Just like many of us, architects Hasib Sarowar and Soheli Akter had to let go of their 'bua' or maid last year when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak. What they could not let go of was the question of how these marginalised people in our society are going to survive.
Sarowar explained, "It is almost impossible for marginalised people to adapt social distance measures due to the cramped nature of their living arrangements. Moreover, the unhealthy environment in our urban slums that is devoid of light and rife with humidity, pathogens and infections, puts them at even greater risk." And on top of that, job losses due to the pandemic have put their financial security in jeopardy.
So to try and answer the question on their minds, the architect couple created a prototype for a residential space called the 'Soul of Abode' for the marginalised of our society. The design enables them to stay safer from the risk of getting corona infections and helps them be financially self-sufficient and physically and mentally strong.
This project got honourable mentions at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) and the Architects Regional Council Asia (ARCASIA) competitions in 2021.
The design was created keeping the urban slums in mind
Sarowar added, "One thing we realised while working on this project is that the people from lower-income groups have one advantage that we middle and upper-middle-class people do not - adjusting in a small space. And this realisation was a game-changer for us, especially because we were designing for a small country with a dense population. As a result, we think there is a huge potential to develop this idea in Bangladesh."
According to their research, currently, around 6.46 lakh people live in around 3,394 slums in Dhaka. The DNCC has 1,639 slums with a population of 4,99,011 while the DSCC has 1,755 slums with a population of 1,47,056. That means, there are almost 200 people on average living per slum.
Generally in our Dhaka city slums, per unit residence space varies from 110 to 120 square feet. The toilet, bathroom and kitchen are shared among the families, which can be very unsanitary as well. There are corridors and alleys between the rows of rooms in slums where the people share their lives with the neighbours.
As Sarowar explained, this type of living arrangement is called an 'indoor and semi-outdoor space' in the language of architecture. Semi-outdoor space creates a balance between the environment and our home. "But for the marginalised slum dwellers, this narrow space is what gives them relief, they share their souls here. That is why we named our prototype the 'Soul of Abode' as the design features this semi-outdoor space."
What's so unique about 'Soul of Abode'?
1. Minimum requirements
The project requires a total area of 240 sq feet per unit, twice as much as the traditional slum residences. And it can be built under a budget of Tk10,000.
With a corridor in between, the house is divided into two parts - one part will have the isolation room, the toilet and kitchen and the other part will contain the living space.
Hasib says, "I know this design requires more space than the traditional slum homes. But traditional slums are not healthy and that is what we need to change, especially during this pandemic."
2. Service block (Toilet, Kitchen)
The service block has been added to the project design so that the virus does not spread as a result of sharing a common living space. As mentioned earlier, since the space is divided into two parts, the family members can continue their chores while maintaining social distance.
3. Self-quarantine space
In the urban slums, the population density is high. And the slum-dwellers have to regularly go out to earn a living which makes them more susceptible to getting infected. This necessitates a separate space to keep the sick person away in isolation from other residents so that he/she does not infect others. Keeping this in mind, the soul of the abode has a 48 sq. feet room for isolation purposes.
4. Income generation
There is a patch of narrow land adjacent to the isolation space, where the inhabitants can grow some vegetables. Gardening can help those infected keep busy and ward off negative thoughts while in isolation. The garden produce can also help the slum-dweller meet their vitamins and minerals requirements.
Moreover, there is a 24.5 sq. feet space in the abode which can be used as little stores. The income generation spaces will be useful for earning during the pandemic.
And if the isolation room is not required anymore, it can be rented to generate further earnings.
5. A corridor in between
This space is the soul of the home as it is open and allows lots of sunlight and cross ventilation. While it is a semi-outdoor space, users can use it as an outdoor space if they want and can control the sun and rain through operable shutters.
Direct sunlight will help boost vitamin D production, improve the body's resistance to disease, and help the dwellers maintain good mental health which is extremely important during the pandemic.
At the entrance, there is a makeshift hand-washing space complete with a bucket, soap and mug. Furthermore, this space can be used for drying clothes, afternoon socialisation without getting inside the living space, etc.
6. Low cost and sustainability
This structure incorporates recyclable material available from the surroundings like wood, bamboo, corrugated tin, reused plastic sacks and banners, etc. This will reduce the cost of the project and make it eco-friendly.
And as the materials are lightweight, they are also portable. It is possible to replace any part of the structure as per the needs of the inhabitants.
There are also solar panels on the corrugated roof, which will reduce the electricity costs. The open corridor has a rainwater collector that can be used during the monsoon.
Features that make it a low-cost sustainable living space
- Operable Temporary Sheet (Used Banner)
- Solar Panel
- Adjustable Roof (PVC Corrugated Sheet)
- The layer of Bamboo and Straw for thermal insulation
- Window cover and interior partition (repurposed plastic banner and sacks)
- Movable wood floor panels
- Low-cost hand wash station
- Composite toilet
- Roof frame and structure bar (using repurposed wood and local wood timber)
- Eco-friendly Bondhu 'chula'
Hasib and Soheli now want to continue developing their project by building it. They are now going to submit the project in some other competitions so that the design can be improved further.