MYTH OF LOW-COST BUILDING
The concept excites many but leaves the architects worrying and wondering how to achieve it.
In the world of architectural buzz words, low-cost housing has a special place. Unlike many other academic or consultancy-based terms, low cost as a concept also excites social scientists, suggests cultural exclusion, and makes economists calculate the benefits. Of course politicians love it. It only leaves the architects worrying and wondering how to achieve it!
When social housing was being mooted by state housing boards and HUDCO, for the economically weaker sections, the idea of low-cost designs got prominence. Later, renowned architects such as Laurie Baker championed this cause, demonstrating how lowering the costs benefits even the moneyed people. As a result, efforts towards lowering construction costs became a major agenda across many institutions such as Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), and Nirmithi Kendras / Building Centres, besides scores of architects across the country.
The major thrust areas in achieving lower costs have revolved around building materials and construction technology. Parameters including project site, building plan, space configuration, mass production, skills of the team, self-help, project duration and such others were also looked at, but to a much lesser degree.
As such, many projects aimed at the lowest cost option, by simply reducing the quantity, quality and project expenditure, ignoring many other equally important factors. No wonder the low-cost approach came to get ridiculed and demeaned as a cheap option, which was partly true, but not entirely considering many merits of such an approach.
More than the costs getting lowered, the social image of low-cost houses got lowered, with certain class of people refusing such design ideas. Politicians started asking the architects how low can be low-cost houses, while sociologists concerned with the economically weaker sections felt that what we need in India is not merely low cost, but a no cost approach. Cumulatively, following innumerable comments and experiences, the term low- cost housing itself got questioned.
Over the years, the term ‘cost effective’ got introduced and continues to be a popular word. Actually, it never meant to be low in cost, but attempted to justify certain cost, even if it is high, by claiming value additions, longer life cycle, efficiency in approach and such others. Projects with both low and high budgets, as such, could come under the umbrella of cost-effective designs.
Depending upon the spending capacity of the owners, cost-effective housing solutions offer ideas within the spending capacity of the owner, without compromising on the quantity or the quality. Cost-effective approach permits high spending where we need to seek strength, durability or any such criteria, while where it does not matter, spend the least.
There is a close connection between eco-friendly architecture and cost-effective approach. The mainstream design approach does not seek either to lower the costs or to make it cost effective. That’s where the alternative ideas come into picture – to bring about an overall effectiveness to architecture.