Participatory Design in India: Urban Typhoon workshop


The Urban Typhoon workshop is a multicultural, multidisciplinary and multimedia experiment in participatory design. It is organized by the residents of Koliwada and a global collective of researchers and activists.

Architects, urban designers, planners, artists, anthropologists sociologists, photographers, media artists, activists and other creative people from India and abroad are invited to Koliwada for a week to brainstorm together with the residents on the future of Koliwada, Dharavi, at a time when the city is experiencing dramatic urban transformations.

The workshop will produce creative urban designs for the future of Koliwada as well as a multimedia testimony to the unique spirit of this community. The workshop itself will be a joyous and participatory takeover of the neighbourhood. It combines the city’s historic spirit of activism with the celebratory, independent and culturally dynamic traditions that the Kolis of Mumbai have always demonstrated. The plan builds on these impulses in the best traditions of a festive exchange with visitors, guests, strangers and locals of all shades and hues.

This year, the Urban Typhoon workshop takes place in the traditional fishermen community of Koliwada in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest informal settlements.

Dharavi is a highly diverse residential, commercial, and industrial area with some of the highest population density levels in the world. Koliwada’s village like character has been preserved even in the midst of the dramatic urban and demographic changes that Mumbai has experienced in the last century.

Mumbai, the “maximum city”, epitomizes the transformation that the Indian sub-continent is experiencing at a time of extremely rapid economic growth, urbanization, and rural-urban migration. The largest city in India, Mumbai is also its financial and commercial capital, making it a strong magnet for global real-estate investors.

Dharavi was developed on marshlands in the periphery of Mumbai. It has historically been a point of entry to the city for migrants from all parts of the country. This 223 hectare settlement home to at least half a million people finds itself today at the centre of greater Mumbai. Situated at a stone’s throw away from the new Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai’s new financial centre, Dharavi has an estimated real-estate value of USD $2 billion.

A recent attempt by the metropolitan government of Mumbai to sell the land to private developers (The Dharavi Redevelopment Project) has been loudly decried as being undemocratic, as it leaves locals completely out of the decision-making process, despite some dispositions for the in-situ resettlement of longer-term residents. The government is now trying to address the main flaw of the DRP, which is the fact that it is not based on any type of solid study of Dharavi -in physical, demographic, social or economic terms.

Koliwada is at the forefront of a battle for self-determination that concerns all of the residents of Dharavi and ultimately all the slum dwellers in India. After having been completely ignored by the government and public institutions for generations, the residents now claim the right to develop their neighborhood on their own terms. After all, Koliwada existed even before Mumbai was called Bombay by the Portuguese.

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