The housing market is divided on the basis of the selling cost of each unit, with a cost pyramid classifying the typology of housing projects and a developer focus in general. The category A is affordable housing, that encompasses housing units of 10-30LAC, 30-50LAC, and 50-1CR. Category B is middle income housing, where each unit cost is 1-2CR and 2-5CR. Category C is luxury housing with each unit price above 5CR.
Luxury housing requires a certain level of dexterity and market expertise. Since the clients in this group are well informed and particular about their needs, very few developers are able to deliver design and construction with utmost detail to materiality. Whereas, few developers delve into affordable housing because of narrow profit margin and cushion on ticket price. Only the most efficient construction procedures can prove profitable in this market. Thus, considering the two strata of housing demand a careful understanding on the subjects, most developers since the beginning have resorted to middle income housing. Although, the demand always has been in the affordable housing sector, due to a high ticket price, easy deliverables and huge profit margins, most developers have resorted to middle-income housing. That is, until, due to high availability of middle income housing and low demand, created a saturation in the market sliding it into a recession. The market imbalance forced many developers to look for new opportunities in affordable housing sector due to rising demands.
Typically, developers attempt to reform their market value by creating projects that could set quality standards in the growing affordable housing market, as a means of producing a self-sustaining business model which would also contribute to the society at large. Positioning itself suitably in this context, Design Forum International’s Devaan in Sector-84 Gurgaon came into conception, making it Haryana’s first affordable housing project.
Devaan’s strategy is deeply rooted in controlling cost by maximising efficiency. Since the ticket price is low and there is no cushion for mistakes, affordable housing demands smart planning and design, as well as punctuality. Land, Structure, Service and Finish are the four components that determine the cost of any construction. The finishes given to the family are minimal- Woodwork, carpentry and other embellishments are eliminated and replaced by vitrified tiles, paints etc. Finishes are considered to be an incremental value in space to be added by the family with years of use.
Considering land and service cost as static determinants, the cost of structure became the determining factor in Devaan’s success. Since finishes were thought to be an add-on, the structural component of housing had to be cheap as well as robust. Understanding that a normal column beam structure, employed a lot of dead load in walls, a shear wall structure was selected. This created a robust framework that is all muscle and no fat – instead of a 230mm column, a 160mm shear wall; instead of a 115mm brick wall with plaster, a 90mm RCC wall with smooth finish has been given. Here, since each member is contributing towards load sharing, the thickness of walls and slabs could be reduced without compromising on the stability of the structure. This increased the overall carpet area and floor height, thereby creating better liveability standards. At the same time, the reduced structural material brought the amount of steel used down to 3.95kg/sq ft and decreased the structural cost by a third whilst eliminating construction wastage.
The cost reduction did not only come from reduced material use, but also saved time. A normal column beam construction of a 14-storey building takes up to 12 months whereas a shear wall structure, by means of building automation and aluminium framework takes only 14 weeks with lesser manpower. There is an added precision which is evident from the six-inch-thick expansion joint that runs through all floors on the building unwavering, revealing the sky. In addition, services have been planned and calculated as an integral part of building structure, thereby raising the bar for safety standards by providing value-added engineering.
Each individual unit has a compact layout where the kitchen has been integrated with the living area, with its edges projecting out of the buildings edges to provide it a unique spatial experience. It also acts as a transition between the living area and two bedrooms, to retain proximity to private spaces, thereby making it the locus of the dwelling unit – a planning structure imperative in the functioning of affordable spaces. The master bedroom has a private bathroom, whereas the second bathroom is common for the entire unit. Additionally, the bedrooms are provided with balconies to orient their views and activities outwards, thereby adding a sense of temporality to the entire setup.
For maximum efficiency of services, eight such units are clustered around a core, to minimize the carpet area utilized for services and movement. The core is further aligned with two service shafts that not only allow for better adaptability and maintenance, but act as passive cooling zone for better regulation of thermal mass and optimal ventilation. The clusters are grouped next to each other in a manner that aligns the shafts and combines them to create alternate cores. This not only provides light wells in the parking, to allow diffused light within, but also creates inert spaces that maintain a draft of fresh air for thermal regulation and breathability.
These clusters are oriented to roads on one side and garden spaces on the opposite side. This not only keeps the connectivity of the clusters intact while optimizing serviceability, but it also creates a spill-out for the entire housing by orienting pedestrian movement also. Success of affordable housing, over the years of use, relies primarily on the quality of open spaces. Devaan brings all built structures together around a common park space that acts as a social heterotopia where all inhabitants can celebrate, play, exercise and reflect their emotions to form larger social functions and meanings. The open space is nestled within the vistas defined by built and this is where a carefully designed facade, with a Mediterranean connotation gives the surrounding an appreciable aesthetic value.
Devaan reflects a sensibility of design that is empathetic to its users. Not only it serves to deliver the basic functions of a dwelling, but makes an effort to reach further in providing its inhabitants a sense of community life, participation and ideals. It not only weaves a user centric narrative but delves into visual details to perform to the expectations of an ideal dwelling. Being the first affordable housing project of a state, within a city that is undergoing massive development, it presents a landmark value that will continue to define the ethics of design practice for years to come.