Sustainable housing futures for a growing middle class: a contextual study of Mysore, India
Basavapatna Kumaraswamy, Satish
Economic globalisation is enabling India to reinvent itself as a development crucible, providing previously unrealised opportunities for economic transformation. One crucial transformation of economic success is the rapidly growing middle class. Whilst the growth in the middle classes indicates improvement in the quality of life of many, the rate of consumption has also been increasing exponentially. If they, the middle classes consume resources at the same rate as the British and Americans, India will become the world’s number one producer of carbon emissions. The attitudes and aspirations of the growing middle classes are a major factor in the increased, and perhaps impulsive consumption patterns. It is therefore the aim of this research to consider the bottom-up approach, which validates this thesis by examining middle class homeowners’ preferences in Mysore, a south Indian city. Mysore used to be recognised as having socially cohesive and inclusive housing typologies that were climate responsive and calibrated to local, social and economic needs. Changes in social conditions, cultural practices and lifestyle can be seen in the way homeowners use their homes to demonstrate affluence and status. A key challenge is to research ways in which sustainable housing in an Indian context can both mitigate carbon emissions and at the same time address the material aspirations and desires of a fast-growing middle class. Baseline characteristics and homeowners’ attitudes are established by means of literature research and fieldwork. The output of this stage is triangulated with further research to narrow the focus towards boundary conditions and transition spaces for an in-depth study of relevant factors contributing towards consumption, aspiration and sustainability. The second stage points to the importance of the external boundary of the site and the edge of buildings in terms of aligning meaningful, sustainable design strategies with the concerns and aspirations of the emergent middle-class. This thesis argues that, in the domain of sustainable housing, both a qualitative approach and quantitative strategies are essential to the understanding of social and cultural dynamics as well as to measure and benchmark performance. Because of the nature of this multi-threaded approach, mixed method research practices have been followed using triangulation methodologies and grounded theory. This has resulted in the revisiting and refining of the research focus and objectives throughout the research. During the research process, spatial scenarios for housing were developed to harmonise preferences and different sustainability agendas. The research focused on identifying and testing the critical building characteristics of the boundary location. Homeowners’ preferences were qualified by a multi-sorting task analysis and study model performance tested by sophisticated environmental simulation. This was triangulated with fieldwork studies to help propose sustainable housing strategies. The methodology adopted has been critical to supporting the architectural response to the cultural and economic condition on one hand (social methods) and the climate responsive, traditional design and simulation models (environmental design methods) on the other. Different sets of fieldwork were conducted at two stages that involved archival searches and detailed interaction with architects, builders, users, academics and government agencies. In total, 240 respondents answered a questionnaire survey and 146 semi-structured interviews were conducted. The outcome of this research demonstrates how, in the absence of any counterbalancing regulations, social perception and economic aspirations limit the acceptability of sustainable design and construction strategies. In India, middle class demographics and value systems are complex; where safety and security, and display of wealth have to go hand in hand. In this context, this research provides new insight into the way sustainability can be understood in the Indian context with qualitative values that are complemented by quantitative measurements. Finally, this research suggests ways of introducing sustainable practices through a negotiated understanding that balances aspirations with more responsive design. India has identified housing as one of the eight national missions to reduce carbon emissions as part of its commitment to reduce people’s vulnerability to the impact of climate change. In a geo-climatically, regionally and culturally diverse country like India, the top-down national policy can only be successfully implemented with an understanding of the local context. A bottom-up approach to identify sustainable strategies that acknowledge homeowners needs and aspirations should be a useful contribution to achieving carbon reduction and sustainable housing in Mysore. With minor adjustments, the methodology and research process could be adopted in other Indian cities.