In India, a marriage of craftsmanship and science reinvents slum housing

MIT architects collaborate with the Hunnarshala Foundation to create safer, more comfortable homes for low-income communities.

In this video, MIT Building Technology researchers Prof. Leon Glicksman and Madeline Gradillas SM ’15 discuss their collaboration with the award-winning Hunnarshala Foundation, a non-profit based in Bhuj, Gujarat, India that supports the Kutch region’s rich tradition of building craftsmanship.

Working closely with Sandeep Virmani and Tejas Kotak of Hunnarshala’s executive board, Glicksman and Gradillas targeted the problem of extreme temperature swings in Bhuj’s desert climate. Summer temperatures upward of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) take a heavy toll on the estimated 50,000 people living in informal settlements (or “slums”) in and around Bhuj, where makeshift housing construction offers little shelter, and can sometimes exacerbate the problem.

With the overall goal of creating a house design that improves thermal conditions without increased energy demands (i.e. no air conditioning), the team started with roof designs, using locally available materials and building techniques. After six months of testing, they settled on a design that is currently being implemented in the Indian government’s Housing For All program, for which Bhuj is a pilot city. Graduate students Bradley Tran and Emma Nelson will carry the project forward under Glicksman’s guidance by investigating wall design using thermal mass and ventilation techniques such as night flushing.

The hope is that eventually these affordable, highly scalable innovations will be adapted for use across India to improve the safety and comfort of the more than 65 million people living in informal settlements nationwide.

Filmed on site in the city of Bhuj and at the Hunnarshala Foundation, co-starring numerous dogs, cows, and local residents.


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