Torrential rainfall during Indian monsoons forces hundreds of homeless families in Delhi to huddle under trees or be drenched in makeshift cloth homes. Most of these families arrive in urban cities from rural villages in search of employment, but the construction jobs they obtain provide insufficient money for basic sustenance, let alone shelter. According to the Census Board of India, there are an estimated 200,000 homeless people in Delhi alone. Harnessing my passion for design, I embarked upon a journey to create an affordable shelter for migrant workers and homeless families.
Understanding the Issue
In order to begin the design process, I began by submerging myself into the context of this issue. I followed families during their daily lives, compiled interviews, and gathered insights into their struggles. Here are some of the primary issues I learned about:
Humidity and heat was a chief complaint of many families that I talked to. The conditions were such that families were forced to sleep outside – inside the tent was sweltering – in the company of mosquitos and unsafe conditions.
In the heart of monsoon, the largest problem was the frequency of harsh storms, paired with the inability of families to protect themselves. I listened to stories of tents flying into the wind, of gaping holes forming in roofs and of water drenched families shivering together. Coupled with the presence of strong winds, the situation of these families was no better than the children I witnessed soaked and shivering under the branches of a tree. In these conditions, simple colds often spiraled out of control.
In the monsoon, the biggest travail for these families was the prevalence of mosquitos. Humidity and rain are the perfect environments for dengue and malaria, and without access to a sealed shelter or bug spray, mosquito bites are inevitable. The lack of healthcare also means a single bite could be devastating. It came as no surprise when Pooja, a mother of five, told me that two of her children had already passed away due to sickness.
The Idea for an Affordable Shelter
Between conversations with government officials, interviews with the homeless, hundreds of sketches, and overflowing trash bins, my eureka moment finally occurred on my commute to school when I noticed rows of concrete stormwater pipes lying abandoned and waiting. All the ideation and concepts fell into place as I envisaged transforming these eight-feet wide pipes into a shelter. More importantly, I was determined to make this shelter solve the main three issues aforementioned.
Using the materials I had around me, I went into a phase of rapid prototyping to come up with a range of solutions.
As part of this investigation, I heavily researched the properties of these stormwater pipes, and I began tailoring the shelter according to what I learned. To effectively convert this pipe into a house, I decided to create bamboo panels that could fit into the side-ends of the pipe; I chose to use bamboo – after experimentation with various materials – as it was affordable, sustainable, and locally available. In addition, in order to provide for the needs of the homeless families I had talked to, the panels included plastic flaps and mosquito nets in order to seal the inside of the pipes. These flaps would have the ability to be removed or attached using Velcro, while the nets would provide respite against mosquitos.
Upon constructing the panels, there was a fair amount of on-the-spot problem solving that ensued. The first issue: the panels would need to be easily transportable. Revising the concept, I tweaked the design of the panels to make them fold up for transport and unfold during installation. I had also initially planned to add hinges to the doors, but in order to make it foldable and transportable, I had to come up with another solution. Instead, I created wire joints that could simultaneously act as a hinge while allowing the panels to fold flat. From finding nails that wouldn’t split the bamboo to refining the velcro attaching mechanism for the flaps, small refinements like these contributed to a more effective final product.
Installing modular bamboo panels at the ends of the pipe, this home provided reprieve against heat, protection from mosquitoes, and shelter from the weather. Inside, two bamboo beds accommodate two adults; they can also be folded up for additional interior space. Light fixtures (with a connection for a solar panel if available) also give families an alternative to gas lamps and out-door fires formed by burning trash.
The concept’s prime advantages can be tied to the stormwater pipe. For one, stormwater pipes like these are built according to a standard set of dimensions. This means that the bamboo panels I designed could be scaled across the country without requiring individualized specifications. Furthermore, the concrete structure is sturdy, and the concrete’s capillary action with the Monsoon rains allows cooling during peak summer. Finally, the inside of the pipe is continuously ventilated, as the shape incurs a wind tunnel effect. Naturally, standing inside the pipe was actually quite pleasant without any cooling energy required. To further capitalize on this wind tunnel effect, I created a jute bag that could be hung on the side ends of the pipe. Upon soaking this bag, the wind will automatically blow cool air into the pipe using evaporative cooling and zero energy.
Problem → Solution
Heat → Jute Bags Create Evaporative Cooling with Wind Tunnel Effect
Rain → Durable Concrete Structure
Mosquitos → Insides are Sealed with a Net
- Creating artwork on the exterior of pipes to add a humane touch to this home
- Determining scaling plans for various communities
- I will primarily be focusing on working with construction companies, as pipes are often dead space at construction sites, and the migrant workers who are not offered housing could utilize these pipes.