In the middle of an informal settlement near Mumbai there is a children’s home. Its residents have to cope with all the typical local problems, including the harsh climate, dilapidated buildings, and cramped space. The architects impressively address these and various other challenges with the clever and playful design of their new building.
Mumbai, in western India, is one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. Its approximately 18 million inhabitants endure harsh climatic conditions: Some days are burning hot and up to 40°C, and on other days, the monsoon floods entire neighborhoods. Inhabitants of the slums suffer the most under these conditions. Their dwellings are most often poorly built, and there is hardly any place for an enclave of green within the vast urban heat island.
In the middle of a slum in Thane, a city to the north of Mumbai, the Indian NGO Community Outreach Program (CORP) operates the Thane Home for Children. It provides a new home for the children of commercial sex workers. Sex workers are severely stigmatized in Indian society, and their children are often abandoned. At CORP’s home, they are cared for until the age of 16. When the Thane Home for Children was opened in 2007, ten boys and girls moved in. Today, 30 girls live there, in a two-story building measuring just ten by six meters. Despite the very cramped space, the orphanage is a success story. The girls are taught the value of an education, and many of them go on to receive higher education and become self-sufficient and successful young adults.
The home has always provided the most important things the children need: affection, security, warm meals, and a roof over their heads. But the condition of the building in the middle of the informal settlement is precarious. The ground floor is subject to repeated flooding, the rooms with small windows are claustrophobic, and because ventilation was not planned, heat builds up within the building, causing extremely high temperatures especially beneath the roof. The capacity of the building was exceeded long ago, and there’s not even enough space for proper beds – the children just sleep on mattresses. But all this is about to change, thanks to the efforts of the Mumbai-based architects Avneesh Tiwari and Neha Rane. They both studied at the Sir JJ College of Architecture in Mumbai, and in 2013 they founded the office atArchitecture.
The new design incorporates many of the children’s wishes, and the proposed new building is truly a home for children. The two recreational areas become places of inter- action, like the veranda of a house where the kids can play, sit, read, do whatever they like. The facade interacts with the slum and so becomes a part of its overall fabric. The recreational areas span the two upper floors and are located along the narrow sides of the building. In these two narrow strips, into which stairs are also integrated, equipment is installed for recreation including a small swing, a jungle gym, and a slide. atArchitecture made the most of the extremely restricted physical conditions – including the abutting wall of the adjacent building – also in other ways. The cantilevered upper stories provide greater floor space than the ground floor. The service area with bathroom and kitchen is situated along the wall abutting the neighboring building, so the brighter parts of the building are reserved for the living spaces. Also located along the long back wall, and next to the service area, will be a small courtyard. It extends nearly the entire length of the building and can accommodate a tree. All three floors open onto this courtyard, which provides natural light and allows good air circulation.
So that the residents won’t feel cramped in this dense environment, and so that more comfortable indoor temperatures can be achieved, the architects avoided a hard barrier between indoors and out. The recreational bands on the narrow sides are separated from the neighborhood only by a safety mesh. These form a buffer zone between the children’s living spaces and the neighborhood, and they are visible from the outside. The architects call this an “interactive facade.” Wall elements and the stairs within the recreational bands separate the actual interior from the interactive facade but do not enclose it completely. The building is semi-open, naturally ventilated, and naturally illuminated. The buffering recreational bands protect the privacy of the residents and also shade the living space from the harsh south-east and south-west sun.