bang in the middle of one of India's largest slums, Dharavi
Imagine this: bang in the middle of one of India's largest slums, Dharavi, a skyscraper rises. It's no ordinary high-rise made of bricks and cement. This 400-meter tall tower will be constructed with 2,500 brightly coloured shipping containers stacked one upon the other. No, this is not the overwrought imagination of a Bollywood movie director but the brainwave of Shenzhen-based architecture firm CRG Architects. The idea, which bagged the third prize in a competition organised by skyscrapers.com — a global platform for new skyscraper architectural projects — has raised the eyebrows of architects and activists in Mumbai.
"The main structure supporting the stacking of containers is made of concrete slabs and columns, every 8 or 9 levels, due to that the containers can be stacked at this number," says Carlos Gomez, founder and principal at CRG Architects, who estimates that the proposed scheme could house up to 5,000 people. "Mumbai being a port city, the durability of a shipping container skyscraper using the proper materials can be long lasting," adds Gomez.
According to the architecture firm, three containers can be joined to create a three-bedroom family apartment, whereas a single unit could be subdivided to provide a studio flat. The core of the tower is made of vertically stacked containers which can house an elevator. Also, empty containers can be used for gardens, schools, mini markets and entertainment areas. "It could be 1/3 part cheaper than a normal construction with the same height," says Gomez. So far, the project is still a conceptual one and Indian companies are yet to show interest in it.
The idea of re-using shipping containers isn't new and has been tried in the East Coast of the United States and parts of Western Europe, says Samarth Das, an urban designer and architect with PK Das & Associates.
"There is an inherent conflict in using steel and metal containers when it comes to habitable spaces... CRG team's overall efficiency of the ventilation systems is not convincing, especially since we struggle with these issues even within well-ventilated homes made of brick and concrete," says Das.
However, Das concedes that the basic idea of recycling shipping containers and re-introducing them into the usage cycle is smart, considering the fact that Mumbai has gradually been severing its connections with container goods transport.
Jockin Arputham, president of Slumdwellers International and former Nobel Prize nominee, claims it's common for western architects to propose such seemingly economical architectural ideas that aren't feasible in Dharavi. "Such ideas were proposed 15-18 years ago. They (westerners) have no idea about Indian living conditions. There are 400,000 people, approximately 90,000 families living in Dharavi," says Jockin. "Not a single transit camp has come up in this format and it never will work." At present, slumdwellers enjoy a host of benefits such as flexible live-work areas, community spaces and shared utilities, argues Arputham.