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  • Pratika Talegaonkar

Channeling the spirit of Jugaad in Urbanism

I remember as a child, I was berated by my father for showing too much 'jugaad-giri' or 'monkey business'; as a first response to being dangerously creative in making my own versions of toys he denied me. A colossal sized doll house that I wanted but could not have, I recreated using his office supplies, bedroom furniture, cardboard boxes, and electric wires that would power my handmade versions of fairy lights. I wasn't allowed to have a store-bought doll house so I made-do with one I could make myself with the things I could find around me. That's jugaad.

Juggad in colloquial Hindi language implies 'to hack' but in an authentic, frugal way, through nonconventional ingenuity borne out of raw human necessity to innovate in order to sustain oneself during crisis. It's an innovative quick-fix for resources and basic things that shouldn't be scarce. Like running tap water, public light poles providing power, space to carry our ones business, and very recently having access to technology and gadgets so one can prosper equitability like the rest. In India, those who've had to struggled to find such basic commodities, have irrevocably been confronted with a form of jugaad.

Such a trait must then be universal for there is a word/phrase for it in other languages. In Brazilian Portuguese, it's gambiarra; the French call it système D; jua kali in Swahili, diskarte in Tagalog and many more.

In urbanism, jugaad refers to a resourceful solution sought by locals to local urban problems using the resources they have or can openly find, that they can customise to their specific needs to live a dignified life. Simply put, it's survival-mode thinking.

Street side barber by Damini Rathi
Street side tailor by Damini Rathi

Perhaps it is an attribute given to a local genius or it is an aspirational drive of the collective to find solutions to common problems. Designing through jugaad adds a sense of spontaneity and uncertainty, excitement, maybe even tad-bit of absurdity, which in turn churns authenticity in all of us.

Lateral thinking, untapped potential, that which you cannot see, but can sense, feel and channel —that's the spirit which fuels jugaad. Have we forgotten about this raw and dynamic energy or quality that each of us possesses and abandoned it for a dull, top-down, process orientated thinking?

I came across a jugaad innovation on my trip to Cuba in 2015, in the town of Viñales. The DJ for the Friday fiesta created a jugaad style DJ set consisting of a computer monitor from the 90's, a screen-less laptop for a keyboard, a bag of CD's and a sound controller; all connected through myriad lines of cables tapping into to the nearest light pole for power. He entertained the locals and tourists with a continuous stream of classic Cuban beats, as if this system of contraption pieced itself together for him. Until somebody predictably tripped over and unplugged it all. It didn't take too long for the system to be back-up again, running tunes seamlessly like the we do so effortlessly through our smartphones.

Cuban DJ by Prat Talegaonkar

So, how does this fit within the urbanism profession?

For decades, urbanism professionals have thought that the burden to city-making has been left to them and how little it was the role of the citizenry to not only participate but to also co-create.

What if there were no boundaries between the professional designers and the citizens and that both were essentially playing the same roles but in different styles using different access to resources?

What if we designed cities not with the ego of the professional but as someone who must innovate like our lives depended on it,? how do you channeling the spirit of jugaad? What sort of outcomes could we then come up with in the current epoch of global environmental crisis?

The age of the Anthropocene is all one hears about these days. Undeniably, it is unfolding in the background, whether we like it or not. We are surrounded by unprecedented change in our environment, climate, and human evolution. A generational shift towards co-production, equity and the individual innovation is upon us. So here's a million-dollar question:

How can jugaad or 'survival-mode' thinking help us derive creative homegrown sustainable design solutions in all facets of our lives—from our homes to the neighbourhood?

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