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Affordable Dwellings for Growing Cities

Plan Documentation overview

The plan documentation of the latest issue of DASH includes 16 projects covering a wide range of approaches and outcomes. The selected projects took place all over the world and cover a period of more than a century. The emphasis is both on the design of the individual dwelling and on the city as a whole.

Mass urbanization and the large-scale (affordable) housing challenges that go with it are not new phenomena. During the European industrial revolution, like in the Global South today, large numbers of rural residents immigrated to the cities looking for work and better living conditions. The cities of those days were hardly geared to such a challenge and this soon led to the emergence of slums, where people lived in appalling conditions. The earliest initiatives to improve such living conditions were taken by philanthropically-oriented, wealthy individuals. One of them was George Peabody, who in 1862 founded the Peabody Trust to provide sound housing for the working classes. The first project in this documentation, the 1908 Herne Hill Peabody Estate in London, is a case in point.

Today, cities like Delhi and Mumbai feature in the top five of the largest cities in the world, but in the 1920s it was New York that figured at the top of this list. Poor, working-class families lived crowded together in so-called ‘railroad’ and ‘dumbbell’ apartments, with daylight in only some of the rooms. Large-scale projects such as Queensbridge Houses (1938-1940) were realized to meet the huge demand for housing. At the time, the project was considered the largest public housing project in the United States.

The area around Luxor (Egypt) faced a housing problem of a slightly different nature in the late 1940s. Because of the grave theft undertaken by the poor, rural population of the village Gourna at the foot of the necropolis, the Egyptian Department of Antiquities felt compelled to relocate the entire village. Hassan Fathy made the design for this completely new village, New Gourna Village, taking into account local customs and construction methods.

After 1945, the return of war veterans and the wave of immigration from Europe again caused great pressure on the housing market in the United States. In response, William Levitt developed the suburban housing concept ‘Levittown’. In this DASH we cover Levittown New Jersey, now known as Willingboro.

In the late 1950s Spain, still suffering the effects of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, faced both a reconstruction process and the challenge to plan new urban developments to stop the further outgrowth of its slums. Built as satellites to Madrid between 1956 and 1966, the Poblados Dirigidos de Renta Limitada were intended to house the massive influx of immigrants from the rural areas. DASH covers the first Poblado Dirigido ever built: Poblado Dirigido de Entrevías.

Built shortly after the declaration of independence, Fria New Town (1956-1964) in Guinea is an example of an entirely new city, designed by the renowned urban planner and architect Michel Écochard. The city was designed to accommodate circa 20,000 inhabitants and shows a mix of modernist and traditional design principles.

In the 1950s in Ghana, the old Tema village that housed 12,000 inhabitants was relocated because it was situated in the prospective location of a new harbour. The new village, Tema Manhean, was designed by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew on the basis of the hierarchical organizational model of an English New Town, only with compound dwellings that allowed a traditional way of communal living. In 1960, Constantinos Doxiadis was commissioned to make the plans for the neighbouring Tema New Town more efficient. Unlike Fry and Drew, he rejected the compound dwelling and created a plan with bungalows, terraced houses and apartment buildings that all targeted the modern nuclear family.

In the mid-1960s, a programme for a New Town for no less than 60,000 inhabitants was initiated in East London: Thamesmead. It was intended for, among others, families that had to be resettled because of the slum clearance process that took place in the inner city of London.

On the other side of the globe, in roughly the same period, the Peruvian city of Lima was facing an unprecedented urban population growth that was largely the result of migration from the countryside to the cities. Existing planning processes were unable to meet the demand for housing fast enough and at low enough cost. Between 1961 and 1667, the Caja de Agua district was realized on the basis of ‘incremental housing’.

In 1968, the project now known as Ekbatan was launched west of Tehran. Comprising more than 15,500 dwellings, it was to be the largest residential complex of the Middle East at the time. The design of the district was based on Western design and planning principles, as the then Shah meant to steer his country towards a more modern lifestyle. Shortly after, in 1975, Shushtar New Town – also in Iran – would show a totally different approach. The project, intended to house up to 30,000 people, is a unique example of a large-scale urban development designed and constructed by local designers and builders with respect for the indigenous way of life.

Since the 1960s, Mumbai has been growing exorbitantly. The peninsula could not take the pressure and this resulted in the planning of Navi Mumbai (then: New Bombay). There, a smaller, yet striking local housing development is CIDCO Housing (1988-1993) by Raj Rewal. A ‘Slum Redevelopment Scheme’ has been implemented in Mumbai since 1995. In many cases, this has resulted in very small apartments in high-rise flats without much daylight and ventilation  ‘handshake apartments’). With Sangharsh Nagar (1995-2004), PK Das has demonstrated that there are in fact alternatives.

The Mickey Leland condominium site is part of the ‘Grand Housing Programme’ launched in Ethiopia in 2004. Using a standardized block type, the programme provided Addis Ababa with affordable housing on the sites of former slums as well as on the outskirts of the city.

The last project included is the Cidade Horizonte do Uíge in Angola. Using a single floor plan, which is given a different look in different locations, a huge district is springing up adjacent to the existing Uíge as of 2011. In addition to the one at Uíge, 14 similar Cidades Horizontes are currently being realized across Angola.