The Housing Programme of the Orangi Pilot Project: Initial Thinking

I. Introduction

In early 1983, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, the Director and perceptor of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), was in the process of developing his ideas for a programme of co-operative housing in Mansur Nagar in Orangi. The programme was discontinued, as at about this time Orangi was bifurcated. Mansur Nagar was taken away from the OPP to become part of the BCCI Community Development Project. However, as a part of that programme I had prepared an outline of a study on housing in Orangi. This out-line is attached. Subsequently this study was carried out in detail by the second year students of architecture at the Dawood College of Engineering and Technology (DCET), as part of their Environment Course. It was supervised by Architect Parween Rehman, a visiting teacher at the DCET and a Joint Director of the OPP.

Our aim in planning this study was to identify the roles of the various actors in the housing drama in Orangi and their relationship with each other on the one hand, and with materials, technology and culture on the other. Possibilities of introducing new materials and technology of construction in Orangi, was also studied in sane detail.

II. Findings

Briefly the findings of the study are as follows:

  1. Five to 7% of the houses in Orangi are built by the people themselves without any help from skilled or unskilled labour. These houses are one or two room affairs, cost between Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 and are completed in two or three days. The materials of construction are locally available rubble, mats, timber, sacking, polythene sheets and other industrial wastes or rejects. The construction is technically unsound, roofs leak, the stone walls are not properly bonded and the structure in many cases cannot withstand strong winds. The Owners of these houses are aware of these defects and do not consider the houses to be safe to live in. They feel that they cannot achieve a better standard of housing with these materials. As they are poor, they cannot afford to use other materials of construction.
  2. Fifty five to 60% of the houses are constructed with the help of skilled masons and the hiring of unskilled labour on a daily wage basis. Materials are purchased by the Owner from the local “thallawala” or manufacturer. The supervision of construction is also carried out by the Owner who sometimes gets his family members to work at the site as well. These houses are made of precast concrete block foundations, plinths and walls. The roofs consist of galvanised iron sheets supported on angle iron trusses or timber, joists. The walls are un-plastered and the floor is of cement concrete. Such houses cost Rs. 35,000 to Rs. 40,000; consist of 3 rooms, a kitchen and bathroom built around a paved courtyard; have steel doors and windows and are completed in about 4 to 5 weeks.Invariably during construction relations between the owner and the mason get strained. This is due to the owner’s lack of knowledge in construction matters and the masons’ attempts at cheating the owner. This results in substandard workmanship, lack of curing of concrete and faulty details. The galvanized iron sheet roofs leak due to incorrect transversal and longitudinal overlapping and insufficient slopes; the support to the roofs sag, and the un-plastered walls take in a lot of water during the rains. The most serious defect however is the erosion of the plinth walls and foundations due to the sulphates in the soil and the problem of rising damp in the walls.
  3. Fifteen to 20% of the houses are built on labour rates by contractors hired by the Owner. Such houses cost about Rs. 50,000 to Rs, 55,000 and are identical to the houses described in paragraph 2. Their constructional defects are also similar.
  4. Four to 5% of the houses in Orangi are termed as “pucca” structures. These have in-situ plinths, plastered walls and reinforced concrete roofs. However, the foundations and plinth walls do come under sulphate attack, damp proofing for walls is non-existent and concrete is not sufficiently cured. Blocks also are not properly dried before use. These defects again are due to the technical ignorance of the owner and the contractor or because of delinquency on the part of the latter. These houses cost about Rs. 70,000.
  5. “Thallawalas” and “lohars” are indispensable for house building in Orangi. Items such as concrete blocks, lintels, small slabs, concrete screens are manufactured by the former. The latter supplies steel grills, windows and doors. However, the thallawala concrete manufactures are all substandard. The aggregate is of bad quality, the mix is poor, curing is insufficient and profit margins enormous. Due to these reasons the structure weathers badly and many defects arise. In addition, most thallawalas do not wish to experiment and are shy of introducing new materials as they feel that these may not be accepted by the people. The study established the complete dependence of the housing industry on the local thallawalas. This is an important fact.
  6. The other points established by the study were:
    • The role of culture in determining house form
    • The problems the people face in fulfilling the requirements of the local bodies for the regularization of their plots, preparation of lease documents and approval of building plans.

These items, which will not form part of our initial thinking on the housing progranme, need to be researched further.

III. Research And Extension

It has been decided that the research and extension method adopted for the OPP low cost sanitation programme will be followed for the housing programme as well. Keeping this in view the housing programme should aim at

  1. Educating the person who builds his own house without artisanal help to
    • use the cheap and readily available materials in a technically sound manner;
    • provide him with necessary tools to increase his efficiency and quality of construction;
    • develop new techniques and materials that are compatible with his economic constraints and can be manufactured and used by him without difficulty.
  2. Identify for the Owner, who hires artisans, makes purchases from the thallawala, and supervises construction
    • shortcomings in artisanal work and the manner of overcoming them;
    • quality defects in the items manufactured by the thallawala and the reasons for those defects;
    • the nature and manner of construction supervision; and
    • actual costs of materials and labour.
  3. Initiate a course for masons to improve their functioning and quality of work.
  4. Prepare extension literature to explain and give solutions for
    • sulphate attack to foundations and plinths;
    • leakages in galvanized sheet roofing;
    • sagging timber joists and angle iron trusses in roofs and initiate research for finding cheaper and more economic substitutes for them
  5. Discover “thallawalas who are ready to
    • improve their quality of work and help them to do so without substantially reducing their profit margins
    • stock and manufacture new and cheaper materials such as slag cement and rise husk cement blocks and instruct them in their use.
  6. Study the possibility of a co-operative effort for new housing.

IV. Future Possibilities

Subsequently, the programme could deal with

  1. Identification of design/function prob1s and their removal through extension literature;
  2. Help the people of Orangi in some appropriate form in the regularization process and documentation required by the local bodies

V. Entry Point

After initial communication with the people, thallawalas and our staff, a discussion with Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan should take place so as to determine our priorities with regard to this programme.

VI. Weakness of the Programme

The research and extension outlined above does not promote community organization or an interaction of people. However, I feel that as the project develops this could probably be arrived at. A discussion with Dr. Akhtar Harneed Khan would help clarify this point

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