|Name:||Amer Abdal Habib|
|Studio Master:||Prof Jason Vigneri-Beane and Prof Thomas Leeser|
|University:||Pratt Institute, New York|
The ‘Vertical Village Habitat’ is a conceptual supposition addressing the issues of urban density and informality. Conceived as a high-rise microcosm of the city, the mega-structure continuously evolves incrementally to accommodate, shelter and sustain. Verticality was the outcome after considering the notions of the informal legitimacy, and the tension of their footing, not only on the ground, but in their connection to the city as a whole.
The notions of informality and the conditions in which people are forced to exist is a testament to human will. What is considered basic human rights, such as access to food, water, adequate shelter, and so forth is a fantasy in the minds of those living well below the poverty line.
The issues facing the world now and imminently in the coming years will greatly revolve around providing for the growing populations globally, and specifically in urban centers. As people flock en masse to the cities, the infrastructure of what can be supported will be stretched ever thin, especially in those of developing nations, already on the brink of ruin. Record says, 130 people move to urban areas every minute; 1.5 million per week; 170 million per year. In 2007, 1 in 6 people lived in informal settlements and it’s predicted to reach 1 in 4, or about 2 billion people, by 2030 and by 2050 the informal population may be as high as 3 billion, approximately 1 in every 3 people. At these rates, this begs the question of the notion of what is informal. When a majority of not just the city, but the world, lives informal, does it then become, of sorts, the new formal?
Bangladesh is set to be amongst the ‘Top 3 Fastest Growing Economies Globally’ through to 2050, and as the economy of the nation prospers, overall propelling the people forward, the socio-economic disparity is somehow widening at an exponential rate and yet, not globally isolated. Similar social boundaries can be seen all around the world, in cities like New Mexico, Nairobi, Johannesburg, etc. This is clearly seen in a visually striking, and unsettling photo series ‘Unequal Scenes’ by Johnny Miller.
Dhaka is a city of over 17 million people, and grows at an hourly rate of an additional 48 people. That’s about 1150 new faces daily. Already an approximate 50-60% of the city’s population live informally, in dilapidated slums, where conditions are terrible, unhygienic and tightly packed. Slum inhabitants continue to live under the threat of eviction, making use of the most basic building materials such as bamboo and corrugated metal sheeting.
The project site is at Korail-the largest slum in the capital Dhaka. The Korail slum covers an area of approximately 150 acres, on encroached government land and houses nearly 200,000 people. It is adjacent to one of the most posh neighborhoods in the city, but located and divided from it by a lake. The stark disparity in its proximity and identity is staggering, and has always led to ponder this closeness. Is it a sort of symbiotic relationship? It’s true, many of the people living in the informal settlements of Korail are employed in the posher parts, but how is that an area, whose land value is so extremely high, and be so close the largest slum in Dhaka? Surprisingly, in a recent study, it was found that the price per square foot in Korail was more expensive than that of the adjacent posh neighborhood of Gulshan even though it lacks the basic civic amenities such as access to clean water, electricity, sanitation, gas, etc.
There are very small roads within Korail, along which are numerous shops and markets. Typically, the housing units can be found on the inner zones, behind these roads. Upon mapping these commercial nodes of interest, contour maps were developed to understand and identify points of high intensity, and the specific site within the slum was chosen accordingly.
Beyond just the site itself, the design called for an intervention that could also give back to the city at large and lend strength to their hopes of legitimacy. People living informally exist within a strange grey zone, ideologically barely touching the ground, apart from the system the city. Temporality becomes a way of life and a tension exists in their footing. For this reason, verticality was considered. Further to that, the design looks to invert the current trend of “greening” up architecture by the superficial planting of trees along the façade, and to instead create a tree, of sorts, with the housing units embedded in its branches.
Housing is an expensive investment, for any demographic, so taking example from Aravena’s concepts of incremental housing, the people of Korail slum will build upward using materials they are familiar with, and will feel comfortable using such as bamboo poles and corrugated metal sheeting.
However, without certain interventions from a higher such authority or investment, questions of verticality bring about questions of structure and added cost. The government often builds water tanks to supply surrounding areas with water. Stations are usually set up at the base the tanks to pump water up, which then disseminate via gravity to specific zones. At the eye of one of the intensity zones, it is proposed that the government would construct a water tower, and thus, around which, the surrounding housing units could then shift upward, hugging and taking support from the structure. Like a temporary scaffolding of bamboo and corrugated metal sheeting, the village would grow upward incrementally.
Informal settlements are like microcosms of the city that surround them, and Dhaka being already one of the densest cities in the world, results in a very vibrant myriad of spaces in Korail. The Vertical Village Habitat would thus respect this characteristic of heterogeneity and combine not just home dwellings, but also shops, schools, mosques, hair salons, tailor shops, and so forth.
Removed from the system, and never quite a part of the city’s economics, the habitat strives to be self-sufficient, not only harvesting rainwater from the water tower’s top surface, but also producing electrical power through solar panels as well as growing their own fruits and vegetables via a system of vertical gardening. The plants will not only provide sustenance, but also give back to the city by reducing the amount of polluting in the air, maybe in hopes of lending some legitimacy to their existence.
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