• Pratika Talegaonkar

Channeling the spirit of Jugaad in Urbanism

I remember as a child, I was told-off by my father for showing-off too much 'jugaad-giri'; as a first response to being dangerously creative in making my own versions of

a doll house using his office supplies and live-electric wires to power my self-made 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 implies 'to hack' but in an authentic, frugal way, through an anti-conventional ingenuity borne out of raw human necessity to innovate in order to sustain oneself during crisis. It is an innovative quick-fix when resources are scarce. In India, jugaad runs deep in the veins of those who have had to make-do with very little. Such a trait must 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 to something as basic as shelter, food, power and water when resources are scarce to live a dignified life.

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 a solution to common problems. Designing through jugaad adds a sense of spontaneity and uncertainty, excitement, maybe even tad-bit of craziness, 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 possesses and abandoned it for a dull, top-down, process-orientated thinking?

I came across jugaad innovation on my trip to Cuba, in the town of Viñales. The town's DJ for the Friday fiesta created a jugaad set-up consisting of a computer monitor from the 90's, a screen-less laptop, a sound controller, and myriad lines of cables connecting to the nearest light pole. With this, he entertained the locals with continuous stream of classic Cuban beats until someone accidentally tripped over and unplugged the wires that 'borrowed' power from the nearest source.

Cuban DJ by Prat Talegaonkar

So, what's the take-away?

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 and the citizen and that both were essentially playing the same roles but in different settings? What if we designed cities not with the ego of the professional but as someone who must innovate like our lives depended on it in order to survive the chaos. Then as citizens, we are the ‘collective’. What sort of outcomes could we come-up with then in the current epoch of global environmental crisis?

The age of the Anthropocene is unfolding in the background, we are surrounded by unprecedented change in our environment and human evolution. A generational shift towards co-production, equity and the individual innovation is upon us. so here's a question to end this topic to tickle all our brains:

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

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