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ModSKOOL is the design of a low-cost, modular school for 250 students that can be built in a few hours and dismantled as quickly by the community to protect from government demolitions and annual floods. It is located in Chilla Khadar, a slum on the floodplains of River Yamuna in Delhi, inhabited by a farming community of around 1000 families. Though they've been living and working here for decades, they have no formal land title. In 2011, the Delhi Development Authority demolished their structures including a school being run by the NGO Van Phool.
Run by 7 teachers, today the school operates from temporary tarpaulin structures built by the local youth. Except for a single plastic sheet above their heads, the students have no protection from harsh heat, cold and rain. We were approached by the community to help them rebuild a temporary school which can be saved from future demolitions or floods.
After the school was demolished in 2011 along with the rest of the Chilla Khadar slum, Abdul Shakeel, a social worker at HLRN filed a PIL which resulted in the High Court temporarily allowing a school to be rebuilt. The youth of the community mobilized themselves to put up a basic shelter for the school kids using plastic sheet and bamboo. To build a more robust school, customized to the needs of the community, Abdul approached me. I am senior designer at the social enterprise mHS CITY LAB where we work on improving the quality of informally built housing and shelter options for the homeless. I took up the design of the school as a voluntary project along with my colleague Nidhi Sohane who is a community architect.
We designed the new school based on a brief that we came up with the community by understanding their needs and challenges. The design was developed based on their feedback and now we are in the process of fund-raising which also involves teaching the youth how to use Facebook and other digital media to be able to set up a crowd funding campaign. After adequate funds are collected to build a few classrooms, they will build the school themselves.
We are thankful to others who have joined in this effort out of their own initiative. Rajan Zaveri, a photo-journalist and founder at HELM Studio, has created a short video for the crowd-funding campaign. Ashwani Aggarwal, founder at BasicShit will set up a prototype of low-cost urinals for the students when the school is built.
The structure can be built quickly by screwing locally available bamboo in metal joints. Each classroom has openable wooden panels with locally made thatch as walls and windows. Corrugated sheet with thatch and thick canvas for insulation forms the roof. The design is climate-responsive in order to keep the school warm in winters, protect the children from rain & mosquitoes during monsoons as well as heat waves in summer, while allowing for adequate ventilation. We hope to create a comfortable and lively space for the students that is conducive to learning and not subject to the vagaries of nature.
The design has been developed by the community and will be built by them which will instill a sense of pride and identity. We realize that the design for the modular school is only a temporary solution borne out of the insecurity of the community. Sadly, it is the same insecurity that most informal settlements such as slums and unauthorized colonies in Indian cities are built around - which does not let them build permanent, safe and durable structures. Instead of seeing these settlements as a problem, they need to be seen as places which are providing affordable housing to millions of hard working migrants who are settling in big cities in the pursuit of a better life. Such settlements need to be facilitated by providing better facilities instead of being viewed as eyesores or encroachments that need to be demolished. While we hope that the ModSkool can provide a better learning environment to the kids of the community for at least a few years, we hope that it would be possible to bring about a larger and long-lasting impact in the future.