Towering over the city and perhaps the park: Formal Housing in the Global South
Discussions of housing in the Global South tend to focus on bijou commissions executed by outstanding architects or on the problems of informal housing. They do not pay much attention to the architecture of the urban housing blocks that house increasingly high percentages of the middle class, especially in Latin America and Asia. Here the 1970s brought little return to the existing street pattern, as it had seldom been abandoned in the first place, or to historical architectural styles, as few indigenous traditions had much relationship to the new scale of the city. Instead the last four decades have seen both the state and the market continuing to produce large numbers of tower blocks, often for very prosperous people, and in new districts on the outskirts of existing cities, as well as near their cores. The same economic conditions that have resulted in stagnating populations in many western cities have triggered explosive urban growth throughout much of the Global South, which — coupled with the lack of public transport infrastructure — has preserved the pressure to build ever upwards. Although the region’s most talented architects have played a relatively small role in housing the middle classes, in India their engagement has shifted from the provision of housing as part of the design of larger institutional compounds to lending their names and design flourishes to high end tower complexes that largely follow the latest development formulas. In any case the scale of multi- family housing structures does demand the involvement of architects as well as engineers, if not necessarily of large amounts of highly skilled labour. Moving into such units has also prompted many changes in the way that individual families live, generating what are widely understood to be new middle class modes of inhabitation, without necessarily bringing them into conformance with western norms.
Image: Asian Games village, New Delhi, 1980-82 by Raj Rewal (Source: RIBA Journal, 13 September 2013 – link.)
Kathleen James-Chakraborty is Professor of Art History at University College Dublin and Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the Yale School of Architecture. Her books include Architecture since 1400 (Minnesota, 2014) and German Architecture for a Mass Audience (Routledge, 2000) as well as the edited collections, India in Art in Ireland (Ashgate, forthcoming) and Bauhaus Culture from Weimar to the Cold War (Minnesota, 2006). Kathleen has also taught at the University California Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, and the Ruhr Universität Bochum. Her research focuses on modern architecture in Germany, the United States and South Asia, with funding from Irish Research Council in the Humanities and Social Sciences and by the Deutsche Forschunggemeinschaft and the Deutsche Akademische Austiuschdienst.