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05-Affordable Housing - A Design Perspective

ARUNJOT SINGH BHALLA


DIRECTOR DESIGN
RSP DESIGN CONSULTANTS
(INDIA) PVT. LTD.

ARUNJOT SINGH
BHALLA

DIRECTOR DESIGN
RSP DESIGN
CONSULTANTS
(INDIA) PVT. LTD.

Arunjot Singh Bhalla is a 1988 graduate of Chandigarh College of Architecture,


Chandigarh and a 1994 post-graduate in Architecture Studies from Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. He is a Registered Architect, Council of
Architecture; International Associate, American Institute of Architects; Fellow,
Indian Institute of Architects; Licensed Architect, Bangalore Mahanagara Palike and
Licensed Surveyor, Corporation of Chennai.
In his extensive 21-year experience as an Urban Designer and Architect in India
and abroad, he has worked on a wide range of projects ranging from mixed-use
developments to IT campuses, commercial, retail, residential developments and
interiors. Besides winning several academic awards and prestigious research
grants, he has also delivered public lectures at the Confederation of Indian
Industry, Indian Institute of Architects and Association of Furniture Manufacturers
of India.
Arunjot Singh Bhalla was associated with RSP Singapore for 13 years as a key
member of its Design Team. In 1996, he joined RSP India and has been since
leading the firms professional team and overseeing its diversified work portfolio.
Currently, he is Director-Design of the firm.

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05-Affordable Housing - A Design Perspective

Affordable Housing A Design Perspective


Arunjot Singh Bhalla
Director Design
RSP Design Consultants (India) Pvt Ltd
Introduction
India is a developing economy with one of the worlds largest middle class
societies with improved earnings and spending potential.
The aspiration of the upper and lower middle class to own their own home
has spurred demand for affordable housing in the Residential Sector.
In spite of Government initiatives and convenient loan schemes, high land
costs particularly in Indias Urban Centres, has made it difficult to own
individual plotted houses.
The possible solution is planned housing complexes which are designed as
secure well integrated developments at affordable prices. A dearth of such
developments has created a large gap between supply and demand and
private enterprise is evolving business models to harness this market.
One of the key parameters of focus is Design well planned, efficient and
aesthetic design solutions in conformity with budgets.
This essay broadly outlines the standard design approach towards this
important residential segment and recommends a perspective that
practitioners may additionally adopt in their design endeavours.
Approach
Architects and Engineers in meeting requirements of a design brief for
affordable housing typically focus on design approaches as summarized
below:
A) Architecture & Master Planning

Modularity & Repetitiveness both of residential units as well as


elemental aspects of the project.

Utilitarian and Regimented Layout Plans

High efficiencies in usable to total built area ratios

Minimization of overall building perimeter

Rectilinear plan shapes and maximization of shared / common walls

Simplified building facades with minimal overhangs

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05-Affordable Housing - A Design Perspective

B) Engineering

Optimization of structural spans

Incorporation of load bearing walls as structural elements

Avoiding / Minimizing of cantilever projections including balconies

Grouping of all wet areas to minimize service lines

Optimization of services provision and locations.

These coupled with adoption of low cost building materials and construction
methodologies typically inform and underpin the design of this segment of
residential developments.
A bias towards these essentials with a view to reduce overall costs, can often
in the design process result in a reduced focus on other key design aspects.
These are briefly discussed below:
1. Site and Context Response
The topography of the allocated site can have a significant impact on the
overall design. Layouts in sympathy to site not only reduce overall cost,
these also have the benefit of ensuring that maintenance cost in the life cycle
of a project is also lower. Design responsive to immediate context would
ensure that view potential of the site is fully harnessed. On the other hand if
the project is being realized in a non-residential context the designer can
plan for landscape buffer spaces as appropriate at the site peripheries and
frontage.
2. Socio-Cultural Response
India is a tableau of cultures and these can significantly vary from region to
region.
For eg., removing footwear before entering the house is an
important consideration in a number of parts of the country. As such
designing for these cultures should involve introducing shoe storage space at
the thresh-hold of each apartment. Similarly in Andhra Pradesh Vastu
considerations are of extreme significance and ideally are not to be
discounted even where the focus is on modularity and repetition. Other
cultural responses may relate to positioning of toilets vis--vis the kitchen
and a designer should take this into account even where the focus is on
grouping of wet areas.

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05-Affordable Housing - A Design Perspective

From a social perspective the overall Master Plan Layout in large housing
developments should aim to foster community interaction as well as provide
a secure environment. The programme and positioning of amenities and
overall distribution of open space and circulation network plays a large role in
realizing this goal.

3. Climate Response
For any category of housing harnessing of natural light and views and
ensuring natural ventilation are desirable design initiatives. In affordable
housing where densities are high, this is challenging but still an extremely
important design consideration. Design sensitive to the climate of the region
can ensure some of the following desirables:

fostering wind movement in humid regions

self shading of blocks in hot and arid regions

maximizing sunlight percolation in colder climates

quick drainage of water in monsoon prone regions

The simple expedient of orienting building blocks in consonance with solar


angles, sun path and prevailing wind directions particular to the region where
the site is located can help achieve some of the desirables indicated above.
In addition, landscape initiatives can be integrated into the overall design to
both enhance the positive aspects of the local climate as well as mitigate the
harsher aspects. For eg., dense plantation on the West of the site can help
in screening off harsh sunlight and glare particularly in hotter zones whilst
columnar plantation and shrubbery on the North will ensure that the
development benefits from maximized glare free light from this direction.
4. Aesthetic Response
The aesthetic response generally tends to become subservient to the
functional response in the overall design process for affordable housing.
Typically this results in a spartan architectural expression. Considering
constraints of cost it is recommended that colour palettes be creatively
explored to design vibrant spaces and building forms with no adverse impact
on cost.
5. Environmental Response
An enhanced focus on environmental and sustainability initiatives is now
becoming part and parcel of the lexicon of all discerning designers. This

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05-Affordable Housing - A Design Perspective

important aspect needs to be strongly considered in the design of affordable


housing projects too.
In addition to factors already highlighted other important considerations
include:

rain water harvesting

grey water recycling

harnessing of solar energy

use of locally available re-cycled building materials

From a planning perspective some important factors are:

creation of pedestrian and traffic free precincts

provision of landscaped open spaces utilizing handy plantation species


requiring less irrigation.
These include shrub species such as
Bougainvilleas, Durante, Lantanas and Trees such as the Neem,
Peltophorum, Lagerstroemia and Gulmohar.

6. Technology Response
Appropriate use of available construction technology to optimize costs and
time should also be taken into account. Currently, the preferred approach is
to adopt conventional technologies but globally prefabrication and precast
technologies are being adopted to reduce costs. Designers should take this
possibility into cognizance to ensure that designs are articulated to enable
adoption of prefabrication. At the same time explorations into innovative
building materials and technologies such as bamboo reinforced concrete
should also be looked into.
In summary, Affordable Housing is a segment with vast potential for
development in India. The architectural and engineering team assigned for
such projects carry a tremendous responsibility of meeting considerations of
optimizing cost. In their endeavors to achieve the overall objectives of the
project they would do well to remember the old adage Design Does
Matter.

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