One of the leading concrete brands in the world and a leader in building materials, Lafarge has established its presence in all major countries and cities across the globe. Known for its innovation and specialist solutions, Lafarge has now started exploring the possibilities of affordable housing in different parts of the world. Recently, the company initiated a pedagogic module with JJ College of Architecture in Mumbai and Urbz on affordable housing. Talking about this approach, Philippe Mauran, Affordable Housing Group Project Manager at Lafarge, discusses the meaning of affordable housing, how it can be made a reality for the masses and how the concept can be actually materialized in a global context in an interview with Shabnam Jabbar.
How do you define “affordable housing” in your initiatives? What according to you is the perfect definition of affordable housing?
We define Affordable housing as a decent housing unit dedicated to people who cannot have access to it by usual financial means. By “decent” we mean in particular, access to electricity, sanitation, drinkable water, temperature regulation, and proximity with economic opportunities.
Tell us something about the initiatives of Lafarge in affordable housing?
Lafarge’s vision on Affordable Housing takes a long-term approach and aims to provide solutions, tailored to local challenges and populations’ needs. It is not about short-term patronage, but considering affordable housing as a market of its own. Lafarge has identified several action areas: micro-credits to improve living conditions; rehabilitation of slums in situ; programs with real-estate developers and government and new generation social housing in developed countries. The group is developing innovative pilot programs along these four types of approaches in countries such as France, Indonesia, Honduras and India.
Which countries or state are you primarily targeting for this sector?
Potentially all countries where Lafarge operates can be targets of affordable housing initiatives. One key aspect of our approach is that we are looking for opportunities both in emerging and mature countries, where there are housing needs for low income families.
How are you planning to materialize the concept of affordable housing in the Indian scenario?
We think that there is no “one size fits all” solution to the affordable housing issue and that solutions must be found at the local level, taking into account the specificities of each country, region and city. The idea of developing a very low cost house that would be sold everywhere does not seem relevant to us and could create negative impacts on their inhabitants (difficult access to economic opportunities, lack of infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, etc). We prefer to work on a different set of solutions that we leverage depending on the given area and we tailor them in order to match the local housing issues. As mentioned earlier, and in the case of India, we are currently working on the rehabilitation of slums. We are also in the process of exploring a new product for rural areas which features a new binder to better protect houses from monsoons.
Who are you partnering with to achieve the goal of making housing accessible to everyone?
We involve local partners in our programs and these partners can be NGOs, municipalities, developers, architects or microfinance banks.
How do you perceive the roll of urban planners and architects in the realization of model affordable homes?
Architects have a key role to play in order to make housing affordable by introducing innovations in terms of architectural plans, and urban planning as well as construction systems and materials. That is why we involve them in our reflection and work in the countries where we develop affordable housing programs. And this is why we are happy to have worked closely with the students of JJ College of Architecture, as they are tomorrow’s architects that will be tackling the challenges of providing increasing numbers of affordable homes and better housing in general.