Affordable housing: there is no dearth of available technologies

Dr. Anil Sawhney and VPS Nihar Nanyam explore a framework for emerging technologies in residential construction.

29 February 2016

Expert Talk


Recent advancements in construction technology, from traditional site-based ‘sticks and bricks’ methods to ‘more efficient combination of off-site and on-site methods’, has brought upon us new possibilities for construction of affordable mass housing.
This paradigm is now spread across the globe, encompassing greater use of prefabricated systems and innovations for designing and constructing affordable and sustainable housing.

These emerging methods and technologies are superior to traditional technologies in terms of delivery time, cost, sustainability, safety, quality and overall performance.
The important and challenging goal set by the Housing for All by 2022 mission can be met by appropriately using these superior technologies, methods and systems. Paradoxically though, adoption of emerging housing technologies in the Indian Housing sector remains low. Mainstreaming of these technologies is challenging, as the Indian housing value chain is complex. Most technologies are rejected by superficial analysis of first-cost and perceived implementation difficulties.

While there is no dearth of available technologies, selection of the most appropriate one is a complex process. It depends upon many factors like cost and time certainty, speed of construction, energy efficiency and effectiveness in the use of material, design flexibility, future maintenance requirements and performance throughout the housing lifecycle. It also includes customer satisfaction and acceptance and compliance with building regulations.

It becomes difficult to take a decision with so many qualitative and quantitative factors in tandem. Availability of a scientific, holistic and transparent evaluation framework for emerging housing technologies is the foremost barrier.

This framework identifies the issues and attributes of emerging housing systems and technologies that affect both positively and negatively, decisions to utilize them in residential construction. Identified attributes are presented in a three level vertical classification system consisting of primary, secondary and tertiary level. Attributes are further classified at each level into ‘mandatory attributes’ and ‘preferred and desired attributes’ for evaluating emerging technologies. Mandatory attributes provide information about whether a system can be used for housing construction or not under Indian conditions; whereas preferred and desired attributes give information about the levels of implementation of affordable and mass housing sector.

Emerging building systems and housing technologies are primarily evaluated against all mandatory attributes such as strength and stability based on the Performance Appraisal Certification System (PACS).

If technology successfully adheres to all the parameters and criteria given in the mandatory attributes, then it can be further evaluated using preferred and desired attributes for implementation and promotion to end user requirements.
Preferred and desired attributes such as functional requirements, economic viability, design flexibility, maintenance, sustainability and finish quality are used for determining a general recommendation level for the implementation of technology in India for constructing of affordable mass housing.

The recommendation level for implementation of a particular technology is determined with the help of an index, referred to as the Technology Preference Index (TPI). TPI is dependent on the relative priority of secondary and tertiary attributes.
Rather than assessing technology by their first cost alone, and of then rejecting them, our framework considers evaluation of housing technologies at a more holistic scale by assessing mandatory, preferred and desired attributes of the technology being considered.

Various stakeholders of the affordable housing value chain determine suitability of emerging technologies for construction and can use the proposed framework. A key feature of our evaluation framework is that it takes into consideration end user viewpoints, for example the needs and requirement of the urban poor. This is a small, but important step in meeting the goals of the technology sub-mission of the housing for all mission.

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