Dencity 2017: Special Mention


Entry by: Rohan Varma, Aleksandra Danilos, Orville Monteiro


Today, there are few cities in the world where the disparities between the rich and the poor, the formal and the informal are more apparent than in Mumbai. As Mike Davis had so poignantly pointed out, the Mumbai Metropolitan region (MMR) is the global capital of slumming with estimates of more than 12 million people currently living in informal settlements that have grown in pockets throughout the city, with little access to adequate housing, infrastructure and urban resources. In fact, as a city that has the highest number of pavement dwellers in the world, Mumbai is known the world over for its socio-spatial inequalities. Its extensive slum geography, which houses almost 50 percent of its population, has entered the imagination of the West through novels and films as places of immense poverty and little hope. The contradiction of course is that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region; an agglomeration of close to 23 million people, predicted to grow to an astounding 33 million by 2025, is often termed as the financial capital of India, contributing to almost 40 percent of the nation’s income tax revenues.

Yet, despite its apparent economic success, the State’s inability (and unwillingness) to actively and effectively deal with the country’s rapid urbanization have led to a situation where Mumbai’s urban poor are marginalized and excluded – both in physical terms as well as civil rights – from the rest of the so-called ‘formal city’. The fact of the matter remains that Mumbai’s problems are not just of a lack of affordable housing – but one of exclusion.

The Concept

“People do not come to cities in search of housing. They come in search of jobs” – Charles Correa

Informal settlements across Mumbai suffer from an incredible lack of social and physical infrastructure. A lack of access to public toilets, water taps, schools, health clinics, open spaces and other basic amenities are some of the major problems that slum dwellers face today. Unfortunately, the current policy for slum improvement in the city focuses solely on the production of houses, with little to no regard for the provision of other facilities that these people so crucially require.

Our project attempts to address precisely this problem. Rather than resort to the typical master plan that involves primarily the construction of new housing, our idea is to take a closer look at the site and address its problems of social and physical infrastructure through a series of small interventions.

The Method

As a testing ground, we chose to focus on a vast informal settlement that sits at the very heart of Mumbai’s financial district. Nestled between the World Trade Centre on one end, and Mumbai – and India’s – most expensive residential real estate on the other, the site is in many ways emblematic of the highly schizophrenic relationship that exists between the rich and the poor in Mumbai.

After a thorough analysis of the site and mapping its land-use, level of amenities and physical infrastructure, we were able to identify possible new locations where additional amenities could be provided. Depending on the need, these would either be at the periphery of the site, or located more towards its inner lesser-accessible pockets. In either case, our attempt was to respond to the existing geography of the site and its intricate layout of streets and pathways.

At a more architectural scale, our challenge was to develop structures that would sit delicately within the site and respond well to its immediate surroundings. Imagined as key nodes emerging out of a dense urban fabric, each of these structures vary in size, shape and program. A variety of amenities, ranging from a small day-care centre, to toilets and shower rooms, to even a study centre for the city are all accommodated in these structures. Designed as flexible structures of steel, we chose to employ only those materials that are readily available at the site (corrugated metal, bamboo, brick, wire meshes, etc.), and are therefore both affordable and adaptable.


It is our firm belief that policies regarding improving informal settlements must go beyond providing endless blocks of housing. By recognizing such settlements not just as places of sub-standard housing, but as valid communities we believe that there is a tremendous role that design can play in spatially, economically and socially integrating these settlements with the rest of the city. Our hope is to project an idea – not a concrete design – one that we believe has the potential to stir public debate in looking again at the way we see informal settlements and the policies that affect them.

About the entrant

Rohan Varma graduated as an architect from the University of Mumbai and received his Masters in Architecture (with honorable mention) from the Faculty of Architecture at TU Delft. Prior to coming to the Netherlands, he worked with Charles Correa for two years and taught for a year at the KRVIA School of Architecture in Mumbai. He is a recipient of both the Tata and Mahindra scholarships for higher studies abroad and was nominated for the 2014 Dutch Archiprix Award. Between 2013 and 2015, he worked at Mecanoo Architecten in Delft before establishing his own private practice IND, based both in Mumbai and Amsterdam. Varma  regularly combines his work as an architect with research into affordable housing and urban informality and is currently developing his PhD ‘Public Housing in India’ at TU Delft and is also a co-curator on an upcoming exhibition on housing designs of Charles Correa.

Aleksandra Danilos received her Master’s degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Wroclaw University of Technology in Wroclaw, Poland. For her graduation project she was a finalist for the National Diploma of the Year Competition. She has worked in large international architectural offices such as Mecanoo Architecten in Delft and Zwart and Jansma Architects in Amsterdam. Currently she works in the Amsterdam based office Dam&Partners on a wide variety of projects.

Orville Monteiro graduated as an architect from KRVIA, University of Mumbai in 2014. He worked in Goa for a period of one year before moving back to Mumbai in 2016 to join IND. With an avid interest in natural and sustainable building design, he wishes to pursue further studies in the same in the near future.