Vertical Slum



Would it be possible to make a slum sky-scraper?
If you are interested in slums and informal settlement, it is likely you know about Torre David in Caracas. It is a known landmark of informal settlement appropriating a failed sky-scraper project. Torre David features in movies and even in an episode of Homeland[1]. Less known so far is a concrete carcass in Dharavi where squatters made their homes after the developer had to leave the project too early. For us it is a fascinating case where differences between the informal and formal sector come to light.  

In Koyla Khata building at the heart of Dharavi, squatters have appropriated the first and second floor, whereas all other floors are vacant since 2005.  Kuttiwadi, April 19, 2013.

It happens that housing projects fail while they are still under construction. An example is the 256 tenements Koyla Khata building in Kuttiwadi, Dharavi. We were told that the name Koyla comes from Cola, a reference to the softdrink factory that once stood here. The story goes that Koyla Khata was developed in 2005 for the relocation of slum dwellers who occupied land along railway tracks. The contractor failed to finish the project within the budget, went bankrupt and the building became subject of lawsuits. All that was built was a GF+7 concrete structure. Gradually, squatters appropriated the structure and added doors and window grills. Nowadays the first and second floors are inhabited. Higher floors are not, since the pressure in Dharavi's water system is too low to reach that high and carrying water all the way up is not an option. Since the abandoned upper floors are an ideal place for drug addicts, the residents of the lower floors have actually blocked the staircases that go further up. Ground floor is also not inhabited, as it is perceived as unsafe; it is the domain of glue sniffers and drug addicts. The people in the slum surrounding Koyla Khata would rather see the whole building disappear. They complain about the bad effect criminals have on their youth. Rumor has it people even move out of first and second floor nowadays.



Koyla Khata's ground floor is a hangout for glue sniffers and drug addicts. Kuttiwadi, July 25, 2014.
The vacant floors in Koyla Khata put forward several issues. Bearing in mind that Koyla Khata sits at the heart of Dharavi, surrounded by slums where the demand for housing is enormous; one would expect the building to be appropriated in no time, whereas it clearly is not. Of course, regular water piping does not reach high enough, but the use of DIY piping and an electric pump is common in all India. The vacancies on ground floor are just as enigmatic. Most settled Dharavians live on ground floor and rent out the upper floors of their dwellings. The idea that living on ground floor is unsafe is apparently not that relevant. This suggests that a layout with a central double loaded corridor that is for circulation only and with tenements that have their back towards public space is deeply contrary to what people prefer.

The 75% vacancy in a context of severe housing shortage suggests that living conditions in Koyla Khata building are worse than in regular ground bound slums. The structure, i.e. the design of the building, is apparently not even suitable for squatting. This case suggests a profound mismatch between high-rise and what people need. Demonstrably, people prefer to pay a considerable rent for a slum dwelling to squatting in a free of cost third floor half-finished tenement.
This also sheds light on the phenomenon of people leaving other high-rise redevelopment projects and returning to the slums. It supports the observation by SPARC that people leave market-supplied mass housing because of its inadequate design.


[1] The Tower of David, Homeland, season 3, episode 3 (episode 27 overall).

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