Ethno-Architectural Contextualization of Housing for Smart Villages: A Multi-case Study in Assam, India
AuthorKatharpi, Velyne Ingti
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Velyne Ingti Katharpi
Based on the Gandhian Philosophy of Adarsh Gram and Gram Swaraj, Smart Villages is a concept to enable rural development and bridge the rural-urban gap in India. It aims to empower the village and its residents to be self-dependent and active contributors towards holistic development of the country. As such, the ‘barefoot college’ in the village of Tillonia, Rajasthan, India, exemplifies the concept by showing that the rural people are able to thrive when given the right tools and environment. It does not imply that the rural has to become urban, but rather, it encourages and demonstrates how the knowledge and technology can be contextualised to the rural. Hence, the Smart Assam Project was developed in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with Assam Engineering College, Guwahati, Assam, India, to provide the environment to conduct research on creating Smart villages. The thesis explains the research problem that though there have been efforts to develop the rural, being regarded as backward in comparison to its urban counterparts instead of recognising the merits of ruralism and rurality, the approach taken towards housing is the same as an urban construction that its results are not as satisfactory to the residents, thereby, failing to contribute holistically towards development. As such, this thesis undertakes a contextualist pragmatic approach to gather and analyse data to develop an Information Framework, which enables the collation and dissemination of information regarding housing design and construction trends in the rural context, aiding a user-oriented bottom-up approach to rural housing. The research is divided into eight chapters where the first chapter states the aim, objectives, and research questions. It defines the scope of the research by focussing on architectural design and construction trends that shape the houses in the diverse socio-cultural contexts of four villages belonging to different ethnic cultures, across the districts of Karbi Anglong East, Karbi Anglong West, and Dima Hasao. As such, the research question addresses the aim and objectives of the research in three steps or sub-research questions. The first addresses the village and its surrounding regions as the causative context while addressing the household, family units and their houses as the subject that demonstrate the effect of the context to understand the causal process within the village. The second addresses the main causes that influence the architectural design and construction trends in the village among the elements that shape the causative context; and finally, the third addresses the missing components within the existing approach to incorporate it into a framework to enable better implementation of rural housing. In the second chapter indicates the scope of the research based on the understanding of rural, the rural-urban gap, the relevance of housing in rural development, and the role of architecture and architects in rural housing. The literature defines the research gap in approach, implementation and perception of rural housing schemes that deters the development of Smart villages. It shows that the socio-cultural aspects of the rural are relevant to the architecture and hence the rural construction trends. As such, a theoretical foundation is developed called Ethno-architectural contextualisation, based on the design-oriented research of environment-behaviour studies by Amos Rapoport (1963) and culture-oriented research of ethno-architecture by Gerard Toffin (1991). In the third chapter, the contextualist pragmatic approach helps shape a multi-case study research strategy which incorporates methods like cultural mapping, to study the village level causative context, and behaviour settings, to study the household level affected result, and analytic induction as a process of analysis to explain the causal process in both the village and the household levels of data collection. For the cultural mapping, transect walks and focus group discussions are conducted to gather data on the socio-cultural, socio-economic, historical, and environmental contexts. A questionnaire survey is conducted among the households to map the population based on the demographic data and socio-economic context of the village. This, along the house-type date of the households, helps to select five cases for the behaviour settings which is aided by an Interview-based projective technique and the AEIOU framework, a mnemonic coding structure, is used to analyse house layouts based on Activity, Environment, Interaction, Objects and User. The data is presented in the following fourth and fifth chapters based on the village scale data and household scale data, respectively. In the fourth chapter, the cases are presented according to the data collected in the transect walk and the focus group discussion that shares the designing and construction principles of the traditional house, before discussing the elements of the cultural ecology of each village. They are discussed based on accessibility and connectivity, historical background, socio-cultural practices and traditions, communication and knowledge sharing, community infrastructure, livelihood, resources and services and the traditional house. In the fifth chapter, due to brevity, only eight, out of the 18 household cases studied in the household level data collection process, are documented. The household is discussed based on the changing house layouts that have come about due to reconstruction, renovation or adding extensions to the house. Using the AEIOU framework, each house is presented and analysed to demonstrate the evolution of the house resulting from the contextual influences of the village. In the sixth chapter, the collective analysis of the preceding chapters of the context, the village and the subject, the architectural design and construction trends of housing is discussed as a complete process in the rural cultural. Through the discussions of the rural cultural ecology, the first sub-research question is answered. This leads to the discussion on the main causes that influences the housing practice and construction trends, which are multi-culturism and cultural assimilation, the role of the government and the role of the construction industry itself, thereby answering the second sub-research question. This leads to the suggested guidelines that need to be incorporated into rural housing scheme to promote a user-oriented bottom-up approach to housing, which answers the third sub-research question. In the seventh chapter, based on the discussion and suggestion from chapter six, the pragmatic contextualist approach encourages the research to revise a typical construction lifecycle project and contextualise it to a rural housing scheme implementation process. The process includes an information framework after the initiation stage and before the planning stage of the construction lifecycle that brings different key roles relevant to a user-oriented bottom-up rural housing in a collaborative approach to build effective forms of shelter. As a result, the Information Framework is used to inform the beneficiary of the skills, materials, and construction methods available to construct a self-built house through the rural housing scheme, thereby answering the main research question of the thesis. The eighth and final chapter reviews the progress of the research by providing a summary of each chapter and concluding the thesis with discussions of the contributions, limitation, and recommendations. In conclusion, this research set out to investigate a way to bridge the rural-urban gap through housing. In doing so, the literature review emphasized on the relevance of architecture and the role of architects in rural housing, which is unfortunately lacking in practice. The pragmatic contextualist approach of the research shapes a multi-case study research strategy which allows the researcher to conduct a research in two levels, the village level across four villages and the household level among 18 households. With the surplus of data regarding the causative context, the village, and the evolving nature of architectural design and construction practice, the analysis addressed the research questions that were presented in the first chapter, thereby explaining the rural cultural ecology, defining the main causes of architectural evolution, and producing suggestions for developing a user-oriented bottom-up approach to existing rural housing schemes. As a result, an information framework was developed based on the research methodology and the ensuing data collection and analysis process of gathering, processing, and collating data to disseminate information towards a well-informed implementation of the rural housing scheme.
KeywordsCultural ecology; Socio-cultural; Critical Regionalism; Ethno-architecture; Contextualist; Rural-urban gap; Housing; Development; Architecture; Landscape; Vernacular; Causation; Culture; Value; Ethnography; Environment-behaviour studies; Pragmatism; Smart Villages; Northeast India; Indigenous Tribes; Sacred; Rural
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