Greetings again from the $300 house project team here at Tuck school of Business at Dartmouth!
To recap our updates thus far, we have introduced our team (here), we gave a brief update when we were in India with couple of photos, and followed it up with more photos on our return to US. We also wrote a brief blog regarding some high-level insights from our India trip (here).
Over the past 2-1/2 months, we have focused on determining what would it take to make this project a reality in India. We have had several internal meetings with various stakeholders, spent several hours researching this topic, read hundreds of articles, explored the work that is already being done in this space, and seized the opportunity for our entire team to visit India in early March. Today, in this blog, we will distill some of our key findings, especially with regard to the design of the $300 house. We strongly feel that meeting these requirements is imperative to ensure the success of this project. We also hope that our findings will help the broader community of designers, architects, and interested folks to gain additional insights. At the same time, we hope to obtain valuable feedback from all of you.
We seek to answer two main questions:
- What are the most important design criteria (requirements) for a $300 house in India?
- What would this house look like?
Most important design criteria
Based on our visit to several slums in Mumbai and Raipur, and through our surveys with the inhabitants of these slums, we have established the following key criteria to guide the construction of a $300 house. Please note that these do not apply to all the houses in slums, but to the majority that we visited.
- Sunlight: A lot of these slum houses do not have any windows or doors. Upon entering these houses, the rooms are dark, and they remain dark throughout the day. In houses where there is no electricity, this problem is even more acute because families, when inside, are spending their time in darkness or in lantern. (Note: there is one door to enter the house, but it is usually covered by a bed sheet or plastic sheet to maintain some privacy).
- Ventilation: With no doors or windows inside the house, and no specific outlets for ventilation, fresh air does not circulate the house.
- Height of 10 feet: When some of us entered the house, we could not stand straight. We had to bend to talk to these residents. Height of the ceilings is a big issue in these houses, where the houses are less than 6 feet in height. Hence, we think that having at least 10 feet of height has the following benefits:
o Allows opportunities to create outlets for light and ventilation
o Creates perception of larger house space
o Provides an opportunity for the residents to build additional structures (like a small loft or additional storage space)
- 225 Square Feet: Most houses that we visited ranged from about 90 sq. ft. to 180 sq. ft. We think that these houses, if possible, should be at least 225 sq. ft. in size. We borrow this number from the fact that the Government of India is making houses of at least 225 sq. ft. in places like Dharavi and New Raipur as part of their initiative to provide low-income housing. This requirement could be tougher to meet because of land issues. But in places where the land is owned by the residents themselves, and possibilities exist to redesign the house (albeit for a cheaper cost), the size should be an important criteria.
- Current family size: Most families are 4-5 members in size; 2 parents and 3 kids.
- Private showers: Most of these houses do not have bathrooms, leaving the residents to go and shower publicly. If public showers are available, they use that; but in our observation, most residents take showers right outside their own houses, leaving no privacy for these residents, especially women and girls. Also, these activities cultivate an unhygienic environment in the neighborhood and community increasing dirt and accumulation of trash. Hence, having a shower inside a house is important for two reasons:
- Communal restroom per 10 families: Similarly, private restrooms in each house are missing. We also heard and read that restrooms can get very expensive to build in each and every house. Additionally, our observations tell us that community restrooms, where 10 families use a public restroom, separate for men and women are working well today. We would like to propose the same. From a cost perspective, this helps is average the cost of a single restroom across 10 (or so) families, while providing these facilities, which are then maintained by the respective owners. A key for these restrooms is available to each of these 10 families.
- Security (and ownership): As mentioned earlier, most houses had small doors to enter the house, but no way to protect anyone from entering. These doors are usually covered with bed sheets or plastic sheets (for privacy reasons), but anyone can enter the house at their will. This prevents building a sense of security and a sense of complete ownership for this house. We feel providing a closed door is critical in elevating the living conditions of these people. While they might not have a lot of items that people could steal, it is the perception of ownership that matters.
- "Pucca" houses: This is an important criterion. Many of the houses that we visited were built from mud, cow dung, tin roofs, bamboo, and plastic sheets. They are falling apart. It is important to provide a pucca house (pucca means strong). This could be in the form of concrete or other materials. The choice of material is important here because of the perception of people to move to a $300 house from their existing homes.
The last point is important and deserving of further explanation. Please note that the $300 house can be targeted to two sets of people: (1) Those who own a house that is currently falling apart; AND (2) those who do not own a house. For those who own a house, they need a set of reasons to catalyze them to move to a $300 house. What are they? We think the above list captures the most important ones. These criteria are not new, and nothing fancy, but the fact that the current residents do not enjoy these is a BIG ISSUE. If we could meet the goal of providing these features at a decent cost, there is a very STRONG INCENTIVE for the current residents to upgrade. In other words, our housing design needs to cross a certain threshold of aspirational value that would convince the current residents to shift to a $300 house. This is a critical part of the design!
Additionally, we have also captured additional criteria and grouped them in three separate categories:
- More requirements:
o Resistance to heat
o Resistance to heavy rain/floods
o Resistance to fire
o Water tank
o A sink
o Scalable design and material so it is not problematic to build these houses in scale
- "Nice to Have" for the house include:
o Flexibility: modularity to expand the house beyond what it is
o Small porch
o A few steps at the front to prevent mud, rain, etc.
o Gutter to collect rain water
More about community amenities:
As alluded to earlier, we believe that one of the ways to reduce costs and stay within budget is to provide some of the basic services for the community rather than for each individual house. We would need a big tank and a water filtration system to clean the rain water or other water collected and provided people with a source of potable water which could be different than the tank they need for their shower water for instance. We would also need a community restroom. Our estimate is that we would need one for every 10 houses (50 people), which would constitute a marked improvement over what currently exists. The restroom should be self-sufficient (i.e. compost, etc.). Luxury items would include a space for washing clothes, a community center, etc. but are not required and certainly very challenging given the budget.
What would this house look like?
Based on the above criteria, we tried to brainstorm as a group to envision the design and layout of this house. Subsequently, a few MBA students went on to realize their design in the form of a Google Sketch Up design. Please note that the below designs are just conceptual in nature, and do not meet the scale requirements. It is just a first attempt at prototyping, with aim of building upon this protoype, and refining it even more. We hope these sketches will help initiate a collective discussion regarding some of the requirements we mentioned above. (One of the skills which our group lacks is experience in design/architecture).