(de)Coding Mumbai

18 Graphical Case Studies of the City’s Building Codes


Building Codes

Link to Exhibitions

4 (de)Coding Mumbai

Housing within a city constitutes the majority of its built form. The quality of housing defines the image and qualitative experience of a city. Despite this obvious connection, state housing policies and the consequent regulatory frameworks often prescribe architecture for housing unmindful of the living environments they tend to create. This research argues for reversing this framework that creates insensitive living environments on the ground.  Our research trajectory proposes that an architectural type and its related living environment be benchmarked first, followed by regulatory frameworks, to facilitate these building types, and further these regulatory frameworks can inform state/national housing policy. sP+a’s previous research project ‘In the Name of Housing/ How to Build an Indian House’ was the first step, where the firm documented, analysed extant housing types, and eventually prescribed new forms of housing types. sP+a’s project UDAAN, a developer affordable housing project under the ‘Housing for All’ policy, applied the research to prescribe a new type of housing. (UDAAN subsequently received the HUDCO National Award for Mass Housing in 2018).

(de)Coding Mumbai attempts to address the next rung in the ecology of housing, specifically the regulatory frameworks of the Development Control Regulations (DCR) & Mumbai’s Development Plans (DP). Both the DCR & DP currently operate within the city as instruments of estimation, quantifying built form to harness the opportunity cost of any development’s financial potential. This is particularly interesting that even a cursory examination reveals that the genesis of these rules and frameworks was primarily to address the issues of light, ventilation & public health. One of the biggest motivations to undertake this study was to figure out provisional answers to questions like: What shapes your house? What has been the historical development of these regulations in Mumbai? How have these regulations shaped the urban form of the city? How was it possible to design unique and considerate housing types in the mercantile era and how difficult is it to do that today?

We often do not realize to what extent our lives are regulated in cities. There are multiple layers of laws that regulate almost every aspect of human lives in the city; it is a vast list (with an ambition to regulate everything) from essentials like food, water, and air, to where and how we go to work, what can or cannot be done for leisure, etc. Building regulations that prescribe built environments is one of these layers that regulate everything from the scale of neighbourhoods down to the scale of the building element. It prescribes the width of corridors and staircases, height of rooms, light and ventilation for bathrooms and kitchen, if your bedroom can have a balcony, how much parking per apartment is needed. These and several other aspects of a typical building in a city are regulated up to minute details and acute specifications. This study documents the various historical regimes and frameworks of building regulations which has shaped housing in the city of Mumbai.

The plague of 1896 set forth the constitution of the first planning mechanism in Mumbai, with the mandate of improving sanitary and living conditions in the city, through the Bombay City Improvement Trust (CIT).  In April 2018, Doctors For You (DFU), a non-profit organization, released a study that established the rampant spread of tuberculosis, due to the poor architecture of state-built rehabilitation housing in Mumbai. The report clearly blames the design of this state-built housing, which lacks access to sunlight and ventilation, as the reason for the spread of respiratory diseases. Benchmarked by these two instances it is clear that the DCR & DP have thus gone from historically being qualitative in nature to being quantitative today, and this at the expense of the health of the citizens of Mumbai. 

The book is available for order on Amazon.