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  • Writer's pictureNusrat Jahan Mim

Residual Mobilities 2.0: Adaptable Portable Modular Dwelling for Urban Poor in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

The fast pace of urbanization, immense rural to urban migration, and unprecedented focus on urban modernities in Bangladesh has produced considerable pressure on the land of Dhaka and other prominent cities. The perpetual urban development is pushing the urban poor in areas with inadequate infrastructural support and other essential amenities for urban living. Although a significant portion of these poor communities are directly contributing to the city's overall socio-economic development scenario, they experience the most hazardous living condition in those areas, popularly known as urban slums. Since people living in the slum areas lack any forms of property ownership or tenure security, fear of eviction or forced displacement is an inseparable part of their day to day lives. Random evictions for different reasons create immeasurable financial, social, and psychological pressure on these marginalized groups of people. Additionally, these forced displacements make the urban poor more vulnerable toward attaining access to the city's land and resources. This undergraduate thesis (BUET) critically addresses such parochial notion of urban development that marginalizes certain economic groups and provides an alternative housing design solution, which can support the displaced urban poor to claim their right on the city's land and make their residual mobilities visible in an urban context.

The empirical study of this thesis involves detailed study of four slums or low income housing areas of Dhaka city. A three months long ethnographic study was done along with the quantitative and spatial analysis of the then living condition of the slum dwellers. In total I conducted 39 interviews and documented 4 detailed biographies to understand the day to day lives of these marginalized groups. The design process involved community people. From local construction worker I documented their methods on how to build two or three storied dwelling structures with temporary materials like bamboo and CI sheets. In focus group discussions, community people let me know how they felt about their dwelling situation, what they left behind during previous phases of evictions, how they lost their housing investments and social networks, and how they re-established their social, infrastructural, and financial connections in new locations after an eviction. These learning essentially informed the design phase of this thesis.

The design incorporates a low-cost adaptable portable modular dwelling unit, components of which can be produced in large-scale by local people using local and recycled materials and technologies. Urban poor families can buy a module (300-350 USD) and plug it in the main makeshift structure frame, built on the site. Goverment, NGOs, and community people can contribute to build the main structure framework and shared service zones, such as toilet, kitchen, bathrooms, etc. In case of any displacements, families can dismantle their own units in less than 2 hours and reassemble it at their new location of living without losing any housing investment. Considering mobility pattern of the urban poor, the dwelling module has been designed ensuring portability.

The design of the modules provides enough flexibility to address and adapt contextual changes as the users move from one place to another. Relocatable doors and windows allow access of people, wind, and light from any directions. Move-able floor panels allow vertical additions of modules, changeable modular wall panels allow the users repair their own dwelling units whenever necessary. The dwelling units can be arranged around service blocks (shared kitchen, toilets, baths) in any cluster configuration depending on the site and context. Local small industries and job opportunities may develop to produce modular components from bamboo and biodegradable materials enabling the users to build, maintain, and repair their own units. Hence, a sense of belonging, sustainable living practices, and environmental awareness can engender among the users. Cost effective design solution is tried to be achieved by reducing the cost of building materials, construction time, and labor cost by ensuring the involvement of the community people in the construction and maintenance process. Energy conservation can be achieved through every stage of material life cycle.

With the help of local construction workers, I built one prototype of this modular dwelling unit. 95% of this module was built from recycled materials collected from the Old City. With a floor area of 80 sqf and height of 7 feet, this module can accommodate family of 4 members. Modules can aggregate to accommodate larger families as well.

Thesis Supervisors: Dr. Shayer Ghafur, Dr. Zebun Nasrin Ahmed, Dr. Ashikur Rahman, Patrick D'Rozario.



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