Focus Area ︎︎︎ Future of Homes / Resilient Cities / Public Health / Gender

Cleaner air better health

How might low-income settlements build resilience against air pollution?

In the context of biomass-based chulhas and waste burning practices, low-income households in Delhi suffer high levels of household and ambient air pollution. As part of the Cleaner Air and Better Health (CABH) program efforts, Asar Social Impact Advisors invited Architecture for Dialogue to apply a spatial lens to study air pollution and conceptualise interventions to reduce  women’s pollution exposure.

Over six months, the team worked in Madanpur Khadar settlement in Delhi to unpack interdependencies between air, space and behaviours and discover how households and neighbourhoods could develop resilience through spatial improvements.
Abhimanyu Singhal
Alankrita Sharma
Aniruddh Sharan
Depanshu Gola

Supported by
Asar Advisors for Social Impact

March - August 2023


Madanpur Khadar

Madanpur Khadar is a low-income resettlement colony in Delhi’s southeast fringe, on the outskirts of Sarita Vihar and the Okhla industrial area. It consists of multiple clusters with differences in location context, building typology and land ownership. These differences sometimes correspond to the differences in user profiles, such as the number of occupants, household income, occupation, caste and religion.

We kick-started the project with a field recce to familiarise ourselves with the context. The ongoing awareness drives by our on-ground partners, Cornerstone knowledge builders, lay the groundwork in the community which facilitated our field interactions.

Getting Started

Plan of action

To take our research further, we prepared a research framework where we focused on probing into the nuances of the settlement context, state of the built environment and state of air quality. To address the diversity of research inquiries, we came up with a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.

We set our feet in the air pollution discourse by reflecting on our learnings from ‘Khirkee Air Lab and My House is ill’ (link) and by consulting experts in the field.

Field Work

Interviews with homemakers

As we interviewed women in the households, we realised that air pollution is a hidden worry. As daily sustenance becomes a challenge for many occupants, issues like air pollution which do not have an immediate impact take a backseat. We attempted to uncover their worries by talking about their perspectives on air quality, mapping their daily routines and documenting the nature of housing.

To supplement the qualitative takeaways, we conducted AQI monitoring to understand exposure levels in the households.


Air within homes: Emerging Patterns

Though cooking using fossil fuels is a significant contributor to household air pollution, we uncovered various other causes at the household and neighbourhood level that deteriorate the air quality and increase exposure.

We realised that people are always exposed to air pollution in Madanpur Khadar. Even when the city gets a respite from high air pollution during monsoons, the activities that are indigenous to the neighbourhood continue all year round, signalling the double burden of exposure that exists here, exclusive of weather conditions. Spatial aspects such as the location context, enclosure and nature of ownership play a crucial role in deciding how well the occupant might be able to deal with air pollution. These are further layered by the economic conditions, access to welfare schemes and the agency that women hold in the households to make decisions.


Conceptualising spatial interventions

From the variety of data streams to consider, patterns emerged into actionable insights. This also helped us recognise the potential areas which the design would impact.

As we involved ourselves in drawing insights, we brainstormed on potential design ideas, a back-and-forth process that continued as we formed the insights and led us to the conceptual design stage.

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The air pollution ecosystem, inequities, consumption behaviours and the way occupants perceive air quality gave us cues on how to think about the design interventions.The design ideas respond at multiple levels, addressing the omnipresence of air pollution sources at the household, street and neighbourhood scale. The challenge was to think of solutions that could be retrofitted across all three scales in a dense settlement.

We came up with ideas that offer imagination into potential directions and mediums of creating an impact to reduce health risks for women, reduce exposure for all occupants, improve ambient air quality, improve thermal comfort within households, improve awareness and propel community action.


End note

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