology. Three houses are built during each training programme and stand thereafter as demonstration houses. This scheme has been implemented in Trichur, Palghat and Allepey. Thirty houses have thus been erected for the low- income group; the bene ciaries having been selected by the DST.

· Laloor housing programme: This programme pro-

through a

vided 31 houses; 18 of which were nanced

loan scheme by the Government of Kerala State and

built with the help of COSTFORD and Nirmithi Kendra between June 1987 and June 1988. Each of these 18 houses has been built at an approximate cost of Rs 8 000.

· HUDCO programme: This involves the construction

of 250 houses in the Trichur District at the cost of Rs

12 000 per house. Selection of bene ciaries is made by the District Collectorate, Trichur.

Anangpur building centre

The approach The Anangpur building centre carries out building materials research, develops cost-effective technolo- gies of building, provides on-site training for masons, architects and engineers participating in any of its projects and prepares documentation of its work for further disemmination. It implements housing projects for the low-income group as with institutional build- ings using its cost-effective techniques. It employs a self-sustainable work methodology.

The building systems being developed and intro- duced into projects are seen by the Anangpur build- ing centre not as ‘innovations’ but as the ‘accepted systems’ of the past. It considers RCC constructions, amongst the systems in use today, as an innovative system that has still to prove its worth, to stand the test of time. It considers what are referred to as conven- tional systems as the actual unconventional systems of construction. The traditional systems are the conven- tional systems and they are time-tested. So, the Anangpur building centre resurrects the basic, com- mon-sensical application of materials instead of using the currently used systems that go against the behaviour of materials.

Information dissemination The centre considered that an information dissemina- tion system was also necessary to support the techno- logical diffusion. Subsequently, the Habitat Technology Network was introduced at the Nizamuddin building centre. This network is now being operated by the Anangpur building centre in Haryana. The aim of the Habitat Technology Network is to provide commonly sought after information and data on alternative building techniques in a comprehensive and easy to understand manner. The Technology Network makes efforts to reach out to people through the medium of audio-visual video presentations. It is meant for a wide viewership comprising of architects, builders or developers and people interested in knowing more about cost-effective construction sys- tems. It helps owners make the correct decisions about the building system that suits their needs best, gives architects the information they require about availability of material, structural strength, ease of construction and the time factor. It is also the training manual for the mason. Labourers can learn how to adapt their skills in using the new techniques. At the building centres, innovation and construction is a continuous process. Over a period of time, several demonstration projects have been undertaken, both at actual user site locations, and in the campus of the building centres itself. Technological innovation is a gradual process and the new, emerging trends in alternative techniques are conveyed to the users and builders through the Habitat Technology Network. The centre decided to use the audio-visual approach. The experience of the Nizamuddin building centre showed that to learn more about a building system, there is no real substitute to watching actual construction. No amount of written material or still pictures can make up for not being there when a structure comes up. Being at a demonstration project site is not always possible for everyone. The Habitat News Network aims to capsule the process of weeks and sometimes months of actual construction into short demonstration sequences which are regularly lmed at each important stage of construction.

The role of building centres in technological innovations for housing

There is usually a tendency to identify low cost building methods with some building blocks, roo ng panels, etc and enquire how much saving in cost per square foot will result. This is a highly restrictive and unrealistic way of evaluating low-cost methods. There


are a variety of factors which affect building costs and unless these are concurrently dealt with, substantial savings cannot materialize. For example, using low- cost blocks with wasteful use of land and high construction overheads may ultimately prove expen- sive. What should be the criteria for calling a particular building method low-cost? Often, low-cost is identi ed with low performance and rejected by home builders. It is important that in spite of the low cost, the performance should be as per the requirements of the building codes. Further, the evaluation should be on the basis of the performance required from a particular structure and on the individual’s needs. For example, a poor family may not mind a small recurring maintenance cost if the initial cost of the house is low. In recent years, in India, the cost of labour has increased but the increase in the cost of materials has been even higher. The cost of labour, thus, continues to be much less than the building material costs. Therefore, in India, any building method which reduces the use of material, especially cement, steel and bricks, even if it is more demanding on labour, will result in overall savings. Some of the innovations developed at the building centres, in walling materials, roo ng systems, nishes, shuttering and the use of mud will therefore be described.

Walling materials On account of the poor quality of the bricks being produced in the county, it has become necessary to plaster and paint brickwork, further increasing the cost of construction of walls. The introduction of modular bricks based on unscienti c data has added to the problem. The Indian classical bricks were no more than 2 – 2 2 inches thick facilitating the proper baking of the core of the brick. The British had introduced the 9 x 41/2 x 3" bricks during their colonial rule in India. Their use continues to this day although they are unsuitable. Rejecting traditional wisdom and misinterpreting the concept of modular coordination, the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) introduced the 8 x 4 x 4" (20 x 20 x 10 cm) bricks which are found to be incon- venient for manufacture and handling. The compressive strength of the walling materials has to relate to the bearing capacity of the soil on which the structure rests. On this basis, the compres- sive strength of 70 kg per cm 2 required for burnt clay bricks is too high. It seems to have been prescribed since bricks with this strength have a well-baked, non-absorptive surface. On the other hand, the compressive strength of dry, unbaked mud bricks is 25 – 30 kg per cm 2 which is adequate for most constructions but drops when the bricks are wet. But, the surface of these unbaked mud bricks is water absorptive and prone to pitting. The stabilized and compacted mud block technology tried to improve both the strength of the block and the quality of its surface. Steel pins introduced into the conven- tional mud block machine create holes in the block, further compressing the mud and increasing its density. Also, drying the inside and the outside of the block is thus possible with less fuel consumption. Cement dusting after molding helps the surface resist rain. These blocks provide good insulation and the



high density makes half-brick wall, loadbearing con- struction possible. For walling blocks, a hard surface and a soft core with the minimum crushing strength seems to be a suitable option. In Wardha, a group of young profes- sionals evolved a burnt clay fascia tile which could be locked into an ordinary adobe mud block. Concur- rently, the Nizamuddin building centre developed a range of lean concrete and mud blocks with attractive permanent nish fascia in different shades and differ- ent grades of stone, slate, burnt clay, etc. The building centre has found these blocks to be cost-effective, easy to make in hand moulds or block- making machines by semi-skilled labour. They also have a greater variety of applications. At the Nirmithi Kendra at Quilon, rubble ller blocks or stone masonry blocks are produced using rubble and cement mortar. These blocks which can also be used as foundations save up to 15 – 20% as compared to conventional brick masonry. Laurie Baker uses the rat trap bond in the masonry work to save on the quantity of bricks used. Also, window openings use brick arches instead of concrete lintels and often timber window shutters can be eliminated altogether by the use of brick jalis. A brick jali is a lattice or screen made by leaving regular gaps within the brickwork. It has been increasingly used by the building centres, especially in Kerala, to reduce the costs of thick walls by instead building cavity walls using the rat trap bond.

Roo ng systems Evolving low-cost methods in roo ng is much more complex. Traditional roo ng in tiles, slate, etc required timber sub-structure and ceiling. Timber has now become scarce and expensive.

With the advent of reinforced cement concrete, RCC is now largely used because of its durability and ease of handling of the material. RCC is best used in tension structures. These, however, need more steel and cement than compression structures. Further, they need more quality control. Poor quality of cement or an inadequate cover over the steel can lead to corrosion of the steel and the failure of the structure. The other systems for roofs and intermediate oors were largely compression structures like domes, vaults and jack-arches. Such compression structures require less material, have considerable strength but the shuttering is dif cult and expensive. If the pro- blems of shuttering and the possible leakage at joints can be resolved, compression structures can be developed as the most appropriate low-cost roo ng systems. The recent solutions developed by the building centres, to overcome these problems of shuttering have been the geodesic domes and the funicular shells. These reduce the shuttering required and therefore bring down costs of construction. At the Nizamuddin building centre, the funicular roo ng system is widely used. It is found to be structurally sound, cost-effective and easy to construct. The funicular shell is light in weight and does not require centering. It uses 25% of steel as compared to that used for ordinary concrete. It is a good alternative to RCC beam and slab construction for small to medium spans. A single funicular shell can span a grid ranging from 0.8 – 3.0 m without inter-



mediate supports. With intermediate beams, the total span possible is adequate for most residential build- ings. The economy is achieved by reducing the amount of steel, cement and shuttering timber in the construction by using prefabricated, reusable, bre- glass moulds. De-moulding is done within 24 hours.

Various patterns can be created whilst laying the bricks/stone chips, eliminating the need to plaster the roof from the inside. The Nirmithi Kendra at Quilon advocates the use of

opposed to

the expensive timber support structure for roo ng. The percentage in cost saving by using ferrocement rafters and tiles is 17.5% when compared to timber rafters. Ferrocement rafters protect forest wealth. They have a longer durability and therefore the mainte- nance or replacement is not a frequent burden on the user.

Finishes Nowadays, in the cities, there is a trend to make buildings in one material, bricks or concrete, and nish them in other materials through plastering or cladding. This increases costs substantially. Poor quality of bricks and brickmasonry has compelled home builders to plaster and paint walls resulting in high building as well as maintenance costs. Houses can do without nishes if the brick masonry itself is used innovatively. In some housing projects executed in Kerala by the Nirmithi Kendra, patch- pointing was used in plastering to avoid the extra expense of providing nishes to the walls.

Shuttering For RCC and other kinds of building systems, shutter- ing becomes an expensive component. It also results in considerable wastage of timber which is a scarce environmental resource. In addition, the timber shut- tering often creates a surface which is of uneven nature and has to be plastered. Fibre glass moulds developed by the building centres are now being used in some housing projects, instead of the conventional timber shuttering. Their initial cost is found to be higher but they can be used a large number of times and therefore are highly cost effective. These bre-glass moulds result in surfaces which can be left exposed; unpainted or painted without plaster. If shuttering contractors are promoted who would have an inventory of standardized shuttering in bre glass (or another appropriate material) to hire these out to home builders this would further reduce overall costs of shuttering for a given housing project.

ferrocement rafters and tiled roo ng as

Mud Home builders, except those who have been tradition- ally living in mud houses, are usually reluctant to build in mud. Recently, environmentally conscious groups in India and abroad, have taken to building in mud even in the cities. But, by and large, people hesitate to use mud structurally. The building centres realize that mud can be put to secondary uses like internal plasters. In India, we still have a large number of traditional artisans and house- wives who can provide excellent nishes, a variety of textures and colours in mud. Protected by a coat of fevicol or even rice water, they can remain fresh and

attractive for several years. The market prices of paint

and other nishing material are much higher than this

improvised, indigenous method of nish that uses mainly mud with rice water or with a little extra

expense can be combined with fevicol to make durable surfaces. Attractive built-in furniture, otherwise an expensive item in wood, can also be made in mud. There are design inputs of a different kind but an expensive material such as wood can now be replaced with mud. Mud ‘phuska’ for thermal protection and water

proo ng of RCC roofs is already widely used in some

parts of India. The building centres are now propagat- ing the use of this lesser-known technique for thermal protection and water proo ng.

The role of building centres in skill upgrading

Developing formal training programmes for artisans in the construction industry is not an easy task. The level of education amongst these people is very low and the number of people involved are very high.

A decentralized, informal skills development

programme with on-the-job training would be per- haps most appropriate. The rst training-cum-production centre in the

building trade was established in Quilon in the State of Kerala. Artisans were trained in fabricating various

panels, etc which

were used extensively in urban and rural housing programmes.

The small contractor While the training of building artisans through a

network of building centres is vital for improving the quality of construction, building artisans cannot work in isolation. After training at the building centres, they may or may not be able to put this training to use unless encouraged. Most home owners get their construction work done through small contractors who mobilize skilled and unskilled workers and execute jobs on a labour contract. The skilled artisans can become such small contractors with entrepreneurial capabilities. It would, therefore, be necessary for the building centres to also organize training programmes for small contractors in which apart from improved build-

ing skills, management issues are taught. They can

learn more about interpretation of architectural draw-

types of walling blocks, roo ng

ings, preparing estimates of small jobs, accounting, labour laws, etc. The small contractors thus trained would play a crucial role in promoting affordable housing.

Habitat polytech

Between the two levels, of professional architects and engineers, and the building artisans are the eld supervisory personnel. These may be junior engi- neers, community development workers, etc. These functionaries play a crucial role in motivating, guiding and assisting the communities in improving their living and economic conditions. The training requirements of these intermediary workers also needs to be attended to. The junior engineers may need to know more about community development issues and the community development


workers may need to understand basic technical issues. In other words, both need broader knowledge and understanding of habitat issues and the appro- priate attitude for resolving these issues.

In Delhi, a habitat polytech has been established

jointly by the Slum Wing of the DDA and HUDCO for training supervisory personnel. It also provides train- ing for non-governmental social workers. It may be necessary to set up such habitat polytechs in every state which could also function as the apex institution for coordinating the work of the various building centres in the state.

Employment and environmental implications

It is hoped that the Building Centre Programme will also have wide employment and environmental implications.

The effects of building centres on employment generation The development of shelter can perhaps be used also as a tool for employment generation. An informal construction skills development programme with on-

the-job training is one of the objectives of the Building Centre Programme. It does not require separate funding from the government. It can be a self-sustain- ing industry. Maybe, the people from the low-income groups for whom the houses are being built can be trained (women also), in fabricating various types of walling blocks, roo ng panels, etc which will be used extensively to construct their own settlements, and will allow them in the future to market such products or techniques learnt to outside buyers/developers.

If a placement cell is established to link the new

entrants in the construction industry with the labour market, it will assist the individuals who may want to take this opportunity to generate further income. Loans may be given to new artisans to start small- scale building materials manufacturing units/co- operatives of their own that develop innovative, cost- effective building components, using indigenous materials. Expensive or high technology components often used in public institution projects could be replaced by products of small-scale industries. For example, large brick manholes could be replaced by small, preformed earthenware chambers. Thus, a market can be created for some of the building elements that can be designed and manufactured by the trainees of the building centres. Most home-owners in a city get their construction work done through small contractors who mobilize skilled and unskilled workers and execute jobs on a

labour contract. The artisans can become such small contractors if they also have entrepreneurial capabil- ities and this perhaps requires governmental support in terms of additional training in management skills to the artisans. To strengthen income-generating activities, a study of the market may be made to identify sources of products and the nancial relations among producers and merchants to ll the gaps in supply and list the potential products required. The entrepreneurs can then have marketing assistance provided.

A revolving fund may be set up for giving short-


term loans for raw materials, machinery and estab- lishment. Loaning facilities may be offered for the enterprises using the solidarity group mechanism and exibility procedures. It might be useful to check how regulations can be relaxed for the bene t of these informal sector enterprises. These could be building byelaws pertain- ing to commercial premises. In order to develop appropriate opportunities, especially for those within the low-income group or those that are part of a slum settlement that is being relocated, it may be good to conduct a survey of employment seekers, their occupational backgrounds, skill levels, educational levels and the percentage of male and female seekers of income-generating activ- ities. These measures could thus help improve the economic base of the people, especially in the low- income groups.

The environmental implications

In India, timber is a depleting natural resource. It needs to be conserved. Alternative building materials need to be found to replace the extensive use of timber. Timber has been used in the past mainly for roo ng purposes and also for making doors and windows. The building centre has designed new roo ng systems that either reduce the use of timber to a minimum or replace its use altogether. Doors and windows are being designed with cement and coco- nut bre. Also, ferrocement is being used to make lighter and less expensive doors. RCC frames are being manufactured for doors and windows. These are cheaper on a mass scale than timber frames. They are more durable and better suited for use in wet

areas. They are

The building centres can also become nodal points for dissemination of ef cient timber handling prac-

tices. It is estimated that 30 – 40% of the timber is lost due to outmoded timber handling practices in the country. The bulk of this wastage takes place during the operations in the forests. The saw mills operating in various cities and small towns use saws with defectively designed teeth which leads to substantial wastage of valuable timber. Improved saws and tools using appropriate steel and tooth angles for different types of timber work have been developed by the building centres {3}. Bricks are being made using y-ash, which is released as a waste-product in power stations. The present generation of y-ash in India is more than 40 million tonnes per annum. This y-ash can be used to

make a number of building products such

ash bricks, stabilized mud y-ash bricks, calcium

silicate bricks, cellular concrete, etc. A large amount (20 – 50%) of the y-ash, depending upon the quality of the soil, can be mixed with it to produce burnt clay


y-ash bricks by conventional or mechanized

cesses. Compacted mud y-ash blocks stabilized with lime, cement or other chemicals can be produced. The calcium silicate brick is a variety of the commonly known sand-lime brick using y-ash in place of quartz sand. Light weight aerated concrete or cellular con-

crete can be manufactured by a process involving

both re-resistant and termite-proof.

as clay y-



mixing of y-ash, quick lime or cement and gypsum


The environmental problem of excessive quantities

of y-ash being released at power stations can be turned to productive uses as stated above. There are several units in India, other than the building centres themselves, who have contributed to the development of building products using y-ash. Through the build-

ing centres, these y-ash bricks can

acceptance. The building centres can propagate the use of energy-ef cient practices in the design of human settlements. They can market or fabricate themselves solar devices, bio-gas plants, smokeless chulahs (stoves), etc and encourage home owners to use them. They could also provide maintenance support for these devices. For further technical or nancial assistance, the building centres could contact the Department of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (DNES) or the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) {3}.

Further obser vations

At the Nirmithi Kendra in Kerala, often minor design decisions are made by the labourers as the work proceeds, like ooring patterns, entrance details, or size and proportions of window openings, which are based on the varying orientations of each house. An overall site layout outlines land allocation per house and gives a rough indication of the location of each house on its respective property. There is one sketch plan and one sketch section prepared for each house. The labourers receive detailed verbal instructions before the start of a project and right through its completion. It is a traditional way of house-building, where, very little is pre-planned but much of it is site- speci c. The Nizamuddin building centre works towards progress in cost-effective technology and develops houses that use basic engineering principles based on common sense rather than trying to provide designs for building systems that are only aestheti- cally pleasing or that try to imitate foreign systems. The experimentation, the architect’s enthusiastic approach to the structure, is infectious. It ingresses into the attitude of the workers who are now eager to think and contribute ideas. The architect, the engi- neer, the artist and the craftsman thus work in unison towards an economics where people matter. The Bharatiya Gram Project was one of the initial housing schemes undertaken by the Nizamuddin building centre for design and execution. In this project, one of the innovations of the centre, the red mud PVC tiles were being produced on a large scale for the rst time. Initially, these were not of the required quality. There was further experimentation on-site and nally the appropriate tiles could be produced. However, the cost of the project increased. There was no provision for such additional expenses and delays occurred in the execution of this impor- tant, time-bound project. The building centres were therefore asked to temporarily operate under the Public Works Depart- ment norms or else be closed down. It is felt that, if at this juncture, the contingency funds had been pro- vided to the Nizamuddin building centre, they would have adequately covered the extra costs incurred in

nd wider

the project and corrective measures would have been taken. Instead, the building centre concept was seen as a futile exercise and put aside. So, a perfectly good programme of building centres, which was created to design and implement appropriate technologies which were not being practised by the local Public Works Departments, today stands subservient to the very institutions that it was supposed to provide an alternative for. Publications of HUDCO and BMTPC often carried documentation of technologies and planning systems designed by the Nizamuddin building centre. These were sometimes incorrectly featured in the publica- tions leading to inef ciences when they were repli- cated by other centres. Any new concept, when being experimented with, in this case, the Building Centre Programme, often needs to be given suf cient time and adequate support by the government, to grow into a viable system. According to the Anangpur building centre, inadequacies appearing during the evolutionary stages of the programme, and the continuing inef - ciencies in the housing delivery system in India, could perhaps be overcome with changes in some of the government policies.

The role of entrepreneurial grass-root institutions in housing policy

An inadequate housing delivery system has resulted in a large proliferation of slums in the city. In addition to the problems of the poor, there are also the problems of the unemployed educated, the destitute and senior citizens. Though the government is spend- ing vast sums of money on various programmes for these groups of people, the requirement for houses is growing at a faster pace than they can cope with. Constrained by their own resources, this segment of the population encroaches upon public land or resides in low rental areas which may be devoid of amenities. The failure of the municipal authorities and the government housing agencies to serve the poor adequately leads to resentment among them and eventually to a breaking down of law and order. The government increases investments in urban areas. But this leads again to migration, resulting in more high density unliveable pockets within the city. There are always new planning strategies. The government continues to propose either slum clear- ance or rehabilitation into subsidized, standardized, unliveable, unaffordable housing units. Planners, ad- ministrators, economists, sociologists and architects attempt to grapple with the situation, but it is a complicated problem. To understand it completely, the attitude towards development must be broader. Some non-governmental organizations are working towards facilitating houses through the development of building centres. They have made some valuable contributions. There have been constraints in the implementation of technologies and housing schemes proposed by the building centres also. They work in a restrictive environment controlled by policies that need to be redesigned to suit the changing times and the changing needs. What are the policy changes they suggest?


Outlined below are some of the recommendations brought forth in an interview with Anil Laul, architect and director, Anangpur building centre, Haryana.

· Their homes have been shifted but not their economic dependence on the city

Merely moving slum dwellers to the outskirts of the city does not resolve the issue. They are still econom- ically dependent on the city. This makes them return to the city, perhaps to another area of the city, to create yet another slum. If you move them out, they will come back. And, if the transport network is also poor, it is dif cult for them to commute daily to work,

to the city.

In case the rehabilitation site is on the outskirts of the city, a good transportation network becomes important. It must be possible for a dweller to get a loan from a bank which must be established in this area, to buy and run a bus. This bus serves the slum dweller and the city. Thus, a bus service is estab- lished, where instead of the city feeding the slum, it is the slum feeding the city. Here, the government only plays a facilitator role by making the roads but the business role is played by the people themselves. The bank also begins to support other small economic activities within the slum which maybe considered a part of the village. A villager or a slum dweller works more than 12 hours a day. He is not able to support his large family with a salary earned out of eight hours of work. So, he works eight hours for his employer and returns home to work another eight hours in domestic cottage industry, e.g. a shoe- lace industry or a woman may manufacture food products at home as an income-generating activity.

· Introducing the differential rate of interest

A differential rate of interest could be introduced in

the credit systems offered by nancial institutions, such as HUDCO for the low-income groups. For example, a man belonging to the economically weaker section (EWS) decides that he needs to build a house that will cost Rs 30 000. His income is Rs 750 per

month. This man takes a loan of Rs 30 000 to build his house. He is asked to pay Rs 250 a month so that he can pay back the loan in ten years. For ten years, he

is paying only Rs 250. If he is earning Rs 750 now, ten

years later, he will be earning Rs 7 500, but still paying Rs 250. So, instead, it is suggested that he be charged in the rst year, only Rs 100, the next year Rs 120, the year after Rs 150 and when he is earning Rs 7 500, he can be charged upto Rs 750 a month. This makes it easier for him to cope with the repayment of loan, especially in the initial years.

· Planning cannot be centralised or standardised

Centralization of planning policies and strategies, of management and of maintenance slows down the implementation process. More appropriate building byelaws, zoning laws, house designs, infrastructure systems need to be incorporated. Some of the drawbacks in the present approach are the strict adherence to age-old British standards for all developments, irrevelant setbacks, total segregation of the home from the workplace, plotted and multi- storeyed schemes and infrastructural networks at prohibitive costs. The local topography, materials, technologies and skills must be considered. Projects


planned must have functional, economic and political feasibility. Emphasis should be shifted from mere clearance and rehabilitation to that of sustainable improvement in the physical, scal and socio- economic spheres.

· Allowing user participation

The dweller is seldom offered choices in the kind of house he needs or can afford. In India, most govern- ment housing schemes are four- oor monotonous boxes. While this may seem to be a good plan for the future, it is impractical. Such a construction requires larger capital. The buyer does not have enough money to pay for this kind of house all at one time.


to buy 140 m 2 under the pretext of ‘foresight’ or just remain shelterless. This unaffordability leads to encroachment. The money that could have been used for pro table ventures is blocked in the future, whilst the present is left to degenerate. If the users participate in the process of planning, it would be clear what their current needs are, what they can afford in the present situation and what they will need and afford in the future. The government can prepare the master plan, but residents’ associations should be formed which approve the plans within the various development zones. At the housing project at Bhumiheen camp in Delhi, every 200 families were asked to form a residents association, which was a registered body. The Delhi Development Authority was to only authorize land use but the local planning and responsibility of maintenance of the infrastructure was handed over to the residents associations. Thus, a decentralized and user-oriented approach would mean management through cooperatives or neigh- bourhood societies. The cooperatives formed by the people would be empowered to make decisions.

· Improving the cost-recovery mechanism for infra- structure development

In the present system, property tax is payable after evaluation by the assessing of cer, with suspect communication between the payee and the assessor. Vast sums of money are exchanged resulting in misappropriations. On the one hand, the incumbent has no say in the civic amenities being offered to him; on the other hand, the government is left with having to provide mammoth infrastructural facilities with the limited nances that intermediary of cers leave behind in the of cial treasury. At the national level, infrastructure upgrading or providing new infrastructure cannot be sustained on grants alone. Also, grants foster dependency instead of initiating the development, by the people, from their own resources and efforts. Therefore, the con- cepts of ‘affordability’ and ‘cost recovery’ must be introduced. In the case of development of middle-income groups, the formation of co-operative societies should be encouraged, so that: (i) they can take up the responsibility of maintenance of the existing infra- structure services; (ii) they can help enumerate the nature and scale of new infrastructure services required; (iii) repayment may be assigned to these co-operative societies rather than to individuals. In the case of development for low-income groups, especially within slum settlements, community groups

And often, a person requiring 70 m 2 . is either



may be formed so that: (i) awareness campaigns may be conducted through such groups to convey the importance of good infrastructure services for good health conditions. This can help improve cost-recov- ery; (ii) the regular, monthly repayments usually proposed are often not suitable to the elastic and sporadic income patterns of the urban poor. A exible repayment system can be introduced i.e. each community group must commit to the repayment period most suitable to them and abide by it. To make the project ‘ affordable’ to the low-income groups, services such as community taps and public latrines may be adopted in preference to individual services.

· Instead of encouraging mega-centres, a greater

number of smaller business districts may be planned


Commercial mega-centres have the trappings of unaffordable land. They often have poorer land-use patterns and lower densities too. We must look for an answer not merely for the slum dwellers but perhaps endeavour to redesign our cities as a whole, and our environment. We need maybe to unlearn certain fundamental wrongs that seem to have become a part of our colonial upbringing. In a metropolitan area, population density increases and so does the traf c on the roads. The roads are made wider to decrease the congestion. So, there is more area allocated to roads in the land use. There is also more area allocated to parking. With the increase in the quantum of traf c generation and more land under utilization for cars, the density per acre decreases. In this mega-centre, all the traf c wants to come out at the same time. So then, you have a y-over. Next, you have a clover-leaf y-over. Then, you have so much more parking. Then, you have a heat pull-down. Therefore, you have air-conditioning. Therefore, you have energy going down. Instead, if there were more and more smaller business districts, after of ce hours, the traf c would disperse immediately, it dilutes in different directions. The workplace is closer to home and it is a more ef cient system.

· The training programmes must be sustainable

When training is offered, it is not always taken seriously. At the Nizamuddin building centre, projects were undertaken and on-site training was given. The centre did not take any grants from the government to run training programmes. It was always on-site train- ing for real projects. When a building centre does not depend on the government money, it is independent and operates on a self-sustaining basis. The Nizamud- din building centre did 4 2 crore rupees (1 crore 10 million) worth of demonstration projects. The people who were trained here started work on their own after the completion of the NBC’s projects. There are architects working for the Awas Vikas Sansthan. The Commissioner of the Housing Board of Rajasthan trained here when he was a superintendent engineer. At the lower level, some of the masons who trained here have become small contractors. During the Bhartiyagram housing project, the Nizamuddin build- ing centre gave training to 1 200 people. So, the on- site training programme is perhaps a sustainable system.


· Planning strategies for low-income housing pro-

jects need to change. It helps if the building regula- tions enforced by municipal authorities are changed

appropriately to suit the changing needs

If the building byelaws allow it, the concept of ‘cluster planning’ can be adopted for the design of low- income housing schemes. The need to adopt this new method of planning arises, in order to discourage encroachment of areas within the new settlements. If an individual is being given land at a subsidized rate by the government through one of its schemes for ‘ housing for low-income group’, then he must not be allowed to make a business proposition out of it as often happens in the existing government-sponsored housing projects.

In cluster planning, the layout consists of clusters of

houses, grouped together to have common open spaces and interlocked in such a way that encroach- ment is minimized. There is cross-ventilation for every house, and the shared open space remains under the control of the families that are grouped in the cluster. This eliminates illegal construction on mandatory

open spaces within the lots. The dwelling unit is designed as a one-room tenement. If the owner decides to build an additional room, he can expand vertically. Because he can only make the staircase from inside the house, he cannot make the new room a rentable proposition. Dwelling units are grouped around the centralized open space. This space acts as an extension to the semi-enclosed verandah, as play areas for the children and as gathering space for the families. In the past, housing layouts organized in geometric

linear patterns have created monotonous physical environments with a substantial percentage of the land wasted in circulation and negative spaces. They also do not create good neighbourhoods. About twelve to twenty households form a cluster with two to three interlocked courts and common facilities of wcs, baths and wash areas. About two hundred households form a cooperative. A neighbour- hood is a functional grouping of 4 – 5000 households. A neighbourhood includes commercial activities, pub- lic institutions and educational institutions. The dense, low-rise, built-form comprising of nar- row streets and shaded courts created by cluster planning responds well to the warm climate in India. In spite of most of the activities being conducted in the open, various levels of privacy are ensured through diagonal entry points and staggered courts. The pre-court area and the court also aid gender segregation, as desired in some communities.

A slum resettlement project executed by the Niza-

muddin building centre at Delhi’s Prayog Vihar demonstrated the bene ts of the cluster planning approach. The system was adopted for a site and services programme at Rohini to house 1100 riot victims from mixed income group levels. The dwellers were to be given 18 m 2 plots, built up to plinth level, and individual toilets and baths, but they were expected to share a courtyard of 51 m 2 with four other dwellers, making it a cluster of ve dwelling units. The rehabilitation scheme at Bhumiheen camp to rehabilitate slum dwellers achieved a density of as high as 625 dwelling units per hectare. Here, the


number of dwelling units on the rst oor was increased by bridging the gap between two clusters over narrower roads within the site. The interesting street pro le with alternate shaded and unshaded areas is also in keeping with the traditional Indian built form. The cluster planning approach reinforces the tradi- tional, interdependent lifestyle with its multiple use and mixed activity pattern. The exibility accommo- dates changes and growth in economic and social activities. As opposed to the usual segregation of various socio-economic groups (strictly high/middle/ low income groups, and economically weaker sec- tions) and activities (strictly residential, commercial, industrial, etc), cluster planning generates a homo- genous neighbourhood. It also discourages land trading. The selling or purchasing is through the co-operative. Since neigh- bouring units belong to different clusters, consolida- tion of properties by speculators is dif cult and thus automatic checks on buying and selling are intro- duced in the system. There are also economic bene ts of the cluster planning system. The dwelling units use common walls and foundations. Energy consumption is less, due to shaded walls. The street length is reduced and therefore also the lighting requirement. The close proximity of units leads to a reduction in the cost of infrastructural development and maintenance. The cluster layout reduces the amount of road network, and therefore also the cost of maintenance. The conventional back-to-back housing scheme results in a road after every two houses and often unnecessary backlanes.

· Introducing the performance-based contract

The government should develop a framework for performance-based contracts for the implementation of housing schemes. All work should be granted under performance-based contracts with a mainte- nance clause of ten to twenty years. Quality perform- ance would be ensured as shoddy workmanship would mean extra labour at escalated prices the following year. The long period of ten to twenty years will make certain that developers will deliver good workmanship. This system will include the establishment of ‘trust accounts’ from which money deposited cannot be withdrawn by either the developer or the consumer until the speci c ful llment of the contract. These could also be applicable to government agencies involved in housing and infrastructural development.

· The government’s role should change from sole provider to facilitator

Better results may be achieved if the role of the government changes from being the provider to becoming a facilitator. Its functions may include giving land tenure, generating nance, making external nance accessible and rationalizing land laws. As a facilitator, the government could also coordinate con- struction contracts, making them performance-based, destandardize bye-laws and make them more people- oriented. Through decentralization, powers and func- tions hitherto resting with the government could be transferred to the district and block levels and nally


to the co-operatives, empowering them with tax collection and self-management.


People usually expect evaluation to be able to show clearly whether success has been achieved, but it is often hard to show clear evidence of success. In fact, it is often easier to show failure. One of the reasons why it is dif cult to show success or failure is that success or failure can mean different things to differ- ent people {5}. The building centres may be considered a success because as more and more houses are being built by the building centres:

1. the occupants like the new, unconventional

homes. The building centres receive requests from

prospective house builders who are seriously inter- ested in using the materials and techniques evolved at the building centres;

2. the systems and materials used in these struc-

tures have performed under the stressful conditions they have been subjected to;

3. these homes have been built at low costs.

However, it is not only a matter of affordability. The system must be self-sustainable, the technologies that are developed must generate employment within the zones that the materials are taken from or the zones that the technologies are incorporated in. Although there are reasons to consider the Building Centre Programme successful, the progress is rather slow. Several building centres have been established all over the country, but not all the centres have developed enough to achieve all the objectives laid out for building centres. Some people continue to think that the government must give more subsidies to solve the housing problem. This would only incapaci- tate the people. The governement continues to impose heavy duties on the building materials, like excise, sales tax, octroi, etc. Sometimes, the duties and levies on the materials are more than the cost of production. If the levies are reduced, the system will become more affordable. The housing needs of every country are different. In India, the housing needs of every state are different and the housing needs of every zone are different. How do we make a system wherein people can afford a house? All building centres being set up need not have the same ‘low-cost technology’ as their mandate. Some of the nodal building centres can specialize in investigat- ing the local laws and policies. Some can be involved in the documentation of the experimental systems and the propagation of these and others can train man- power for implementation of projects. In the future, the building centre policy may be a three-pronged policy including:

· the examination of rules that might be archaic.

There are rules that are 60 – 70 years old that are still being followed. They have only been amended. There

is an ‘amendment’ to an amendment but there is not so much change of the rule itself;

· the dissemination of information;



· the training of manpower in the updated technolo- gies.

The building centre policy cannot be a singular policy of improvisation of building components only. Government policies could be re-examined at the nodal levels for further propagation. The more successful building centres could contribute a 2% development fund from their turnover, to the nodal

centre which could then undertake policy planning. The housing policies may emerge from within the Building Centre Programme, learning from the failure of some building centres and the success of other building centres.

In the past, a number of low-cost building technol-

ogies have been developed by building research institutions and professional organizations working in the eld. However, few have achieved widespread acceptance. One of the reasons for this was that it was attempted to extend these technologies through cen- tral government and state government organizations. These organizations are bound by rigid procedures and rules and are slow in adopting new methods. Also, the contractors through whom most government works are executed, resist new technologies often charging higher fees for unfamiliar technologies to be incorporated in the construction works {3}. Following the inconsistency in the working of the Nizamuddin building centre, the Ministry of Urban

Development had set up the Paranjpae Committee to suggest a strategy for improving the functioning of the Building Centre Programme. This Committee sug- gested that the building centres execute their projects on the basis of turnkey and performance contracts, as an interim measure until the nal modalities of contracting policies were worked out by HUDCO and the BMTPC (Building Materials and Technology Pro- motion Council). The Paranjpae Committee had additionally recommended 2% towards contingency fund for failure of any of the new technologies attempted by the building centre. The 2% contin- gency fund could be useful for research and develop- ment and also for effective propagation of technologies. Low-cost methods must also be devised for water supply and sanitation in human settlements. The technologies involved in low-cost pit sanitation sys- tems are simple but efforts must be made to train artisans in their construction and also to create awareness amongst the users. The building centres can play an important role in training artisans for fabricating components for these systems and in constructing and maintaining them for home owners. The building centres can also undertake the manage- ment of pay-and-use facilities to be put up in small towns. They can market water pumps, stock spare parts and train artisans in their maintenance. Non- governmental organizations like Sulabh International can provide valuable support to the building centres in this programme {3}. One nds that the building centres do offer appro- priate technologies that are cost-effective. This is achieved by studying the performance criteria of the building component and also by a change in the delivery system. Further, the change of delivery system requires policy intervention.

A building component such as the Tara-crete tile

developed and manufactured by Development Alter- natives consumes more cement than asbestos sheets. But, because it is being made at the site itself, there is no excise, no octroi, no provident fund, no gratuity to the workers, no interest on the capital employed in the industry, no marketing or wholesale and retail redis- tribution costs. It is a delivery directly from entrepre- neur to the end-user. So, although the tile uses more cement, it is still more cost-effective. The cost of the asbestos sheet is Rs 12 per ft 2 and the tile is Rs 5 per ft 2 . Thus, it is not necessarily a reduction of material that reduces costs but also the change in the delivery mechanism. In the housing projects in Kerala, Laurie Baker achieves cost-effectiveness through the use of the rat- trap bond in brick masonry. In using a rat-trap bond, the labour component goes up, but the material component goes down. The quality of the house gets better. If one is building a 10 x 10 ft room using brick masonry in the rat-trap bond, one would need a 2’6’’ overhang. So, the roof required is at least 15 x 15 ft. In order to build a 100 ft 2 house, one must build a 225 ft 2 roof. It should be more expensive. But, in fact, it is not. That is primarily because the performance of the material has been changed, i.e. excess concrete has been eliminated in the roof design. Therefore, the material is conserved and can be utilized to provide a larger area of roof for the desired overhang. Secondly, the delivery mechanism has been changed. There is no tendering for the project. Within the Public Works Department (PWD) system, there are the xed over- heads of the PWD which vary between 15 – 17%. The contractor has an additional 10 – 15% margin but he also keeps a 10% cushion (as speed money) to enable him to get his bills sanctioned, etc. If this delivery sytem of contracting with the government system is eliminated, a saving of 35% may be achieved. The government-sponsored building cen- tres are mostly dovetailed into the Public Works Departments in various districts. This means that they follow similar procedures of delivery as the PWD. It is here that the private building centres also differ from the government-sponsored building centres. For instance, the 100-bed hospital project at Kotah was developed by the Anangpur building centre at Rs 220 per ft 2 . In this project, the delivery system differed from the usual. The workmen cut their own stone, studied the possibility of using phospho-gypsum which is an industrial waste product and available in the vicinity in abundance. They made the building blocks themselves, fabricated almost every building component, whether a window or a door. There was no intermediate contracting system. In the projects implemented under a contract, the main contractor gives the project to a sub-contractor who further gives it to a labour contractor. So, it is pro t over 15%, over 15%, over 15%. The PWD norms are used with the excuse of transparency through tendering, but they lead to an expensive construction system. The PWD building centres using such norms are gradually closing down. It is to be seen if there will be more private building centres in the years to come. It is felt that a certain amount of freedom for the entrepreneur in the func- tioning of his building centre (if funded by HUDCO) and also faith in his decision-making as regards the working of the centre will encourage more individuals


to set up building centres. Today, some prospective entrepreneurs hesitate to approach HUDCO for sup- port because HUDCO insists among certain other parameters, that there be 1.5 acres of land available for the setting up of the building centre. The individual thus almost writes off property worth more than the loan or the assistance that the government may give and in addition, he must cope with the bureaucracy overruling his decisions in the functioning of the building centre. If the individual is committed enough, he can take a loan from any commercial institution to set up the centre. HUDCO’s grant-in-aid is a small amount and the rest is loan with interest to be paid on it. Also, the amount of paperwork that HUDCO demands as a periodic requirement and the mandatory, continuous documentation are often discouraging factors. The objective of most evaluations is to see what progress a programme has made towards reaching its objectives. Sometimes the programme objectives stated at the beginning may change over a period of time, as they ‘evolve’ in response to changing condi- tions, and to a clearer understanding of the problems {5}. The Anangpur building centre started its work with the same objective as the other building centres, that of developing low-cost building techniques. How- ever, within a few years its understanding of the housing problem in the country is leading them to also look at the existing planning regulations, the policies of the government as regards funding hous- ing schemes for the poor, etc. It is now also one of their objectives to evaluate the conditions under which the innovative building techniques strive to seek an outlet. The recommendations on government policies for housing made by them are important. The policies are:

· developments in housing must be accompanied

by adequate employment opportunities for the low- income groups, especially those included in rehabili- tation programmes;

· loans made available by HUDCO and other nan-

a more exible mode of


cial institutions need to use

· projects that have participation from the people themselves are more successful;

· in order to provide adequate infrastructure to the large and ever-increasing population in India, the cost-recovery mechanisms need to be improved;

· decentralization of planning policies, of manage- ment and of maintenance will help achieve these goals. This might mean fewer mega-centres and greater numbers of smaller business districts;

· as building centres strive to make houses more

affordable, they need to offer training programmes that are self-sustainable and create a system of housing delivery that is locally viable;

· cluster planning as a planning tool for low-income,


middle-income and high-income groups. It has worked very well in some projects and the control it can achieve on encroachment could perhaps be made an accepted norm as it is used in more and more housing schemes;

· performance-based contracts to replace the reg-

ular contracting system of item-based or turn-key

contracts. This would mean that the contractor neces- sarily meets with the performance criteria within the given budget;

· the government’s role could change from being sole provider to facilitator.

The dramatic gesture (of the government) of pro- viding a large new housing plant (or a large network of building centres) may divert attention from the need for fundamental housing policy changes and reforms, particularly when answers are vague to such questions as who shall be housed? On what land? With what services and infrastructure? And with what forms of credit and nancing? {6}. The housing of low- income people requires low-cost, resource-conser- ving appropriate technology coupled with consider- able changes in institutional relationships in society that can enable low-income people to gain access to housing resources such as land, nance, public utilities and social services {7}. In India, the implementing organizations that have been more successful than others in the eld of low- cost housing, are the non-governmental organizations and also some private entrepreneurs. Perhaps, the role of the government, in the present times, should include designing strategies and formulating policies in close association with these grass-root institutions. Effective responses to affordable and adequate hous- ing in India may result from better cooperation be- tween government and non-government institutions.


1. Turner, J.F.C. (1972) The re-education of a professional. In: Freedom To Build, J.F.C. Turner and R. Fichter (eds) Macmillan.

2. Sharma S.K. (1988) Human settlement patterns and relevant technology, Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects .

3. HUDCO (1987) Building Centres .

4. HUDCO Fly ash for building products – state of the art in India.

5. Feuerstein, M.-T. (1986) Partners in Evaluation: Evaluating development and community programmes with partici- pants , (Macmillan Education Ltd.)

6. Terner, I.D. (1972) Technology and autonomy In Free- dom To Build, J.F.C.Turner and R. Fichter (eds), Macmil- lan.

7. Pama, R.P., Angel, S. and De Goede, J.H. (1977) Low- income housing – Technology and Policy, International Conference, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok.