Improving liveability of Small Houses

An OPEN IDEAS National COMPETITION 2018, organised by Habitat Forum (INHAF) and supported by GRUH Finance

Improving livability of Small Houses or Apartments being constructed in Indian Cities under PMAY and other Affordable Housing Projects

— Image - Expression of a slum” by Wim Jonker |

— Expression of a slum by Wim Jonker
— Image - Expression of a slum” by Wim Jonker |


A design competition for the Professional Designers and Students of Design Faculties wanting to contribute ideas and suggest approaches for public housing agencies and private builders, who construct thousands of affordable houses/apartments in Indian cities, for designs that ensure:

  • More livable and usable space for the cramped, small houses within the given area for the resident families.

  • Better social interaction and community life among them.

  • Sustainable delivery of services such as water, electricity and solid waste disposal etc.

  • Greater aesthetic sensitivity in buildings that shape the new urban landscape.

These apartments or houses and buildings must get better and the architects and other designers have a role in that happening. Your design interventions could change the way these families live, their children grow, minimize their waste and their cities appear and develop Small, yet Better Designed, Better Functioning, Better Looking and Socially and psychologically better evolved houses and buildings


  • Architects and Engineers

  • Interior and Furniture designers

  • Planners

  • Senior Students of above Faculties

  • Non-governmental organizations in the settlement development field

  • Non-governmental organizations in the settlement development field.

To participate in a pan-India Improving Livability for Small Houses” Competition:

CREATE Awareness among designers–especially architects, interior and furniture designers-about the challenges in designing small houses, low-cost housing projects and the potential of this market segment.

INTRODUCE Design students to the challenges, especially the needs and compulsions of the low-income clients and low-cost projects.

PRODUCE Design solutions that improve livability” of small houses for the low income- and often large- families that occupy them.

MAKE The designers see and apply themselves to the psychological, sociological and cultural factors in house design, cluster design and site planning that emphasizes the people” aspect of the design engagement.

HIGHLIGHT Role of the affordable housing in shaping the built form and physical landscape of the city—seeing it in the wider urban form context.

DEMONSTRATE Cost consciousness and sustainability principles in the affordable housing projects.

SENSITIZE Designers and planners about people/community centeredness and design appropriateness of slum redevelopment/rehabilitation

In the backdrop of general affordable housing scenario in cities, this competition seeks to establish:

⋅⋅* Low-income housing should not automatically mean low quality housing. Vertical slums’ are not inevitable.

⋅⋅* The principle of incremental growth can also be adopted in multi floor buildings.

⋅⋅* Smaller spaces conditioned by affordability constraints could be made reasonably bigger through creative design.

⋅⋅* Design for sustainability—water, energy, waste management—must not escape affordable housing projects. These aspects—optimum use, minimum waste, maximum recycling, easy and low-cost maintenance - must weigh more, not less in such projects.

The People” centeredness of the design:

  • Not only families, also neighbors.

  • Not only individual apartment, also community space.

  • Not only an individual, also the collective.

  • Not only a place for living, also for occasional livelihood activity.

  • Public space for family assets: for cycle, scooter, car, hand cart, etc.


  1. With 96 percent of housing deficit among the economically weaker sections and the low income groups, a large number of houses that get constructed now and in the years to come will be small, generally low-cost and utilitarian. The skyline of Indian cities will be dominated by this housing typology.

  2. With a target of 2 crore houses by 2022 under Pradhan Mantri Aaws Yojana (PMAY), an ambitious, proactive program to reduce affordability gap through interest subvention and upfront subsidization, easy access to institutional finance, incentives for the private sector through tax concessions, and supports in general for affordable housing, a stage is set for a surge in affordable housing construction in the Indian cities, big and small.

  3. Over the years, small, low cost houses have been constructed mostly by the public sector agencies and save some exceptions they have been found deficient in design, workmanship, construction quality, delivery schedule and maintenance. The public sector agencies still remain the principal suppliers and though, there is greater awareness on the quality” aspects, the change is slow paced.

  4. Despite the organized private sector’s entry in the affordable housing segment, the quality” aspect has not been addressed sufficiently due to low cost nature of the projects.

  5. Established architects, in general, have kept away from the affordable housing scene. Save some prestigious projects. Their involvement in such projects is limited. Also, the architects do not see much scope for creative expression in small houses and low-cost buildings. Consequently the vigour required to get the maximum out of the minimum in design is rarely seen.

  6. Generally in all forms of housing, especially low cost affordable housing, the people angle’ is missing, both in design and planning. With the private builders and promoters it is mainly the sq. ft. business’ with high premium on FSI - architects of these projects often seek shelter behind the faceless client’ - and, sensitive handling of the client or the end user needs is also not a strong aspect of such public housing projects. Neglect of people means neglect of their living habits,social interactions, cultural beliefs and aspirations.

  7. The non-demanding end users of low income housing projects, suffer mainly because of this conspiracy of circumstances and attitudes. Seen largely as subsidy targets their houses and buildings are poorly designed and detailed, badly constructed, suffer poor maintenance and usually look unpleasant.

  8. Paradoxically, the sustainability considerations are absent from the affordable housing projects needing them the most. Design for sustainability is seen almost exclusive preserve of the upper class and high end housing.

This competition seeks to engage experienced professionals and young designers to address these challenges as a way to offering:

Better designed Small Houses
Better relating Neighbors
Better functioning Buildings with Sustainable Services
Better managed Community Spaces and Community Living
Better looking Cities.

Competition Components

This competition requires participants to work on all of the following three components

a. New Design of the adopted project
b. Changes in Building Byelaws required to implement suggested new design
c. Two case studies of innovations - People Solutions” - in space enhancement in existing houses and buildings.

Project Selection for Redesign

Participants in the competition may work on any of the following tasks:

  1. Re-designing an affordable housing project undertaken by a public agency or a private builder

  2. Re-designing a rehabilitation project where families affected by development induced displacement or otherwise have been resettled on a new site in new formal houses by a public authority

  3. Re-designing an (a) In-situ slum improvement project, or (b) Slum redevelopment project where slum dwellers have been resettled on the same site in new houses by PPP mode or by a public agency

Conditions for the selection of the project include: (a) an urban location, (b) with more than 300 units, (c) in an affordable housing category, (d) a scheme that is approved by the competent authority or submitted for approval, and (d) and is under construction or ready to start construction or completed and occupied in the last one year.

All the givens of the selected live project are to be taken as givens: (a) the site (location, size, dimensions, conditions, neighborhood, etc.), (b) local building byelaws of the city/state, (c) unit area and percentage size mix, if any, and (d) clients (or proxy clients, if not real or identified).

Priority Considerations for Judging

  1. Focus on practical ideas and workable solutions,

  2. EMPHASIS ON: Practicality, Do-ability, Use-ability, Implement-ability, Adaptability, Upscale-ability and Cost consciousness of the solutions,

⋅⋅* Expansion of functional, usable space without additional built up area such as low height mezzanine, open to sky terrace or land, storage areas, working and playing space for children, etc.

⋅⋅* Additional storage space through creative detailing. Also, adaptable low-cost furniture

⋅⋅* Parking space for cycles, two and four wheelers, hand carts, other working tools

⋅⋅* Efficient common circulation spaces

⋅⋅* Space for livelihood activities

⋅⋅* Top terrace as usable community space

  1. Incremental growth possibility for all or some of the units. (with or without change in building bye-laws and regulations)

  2. Specific proposals and ideas for cost reduction in construction and building maintenance

  3. Tools and methodology for participatory design and planning and consultative decision making

  4. Creation of community interaction spaces

  5. Handling of high densities

  6. Low-cost and maintenance options of houses, building and the site

  7. Adequate access for senior citizen and specially abled people and safety for children

  8. Ideas and proposals to save water and electricity and reduce and manage waste

  9. Suggestions on the cost, availability of land for housing


Download the Competition Brochure

Download the Competition Poster in PDF Format (9 Mb), Image (4 Mb)

Launch Date: 1st August, 2018
Registration: 1st August to 20th December, 2018
Final Submission: 20th February, 2019

Submission Requirements

Competition Component A: New design of the selected Project: Presentation of New design

  1. All details of the newly formulated project, including drawings, sketches, perspectives, photos of models, etc. that adequately communicates the new design.

  2. Ideas and proposals on sustainable building, cost reduction, participatory design, service efficiency, and community living etc.

Submission Format: Six A2 (max) sheets that cover: Sheet 1: SWOT analysis of the existing project; Sheet 2: New Design Concept; and Sheets 3, 4, 5, 6: Drawings and Photos as in Above (1)

Competition Component B: Changes in building byelaws required to implement suggested new design

  1. Existing Building by-laws and regulations are perceived as constraints to good design, resulting in compromised living environments.

  2. Suggestion for strategic changes in the existing building bye laws and regulations required to implement the proposals and ideas, which may include height restrictions size of projections in the margins, ground coverage, size and location of common open space etc.

Submission Format: One A3 Sheet

Competition Component C: Case Studies

  1. Two case studies showcasing effective addition of useable space for living functions, storing, future extensions etc in existing, homes (formal or informal houses).

Submission Format: Two A3 Sheets with drawings, sketches, photos, descriptions showcasing use and innovation.

Checklist of Submissions:

  • SIX A2 (max) sheets consisting of the new design of the selected project

  • ONE A3 sheet with suggestions to the existing bye-laws and regulations

  • TWO A3 sheets showcasing the case studies

  • ONE A3 sheet comprising of a 750 word project summary for all three competition components

ADDITIONALLY: (a) All sheets must contain Unique ID number on the bottom right corner of the sheet and no personal information; (b) A template for sheets shall be shared with the contestants; (C) All entries are to be submitted in PDF format with size limited to 10MB on the competition website.; (d) Entries are to be submitted on or before 30 November 2018; and (e) Entries will be judged anonymously by the jury members


Practicing professionals - Architects, Interior Designers Planners, Engineers

Students - Senior Students of above faculties

Others - NGOs with relevant experience

THE COMPETITION IS: (a) Open to people residing in India and Outside; (b) There is no team size restriction, and teams may be formed between members of any of the above groups; and (c) Participants must have no direct relationship with the organizers or jury. In case of perceived conflict of interest, contact the organizers.


Registration is now closed.


First Place — INR 75,000
Second Place — INR 50,000
Third Place -INR 25,000

THE WINNING ENTRIES WILL BE: (a) Published in the print media partner magazines — Civil Society, Inside-Outside, ifj and the online portal Architexturez South Asia; (b) Presented to the relevant departments of the Central Government, State Governments and association of Private Sector developers; and (c) Circulated widely through other social media platforms.

The Jury

MARINA JOSEPH, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), Mumbai; CHITRANJAN KAUSHIK, EcoFirst Servies; ASHOK B LALL, Ashok B Lall Architects; RAHUL MEHROTRA, RMA Architects; LAXMI NARAYAN, Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), Pune; AJAY NAYAK, Educated Environments (EdEn) and The Indigenous partnership (TIP); JAXAY SHAH, President, The Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI); and KIRTEE SHAH, Habitat Forum (INHAF)

Visit the About” Page for more information on the jury and supporting organisations.


  • During the competition participants are encouraged to ask questions, seek clarifications and interact generally through email: [email protected]

  • Responses will be posted on the competition website: and

Terms and Conditions

  1. The decision of the jury will be final and binding.

  2. The sponsors ( INHAF) reserves the right to promote and publish any or all of the entries on any platform from any location for non-commercial, research and educational purposes. Any material that is published will be duly credited to authors.

  3. The sponsors maintains the right to modify the entries (in consultation with the authors) in order to better adapt them for publishing in any platform.

  4. The sponsors reserves the right to make any changes to the competition brochure, brief and deadlines at any time. Participants are requested to check the competition website regularly for such changes.

  5. This competition is an ideas competition and entries will not result in an actual realisation of the proposal. However, these ideas will be shared with potential users. The authors will be duly credited for the same.

  6. Participants of the competition agree that the work they are submitting has not been submitted to any other competition before the results of this competitions are released.

  7. The sponsors not responsible for any costs incurred by the participants for the research purposes of this competition.

  8. The sponsors can disqualify any individual/team if found not complying with the terms and conditions of this competition.

  9. This being an educational, motivational and orientational exercise, interaction in all forms is invited and encouraged.


  1. Improving Livability” is defined as (a) Physical Livability - Addition of useable space—covered, semi-open, open-to-sky—in the given built up area at little extra cost, through creative design and detailing. Also through space enhancing, low-cost furniture design; (b) Social Livability - More congenial neighbourhood through community need sensitive common space design and participation in neighbour selection; (c) Ecological Livability - Bringing elements of nature in the design and adding non-tangible dimensions that enrich psychological, sociological and cultural aspects of living; and (d) Aesthetic Livability - Elegant built form, attractive neighbourhood, inviting space quality, etc.
  2. The participant should obtain the required permission and details of such a project from the owner, manager or agency. The sponsors of the competition will issue a letter of introduction and recommendation if needed.