Now more than ever, we need the skills of architects and designers to build sustainable and affordable housing. This is evident in cities around the world, where lower-income residents often have no choice but overcome hardships overlooked by developers looking to target more affluent inhabitants.

Enter the Community Design Agency (CDA), an architecture and design agency with a vision to create “an inclusive world where every human enjoys access to vibrant, safe, and healthy spaces to live, work, and play.”

Bright housing units by the CDA liven up Ahmednagar's historically impoverished Sanjaynagar neighborhood.

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An initiative of the Curry Stone Design Collective, the sustainably-minded CDA recently worked with both the Ahmednagar Municipal Corporation and non-profit group Snhalaya on a project meant to revitalize the housing blocks in the city of Ahmednagar, India. The city’s Sanjaynagar neighborhood in particular is plagued by subpar living conditions, including homes built from unsuitable reclaimed materials like scrap metal and a lack of adequate sanitation facilities.

Ground-floor view of the CDA's revitalized Sanjaynagar housing structures.

The community’s residents directly contributed to the design of the buildings’ interiors. As CDA Managing Director Sandhya Naidu Janardhan explains, the overall process “evolved at different scales of the neighborhood [from] the masterplan…[to] each family designing their apartment interiors.” The result is an “apartment typology [that] allows for multiple combinations and iterations based on the preference of families.”

Covered outdoor walkway runs along the unit entrances of the CDA's revitalized Sanjaynagar housing units.

Colorful metal railings line the balconies of the CDA's revitalized Sanjaynagar housing units.

Residents mingle and look out over the surrounding area from the upper walkway of a CDA-designed affordable housing unit.

The new housing will literally transform the area, creating a vibrant multipurpose living space that continues the neighborhood’s community-minded ethos. Built with locally-made bricks and understated decorative features, the units are so much more than the cookie-cutter constructions commonly associated with affordable housing. And the residents’ input did prove to be invaluable, as their requests for good lighting, ventilation, and adequate space for their families, pets, and livestock helped the designers envision a space where real people could live, work, and thrive.

Sanjaynagar residents mingle on the stairway of a CDA-designed affordable housing unit.

Over 30 families have already moved into the completed homes, but they’ll eventually house almost 300 families, with construction of the remaining homes beginning in November 2022. With the completion of the development, Sanjaynagar will be one step closer to becoming a vibrant and affordable place for the locals to call home.