Repair and Retrofitting

Semester IX Technology

Faculty – Prasad Shetty, Komal Gopwani

SEA has been involved in research around Housing Repair and Retrofit for the past three years, where the subject was offered as an elective course for the senior allied design studios. Based on the housing studies at SEA, it is apparent that the housing shortage question in India cannot be addressed through building new houses, since in the past 20 years, only 10% of the estimated shortage has been achieved in most cities and states and therefore it would take more than 100 years to deal only with the existing shortage. On the other hand, the actual problem established through the housing census is not the absence of housing, but the quality of housing being very low. This creates a clear context for Repair and Retrofit studio. As against redevelopment which is highly resource-intensive and transforms the lived experience, repair and retrofitting takes place through slow, incremental, day to day negotiations.

SEA is the only institute amongst architecture and engineering institutions in India which had this intensive course. The first three years of the study did three things – 

  • Identified housing contexts in Mumbai which require Repair and Retrofit  – these included the old villages, informal settlements, old housing stock or chawls and the Co-operative Housing Societies of 1960s-1980s.
  • Documented existing practices and existing networks of Repair and Retrofit within these contexts 
  • Proposed Repair and Retrofit strategies in these contexts.

This year onwards, Repair and Retrofit of Housing has been introduced as a mandatory two week course in the IX Semester Builtform and Technology module. The objectives included orienting to different contexts and types of settlements / housing types and existing practices, introducing various approaches in Repair and Retrofitting, articulating architectural questions in repair and retrofitting, and proposing strategies of intervention in existing fabrics. 

The studio undertook relevant lectures around the four housing types – the discussions covered the economic and social contexts under which these housing types were produced, their transformations over time and the current stresses they are dealing with; for instance the old villages face an issue of expansion and congestion, while the informal settlements are highly vulnerable to flooding. The studio undertook discussions around key readings (Patrick Geddes, Teresa Caldiera), key ideas (Wabi Sabi) and case studies (Carlos Scarpa’s works, John Habraken’s work, O-Office’s work, Lacaton and Vassal’s works) to enter the repair question.

This year, the self and the home became the field of understanding inhabitation and lived experience in homes. Across the studio, the inhabited housing types included Self-built Incremental, Pre-1950s apartments, Chawls, Apartments from 1960s-2000s, Site and Services scheme and Urban Village housing types. Everyday lived experience was understood through photographic documentation of the homes, narrative drawings, and identifying any contexts for transformation such as need for extensions, managing light and ventilation, managing services and infrastructure, and structural damages. 

Across the various typologies, the studio articulated the questions of Repair of Inhabitation. Overall conceptual proposals of varying scales of intervention for repair and retrofitting were proposed to dignify practices of life in the various housing contexts. 

Some of these interventions have been illustrated below – 

Connecting levels and bringing the backyard in – Arkdev Bhattacharyya

The opportunity of rethinking and reorganizing the three adjacent flats that we own in an apartment came in with the Repair and Retrofit module. The module demanded to go beyond the basic repairing and retrofitting of the house and focused on repairing our own way of living, with the repair of the house being an outcome of it. The construct of this particular project was that it included three flats and a small backyard (consisting of a mango tree) where two flats were adjacent to each other (that is, on the same floor) and the third one located just under one of the two, on the floor below. The existing organization of the three flats was such that none of them had an internal connection with a very small and banal interaction with the backyard. As a result, the family would only use one of the flats actively while the other two remained predominantly unoccupied and unused. Thus the project focused on two things that would happen simultaneously: 

  1. Establishing connections (horizontal as well as vertical) between the three houses where they internally merged with/dissolved into each other.
  2. Opening out to the backyard, creating many more interaction opportunities with the space behind as well as the mango tree.

Reconfiguring internal volumes and thresholds – Aashi Chordia

Even though spaces within the apartment type are connected through a passage, it seems they are distant and in different worlds; thus the house feels largely cellularized. Each space of the house is used by all family members simultaneously throughout the day because of light, ventilation and the work to be carried out. However, the current configuration does not allow for the entire house to be used, as some of the spaces do not allow everyone to sit together. 

Thus, the intervention tries to create threshold spaces by treating the facades and openings in terms of sections as open-permeable walls. The various types of thresholds were looked at considering the aspect of climate while trying to incorporate the spaces through the practices and routine of people living in the house such as creating a garden and looking at the balcony as a private corner by allowing the facades to be used in a way that changes the nature of the thresholds.

Flexible Furniture, Flexible Space – Foram Shah

The furniture in our one bedroom apartment often occupies most space, allowing very little area for moving about. The ever increasing “ghar ka saaman” always demands more of these storage spaces and hence, more furniture. Thus, the proposal suggests the LEGOs as five multipurpose and compact modules, that can be used individually as a piece of furniture, and can latch on to an existing piece in the house as well as interlocked together to form multiple other options like table, chair, sofa, wardrobe, leg rest and various other things depending on the permutations and combinations the family needs.

Floating Storage – Srushti Karale

In order to meet the storage requirement for photography equipment, the intervention has storage spaces imagined as composite structures with the living spaces of the house. The desire was to create various volumes of habitable spaces and not restrict the movement of the dweller to a single level. The proposal is thus, the dissected fragments of the sphere that latch on to sharp corners of the house as absurd objects appearing around. These would be collapsible storage spaces that provide larger open spaces that can be used as furniture when they do not store things within.

Extending for Commons – Priyanshi Bagadia

A jacket is put on the chawl building which has multiple extensions and plugins on both front and the back side formed at multiple levels. These extensions allow one to have their own private space as well as the comfort of the community life in a chawl is also maintained.

Space of one’s own – Devarsh Sheth

The intervention proposes hideout spaces imagined as Pods, an extension to a 1 BHK House for creating one’s own comfort space. These pods help in creating private spaces and filling up the cracks in the walls with the mixture of materials used for walls. 

Kaleidoscopic Views – Divya Vaidya

Living in a chawl, the phenomenon of  “being watched” is something that has and will perpetually exist all the time, irrespective of the comfort and individual needs of privacy each person has. In such a setting, a provoking idea was to tailor the view that was being watched. The world sees the scene we choose to show. Thus, a  wall of windows, of colored glass and textures and patterns overlaps and intertwines with what the viewer sees from outside. It not only masks the image being watched but presents a montage of colors and figures differently viewed as the gaze of the viewer meets each panel of texture. It also reflects a plethora of colors inside the house filling it with new moods.

Domestic Objects and Experiences – Maitreyee Rele

In order to rethink the way in which my family lives and occupies our house – I studied the different areas of the house and the micro-environments that get created. The presence of bulky cupboards and innumerable places to infinitely store things were defining most of my lived experiences in the house. These stored objects had a life to them, like Walter Benjamin would say, “Not that they (the objects) come alive in him, but he who comes alive in them.” To further understand and explore the relationship between people and objects, I referred to several illustrations by Heath Robinson, where the life of people was explored through the life and functions of the objects. The shape and form that was taken by a cupboard was vastly different and monotonous than the numerous forms taken up by the vast infinity of objects. Through my projects I was trying to study the infinity of space that is created by mere objects.

Mangrove Gallery – Vaishnavi Bhartia

The project involved retrofitting the building facade to enhance the visual relationship with the mangroves by making the outside space more functional and accessible. With the idea of layers of body, furniture, walls, landscape, the project reimagined the connections and the navigational possibilities across various layers of the building facade. The inside edge is an intervention all the way up to mangroves working as a continuous canvas while tying up the inward living space with the outside. 

Linking Surfaces  – Harsh Vora

The pandemic brought a realisation that our house did not have any work spaces or ones with multiple uses. Through mapping the multiple ways we use our house currently, opening up the internal walls of the house and introducing subtly placed delicate furniture that would occupy minimal visual space became a way to move ahead. The form of the furniture was guided by the idea of a continuous piece of furniture where it could take varied forms from a dining/work table to a side table, a chair, a stand and a lamp. The production of this was imagined by making use of one inch galvanized steel pipes that would use threaded connectors to allow the pipes to fit and meander through the house taking turns and dipping up or down where required, forming different arrangements of furniture that would provide different uses at different times of the day.

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