Book Review: How to Build an Indian House

Mumbai, in the mid-1800s, emerged as the financial powerhouse of India, backed by its textile industry revolution. This growth in the textile industry saw an influx of people, moving to what was then Bombay from every region in India, employing over a million workers.  Forces of urbanism created unprecedented densities in the city, overwhelming the urban infrastructure and creating a massive demand for housing. This influx required various housing typologies to be built over the years to house multiple communities of this growing workforce.

Given the land scarcity and ever-growing population, cities today face pressure to search for new models for affordable housing. Current efforts have proven to be ineffective in providing the adequate solution to the housing crisis, often creating disconnected communities relegated to the edges of our cities. For the past few decades, this uncontrolled migration has resulted in the birth of megacities throughout India, creating a housing shortage and informal settlements. People in these self-built settlements are always in limbo, waiting for the state machinery to provide them with housing and a better standard of living.

NAI010 Publishers
NAI010 Publishers
NAI010 Publishers
NAI010 Publishers

How to Build an Indian House by Sameep Padora asks a very pertinent question “Should affordable dwellings be designed to accommodate a traditional rural way of life, or should they aim immediately for a future urban lifestyle?” This book traces the history of social housing in Mumbai (then Bombay). It offers a glimpse into the rich diversity of residential stock that existed and subsequently forgotten in the city.

This book by Padora started as the research enquiry for a new design project by his studio looking into the architecture of affordable housing type in Mumbai. During the study, the studio documented several variations of social housing, which through its adaptability, have constructed feedback loops between its inhabitants and the larger urban fabric.

The book presents 11 residential case studies, built between the period of 1855 to 2011 in Mumbai. The projects presented in individual chapters do a great job in detailing their history and architecture. Like the Atmaram Chawl, built originally in 1866, showcases how strong adaptability of apartments by its inhabitants has led to its constant use as a residential building. Another example is the Bhatia Chawl, which through its programmatic section, showcases how the building activates the street through its commercial component and celebrates life internally through its open courtyard layout.

In chronological order, the final few projects in the book showcase the realities of today’s low-cost social housing in Mumbai. Driven by the state machinery and financed through private investors, these projects fail to address the social and communal component this book showcases so strongly.

The buildings are presented through a series of diagrams which clearly describes their location in the context of the city along with the architectural drawings and various circulation studies. Another layer which uplifts this study is the inclusion of social communities and tracing the pattern of different communities occupying the buildings. The book does a stellar job through various floor plan and sections to develop an understanding of how rich some of these residential typologies were in creating successful urban fabric while promoting community spirit. 

How to Build an Indian House ultimately focuses on the people and the issues around adaptability of spaces. People are an important component of the urban and architectural landscapes and designing for adaptability and integration of different communities should be an important aspect of arranging and rearranging spaces and form. This book comes at an important time as the need for housing rises worldwide and it will serve as a reference point for anyone looking to design low-income housing. It sets the agenda that although our concerns are often universal the solution cannot be universal, instead, it needs to be generated from the context.

NAI010 Publishers
NAI010 Publishers



How to Build an Indian House focuses on one of India’s perennial and most daunting questions: mass housing. It documents, analyses and represents robust and ingenious examples of different housing types in the city. Along with the documentary drawings and photographs, international award-winning author and architect Sameep Padora developed a series of analytical models in order to understand the unique spatial organization and infrastructure in these residential building typologies.

This documentation is particularly pertinent today, given the critical need to address the issue of housing in India and in many other parts of the world. Since this subject is of immense interest to professionals and students alike, the cases studied here range from residential typologies in Mumbai, such as the chawls (originally workers’ housing that has morphed into vibrant communities), to more hybrid examples such as the Swadeshi Market, which demonstrates an interesting multiuse building. These Mumbai typologies challenge architects, planners and designers everywhere to test their imagination in thinking about affordable housing.

The present publication is a handbook for academics as well as practitioners: designers could use it to compare and discern efficiencies and various ratios that can inform the process of other design exercises.



ISBN 978-94-6208-553-4 | June 2020 | available | Sameep Padora | design: sPare | photography: Kunal Bhatia | English | paperback | 17 x 24 cm | 288 pages | illustrated (250 full color) | in conjunction with: the NGMA Mumbai, the Urban Design Research Institute