COMPOUND 13 LAB
Compound 13 Lab is a space for experimental design and learning. Our programme introduces design and media tools, audiovisual technologies, 3D design and digital fabrication to disadvantaged, marginalised citizens who because of their socio-economic status do not normally have access to these resources.
The materials and resources of Mumbai's recycling industry are the starting point for learning and teaching about ecological design and living solutions. The Lab offers young people access to these technologies through an experimental making space where issues of work, waste and survival in the 21st Century can be explored.
At the Lab, young people are placed at the centre of their own learning. They co-design and develop a bespoke ‘living curriculum’ that responds to their issues, addresses their needs and aids their future goals. The Lab is an emergent ‘maker space’ and takes up residency within Dharavi, an area of Mumbai that might be described as one of the largest informal aggregations of (re)maker and (re)manufacturing spaces on the planet.
Through a programme of workshops and residencies by artists, scientists, engineers and designers, the lab shares emerging tools and technologies of the circular economy with those who would not normally have access to them.
The project explores a paradigm of smart city where the technologically advanced city emerges from below rather than being centrally planned and implemented. In particular, members can test and innovate with various technologies, exploring the ways in which plastics can be recycled, remanufactured and remade safely, reliably and creatively.
Dharavi is Mumbai’s oldest surviving informal settlement and one of the largest in Asia. It covers a landmass of 1.7 km2 and has an estimated population of one million people.
Dharavi could be described as ‘a city within a city.’ It harbors defined borders and points of entry, flanked on two sides by the deep cut of Mumbai’s Central and Western railway. Along its northern rim Dharavi faces Mumbai’s finance hub, the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), separated by open mangroves and the heavily polluted Mithi River.
Dharavi has a rich history reaching back to the 18th century, then a small village of Koli fisherman. As the seven islands of Bom Bahia merged and the city of Bombay grew, Dharavi, at its northernmost point, became the original depository for 'slum clearance' in the South. Rather than the common 'slum' trajectory of an expanding periphery, Dharavi’s borders housed an agglomeration of informal settlements, colonies, transit camps and small villages that, over time, have become increasingly dense and more socially complex. Now, many generations of families make their homes there.
Dharavi grew in scale and economic production in tandem with the city’s expansion as it shifted from periphery to the centre. Today, its central location and excellent connectivity, fed by Sion, Mahim and Matunga stations places it among the city’s most prime sites for real-estate development.
The 13 Compounds, on Dharavi’s north-western rim, processes approximately 80% of Mumbai’s hard domestic waste. Up to 250,000 rag-pickers supply 40,000 people employed in grassroots recycling micro-enterprises, working in risky and unsanitary conditions. This process of self-organised work is undertaken almost entirely by those with low incomes, low social status and migrants.
Most industries in Dharavi are labour-intensive, producing high levels of pollution, even though they contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the city. Hazardous and cramped working conditions, combined with poor sanitation, means that a factor of such production is that it comes at the expense of human life. The vital contribution made by informal waste recovery through the self-organised recycling sector remains undervalued and largely invisible, echoing the marginalized and disposable status of the extremely poor workers that sustain it.
Recently, a total ban of single-use plastics by the state of Maharashtra has brought the informal recycling industries further into the media spotlight. The policy response to waste management, marine plastic pollution and the requirement for recycling relies on this process of self-organised work, undertaken almost entirely by those with low incomes, low social status and migrants.