The Reinventing Dharavi competition, held by the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) in Mumbai, sought creative ideas for the redevelopment of India’s largest slum. Twenty teams were invited to submit their proposals. One of the teams, called the Plural group, was the winners of the competition. It proposed a novel concept of a low-rise ‘new’ Dharavi ground supported by high-rise structures.

For a city like Dharavi, a ‘new’ ground may seem like a pipedream. Dharavi is a complex settlement comprised of organic clusters, multifunctional living units, and open spaces. Moreover, the area is one of Asia’s largest informal communities with over 1.5 million residents. A new redevelopment project is needed to tackle the challenges.

To address these issues, the government launched the Dharavi Redevelopment Project in 2004. But it was scrapped in 2008 after a massive vociferous resistance by the residents. In the process, a community-based organization was formed to provide a voice to the residents. This group has since been a key player in the evolution of Dharavi.

As of late, the redevelopment plans have been hampered by the lack of a cohesive infrastructure. In order to make sure that the new developments are sustainable, the state needs to formalize its ownership of the land.

One of the biggest challenges facing the redevelopment project is rehousing the hundreds of thousands of current residents. This is not an easy task. Developers need to understand each catchment and the usage mix of its residents in order to come up with a viable plan.

The competition’s winning proposal is the Dharavi Community Land Trust. This non-profit organization will be governed by a community board, and former land owners will be able to release their ownership rights to the trust. Under the scheme, the trust will acquire and develop land on a case-by-case basis, based on the needs of each of the 156 nagars that make up Dharavi.

The most interesting part about the Reinventing Dharavi competition is that it generated a number of innovative ideas for improving the slum. These ideas were organized into specific categories. There was an “Alternative Strategy” that included a robust transportation network and a strong focus on housing. Although there are many redevelopment proposals, only a select few will be implemented.

Another interesting idea was the design of a bathroom tower that moonlights as a public space. This was an apt response to the needs of the locals. While such a concept isn’t entirely new, the UDRI’s competition was the first to explore the use of this design strategy in a slum context.

Some of the more nifty concepts include the Dharavi Container City, which uses recycled shipping containers to create a mixed-use space. The facades of the structures are color-coded according to the original container color. Other notable suggestions were the establishment of central squares, which establish social and economic focal points for the area.

Considering the wide range of ideas, the jury’s decision was a close one. According to UDRI, the contest had the most entries of any urban development competition that it had ever hosted.