Gonzalo Zylberman designed a prototype for a residential area in Mumbai for both low and middle income groups. The concept is to serve as an example for other neighbourhoods in the city.
Can you explain your choice of subject?
I chose the Global Housing Studio (TU Delft) because it proposed a fascinating challenge. On a first step, to study the reality of how people live, work, build and interact with one another in the northern part of Mumbai, with a culture and environment that are completely different from the ones where I grew up. And, as a second (and main) step, to come up with a design proposal that could boost the opportunities for the large number of people that come from different regions of India and settle there every year to start their lives in the city. I think that architecture as a discipline has key tools to contribute to the discussion of social integration in the city, from a creative and spatial perspective, which I find challenging, intriguing, and most important, necessary.
What or who are your sources of inspiration?
In the development of the project, I found a great variety of excellent references for different parts of the proposal. The work, both written and built, by Alison and Peter Smithson, was a great source of inspiration for the urban design of the proposal, focused on the integration of two segregated neighbourhoods by the activation of the public space. The theory of imageability by Kevin Lynch, and the drawings by Gordon Cullen, helped me understand the organisation of the urban scheme through the perception of the person who walks in it. These theories, complimented with the social investigations of David Harvey, Doug Sanders and Richard Sennett helped me create a toolbox to study the reality of Nalasopara, Mumbai.
In the creation of clusters of dwellings, I mainly looked at the masters of Indian Architecture: Charles Correa, Balkrishna Doshi and Raj Rewal, and their varied investigations on how to create dwellings that are both sensitive and efficient, always adapted to the cultural, climatic and urban conditions that often differ in the varied regions of India. But perhaps, the most interesting – or at least the most surprising – source of inspiration for me was the way in which the dwellers themselves would build or adapt their houses. There was a lot of knowledge in how people themselves would modify, encroach, or even build from scratch their housing. And, by analyzing these cases, we were able to understand which features of the house were the most crucial for them. This was a magnificent tool to design dwelling clusters that would fit their necessities and expectations.
State the key moment of your graduation project
The first moment that comes to my mind is, of course, the field trip we did to Mumbai to get a better insight into reality. However, specifically related to my project, the key moment was when I understood that, if I wanted to create a proposal that could actually be possible to build, I needed to understand how to make my design attractive for all the stakeholders involved in it. After analyzing the shortage in housing, costs of construction, and migration phenomena in India, I became aware that, if I wanted to create a responsible proposal, the design needed to have a balance regarding many variables: it had to be dense enough to maximise the use of land and to give a roof to more people, but not go beyond the limit of sustainable density. It had to be affordable for dwellers, but also profitable for developers so that a large number of clusters could be built. It had to have a repetitive structure to ensure a practical construction, but also encourage inhabitants of different social groups and with different backgrounds to feel at home.
After understanding all these variables, I rethought my design to responsibly deal with all these parameters but never forgetting that the core of the proposal was to create adequate dwellings that catered for the integration of inhabitants and newcomers to Nalasopara.
This design proposal is intended as a prototype for a residential area in Mumbai for both low and middle income groups. The concept is to serve as an example for other neighbourhoods in the city.
Nalasopara, an ‘arrival city’ in the northern fringe of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, has grown explosively in recent years. A key reason for this growth is the railway connection with the city centre. However, the railway lines constitute a barrier dividing Nalasopara into two separate worlds: the less dense area for middle income residents in the west and the extremely dense area in the east for low income residents.
Taking its cue from Kevin Lynch’s theory of imageability, the project proposes residential clusters that engage with the new developments in Nalasopara West as well as with the urban regeneration in Nalasopara East. In combining the two scenarios, these clusters integrate the two currently separate areas socially, economically and visually.
The design addresses these aspects at a number of scales. The clusters comprise public and communal spaces that can house commercial and social activities. The dwellings are designed in such a way that their residents can transform them as they see fit to meet local patterns.
The high density, flexibility as to scale and the use of local materials and techniques render the proposal affordable to residents and of course economically attractive for investments by property developers.
What are you doing now?
After my studies, I stayed in The Netherlands, and now I am working at Mecanoo Architecten. I work as a junior architect, and I am having the chance to take part in many large-scale, complex projects, both in The Netherlands and abroad, next to very talented colleagues. I am having the possibility to learn how big projects are conceived and developed from a design perspective and also to get a deeper understanding of the different stages of a project; from the first dialogues to the creation of a first idea, to the elaboration of the design and the materialisation.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near or / and the distant future?
Without any doubt, my graduation year redefined my professional expectations. I truly believe that architecture can contribute to social integration within the cities, and cater for equality among their inhabitants. I would like to develop myself in that subject and continue to work on the field of dwelling and how it can boost people’s opportunities in the city. I would like, in the future, to use this research to see how dwelling policies can make cities more equal in Argentina, where I grew up, and in the context of Latin America.