We are living in the era of price wars — annual sale, buy one get one free, cheapest price challenge, lower than MRP and such others are more common than fresh air in a city. It is amazing how the idea of low cost works on our psychology, sparing neither the poor nor the rich. Given this, if any consultant or contractor claims to be doing low cost houses, they are generally in trouble! Potential house owners would queue up in front of their offices, demanding low, lower and lowest cost houses.
When low cost housing as a public policy was promoted by the various schemes of the government, especially for the economically weaker sections, it was realised what Indian poor people needed was not merely low cost houses, but no cost houses. Ironically, among the three basic needs of humans – roti, kapada and makaan – shelter of a house has always been the most challenging. To make this challenge even more difficult, houses come at all ranges, from a self-built thatch hut of a poor farmer to a royal palace costing million times more than that. If so, how do we peg the cost of a house, either low or high cost?
It is neither uncommon nor unfair of clients asking for a big house in a small budget or expecting a high class home at low cost. It’s a human tendency today, given the invisible control of market economy on our daily life.
However, it is equally important to realise the limitations of such dreams. When architect Laurie Baker professed to build with lower costs, the idea was not to save money for a stingy family, but to relook at architecture which is appropriate in construction and judicious in materials. His designs were driven by a care for nature, and not by the control of the market.
Today, most people do not look at construction cost from the perspective of nature. Of course, lower cost does not necessarily mean it is eco friendly, yet being conscious of cost does contribute to caring for nature. The contradictory nature of the word ‘low cost’ has been now realised, replacing it with the word ‘cost effective’.
What is critical is not merely lowering the cost, often achieved by cheap materials, reduced durability, low strength, unskilled masons, poor finishes and such others. Value for money is more important, within the parameters of life cycle cost, intended functionality, aspired aesthetics and an overall efficiency on materiality and construction.
The over-emphasis on lowering cost has resulted in damaging the image of such buildings, unfairly so, because the idea of low cost has a design challenge often resulting in really creative solutions. What we need today is definitely not merely low cost or cost effective buildings, but an honest approach towards being cost conscious. There surely are many ideas and possibilities to achieve that end, which also becomes eco friendly by default.