Multiple Floors

Adding Up

Adding a floor to your house is the best way to let your home grow. An additional floor and four walls is all you need. And of course stairs to get there. Everything else is already in place, the foundation, the front door and the roof. This roof can be reused by just lifting it a few meters.

Photo 1. Multi family dwelling. Upstairs has an independent entrance.

The staircase is of course the most notable new thing in the house. In this house the staircase landing of the first floor is conveniently doubling as the front porch of the house below. Note that a tarp lies over the clothesline, to protect the washing against the bright sun and down whirling dust. In the dry season dust is blown into Mumbai from India’s interior. Everything eventually gets covered with a brown layer. Not a drop of rain falls in nine months, therefore the blanket of dust is always present. The first rain of the monsoon washes everything clean and brings happy faces. Buildings, streets, plants and trees get their original colour back.

The outside positioning of the stairs has great advantages. If a family consists of several couples, the couples can live in reasonable privacy while the house is family owned.

Photo 2. Shop houses. Front doors are accessible by ladders.

For retailers, it is of course essential to keep the entire ground floor for trade use. An upstairs apartment is the ideal solution. Here a handy combination is made of the canopy and the overhang of the floor. In some houses the entire first floor juts out, in others it is just a balcony. An awning above the store is attractive and practical. Rain and sun are kept outside by it, merchandise can be showcased and it provides a perfect position for a billboard.

Stairs to the floor are all steep. Actually they are ladders. A comprehensive step would take far too much space at the cost of shopping space. To enter the attic through the ladder is not a problem. Getting out is another thing, it requires agility to safely step out of the door on the step ladder. Where the entire upper floor is overhanging the store, serving as a canopy, it is possible to make a better foothold on the ladder. Not a door in the wall but a hatch in the floor. It is a solution with many advantages. First, it is cheaper. A door and frame is both in purchase and in maintenance more expensive than a floor hatch.

Photo 3. Shop houses without front doors.

Besides that, a door is much more sensitive to heavy rain than a closed facade. The hatch is not exposed to rainwater. A daily benefit is that the stairs are more accessible. On descent, support is easily found around the stairwell.

Photo 4. A ladder giving access to the floor through a hatch.

In this chawl the same solution is used. Chawls are homes that are built by the municipal government. They are distinguished by the serial appearance. Only chawls include several homes, sometimes ten, with several families. It is a kind of terraced houses. Identifiable are the continuous facades and the continuous roof. These are only for chawls. Individual buildings in the slum are strict individuals and never show such uniformities.

Photo 5. Chawl with ladder and floor hatch

Photo 6. Chawls are recognizable by the series. In their terrace houses like setting, they distinguish clearly from slum.

Residents of chawls are official tenants from the (semi-) government and bear legal security. The risk of destruction plays no role in their case. Chawls are therefore not considered slum. The chawls are completely surrounded by slums and slum dwellings are sometimes even built against the chawls. These people do not live in a slum but in a chawl in a slum. This is an important difference.

Whereas the steel stairs are so steep that we could better speak of ladders, steps of a more robust design are also found.

Photo 7. This stone staircase can take a beating, is less steep and has an ingenious twist to the left at its top.

Photo 8. By building a floor over an alley, the density in Dharavi surreptitiously increases.

Photo 9. Three houses with three different outcrops of the upper floor.

Three houses with three solutions. Apparently when building the first floor, it was decided to make the facades in one plane. The fitting of the stairs was resolved differently in each house. The facade of the pink house is a little backwards compared to the two yellow houses. The overhang of the floor is therefore the greatest in the pink house and the stairs can be fit finely in, with a hatch in the floor of the first floor. The overhang above the yellow house is too short for the width of the stairs. On the right it is solved by positioning the stairs next to the house instead. Left something really special is made of it. An additional little bay is made above the canopy creating enough space for a stairwell. If there is sufficient headroom at the top of the stairs, remains a question. One thing comes in handy for the people here: India is the home of Yoga. ;-)


  1. This is of enormous interest to me. I thank you for the images and thoughts.
    There is much ingenuity here. Something has been lost when architects simply engage in object fetishism at the expense of practical, really inventive design.
    Would love to talk with you more about Dharavi, except I'm in Canada and you are in Switzerland...

  2. Hello! I just stumbled upon your blog and it's really interesting. I've seen that there's a while since your last post. Are you still researching on this subject? My PhD thesis was on the aesthetics of informal settlements in my town, Lima (PerĂº). I'd like to read more about your work.