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Architecture of Empathy: Combating Homelessness

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Sudarshan Uppunda
Sudarshan Uppunda
Born & brought up in Bombay, based in Bengaluru, Sudarshan is an ambivert who can be outgoing-open and reserved at the same time. It all depends on the vibes! He deeply believes in vibes and personal energies. As an Architectural Journalist and Architect, he aims to write in a way that his content is relatable for all. Design is what interests him the most and he keeps trying his hand at different design verticals such as graphic, UI & UX design at times. He likes to write and explore varied topics on Workplace environments, Architecture, and Culture. He is quite active in architectural content writing and has written for various platforms like RTF, The Arch Insider, Gharpedia, etc. He strongly believes that whatever one does in life, one must do it with passion & be happy with it.

Urban planning and design have not only planned the cities in a certain physical way but also inculcated a deep belief system in us. We tend to look at city planning and public spaces only with the reference of the privileged sects of the society. Rarely do we see the interest of the less privileged and homeless population being taken into consideration. Aren’t the homeless also a part of our society? Why do the public spaces have social boundaries then? For instance, look at our public benches. They are specially designed to prevent street dwellers sleeping on them. Why is preventing them so important than making provisions for them? That too, when they have no where else to go.

On deep speculation of your city you will come across a lot of fixtures commonly used in our ‘public’ spaces, Parks and Streets meant to repel the less privileged. Where will the homeless go then? The least we can do is to acknowledge them as a part of our society.

Why addressing ‘homelessness’ should be a part of city planning?

Mental Illness and Homelessness3
Homelessness adversely affects city life

Empathizing with the needy is the most holistic approach to moving towards development. One more crucial thing is to learn that ‘homelessness’ in our surroundings is indeed our failure as a society. Homelessness is an aspect that not only affects the one who’s experiencing it but also the whole community. The rise in homelessness contributes to the increase in slum areas. Slum areas, in turn, would lead to illegal activities and issues of health and sanitation. Moreover, it will also lead to increased crime in the city and thus an overall loss in the urban quality of life.Thus, a loss in the standard of living of the city and the security in the surroundings.

How can Architecture empathize with the homeless?

Architecture is associated with physical built and unbuilt. As a result, architecture has been a way to bring a change in society. Architecture is not directly related to homelessness neither can it be ‘solved’ by architecture alone. But, in the due course of time it has also unconsciously built certain ideas that lead to exclusion of the underprivileged. Thus the first step could be to rethink our ideas of ‘public spaces’. Secondly to rethink our housing systems and how we plan to go forward with the core idea of ‘Housing for all’.  There are indeed many temporary shelters designed for the homeless in certain parts of the world. But they all defy the basic sense of ‘living’. We can thus rethink and improve the design that we associate with the ‘shelter units’. Rather than looking at them as just units, we must have a holistic approach that focusses more on  ‘safe living’ and less on ‘temporary shelters’.

The new trend in the western countries is of ‘Parasitic Architecture’ wherein portable and cost-effective housing solutions are designed. These are basically attachment units that can be rolled back when not need and attached when need and converted into habitable spaces. Usually attached to government properties, this feature helps solve homelessness and lack of security on the street to some extent.

Homes for the homeless by James Furzer 00

Towards a more sustainable solution

How long are the parasitic solutions and temporary shelters going to help? We as a community must look at more sustainable and more user-friendly solutions. Betterment in the housing sector is the key. More and more low-cost housing solutions are needed to first uplift the homeless from the streets and from temporary shelters. When there will be a safe and secure roof over the homeless, they can then be tuned in to basic health, finance and educational facilities thus pushing them towards a more safe and sustainable life. This, as a result, will help them to join in better as a community and eventually add to the quality of the city.

Homelessness is not only about the population that seeks shelter on streets at night, it includes all of those struggling to find a safe shelter and protect themselves from the emergencies. Thus our approach should be to provide a better housing scheme on an overall and also to make our cities more friendly to all sects of society. Thus making no one feel left out in the process of development.

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