The Norman Foster Foundation sets out on a mission to rebuild Odisha's slum settlements

The Jaga Mission, or Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission, aims to rehabilitate and re-empower people reeling under the effects of the Cyclone Fani in India.

by STIRworld Published on : Feb 19, 2020

The word ‘Jaga’, in the Hindi language and some other tongues spoken in India, means ‘awakened’. The Jaga Mission, delightfully then, is an example in awakened architecture that takes into account the challenges of climatic catastrophe, population, poverty and the socio-political situations in order to empower the people that it serves. For the people of Odisha who have been reeling under the aftermath of Cyclone Fani that left thousands displaced last year, this comes as a gift of hope and strength.

Discussions with Stakeholders on Site | Jaga Mission | Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission | Norman Foster Foundation | STIRworld
Discussions with Stakeholders on Site Image Credit: Courtesy of Norman Foster Foundation

The Norman Foster Foundation has been working with the Government of Odisha and Tata Trusts on the ‘Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission’, under which thousands of informal settlements across the state will receive land rights and physical and social infrastructure.

The initiative has been awarded the Bronze by UK-based organisation World Habitat, in partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. Every year, the award acknowledges exemplary projects that are working towards creating a change in the demographical scenario.

Community Vision Exhibition | Jaga Mission | Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission | Norman Foster Foundation | STIRworld
Community Vision Exhibition Image Credit: Courtesy of Norman Foster Foundation

The idea behind the collaboration was born at Norman Foster’s inaugural lecture as the Humanitas Visiting Professor of Architecture at Oxford University, where the famed British architect highlighted the struggle faced by 14 percent of humanity, or more than a billion people, who live in makeshift settlements or slums without access to clean water, sanitation or power for heating, lighting and cooking. In his talk, Foster questioned the idea of razing down these unorganised colonies and instead suggested that the social structures within these communities should be upheld through a process of upgradation and transformation. This could be made possible with new technologies in energy and waste management, he asserted.

Workshop with Children | Jaga Mission | Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission | Norman Foster Foundation | STIRworld
Workshop with Children Image Credit: Courtesy of Norman Foster Foundation

Seven years later, the ideas that he continued to develop with the Foundation and share with the Tata Trust were given an opportunity to be tested on ground. The result is a series of pilot projects in Odisha that establish a model for community driven slum regeneration for the whole state.

“I know that I speak for others, as well as my team at the Foundation and on the ground in Odisha, when I say that we are privileged and honoured to be a party to the initiative and the progressive actions that have since followed from it,” says Norman Foster.

Community Sign Off Event  | Jaga Mission | Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission | Norman Foster Foundation | STIRworld
Community Sign Off Event Image Credit: Courtesy of Norman Foster Foundation

The first pilot site is situated in the vulnerable coastal area that was ravaged by Cyclone Fani, the strongest cyclone in the state in 20 years. As part of the initiative, prime routes and public spaces have been marked, paving has replaced bare earth, public toilets are being constructed, a school in ruins has been restored and a cyclone shelter has been rebuilt.

That’s not all – a swamp in the vicinity – a wasteland earlier, has been drained and transformed as a new housing site as well as a material recovery centre has been created.

Masterplan by Norman Foster Foundation | Jaga Mission | Odisha Liveable Habitat Mission | Norman Foster Foundation | STIRworld
Masterplan by Norman Foster Foundation Image Credit: Courtesy of Norman Foster Foundation

 ‘A vital aspect of this project is to distribute land rights to slum dwellers. The participatory design process integrated the community into the decision-making process and worked collaboratively with local authorities to create a settlement plan. Through exhibitions, workshops and debates that included all members of the settlements, from children to the elderly, consensus was achieved. The aim of this project is to promote a holistic approach that integrates community members into the planning, infrastructure and design process,’ informs the Foundation’s vision note.

The mission, with its long-term development plans, is an important step toward connecting architecture, technology and the arts to bring empowerment to a society that has long been living on the edge.

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