A chawl is a name for a type of building found in India. They are often 4 to 5 stories with about 10 to 20 tenements, referred to as kholis, which literally mean ‘rooms’ on each floor. Many chawls can be found in Mumbai where they were constructed in abundance in the early 1900s to house the people migrating to Mumbai because of its booming cotton mills and overall strong economy. A usual tenement in a chawl consists of one all purpose room, that functions both as a living and sleeping space, and a kitchen that also serves as a dining room.
A frequent practice is for the kitchen to also serve as a bedroom for a newly married couple, to give them some degree of privacy. Average rents run about Rs. 1,000, equivalent to about 20 USD per month.  Families on a floor have to share a common block of latrines, each block containing typically 4 to 5 latrines. Tenements with private bathrooms are highly sought after and may cost a premium. Typically they may be available for 50% over the price of a normal chawl. People living in a chawl have little privacy.
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Due to the close nature of the quarters, trivial news and gossip travels quickly. On the other hand, however, this intimate living situation also leads to a friendly atmosphere, with support networks akin to familial relationships. A Chawl life is quite contradictory to what you see in today’s world especially the fact that people are secluded in behavior unlike a chawl. A chawl stimulates interaction among communities, and there is a bridged gap between rich and poor. In today’s era a chawl is occupied by several middle-class people including people from different parts of the country.
Although there is such a big difference in culture and religious and ethnic backgrounds, people in chawl have still maintained healthy relationships and it is less likely to have disputes between communities. Hence you could find Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Parsis, etc. , all living under the same roof. The architectural similarity between all chawls are their balcony structures- these were created so that people could come out of their houses and interact with each other. The balconies form common grounds for people to mingle.
Chawls have a very unique heritage value. They are good examples that show how peaceful different communities can live with each other. Not only that, neighbours get to learn each other’s tradition and cultures and it exposes much learning into religions and beliefs. Most of the chawls were built after the industries especially textile industry, started booming around the 1860s. 50 As seen earlier, the rise of industries and the rise of different socio-economic classes had a huge influence on the spatial development of Mumbai.
Thus it can be said that, chawls do form a significant part of the growth and urbanization of Mumbai. Presently, there are many chawls in Mumbai that lack sanitation, are structurally weak and are dangerous to live in. n the early 1900, Mumbai was growing as an industrial city, and needed workers from Maharashtra and Gujarat. Most of these workers came to the city as single males or after leaving their families back in their villages. Housing needs of these workers were met by chawls. Chawls were built by private builders. A Chawl is a group of one or two room housing units laid out along two corridors.
The corridor in the front of the house provides the entry doors to the units. The corridor in the back provides a passage to common sanitary facilities that are shared by the units on the floor. Chawl buildings are typically 3 to 5 storied. The building can be linear or C shaped. If a housing unit has two rooms, then the first room is living and sleeping room, and the second room is a kitchen as well as study room. This type of layout suited well for a migrant worker who needed a cheap place to stay so that he could send money back home to the family.
However, due to lack of affordable housing at the next level, these workers continued to stay in the chawls even after their families moved in with them. The whole housing unit is around 300 – 400 sq-ft. Most of the chawls were build before the second world war. They were constructed with teak wood with wooden flooring. Chawls are disappearing slowly from Mumbai as more options for self contained apartments are becoming available. Due to better transportation, people are willing to stay further away from Mumbai and commute.
However, while the Chawls ruled, they contributed to bringing the society closer together. Public festivals were nurtured by these communities. Chawls are a quintessentially Mumbai phenomenon, whose rise is inseparably linked to the rise of the textile mills. The textile mills were the next big industrial step that Mumbai took after the spurt in cotton trading and the shifting of the ports. The mills flourished in the mid-19th century and the people who worked there were labourers mainly from the Konkan coast and ghats. Often one of the workers was sent back to the villages to recruit more people.
These workers were known as ‘jobbers’ and they usually got back people who were from the same family or same village or caste. Once in Mumbai, they lived together. Some chawls were built by the government called the Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) chawls and the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) chawls. The mill owners built other chawls to lure people to come and work for them, or by private landlords. Many private landlords who built chawls were Muslims, as according to their religion they couldn’t collect interest from money.
So this was a way of investing the money. Originally, the migrants came alone to work and left their families in the villages. So often the rooms were occupied by a different set of workers at different times of the day. When one shift ended, one set of people came to the rooms while the other set of people went to work. When the workers brought their families, the entire family and often more than one family stayed in one room. A model for future cities The chawl areas make an interesting study because they contain within themselves, a complete sustainable township.
The infrastructure that developed next to the chawls was very good. The area has the best government hospitals, arterial roads and a number of railway stations. Shops and bazaars and many sources of entertainment, like theatres came up in the area and because the shop owners also lived in the same chawls, residents found it easier to take credit, which was a big part of lower middle class life. 90% of the population lived within 15 minutes walking distance from the chawls. This enabled the women from the chawls to participate in all spheres of life.
Thus playing an important role in all movements. This sort of sustainable township is what we need to move towards in Mumbai today. This mobility is crucial in a society for women to feel empowered. They don’t have to worry about their kids and house, as the home is just 15 minutes away. The mill areas were also safe at any time of the night due to the interactive nature of the chawl structure and due to different shifts, there were people in the open spaces at all times. The space between us
The space constraint and the fact the people were forced to have close interaction with each other resulted in a very rich sub culture. The chawls were a breeding ground for mill labour unions. A lot of other social and political groups like Bhajan mandals, chawl committees, community halls, gymnasium, theatre groups and ‘gavkari mandals’, which comprised people who were from the same village were formed. The ‘khanawals’ were community kitchens, which were run entirely by women. Structured living The chawls fall under a building typology that is not found anywhere else.
They are usually a row of rooms of about 200 sq ft with a common corridor and common toilets at both ends. As many rooms as possible were crammed into a building as the landlord got paid for per room. They are typically urban because they are multi storied. Yet they incorporate features of village life. A typical feature of the chawl building was the fact that they always had an open space incorporated into the design. Either as ‘wadis’, which are internal courtyards or a chowk or a long length of open space in between the buildings.
The chawls could appear to be just a straight set of buildings, but often when you enter them, they are more complex than they appear from the outside. One of the features was that the space between the private domain and the public domain was blurred. Often the residents slept in the open spaces. The common corridor was a semi private space where a number of activities were regularly carried out. The nature of the space in the chawls was highly responsible for the interactive nature of the social fabric of the chawls.
A chawl – roughly translated from Marathi as room fronted by a corridor – is a linear or C-shaped building of one or two room housing units that share a common balcony. Originally derived from the typology of army barracks, chawls are typically two or three-storied with a common toilet and washing area on the ground floor. A usual kholi consists of one room, which functions as a living and sleeping area and usually comes with a small mori for a faucet. Often there is a kitchen that serves as a bedroom for another couple.
The scarcity of working-class housing meant that very frequently however multiple households were shared a single kholi. CHAWLS IN MUMBAIChawls in Mumbai is a unique housing typology evolved during end-19th century / early 20th centurysimilar to the industrial townships in the UK mushroomed in mid-19th century. These were primarilydeveloped to accommodate migrant labours employed in textile and logistics industries in Mumbai. These are high- density tenements “stack – piled” horizontally as well as vertically with shared utilities – passage, bathrooms and toilets.
Chawls are typically ground plus three / four floor structures. Typically, a building has 10-15 rooms each on both side of the corridor on all floors. Each room has a ‘nahani’ and a kitchen area with storage loft above. The room size is 120-150 sqft. Toilet blocks, separate or combined for women and men, occur atone end of the corridor or in the centre, many-a-times besides or within the staircase block. The mainstaircase is located in the middle of the length of the building, with a direct access from outside. On eachfloor, the passage is either central or peripheral – n the exterior periphery or on the internal peripheryof a central courtyard. The passage is a community as well as utility space and acts as a lobby for each tenement. Folding cotsare laid in the passage for sleeping and clothing lines are stretched in the passage for drying clothes. Thepassage also provides space for shoe racks, extra furniture, play space for children and gathering spacefor women. SITEChawls are a phenomenon in multiple areas in Mumbai. Despite minor differences in their layout andsizes, major principles in terms of access, height, tenement sizes, internal passages, utility services, etc. emain generally the same. Their structural and physical conditions have seriously deteriorated. Lack of adequate infrastructure has resulted in unhygienic conditions. Besides, there is a serious lack of community facilities for social and cultural interaction. A typical location / layout is considered for the current design intent. While a representative locationhas been identified as shown in the adjacent Google Image, the design intent can be replicated innumerous locations – as can be seen in the image itself and in many such locations in Mumbai.