The concept of ‘group housing’ calls for some essential differences from the familiar model of plot housing which one finds generally in New Delhi. For plot housing, infrastructural facilities such as roads, drainage, electric supply, water supply, etc. are made by the housing Society/Municipal authorities, and each house owner is free to build his house, on a discrete piece of developed land, to his own taste, within the provisions of the building bye-laws. In group housing, the idea of private ownership of land does not hold good, and houses as well as infrastructural facilities have to be provided cooperatively. This results in a certain amount of standardization in houses designs and types; inevitably, every house owner's precise requirements may not be fully translated into the house provided to him. And, since every house is not surrounded by a privately owned garden, there is a loss of privacy for the individual dwelling. There are other planning controls laid down by the Master Plan for Delhi, and these fix the maximum area that can be covered on the ground by building, the number of houses to be built per acre, the maximum amount of floor space that can be built on any particular plot, the amount of green area to be left for children's play lots, community facilities like nursery schools to be provided, car and scooter parking provisions to be made, and several other such requirements which the design must take into account. The designers task is therefore to fashion out of these constraints and the other normal constraints of climate, seek constructional technology available and the economic fixes; a culturally and socially viable environment which makes community living a pleasant experience.
The site allotted to the Press Association Cooperative Group Housing Society Limited measured 4¼ acres and, according to the Master plan, they were expected to provide 212 houses on it. After much discussions (which continued over a period of 6 months) with the Managing Committee of the Society and other interested members, it was decided to plan for 4 types of houses:
- Of total area 900 sq. ft. accommodating 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living cum dining room, a kitchen, and a private open-to-sky area (terrace or courtyard).
- Of total area 1300 sq. ft. accommodating 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living cum dining room, a kitchen, and a private open-to-sky area (terrace or courtyard).
- Of total area 1500 sq. ft. accommodating 3 or 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a living cum dining room, a kitchen, and a private open-to-sky area (terrace or courtyard).
- Of total area 220 sq. ft. accommodating one room, one bathroom and a cooking verandah, for the use of service personal.
An important design criterion agreed at this stage was that the houses should be accommodated in not more than ground floor to three upper floors, so that lifts may not be necessary. The service personnel houses, 30 in number, were to be in one block, and the other houses, 180 in number planned in composite blocks containing all three types in each block. This would ensure a close mix of families of different sizes, ages, and economic status, and thus make for a richer community life. In these blocks the type 1 houses, which had the smallest area, were planned on the ground floor. The larger houses could be on the upper floors, except for a few blocks in which the larger types would also be build on ground floors to accommodate those house owners who had a specific preference for ground floor houses. In planing this choice pattern the house designs evolved to offer 8 subtypes within the 3 basic types of houses.
To minimise the inconvenience of climbing 3 flights of stairs before reaching one's ‘front door, it was decided that the 2nd and 3rd floors should be combined to make duplex apartments. Thus the main staircase would only need to be build up to the second floor, and a private staircase within the house would connect to the bedrooms on the top floor. All front doors to houses would only be on ground level, first floor and second floor level.
To preserve the identity of the single house within the grouping system, a basic blocking module was evolved with only 5 houses in each module. The module would thus be small enough for each house owner to feel a greater sense of belonging to the common elements of the housing system, such as front doors, staircases, the common spaces immediately adjoining the house, and thus relate better to the community as a whole. The small modules also increased the possibility of providing a greater deal of variety in layout and in the resultant open spaces between houses. The open spaces could be carefully structured in a hierarchy of functions, from the private courtyard or terrace within the house to the semi-public space immediately outside the front door, to the more public garden space shared by 6 or 8 such modules, with paths passing through and connecting to other similar garden spaces, all adding up to an ensemble of interconnected mini-neighbourhoods focussing on courtyard gardens. These courtyard gardens are small enough to be easily maintainable even by the householders living around them, and they can act as a forum for activities like children playing, housewives meetings for a chat, busy office goers having the chance to exchange greetings with a friend, and other such encounters which enrich community life.
The organisation of vehicular traffic in relation to the housing layout was another critical design parameter. Complete segregation of cars and pedestrians was not considered necessary, but car parking was restricted to the perimeter of the housing blocks on two sides, with access from the main road on the front. On the other two sides the site bordered the district park and no roads were planned on these sides to allow for safe and direct pedestrian movement to the park from the courtyard gardens within the housing. However, the paths through the courtyard gardens were planned to allow for emergency vehicular traffic. Thus ambulances and fire tenders can move right through the housing and come up to the front doors or main staircase of all blocks.
The design of houses within the modules was worked out in response to climatic constraints and the need for an economic structure which would also allow direct and easy servicing of bathrooms and kitchens. The climate of Delhi is one of extremes, requiring houses to be protected from the sun for 8 to 9 months in the year, for the sun to shines through the house for 2 to 3 months, for the wind to breeze through the house during the monsoon months, while protecting the house from the hot summer winds and the cold winter winds. Research studies done at the CBRI, Roorkee have established that, considering these conflicting requirements, there is an ideal orientation for houses in the Delhi area. This ideal orientation requires that the windows and other openings on East and West to be minimised and these are shaded by wall projections for bathrooms, kitchens, and by the adjoining buildings. This allows the buildings to function as passive solar engines providing maximum environmental comfort by natural means. The section through each house is long and narrow in the tradition of North Indian desert houses, and with the freedom for many house owners to upgrade the finishes and facilities in their houses during the period of construction. Thus the deadening effects of standardisation were minimised and houses could become more responsive to peoples’ particular life styles and aspirations. This possibility of increasing choice and variety was also misunderstood by some members who wanted a greater freedom than the limitations of the system would allow. As a result, tensions and conflicts occurred which could not be fully resolved. Yet, even with the unresolved conflicts, the amount of user participation evoked in this project made it a rewarding and heartening experience.
Buildings can best be appreciated and understood over a period of time. Especially with housing, the success lies not in building it, but in its consolidation. The Press Enclave housing project can, at this time, be described by a few cold statistics – 180 houses, covering a total floor area of approximately 2.5 lakh square feet, built in a period of two years for a building rate of Rs. 50/- per square foot, (this rate being inclusive of the cost of civil works and internal electrification and plumbing installations but exclusive of cost of land and external development). However, to understand how far the design intentions, as explained in the foregoing paragraphs, have been realised in the execution will only be possible with sufficient passage of time.