Nearly 27.4 million tonnes of waste is produced daily in urban centres of India. Cities like Ahmedabad produce 2,750 metric tonnes alone. This waste is dumped in open landfill sites, which uses enormous volumes of fossil fuel, creating an altered, polluted, unsafe and unhealthy landscape. Thankfully, India has a well-established tradition of recycling, clearly demonstrated in daily practices and lifestyle. Food and many other objects, are given added value for their multiple uses and diverse applications even after its primary lifecycle. Can building industry not learn from these applications? An activity centre at Rama Pir Tekra, Vadaj has been one such attempt in recycling waste into building materials.
This multipurpose activity centre serves as an informal school and also as vocational training centre and activity workshop for manufacture of craft-based products by women and elderly during the day. The campus also includes a dormitory, an administrative unit and an all-religion meditation unit. A crèche has been added later to look after young children when their parents are away earning wages. The community centre, apart from being an interactive place during festivities, is a health centre and gym on regular days.
The campus is built using components prepared by recycled waste. This process addresses environment concerns, economic issues and affordable housing. As municipal waste is reused, it helps reduce pollution. Through value-addition processes of recycling, it provides an economic activity for the poor as well as a sense of empowerment. Finally, as the recycled building components are cheaper and of higher quality, they provide affordable and superior building alternatives for the urban poor.
The campus is a live demonstration of application of recycled waste as affordable, aesthetically pleasing and efficient building components. The products developed for this project are prepared with simple hand-operated tools and produced partly through local help. Landfill waste residue, stabilised soil blocks, recycled glass and plastic bottles, vegetable crates are used for making cement-bonded soil blocks and mould-compressed bricks, which are further used for creating walls.
Non-polluting environment, economic empowerment and affordable built forms are three key dimensions of this initiative. The project is an outcome of over three years of empirical research, with the goal of effectively converting waste from the domestic sector into functional building components. It also demonstrates that building can become an economic activity by empowering poor. It has potential of becoming a cottage industry for economic self-reliance and possibilities to improve quality of their homes using affordable alternative components.
— The author is a city-based architect and historian