Shacks on the Beach

During monsoon Mr. Kiran from Pune is a farmer on Mumbai's Versova beach.
Unlike downtown slums, beach shacks are detached houses.

Beach shacks perhaps make the most eye-catching informal architecture. More than the slum dwellings made of brickwork, beach shacks are of truly temporary character. Materials come from the sea and the urban jungle and thus afford a unique architecture. Without exception the structures are light, but given the windy conditions on the beach they are very sturdy. Sand, available in abundance, is perfect for anchoring the shacks. Of course one can use pegs, but sandbags are at least as effective since they are heavy and easy to fill. Moreover, sandbags are a versatile material. When stacked they make a close wall as they can easily be made to fit. Note that cement is absent in this type of building.

Shack with veranda. The architecture is marked by light materials. Sand bags are heavy and afford a higher floor ( and thus dry feet).

Since they are transportable too, such light structures are ideal for a nomadic lifestyle. During monsoon farmers come to the beach to grow crops. On top of the saline water table the heavy rains create a layer of fresh water in the sand. Thus the monsoon affords seasonal farming. Sand however does not hold water very well and irrigation by hand is necessary. Fortunately digging a pit in the sand to reach the fresh water is easy.

On the beach, digging a pit to reach fresh water is easy.

Most of the shacks are built as detached houses, which is quite unusual for slums. The cramped space so typical of slum dwellings is the consequence of a lack of buildable land. To build detached and semi-detached houses on the beach is an unexpected luxury in this category. The secret behind it may be surprising. For obvious reasons monsoon does not coincide with the tourist season and thus makes the beach an empty place. Hence the possibility to farm land, to have houses with verandas and to have plenty of playground. 

The Perfect Playground. Informal settlement on the beach is marked by lots of open space.

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