thatched shacks between brick huts in the village

05.01.13 | visiting SCAD

At the start of the New Year, while Alex and Ivar were still in Norway collecting their new visas, Clem made a trip to Tamil Nadu to visit our third potential partner, SCAD (Social Change And Development). SCAD is much larger than the previous two charities we had visited, working in over 500 villages across the state – focusing on a whole range of development areas, from health, education, livelihoods, and female empowerment. They work with a number of diverse communities who are facing social and economic challenges including costal fishermen, lepers, and nomadic gypsies. Capacity building is at the core of SCAD´s work, which is initiated by them by managed by small teams of community members who decide how to distribute funds or run programs. The ultimate intention is to make the villages self-sufficient and independent of SCAD.

There were two projects proposed before the trip, a school renovation project and a water harvesting project. The first morning was spent at the main SCAD campus, visiting a school for physically challenged children. The curriculum was designed around unconventional learning methods, with specially dedicated rooms for aural, sensory and visual stimulation. The school also had a workshop for making custom fitted crutches and prosthetic limbs, where some of the teenage students were able to pick up vocational training. Clem then visited a nomadic gypsy community, which SCAD was encouraging to settle so that the children could attend school on a regular basis. The housing program being implemented was a partnership between the government, SCAD and the villagers themselves who contributed financially. The settlement was in a very interesting state of transition, with some families living in tents, others in half-built houses, and some in completed houses including tiled floors and electricity connection. Although adequate, the brick and concrete boxes seemed like an unimaginative response to the housing needs of a nomadic community. None of the cultural heritage of the gypsies were visible, nor did there seem to be any acknowledgment of their itinerant lifestyles.

The next stop was another housing project, this time for a leper community that SCAD has been working with for more than 20 years. This also revealed an architectural evolution of sorts from the first palm-front shacks original the charity orginally built, to the brick and tile-roofed huts built 10 years later, to the flat-roofed concrete houses currently under construction. In many ways it was depressing to see so much money being spent on buildings that demonstrated none of the intelligent vernacular responses to the hot southern climate (deep eaves, verandahs), no local materials (terracotta tiles, palm fronds) and showed no identity or individuality. The houses were being arranged in straight ´streets´, from which all trees and shrubbery had been removed to allow easy access for the concrete mixers.

In the afternoon Clem was taken to a fishing village, which had been badly damaged in the 2003 Tsunami, where SCAD had built a community center. ITRDH were keen to show this structure, which had been cast in-situ using a mix of concrete and fly ash. Fly ash is a toxic industrial by-product, and using it in composite building materials is a safer alternative to dumping it. However, the asbestos corrugated roof of the building served to undermine any ´green ‘credentials! Like most of the other SCAD projects I had seen, it was clear that they were in need of some architectural input. While their strategies for empowering communities to help themselves were impressive, the built outcomes of their work could have done with a lot of improvement.

Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit the school building that had been identified as the renovation project, but the evening meeting clarified the fact that its location would require a very long daily commute if we were to stay in the main guest house during the project. It seemed that developing a prototype for the gypsy house for the gypsy community would be a more viable option.

Back in Delhi, after presenting and discussing the three options with the British Council, we made the decision to partner with ITRHD. It seemed clear that SCAD was too large an organization for us to work productively with, and although we were very interested in the Aarohi project, the time scale seemed to tight to do it justice. In Hariharpur, the program was clearly defined, the need was urgent, and the community was already engaged. One additional advantage was that ITRHD is based in Delhi, meaning all the preparation in the two months prior to the project starting (including the next AA Visiting School, and the exhibition at the British Council building) could be handled much more efficiently and smoothly. We´re super excited to get started, and are looking forward to moving to the village in March!