From housing colonies to apartment blocks


The lodi colony(left) is an example of work being done at the very beginning of the Nehru era. The buildings are of two stroreys containing four flats-two on the ground floor and two on the floor above. The ground floor flats have access to private space on both sides. Each flat consists of two rooms, a kitchen, bathroom, toilet and verandahs. There are two entrances and the toilet is located well away from the kitchen. These locations were kept keeping in mind the prevailing cultural norms. The units have proved to be highly adaptable to different ways of life. The verandah is often used for sleeping and backyards for food preparation.

From 1947 onwards, refugee housing areas, known as "rehabilitation colonies" were built on the periphery of New Delhi by the New Delhi Improvement Corporation, the CPWD and later the DDA. The colonies of Nizamuddin, Lajpat Nagar, Kalkaji and Malviya Nagar in the south, and two Rajendra Nagars, three Patel Nagars, Moti Nagar, Ramesh Nagar and Tilak Nagar on the west of the city are products of this era. These colonies were either plotted development or built by a government agency.

A typical government agency plan(1947-55) consisted of units built on a site of 60 to 70 square meters. The layout of the newer housing schemes were much tighter than the Lodi colony but the rooms were the same size. The backyard was smaller and the units became part of a row or of larger blocks.

The building of housing colonies throughout the Nehru years attempted to keep pace with the migration of people to the cities and into India from Pakistan. The units remained much the same but the front garden usually disappeared to be replaced by communal gardens which are an adaptation of the type in the Rajendra Nagar housing. These gardens consist of a fenced lawn, enclosed by an access road, which is surrounded by the housing blocks


Laxmi nagar housing (left), built in the 50's, by the CPWD, for the government employees, is typical of the period. Located south of SafdarjungAirport, it consists of 2 types of housing units; 756 three room flats for gazetted workers and 655 two-room units for non-gazetted staff. A central area contains school while the market is located in one corner.

Over time, each area becomes a symbol of status of its inhabitants, depending upon the size of the unit and often the ethnicity of the people who live there. Names of the areas give identity. Chittranjan park was developed for Bengali refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh).


Yamuna Apartments,(left) by Ranjit Sabiki, was one of the first co-operative group housing schemes to be completed, and although they have been built within the same constraints as applicable to other housing development in the city - including DDA's own housing - they present a refreshing contrast in concept and design.
The layout of the complex is in the form of four radial streets converging on an asymmetrically placed central square that forms the focus. At this point is located a club house at first floor level forming a bridge across two housing blocks. Close by are the central amenities such as shops, canteen and recreational facilities.
The housing units themselves are of simple standardized plan. There are three basic types that have been used in combination on a repetitive basis to form the individual housing blocks.
The access staircases in each block form important design elements. These staircases wind around a central wall panel but at each half landing have an independent flight peeling off to lead directly to the front door of an adjacent residential unit. This device helps not only in giving the staircases externally a sense of gracefulness but in addition imbues each staircase with considerable importance as a transitional space between the common public areas and the private areas of each unit.


YMCA Staff quarters,(left) built in 1962and designed by Ranjit Sabiki, is a complex of four secretaries apartments and four junior staff quarters. The clients brief insisted on a physical separation of the two categories of apartments and this was developed in the form of a separating street. The same basic system of planning on a square grid with a system of alternating terraces on each floor ensured an overall unity of concept.

The system of alternating terraces ensured that all large openings to the outside were adequately protected from the harsh summer sun. A system of internal courtyards and the separating street were in keeping with traditional planning systems providing both comfortable climactic conditions as well as privacy to each apartment.


 The Asian Games Village (left) was constructed on a thirty-five acre site in Delhi in 1981-82. This complex, consisting of two hundred houses and five hundred apartments, was intended to be sold to private buyers once it had served the purpose of housing visiting athletes. In the Asiad Housing Raj Rewal has explored the use of urban patterns from Jaipur and Jaisalmer in both the AsiadVillage and Sheikh Sarai. The site design is based on the system of streets and chowks of traditional housing areas in Rajasthan. Vehicular movement and parking thus has to be on the periphery.
The housing itself involves an aesthetic and volumetric play through the use of many terraces, with the floors decreasing in size as the building goes up.The tendency of the residents to consider the fronts of their houses to be facing the parking area and the back to be facing the chowks results in the scheme not having the same set of public and semi public spaces and thus the territorial controls of the original type.

In the ideological climate of Western post-modernism, the high-density Delhi housing complexes drew high praise, and foreign critics eagerly accepted at face value the architects’ claims that such building appropriately accorded with both tradition and contemporary living patterns.

The shared spaces and the implied social intimacy of the tradition-inspired housing complexes do not necessarily reflect the lives of the inhabitants. The Yamuna housing was commissioned by a group of people from Tamil Nadu who already formed a cohesive community, sharing a local language and set of customs. The backers of Tara complex came from diverse backgrounds, having in common only their connection with parliament. The occupants of the Institute of Immunology housing have no link other than their common employer. The Asian Games housing was built by the government with no particular group of occupants in mind, but with the assumption that it would be sufficiently attractive to be readily salable. In spite of Delhi’s chronic housing shortage, the Asian Games units proved difficult to market, although it remains unclear whether the problem lay with the nature of the architecture or with the high prices.
Both before and after independence, planners promoted the development of a sprawling, automobile-based, low-density metropolis. Within this unfocused ambient, the new housing enclaves create a counter-image, as though small bits of Old Delhi, however, the new complexes are purely residential and their inhabitants, like their neighbors in more conventional housing, are dependent on motor transport for access to employment, shopping, recreation, and other urban facilities.


 Over the past decade or so we can see a shift towards apartment buildings. What stemmed out as a result of scarcity of land is now being opted by many through choice. Apartment blocks are better equipped and provide greater facilities and services to their tenants as opposed to villa homes. A sense of security which one gets in a well guarded society is the driving force for many individuals, so much so, that they are selling off their independent bungalows to buy space in such housings.

Moreover the developers have a lot to offer from in built gyms and swimming pools to community centres and 100% power back up for their clients.

In addition to such developer done up apartment blocks we have a rise in the cooperative group societies in the city. The positive impact is that there is optimum utilization of space. But at the same time the overall image, in certain areas, does get affected by tall skyscraper apartment buildings. At times they end up giving a very hard look.


 Dwarka, positioned as one of the largest sub-city in Asia and the first area to be developed as part of Delhi Development Authority (DDA's) strategy of urban expansion. Lured by affordable prices and sylvan surroundings, the middle class had staked a claim here. Patterned on Le Corbusier’s town planning concept for Chandigarh, the total area of this much hyped sub-city is 5,648 ha and incorporates 29 sectors.
The planning of the city, which is expected to house over one million people (including both DDA's housing and co-operative group housing societies), began in 1989. The area is conceptualised as an open landscape with large vacant space, several district parks, wide roads , children play areas, sport complexes, district centres, etc.




DELHI: CITY IN CONFLICT                                                                                      return to hompage