News Treehugger Voices Workers' Housing in India Is Simple and Energy-Efficient Perhaps it's time to look at company-owned housing again in North America. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Published March 16, 2022 01:25PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Ricken Desai News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Many companies have built housing and even company towns for their employees, especially if the mine or the factory is far away from cities. In the U.S., Pullman, Kohler, and Hershey did it. There is even Steinway Village in the borough of Queens in New York City, built for the piano maker's employees, which had housing, schools, and an amusement park. The housing was often well planned and designed by the top planners and architects, in tune with the latest ideas. Sanjay Puri Architects They are still building workers' housing in many parts of the world, and it is still often innovative. This housing in Kodla, Karnataka, India, designed by Sanjay Puri Architects, is composed of studio apartments, a hostel, and a guest house to house workers of a new integrated cement mill and clinker line for a Shree Cement Ltd. plant. The company gives many of the same reasons for doing this as the Kohlers and the Hershey's did: "For the last forty years, we have calibrated our mission to address the social needs of neighbouring communities of all our plant locations." The website states it runs computer literacy programs and supports health and family welfare, women empowerment, and local infrastructure development. According to the press release: "Due to the hot climate of the region, where temperatures exceed 35°C for 8 months of the year, each of the rooms is angularly stepped in the layout and oriented towards the north." Ricken Desai The orientation of housing in India is actually important because of "Vastu Shastra," which translates literally to "the science of architecture." Years ago, I was designing a modular house for an Indian couple in Ontario, Canada, where the sun is to the south. On this lot, the best views were to the south, but they insisted that the house had to face north to be Vastu-compliant. In this project, most of the boxes, balconies, and views are on the northeast side of the building. "The brief calls for 18 studio apartments, 54 hostel rooms, and 18 guesthouse rooms to be created in buildings of 4 & 5 levels, all facing large landscaped areas and a large playground to the northeast. Common facilities, including a cafeteria, a game room, a lounge, and a gym are housed on the ground level. Rooms opening onto sheltered north-facing balconies occupy the upper floors." Sanjay Puri Architects The plans are interesting, with the studio and guest house buildings having six bedrooms and six ensuite bathrooms for each. And everyone gets a balcony; it seems almost lavish by North American hostel or student residence standards. Ricken Desai "Indian culture is known for its vivid use of colour in traditional crafts, festivities, and clothing. India is the only country that annually celebrates Holi, a festival of colour. Three of the most vivid primary colours – red, blue, and yellow - highlight the cantilevered balconies of each room, creating an identity and simultaneously enhancing the sculptural look of the buildings. " Riken Desai This Treehugger is not usually a fan of concrete construction, but that is what much of India is built of, and Shree Cement Ltd. claims to be "committed to finding sustainable ways of making cement, which includes usage of alternate fuel resources, renewable sources of energy, conservation of the mined areas and upliftment of community." Sanjay Puri Architects is trying to minimize its impact: "Economically built, with emphasis on natural ventilation and natural sunlight, the buildings are very energy efficient. Fly ash brick walls, water recycling, rainwater harvesting, northern orientation, and sheltered outdoor spaces reduce heat gain and render the design sustainable. The entirety of required electrical energy is harnessed from the residual energy of the nearby cement plant." Riken Desai You can see by the shadows on the building that all of the projecting boxes keep the sun off almost every window, reducing solar gain. Ricken Desai In North America today, housing has become unaffordable in many cities where the jobs are, and companies aren't building company housing anymore. The concept is not without its problems— having your home owned by the company you work for didn't work out for Pullman employees and even the sweetest little company town, Hershey, Pennsylvania, had its issues. Now Elon Musk wants to build the new city of Starbase in Texas, but he could be a difficult landlord. But at least his city would have good Wifi. Perhaps company housing is an idea whose time has come around again.