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Aesthetic, user-friendly model for affordable housing in Haryana

Devaan, in Sector-84 Gurgaon, is Design Forum International’s premier affordable housing project. The Delhi-based architectural firm aims to set quality standards in the growing affordable housing market, as a means of producing a self-sustaining business model, which would also contribute to the society at large.

DFI’s strategy for Devaan controls cost by maximising efficiency. The low ticket price per unit demands a minimum cushion for error. Thus, affordable housing demands smart planning and design, as well as punctuality. Land, structure, service and finish determine the cost of any construction. The finishes given to the family are minimal – woodwork, carpentry and other embellishments are eliminated and replaced by vitrified tiles and paints. Finishes are considered to be an incremental value in space to be added by the family with years of use.

Considering land and service costs as static determinants, the structural component had to be cheap as well as robust. Understanding that a normal column beam structure employed a lot of dead load in walls, a shear wall structure was selected. This created a robust framework that is all muscle and no fat – instead of a 230mm column, a 160mm shear wall; instead of a 115mm brick wall with plaster, a 90mm RCC wall with smooth finish has been given. Here, since each member contributes towards load sharing, the thickness of walls and slabs was reduced without compromising on stability. This increased the overall carpet area and floor height, thereby creating better liveability standards. At the same time, the reduced structural material brought the amount of steel used down to 3.95kg/sq ft and decreased the structural cost by a third whilst eliminating construction wastage.

The cost reduction also brought the additional gift of time. A normal column beam construction of a 14-storey building takes up to 12 months whereas a shear wall structure, by means of building automation and aluminium framework, takes 14 weeks and with lesser manpower. There is an added precision evident from the six-inch-thick expansion joint that runs through all floors on the building unwavering, revealing the sky. In addition, value-added engineering has tweaked services to become an integral part of building structure, thereby enhancing safety standards.

Within, each individual unit has a compact layout with a kitchen integrated into the living area. Its edges project out of the buildings edges to provide a unique spatial experience. It also acts as a transition between the living area and two bedrooms. This allows proximity to private spaces, thereby making it the locus of the dwelling unit – a planning structure imperative in the functioning of affordable spaces. The master bedroom has a private bathroom, whereas the second bathroom is common for the entire unit. Additionally, the bedrooms are provided with balconies to orient their views and activities outwards, thereby adding a sense of temporality to the setup.

For maximum efficiency of services, eight such units are clustered around a core, to minimize the carpet area utilized for services and movement. The core is further aligned with two service shafts that not only allow for better adaptability and maintenance but act as passive cooling zones for better regulation of thermal mass and optimal ventilation. The clusters are grouped next to each other in a manner that aligns the shafts and combines them to create alternate cores. This not only provides light wells in the parking, to allow diffused light within, but also creates inert spaces that maintain a draft of fresh air for thermal regulation and breathability.

These clusters are oriented to roads on one side and garden spaces on the opposite side. This keeps the connectivity of the clusters intact while optimizing serviceability and also creates a spill-out for the entire housing by orienting pedestrian movement.

The success of affordable housing relies primarily on the quality of open spaces. Devaan brings all built structures together around a common park space that acts as a social heterotopia where all inhabitants can celebrate, play, exercise and reflect their emotions to form larger social functions and meanings. The open space is nestled within the vistas defined by built and this is where a carefully-designed facade, with a Mediterranean connotation, gives the surrounding an appreciable aesthetic value.

Devaan reflects a sensibility of design that is empathetic to its users. Not only does it serve to deliver the basic functions of a dwelling, but makes an effort to reach further in providing its inhabitants a sense of community life, participation and ideals. It weaves a user-centric narrative and delves into visual details to perform to the expectations of an ideal dwelling. It presents a landmark value that its architects hope will define the ethics of design practice for the future.