Designing the Future of Housing for India’s Poorest
Friday, January 21, 2011
The words “affordable housing” don’t properly explain the work of Micro Home Solutions. The company, based in Delhi, India, does occupy that housing space, but its more of an interdisciplinary design services company for low-income urban dwellers, drawing upon the insights of sociologists, urban planners, architects, policy-makers, and engineers to help create a sustainable living ecosystem for some of the world’s poorest residents. And they’re beginning to catch the world’s attention, as they have been semi-finalists and finalists in a number of competitions as of late, including Echoing Green and Ashoka Changemakers.
Founders Rakhi Mehra and Marco Ferrario are a husband and wife team who originally met while working with Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and then their journeys took them to some interesting places before winding up back in South Asia. Mehra, a graduate of Oxford in economics, went onto pursue her MBA at Harvard, and Ferrario, originally from Italy, worked on commercial architecture projects throughout Europe and the United States. But as Mehra is a Delhi-native and her husband is practically “half-Indian,” as she tells Fast Company, the opportunities to blend their expertise and passions in India were too enticing to pass up.
“India is urbanizing and finally responding, but there’s a missing opportunity. We knew that an interdisciplinary solution was needed,” says Mehra. “We saw very little institutional, interdisciplinary interaction. And meanwhile we found that the demand for housing in Delhi is diverse and fragmented.”
They consider themselves “facilitators-cum-incubators,” says Mehra.
The for-profit social enterprise’s two latest projects involve creating a sanitary shelter for the poorest of India’s homeless–those living on less than $2 per day. The other project is an inter-disciplinary collaboration to help slums better construct and plan out how residents build their homes–rather than the organic, messy, un-planned building that usually takes shape, Mehra and Ferrario are bringing not only aesthetics to the planning process, but also some long-term foresight about how such slums will look in 20-50 years, as they eventually become full-blown towns.