Hathigaon
Carlos Chen

Housing for Mahouts and their Elephants

RMA Architects as Architects

A housing project for a 100 elephants and their Mahouts (caretakers), Hathigaon (or elephant village) is situated at the foothill of the Amber Palace and Fort near Jaipur. The design strategy first involved structuring the landscape that had been devastated by its use as a sand quarry by local sand suppliers, to create a series of water bodies to harvest the rain runoff, as this is the most crucial resource in the desert climate of Rajasthan. With the water resources in place, an extensive tree plantation program was carried out together with seeding the site to propagate local species - all at an extremely low cost, using local labour and craftspeople.


The water body was a critical component of the design, as it also facilitated the bonding between the mahout and elephant, through the process of bathing – an important ritual both for the health of the elephant as well as their bonding with their keeper.


The thans (housing units) are organized in clusters and situated on portions of the site that are not used for the landscape regeneration. Courtyards and pavilions supplement the otherwise small area of 40 sqm that was allocated in the budget for this essentially low-income housing project. The site planning thus employed a system of clusters to create shared community space at different hierarchies to build a sense of community among the inhabitants.


The challenges of working through the bureaucracy in a project sponsored by the Government and executed by the equivalent to the Public Works Department were overcome by focusing on the landscape and using the precious resource of water as the central instrument around which decisions were facilitated. This was a humbling experience, as clearly the lives of the inhabitants, and what was crucial for their needs, were privileged in the budgets with the investment in architecture being minimal. The intent in the design was to leave room for the inhabitants to transform their own homes incrementally and appropriate them through visual and spatial transformations over time.

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