Urbz suggests, in a way, leaving well enough alone. Rather than beginning with the false notion that Dharavi offers a tabula rasa, their team starts with what they call a tabula pronta, a table already laid with considerable riches. Dharavi’s tens of thousands of houses are “an existing stock of affordable housing, waiting to be improved and infused with better civic infrastructure.”
“Slum redevelopment usually means destroying what’s been built up over time by residents and replacing it by something else that has no history and no future,” says Echanove. “For us, the neighborhood itself is the most interesting starting point: people’s stories, needs, economy, and investments, emotional or otherwise.”
With Mumbai architecture firm sP+a, urbz proposes a steel infrastructural intervention to allow for water, refuse water, and structural stability. With its slim streets, tightly packed homes, and small horizontal footprints, they suggest looking up to find room for improvement and growth. After placing a minimal but strong architectural net, of sorts, overlaid atop what already exists, local contractors and builders would then steer its growth.
“The population is by and large upwardly mobile,” says Echanove. “Our proposal enables residents to safely build higher and get more space, which they can use for themselves, as rental or as businesses. The same structure can also be used to bring basic services such as water and electricity.”