Indian ‘jugaad’ has design lessons for Americans

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Sunday, February 20, 2011

NEW YORK - A big window sign in Hindi saying ‘Jugaad’ is pulling in from Indian cabbies to intrigued tourists and urban planners to a show in New York on how Indians are doing more with less.

“There is a very positive and enthusiastic response and a curiosity to know more,” says architect Kanu Agrawal, curator of “Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities,” exploring what architects, designers, and urban planners can learn from the ‘jugaad’ strategy of “making do”.

Besides people walking past a big window sign saying ‘jugaad’, tourists and taxi drivers who can read Hindi, architects, urban planners, product designers, have been drawn to the show that will be on till May 21.

“Firstly conceptually they are very intrigued and interested in how people are making do in a creative manner,” Agrawal, a Delhi native, told IANS in a phone interview.

“The concept of ‘jugaad’ which is very common in India is somehow resonating with the people here,” he said noting there is lots of wastage of resources in the US be it water or electricity or other materials.

Organised by the Centre for Architecture, the first exhibition in US on contemporary Indian urbanism focuses on design by the people and for the people, of Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune.

The show “creates a more conscious and sensitive approach to how they use their resources more responsibly and also it gives them a window on how cities in India are coping with these things and look at the future more carefully when they are designing for density and all those issues,” said Agrawal.

“So I think there is a kind of reciprocal thing that happens,” he said. He noted that a lot of research is taking place in the world and the US in design in stressful conditions.

Besides bringing about a general awareness of the issues centred around the shortage of resources and how people deal with them creatively, the show aims to show architects ” how small scale creative design solutions by the people can influence big environmental and large scale conditions.”

For instance an improvement in the design of a ‘chullah’ or cooking stove can have a huge impact on the environment as also the people who use it, Agrawal said. ‘Chullah’ research is going on in parts of Oregon and New York in US too.

“The idea is to motivate more people to think about these issues” as “solutions are not just localised; they are pretty global.”

The show adopts a two pronged approach. Firstly, it documents the existing conditions and how people are responding to it, said Agrawal, citing a make-shift toilet or a ‘jugaad” chandelier made from plastic bottles or a strategy to cobble together material to deal with a situation.

The other is how ‘designs by people’ inspire designers to work with the constraints, he said.

For example, in a self-composting toilet in Shahpur Jat in Delhi, the architect has used local materials in dealing with the problemi n a tight urban condition. One of the most pressing needs that India has is of providing clean hygienic toilets that are also sustainable.

Similarly, oil tin cans used for roofing by the people have been used for the people by designers using the ‘jugaad’ strategy.

Sky walks have provided a quick ‘jugaad’ solution to a very pressing urban problem of dense packed street traffic on the roads in Mumbai, where Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has commissioned as many as 37 of such facilities for pedestrians.

Agrawal hoped “these ideas percolate into Indian design thinking” even as urban planners cope with the different forces that are at play including strong market forces, political forces and aspects of corruption.

For urban planners, the New York show opens up a debate: Do we have a voice, do we have a place and how we can intervene? Do we just do these small scale things or be more proactive participants in putting our ideas more sensitively?

For the first time in US, it’s happening, Agrawal says. It’s sort of generating a lot of interest in this area especially in regard to Indian cities.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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