Artists Are Building The World’s First Design Museum Inside A Slum

Want to find innovative thinking about cities and design? Look to slum dwellers, who have no choice but to be creative.

Sitting on a triangle of former swampland in the middle of downtown Mumbai, the neighborhood of Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world. It’s also one of the world’s most creative places–the entire informal settlement was built by residents who often live on around $2 a day, with no help from the city.


A new mobile museum is designed to showcase the design chops of the people who live there and change how the world thinks about so-called “slums.”

“Their ability to reinvent themselves and their surroundings is exceptional, mastering the creation of what we call ‘user-generated neighborhoods,'” say artists Jorge Mañes Rubio, Amanda Pinatih, Matias Echanove, and Rahul Srivastava, who designed the new museum.

The small museum, which can be towed behind a bike or car, will travel around the neighborhood displaying objects designed in the area–everything from traditional textile weaving and block printing to laser-cutting and creative uses of recycled plastic. The artists will invite the elite from Mumbai’s art and design community to come see the neighborhood in a different way.

“In Dharavi you can find families who go back several generations in mastering a specific kind of craft to cutting edge manufacturing technologies,” the artists say. “We want to display both different approaches.”

When Rubio first visited the neighborhood in 2011, he was struck by the energy of the area, and the ways it challenged preconceived notions of what a “slum” should look like and how people work there.

“Inspiration and creativity could be found virtually everywhere, to the extent that sometimes it seemed to arise in a purely accidental, almost effortless way,” the team says. “Families who have mastered the same craftsmanship for generations live right next to those who are using modern manufacturing technologies such as laser cutting or CNC. Yet we keep on having a biased perspective when addressing these kind of places.”


The roving museum will also double as a venue for local craftspeople to host workshops, connect with each other, and find new possibilities to create circular loops for old materials. “There is almost no waste in Dharavi because everything gets recycled or reused, and we want to look into new possibilities to creatively use these recycled raw materials,” the artists say.

Eventually, they’re hoping to bring similar museums to other informal settlements around the world. “With an ever-growing world population, informal settlements will play a major role in the expanding megacities of tomorrow,” they say. “This first experience will serve to measure the actual impact that our proposal may have on a global scale, and how it could change our perception and response to these locations.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.