Every city has a plethora of stories waiting to be told – Undiscovered trails and untold tales of a million people that highlight forgotten nuances of city life. From the tea-kadais of George Town to the filter kappi kadai in the midst of Mylapore, the bajji stalls in the Marina to the biriyani kadai loyalists in Triplicane, early morning sweepers to the garbage handlers in Perungudi – they all have a story to tell. These stories are evidence of a complex relationship between people and place, and ultimately contribute to the “identity” of a city. Each person perceives the city differently and forms one’s own narrative, uniquely shaped by cultural, human contexts and the social milieu. Urban narratives reveal the character of the city, and most importantly, make us feel like we belong.
Now, wait a minute, this is not another romanticized version of city life, and its chaotic charm. Here, I want to go beyond just recording these narratives. I seek to decipher the spatial contexts that give rise to such narratives– urban contexts that frame the stories and influence how we place ourselves in it. The quality of these urban contexts affects the quality of our experience as well.
The architecture of a city, the built form is no longer just a backdrop to our lives. It has metamorphed to be a unique generator of our experiences. A lot of memories of our childhood, of our life are uniquely shaped by the “place” of its happening. We tend to associate memories with a place. Place memories are born of the emotional bond between a person and a place, it is what makes a place meaningful to us.
This leads me to the question – ‘what’ in a place makes it worth remembering? Why is it that memories of some places are recalled with a smile, while some leave a distasteful aftertaste in our mouths? What tips the balance?
Spatial memories, especially in a city, are crucial is shaping the image or mindset one has towards the city. Memories are subjective just as individual mindsets are, triggered by the initial experiences of the place. So, the initial experience of the place- the sights, sounds, the serendipitous encounters with people, the context that sets the tone and opportunity- determines the memory we take from it. We go on to fill the space with those memories and a place, defined by our reminiscences, is born. Experience of a context shapes the memories.
Our city is changing fast, caught a conflict between the ephemeral and the permanent. The ephermerality of everyday rituals, interactions with people, events in places, fleeting moments in time make up urban life. Architecture and design in a city should be conducive to the realization of such experiences that mould memories of city life. Architecture should respond to the ever changing urbanism of the city and not just be a mark of permanence of the designer of the political regime that sanctions it. Public buildings have the potential to be the face of the city and reflect the mindset of the society. They could be inclusive, user-oriented and democratic or could be biased, unfriendly and not susceptive to any kind of change.
We need to make a conscious choice to create architecture that respects the city it is in, and responds to the collective memories of the people. Only then is it worth remembering.
- All photos by Siddarth PT.