How does the Socio-Economic development of a city impact its Architecture ?
Chennai is a city in the southern part of India, with a population of 4.34million. The city is host to the third-largest expatriate population in India after Mumbai and Delhi. It  has a broad industrial base in the automobile, computer, technology, hardware manufacturing and healthcare sectors. A major part of India’s automobile industry is based in and around the city thus earning it the nickname ‘Detroit of India.  Chennai’s economy of US$58.6 billion PPP (US$17 billion nominal GDP, 2010) is currently rated the fourth largest economy in India and the third-highest GDP per capita. These facts reflect a high level of economic stability in case of Chennai. However, many of the factors you observe in Chennai do not evidence these facts. Due to inappropriate planning and corruption at every level, the city falls back when compared to the other metropolitants in India.

With changing global scenarios and evolving technological advancements, catering to infrastructural demands of an ever-growing population is becoming a permanent challenge to meet. In this era of continuous development, overutilization of resources is a matter of concern, which needs attention. Disregard would lead to a condition in which the system is damaged beyond repair, incapable of rejuvenating itself. Continuous usage without much consideration to methods of replenishment have led to depletion of resources, driving them to saturation. Innovative solutions that can replace conventional techniques, using renewable substitutes will reclaim the whole system. However, generating profitable applications from non-profitable resources could provide an environment conscious formula, to result in a more preferable outcome in the long run.  An endeavour with this intention, to extract potential of a non-profitable resource, with minimal dependency on external influences would be a worthwhile venture.

Being part of an Urban study project in Chennai which involved detailed analysis of some of the areas developed during colonial rule in India, gave an insight into the cities merits and demerits. The demerits outnumbered the merits, highlighting the fact that the city lacked certain basic facilities it should have. Highlighted below are some of the crucial issues that need to be addressed, which are an indirect reflection of the city’s economic situation.

Rain Water Harvesting
Rain water harvesting system has been developed in many of the buildings in Chennai since it became a mandate by law few years ago. Despite this, the benefits are not yet evident since the implementation has several flaws. The water collected is not transferred to the ground or to a storage tank. Instead, water is collected from a terrace for example, and released on the road. This in turn leads to water logging in front of buildings. The government has developed a simple module or prototype design to be followed by the general public which can be easily installed. However, careless attitude towards this initiative has reflected in hardly any results till date. However, a step from the government’s side in this regard might make a difference if they take the responsibility of installing RWH systems in every building.

Storm water Management
Storm water drains have been developed only along some of the arterial roads neglecting the other parts of the city. This coupled with the fact that the city is developing as a concrete jungle with lack of any recharge points which will allow percolation of water is a serious threat. Thus the ground water level is constantly dropping due to lack of any recharge. Apart from this, the roads face water logging issues with the slightest of rains, leading to citizens being stranded. Amongst those areas that have a storm water drainage system developed, lack of maintenance becomes a problem. Without periodic cleaning of the drains, they get clogged after a point, turning them useless. Else steps need to be taken to develop a filter system that will trap debris entering the drains. Since neither of these have been done and due to lack of maintenance, even places with storm water drains installed face problems.

Contamination of Cooum river
Cooum is a river which hailed once as the city’s productive link, the river cooum was a trade route for water based markets (eg, Thaneerthurai market). Urbanization with its ravages spelt trouble in the form of developments close to the Cooum, dumping of garbage, releasing the effluents choking the city of its life. Cooum river of Chennai needs to be regarded as an integral part of the city’s infrastructure. It was in the later stage of the twentieth century the Cooum River started getting polluted. At the early 1950s the river had around 90 species of fishes and due to toxicity it was reduced around 40 at 70s. Now it is no more a habitat for the aquatic creatures nor does it support the living around the area. The river once considered a path to salvation is waiting for its redemption. It has now become the storage place of all industrial and habitat’s wastes. Cooum now is synonymous to the waste, toxicity and ardent odour of the sewage.

Contamination of Cooum River

Contamination of Cooum River

Effects of contamination of the river

  • Visual hazard
  • Foul smell
  • Mosquito breeding
  • Habitat for Rodents
  • Unhygienic atmosphere
  • High health risks
  • Illegal encroachments along the banks of the river
  • Slum development
  • Illegal felling of trees
  • Densification of landuse
  • No sewerage for almost 30% of the population on the river banks
  • Dumping of sewage and solid waste
  • Heavy silt from storm water drains
  • Degradation of ground water quality
  • Degradation of land on river bank and its air quality
  • Natural flora, fauna and river ecology has been wiped out due to anaerobic condition

The Cooum we today see is just filth and dissolved toxins and completely unpottable as it is 80% more polluted than treated sewer. A study of the Public Works department says that the pollution of the River is mainly due to Government agencies such as Chennai Metro Corporation, Sewage board and some private units and Retail outlets by the side of Cooum River. The water of the Cooum River has heavy traces of metals like Copper, although it has dominant amount of Sewer and sludge. It has almost no dissolved Oxygen content in it leading to anaerobic degradation which causes the foul smell around it. The image below shows the sewage line inlets into the river.The State government and local authorities have invested crores of rupees in the cleaning and rehabilitation of this river. However there is no change observed and the river continuous to undergo further damage with every year.

Most of the above mentioned issues deal with socio-political disorders in the city. There are policies to address most of these problems but the actual issue is at the implementation level coupled with lack of maintenance. Although these can be related to socio-political problems majorly, I believe that these are indirectly a reflection of the city’s economic status. Although there is financial stability, lack of proper investments have led to this situation. Several times lack of funds have also led to these results. Thus economic stability is a major determinant that decides the functioning of a city. It has a direct or indirect impact on the city’s well being.

How does the Socio-Economic development of a city impact its Architecture ?, is a project of Iaac, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia developed at Master of Advanced Architecture in 2015-2016 by:
Students: Sahana Sridhar
Faculty: Gonzalo Delacamara