Our relationship with waste in today’s time and age, is from what we consume to the dustbin, rarely do we choose to know what happens to it after the ‘kachrawala’ collects it from our house. The blame for this lies with the boon of globalisation and urbanisation, wherein specialised systems are put in place, tending to man’s every beck and call. The downside of this though, is that these systems are rarely thought of in a holistic manner, one system is rarely intertwined with another, thus leading to discrepancies in functioning as a well organised and symbiotic network.
The most striking example of this is the case of waste management. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) has to be managed by technologies and methods that enable keeping our cities clean, prevent pollution and protect the environment and at the same time minimize the cost through recovery of resources and energy. As per CPCB report 2012-13 municipal areas in the country generate 1,43,760 metric tonnes per day of Municipal solid waste, of which only 91,152 TPD waste is collected and 25,884 TPD treated. The MSW, therefore, dumped in low lying urban areas is a whopping 1,07,876 TPD, which needs 2,12,752 cubic meter space every day and 776 hectare of precious land per year.
Would waste management be a better system if it was thought of in a holistic way, wherein the waste we generate be used in a more productive fashion instead of taking up valuable space and causing serious environmental hazards?
In Pune, the Pune Municipal Corporation is in charge of the collection and management of waste. Currently, all of Pune’s waste is dumped in a massive landfill on the outskirts called Uruli Devachi. This has not stopped in spite of repeated protests and adverse health effects of the residents of the nearby town. Waste picker collectives like Swach are doing their part to contribute, but it is not enough. People have to start taking individual responsibility for their waste.
The need of the hour is to educate people and generate awareness about creating less waste. This project aims at developing a city level network of decentralised waste to energy power plants in each of the 16 administrative wards of Pune city that would also serve as context specific social space to make the service infrastructure accessible to the urban fabric and sensitise people toward the aim of generating less waste by incentivising responsibility toward waste.
Concept Development :
Swa-oorja (Swa: Self, Oorja: Energy) has the capacity to power 18,500 homes at an average in Pune per ward per day. This system will generate employment and revenue along with reducing reliance on the conventional hydro-electric system of power generation. It is scalable and hence is adaptable to various contexts and sizes, right from a housing society to a whole city. The programmatic challenge was to find the ‘sweet’ spot between industry, education and recreation, and the instinctive design response was to deconstruct the assembly line, which allows permeability of social functions without compromising on efficiency. Demystifying the industrial infrastructure was important, so as to design an architecture that addresses both its processing and social functions, and it is perceived as a social space first, before an industrial one.
Context and site study:
Kothrud ward was selected for a model for this system, as its population density to waste generation ratio is relatively high (6.7 sq.m per person). Kothrud also holds the record for the fastest growing suburb in Asia, transitively generating a massive amount of residential and commercial waste. The ward generates around 50 Tonnes per day(TPD) of MSW out of which approximately 40 TPD is organic waste. After studying the fabric of the ward, it was deuced that Kothrud had negligible public park space. Hence the power plant would double up as a public park. A former landfill site on an arterial road was chosen, which has a history as a landfill before it was banned in 1990’s, and is presently being used as a waste transfer station and office for Swach, the ragpicker’s collective. The site area is 27 acres with the road on the southern end, a hill to the north, and residential buildings on the east and west, along with a slum, that houses the swach employees to the southwest.
Site specific design decisions include water harvesting, two way vehicular circulation, deriving an axis from an existing temple. The role of the architect in this case is more as a designer of systems. The site has been developed as an overlay of various programmatic systems which translate themselves in geometries, them being:
- Plane: The surface on which the social activities take place.
- Organic line: Circulation on the ground, traced by the instinctive movement of people on the site, and the topography.
- Point: A grid of 20m x 20m has been laid on the site, with the grid points translating themselves into buildings, and the workflow tracing the gridlines.
- Process Line: The line tracing the grid, which the processes and services follow, and also translates itself into a pedestrian bridge, for visitors to access the processes without interrupting the workflow.
Programming the Plant:
The programme is divided into three parts, the power plant, which includes the waste to energy plant, processing units for dry waste, and an administration that includes a visitors centre and employee area. The social programme is designed as supporting functions to the power plant and include a shop for selling artisanal items made from waste, a cafeteria, a library and workshops that can be used to for a variety of purposes, ranging from studios for artists to hosting exhibitions. An art gallery has also been included, to encourage art. The third part is the permeable edge, on the southern end of the site, adjacent to the road, which relies on site specific design interventions, including a marketplace to replace the haphazard hawkers on Paud road, a community centre with public toilets and open space that the slum dwellers can use constructively. Adaptive reuse of the existing waste transfer station into an industrial jungle gym for children to play in. The existing Swach office has been used as a Nursery for toddlers and a cycle rent stand, while the office has been shifted to be a part of the administrative building.
Architectural language and material expression:
The prismatic form has been translated as a prototypical modular system of steel trusses, one module being 10m wide by 12m long, made from scrap metal. This module is repeated according to the usage of the building, with functions requiring less space made up of lesser modules and so on. Fly ash bricks are used for the walls, plastic bottles have been used as roof tiles and gutters, Bottle bricks have been used to make the seating, and reused oil drums have been used as lighting.
The aesthetic of the project has been designed to communicate a certain level of relate-ability, with the building form being reduced to platonic solids, prisms, spheres and cylinders, with the interpenetration between them make for the architectural language.
‘Architects have to become designers of eco-systems. Not just beautiful facades and buildings, but systems of economy and ecology, wherein we channel the flow not only of people, but also the flow of resources through our cities and buildings’ – Bjarke Ingles.
This quote sums up the concern for the project and the approach taken toward the thesis. Systems of living have to thought about in a holistic way, and the role of the architect in today’s time is a designer of these systems, since he has the foresight to perceive systems. Swa-oorja is an attempt at such a system, and it is designed to highlight and address waste management and power generation as cogs of the same wheel of sustainable living.
This publication is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Nishant Pai, based on his Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Swa-oorja : Envisioning a Zero Waste Pune.”, compiled in the document below.
Institution: VIT’s Padmabhushan Vasantdada Patil College of Architecture, Pune.
Thesis guide: Ar Vijaya Srinivasan.
Review Members: Ar. Nachiket Patwardhan, Ar. Vijaya Shrinivasan, Ar. Prasanna Desai, Ar. Narendra Dengle, Ar. Shekhar Garud, Ar Pinkish Shah
Nishant Pai, currently working as a Researcher in Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA), is an architect and closet graphic designer and artist. His research takes him to the informal settlements of the Mumbai Metropolitan region to develop a guideline for architects and planners to deal with informality in an inclusive manner.
He recently kick started a platform for curating art and design, StART Collective. Follow the page for more updates!
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The industrial revolution provided us with the engineering and power necessary to make profound economic and social change. However, with this unprecedented growth and new found prosperity, an abuse of natural resources and our environment initiated a trajectory of unforeseeable consequences. Today, we are leaving our historically wasteful and turbulent manufacturing economy in favor of a seemingly more stable and mainstream digitally driven era. With this, we are seeing the massive areas of disrupted land that once stood to represent the height of innovation and success appearing as abandoned wastelands all over the world. With the quest to redevelop these areas lies the opportunity to re-imagine the definition of public space and green infrastructure.
This thesis takes a critical eye to previous and current design strategies of industrial landscapes and identifies new typologies relevant within this construct. Using a Gravel quarry with abandoned area as its site, this thesis proposes a master plan to reclaim, restore, and reuse the quarry as an alluring recreational green space for the surrounding community. In seeking a redefinition of the urban park, this thesis argues that a new type of cultural parkland is needed that envelope structures, that conversed and ground that responds to 21st century living.
This proposal uses a series of architectural interventions to respond to sites visual character and fill the recreational needs of the community. How can a forward looking architecture acknowledge a surrounding context defined by its past? This thesis aims to capture the knowledge of previous violent enterprise, physical industrial remnants, topographic qualities of a Quarried landscape, and the character of the surrounding community in order to fuse architecture with its industrial surroundings. Through this entwined relationship of architecture and its surrounding landscape the project is able to provide unique amenities that embrace the quarry’s industrial heritage. The proposal sees what has been abandoned not as waste, but as an opportunity to redefine the cultural park in order to create dynamic and engaging spaces.
“The modern park is no longer seen as a quiet rural green, but as a sparkling and overcharged urban crossroads” – AdriaanGeuze
Creating the Urban Landscape of tomorrow
The evolution of industries in the last quarter of the 21st century has been characterised by the abandonment of industrial areas. This trend is ongoing and is pushing rapidly toward urban areas. With this, cities are confronting change by reprogramming these postindustrial spaces, and people are changing their aesthetic sensibilities and attitudes toward natural and man-made environments.
By redefining these sites as public green space, we can capture the unique qualities and benefits of their industrial past to provide green infrastructure that hosts new architectural opportunities and amenities for its surrounding community. The recreational services provided by these sites will have both environmental and social benefits. The parks of tomorrow will become the basis of a thriving metropolitan culture. Parks implemented in these post-industrial areas will allow for shared experiences that give rise to mutual respect in the community and act as landmarks within our cities that represent growth and prosperity the way their previous industrial nature once did.
This thesis accepts the challenge that lies in incorporating natural processes into architectural interventions and looks to the land itself to identify design opportunities. The form and content of the pavilions and constructed landscape is developed through historical traces, local associations, indigenous plants, and regional materials in order to provide a new form of public space, while simultaneously embracing the identity of the monumental landscape defined by man.
Periswamy says, “My thesis is a conversation…. Not a silent one but a celebration of the gorgeous laid down mass – THE QUARRY”
This publication is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Nikhil Sriram Periaswamy, based on his Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Revitalisation of Abandoned Quarry, Chennai.”, compiled in the document below. (Zoom in to the document to view the beautiful detailing of the spaces.)
Institution – MEASI Academy of Architecture, Chennai.
Noteworthy mention – Winner, NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards South Zone, Top shortlisted entry in ArchiPrix International 2017, Shortlisted- ISARCH Awards.
Nikhil Sriram Periaswamy is currently pursuing his Master in Architecture in Chennai and graduated Bachelors in Architecture from MEASI Academy of Architecture, Chennai. He is currently involved in testing various methodologies in urban systems to understand and create “Liveable” urban spaces, and a series of art compositions called GEOMETRY which is at the publication state.
Hailing from a small town in Kerala, being a passionate foodie , my first fond memories of a city are the huge malls, pizzas and sizzlers which were once (until about 10 years ago) exclusive to only the metropolitan Indian cities. In fact I would always look forward to visiting my cousins who lived in the city, for my yearly pizza. It was not until I moved to Chennai for my undergraduate studies, five years ago that I could truly explore a city in terms of the multiple culinary dimensions that it has to offer.
Food is as much a part of culture as architecture is. But what is fascinating about food and cities today is that the cities today have become truly global offering us a taste of multiple cultures through a wide array of culinary experiences. For example, while Chennai stays true to its own South Indian Filter coffee and Idly, Vada Sambar, the spicy streets of Sow carpet (in North Chennai) are sure to impress one with the true north Indian flavours.
This quest for what a city could offer in terms of food led me to explore the same through my undergraduate architecture design thesis. My exploration of gastronomy began with a study of the culinary world today. Visiting culinary schools, getting a sneak peek of the workings of kitchens of five star restaurants, enjoying cooking sessions while making new friends at food studios, being a part of food walks where in one could explore the city through its cuisines, learning about how food start ups work, sharing my food experiences through social media food groups, I realized how cities today offer much more than just multiple dining experiences. Food today is no longer a mere means for sustenance, it is an art, a hobby, a profession, above all a kaleidoscope of experiences that people crave for!
Creating a Food Public Space
Food and Architecture being creative fields due to the exuberant quality of art that exists in them, my exploration furthered to see if these synonymous projections could be extended to explore a newer perspective; one that could inscribe value to our cities and engage a wide range of its citizens. The architectural concern of my project was to bring together people through food as a medium by creating a new food public space in the heart of the city that caters to the multiple dimensions that the culinary sector today has branched into.
Bangalore-a truly vibrant city with its fascinating culinary world, be it the ‘oota walks’, the late night partying in gastro-pubs, food melas or the numerous food start ups that can get you anything from a salad or a cookie to a celebrity chef in a jiffy – set the ambience for the design. The site on Church Street, one of the oldest food hubs of Bangalore within the CBD, abounding in eateries and pubs, well connected and surrounded by commercial spines, with a steady pedestrian flow provided ample scope for the project to expand from a ‘culinary arts centre’ into an ‘urban eat street’.
Designing for Food
A study of the existing streetscape and the urban context was important to understand how the built form responded to the same. Food, being a very sensuous phenomenon, works best when it is not hidden away, but exposed, letting the aromas linger. What was interesting about Church Street was that despite the large number of eateries present, there was hardly any spill over onto the streets. The reasons were mainly two:
- The street is not pedestrian friendly. It is punctured by transformers and piles of garbage, with uneven foot paths and haphazard street parking, cutting off any contact between pedestrians and the adjacent buildings.
- The buildings themselves are largely introverted (barring a few), not even attempting any engagement with the chaotic street.
As an architectural intervention for an urban transformation the design proposal focuses not just on the built form but also on creating a vibrant eat street.
Programming for Food
The culinary arts centre, whose built form was conceived as a response to the city, the streets and the people (and function) at three different scales, was envisioned to be a reflection of the vibrant urban culture, connecting multiple user groups through food and letting the streets flow into the building as much as possible. As the idea was to connect multiple user groups through food, the building is a collaborative food space that has chef studios, co working kitchens, public cooking studios, food retail, culinary schools, restaurants and amenities like library, auditorium etc.
Connecting with the Urban Street
The main design challenge was to understand how a vertical building as tall as 24 metres high in a tight urban context with FSI, setbacks and other building constraints could achieve an extroverted character, unlike the other tall buildings on Church Street that strictly did not engage with the pedestrians.
Hence the building was conceived as a heterogeneous vertical street with a play of inside and outside, multiple walkways within the building enabling many circulation paths for an interesting spatial experience. Transparency as a tool was used to connect the multiple levels and activities and project gastronomy as much as possible. Solids and voids, textures and colours also add to the extroverted building character, making it dynamic. The materiality of the building also draws from street characteristics such as plain vertical planes for graffiti, steel frames for banners etc .The building comes alive at night as the open spaces double up as dance and disco floors. The colourful banners of street festivals, events and performances get displayed on the steel grids of the building facade and the glass exterior facade of the rotated auditorium has LCD display that screens food videos, music, etc, becoming a focal point for the street node.
The built-form is ultimately an expression of a vibrant urban street. The street design proposing a pedestrian-friendly street, takes the vehicular traffic and parking underground. The idea is to enhance spill-over onto the street and add elements of colour, play and food throughout. The 750m stretch will have three pedestrian subways and one vehicular entry and exit point. The street is envisaged to become an urban canvas and a renewed food public space in the heart of the city of Bangalore.
Experiencing Food through Architecture
Architecture is played with to add a physical dimension to the food experience with multiple hues that accentuate the spirit of the place. The building elements were composed to form voids, frame views, fuse activities and provide fascinating new user experiences. Just as food has multiple flavours, the building’s spatial heterogeneity was a deliberate attempt to express the cultural diversity of the city. It also hints that only if architecture implants variety in the cityscape will it be a fertile seed for urban transformation.
The building thus becomes an identity for FOOD CULTURE and in parallel transforms the image of the context. Just as a city offers us a plethora of culinary experiences, the design aims to capture the essence of it on one platter to offer to its people.
[This article is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Priyanka Sreekanth, based on her Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Eatsup- A Culinary Arts Center on an Urban Eat Street”, compiled in the document below.]
Noteworthy mention – Presented at NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards South Zone jury.
The most disturbing conflict that one faces while working for an underprivileged community arises when one asks oneself, ‘Is it neo-colonialism if you, a city-grown and educated person, try to find a solution to a problem faced by them?’. This conflict arose at the beginning and was answered only during the next few months of working on the project.
Architecture is not just about a beautiful building but about the beautiful life that it contains. This doesn’t mean that the architecture of the project merely contains the program but that there’s much more to architecture than ‘apple-ization’ of form. It only means that each part of the built whole, every detail and each joint strives to reinforce the ideals of the imagined life. Architecture also doesn’t refer only to a finished building because that would make the people occupying this imagined utopia be looked down upon as mere ‘pollutants’. It means that the process of creating the space itself, positively affects the lives of people working or inhabiting the immediate physical context. All such processes have to be handled in a fine precision of a surgeon so that the insertion that is proposed doesn’t hamper the process of eventual evolution of the man, the place and the interplay within.
Architecture is also a process of building narratives. It also means that various narratives also play their parts in the process of building architecture. Such narratives of user groups as well as natural and artificial entities such as water, dwellings also act as the inseparable steps of the design process. Architecture of the project understands that after all the metaphors, connections and poems that an architect tries to imbibe into his (in this case, me!) space, it still longs to be accessed by all; unlike other art forms. Architecture can be pretentious and yet the ideals behind can be completely transformed by the users of the same. The project understands this process of change and this layer of time tries to fit the insert right inside the ancient society of the tribals.
Interpreting Conservative Surgery
Contextual development is a model of development that demands to be participatory and which studies and responds to the cultural, economic, ecological, political, historical contexts of the selected area. A tribal village in Melghat, Maharashtra (India) was selected as a site to demonstrate how a model of contextual development can be implemented.
Melghat only because of the positive changes it brought to me when I was involved in a teaching program previously through ‘Maitri’, an NGO that tries to improve the education and the livelihoods of the Korku (name of the tribe). The selection of the village was made by carefully analyzing the ‘athawda bazar’ or the weekly market system of the tribal society. The most suitable and potentially well-connected host village of Hatru was chosen for maximum impact after comparative analysis. The site was visited on multiple occasions and the observations related to it’s cultural, economic, ecological, political and historical contexts were recorded.
Published literature on Meghat was studied. Secondary literature that dealt with the post-colonial understanding of politics, economy and sustainability was chosen and studied. Schemes, acts and rights under the state of Maharashtra, India and the Constitution of India were studied for being able to analyze and critique it. Detailed discussions were conducted with the villagers, experts and social workers from Melghat, and the thesis guides. A contextual development plan, a manifesto of sort was proposed that would be implemented over next 20 years. The plan comprises of measures suggested in the domains of local self-governance, economic self-reliance, food security, and ecological interventions, creating spaces for positive social interactions and for several educational initiatives that respond to the micro-context of the local ecosystem. Certain inserts from the plan such as an activity studio, a research studio, a village-library, an educational farm, a parallel school, the ecotourism model, the community kitchen were selected through a process that embraced ‘user narratives’ as a tool for detailing the design. Thus the design approach became narrative-based and not program-based.
All the areas were determined by the local standards (ex. indoor space occupied by the villagers) and the design aimed to be rational, low cost, built with local and sustainable materials and techniques. The architecture had to be efficient, which can contain multiple activities with and without formalization. The scale of aesthetics, poetics and kinesthetics of architecture was purposely kept within the user’s comfort level. The beauty of the project lies in the way it started as a contemporary, rational and secular project and ended up eloping with traditional solutions. The project juxtaposes rationality with tradition when the functional spaces are weaved together by water, forming a contemporary step well.
The thesis also tries to question itself on the every step. ‘Why must this policy exist? Why must any policy exist at all? How much fodder do cows need? Should the by-laws and our conventional ideas of development hold us from valuing our evolved traditions? How does scale matter? How do people get comfortable? Who is going to build the project? Do bananas grow in shade?’ were only some of them. The project addresses the macro issues with micro solutions comprising of individuals, their livestock and their immediate surroundings.
The project focuses on shifting role of the architect from being a mere facilitator to the rich to being a translator for all. The project therefore tries to meet the objective of demonstrating contextual development with a realistic outlook.
The process of thesis tried to find an answer to the previously presented conflict. If you think yourself as different from the society that has thrived right next to you, that itself implies your superiority and falls into the neo-colonialist trap. If you imagine yourself as different, that itself implies the hierarchical structure of the society, reinforcing yourself as being a know-it-all problem solver. Once you start to be an active agent of your society, you try to be sustainable and increasingly more sensitive. The entire built up that the project proposes is in fact an inter-play between the inclusion and the exclusion of the individuals and the groups of individuals. When I look back to the process of designing so as to examine what could have affected the project positively, the ratio of the architect’s capacity and his power in an architectural project should have been questioned rigorously.
A thesis about decentralization can only become a valid project if its methods of design and execution represent the principles of decentralization that it tries to promote. Democratic, participatory approach to any project that deals with defining space should not only be preferable and celebrated but it should be a norm in any society that strives for democracy. Democracy at the end isn’t an event but a process.
This publication is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Advait Deshmukh, based on his Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Context Reservoir- Re-wiring the tribal systems of Melghat.”, compiled in the document below.
Noteworthy mention – Presented along with 9 others at NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards West Zone jury.
‘Why do we build cities? What happens when a city is built with the aim of merely being an image of modernity? What is ‘instant urbanism’ are there lessons we can learn from it?’
Qatar, the world’s wealthiest nation, whose wealth is sourced by oil and natural gas, is on its journey from becoming a ‘Carbon based economy’ to a ‘Knowledge based economy’. Consequently, all this money is constantly being converted to infrastructure within the city at a mind boggling rate, allowing the entire city to be developed within a short span of 30 years or so. This sudden, unnatural growth of the city is termed ‘instant urbanism’ or ‘petro-urbanism’.
With a local population of just 278,000, who exactly is building the country? The total population of Qatar is about 2 million (75% male and 25% female). The nationals are a minority in their own country. The staggering 1.8 million consists of expatriates from all over the world of which around 80% are migrant laborers from South Asian and African countries (esp. India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines). There is undoubtedly a socio-cultural segregation in the country due to these diverse cultures and economic differences.
Architecture and urban planning in the country, unfortunately, accentuate this socio-cultural segregation. What is built are fragmented urban structures with three main characteristics: extensive mega-projects, high-rise agglomerations and continuous urban sprawl. (Andrew Gardener; How the City Grows: Urban Growth and Challenges to Sustainable Development in Doha, Qatar) Increasingly, large geographical portions of the urban landscape are encompassed in singular planned ventures. This leads to large scale mono-functional spaces which hardly relate to each other. There is an Education City, a Sports City, a Creative City, a Leisure City (the Pearl Qatar), Labour cities. This is a kind of literalism where the qualities of good urban spaces are clustered into zones. Interaction between these “cities” is limited. There is a lack of cohesion between these vast urban areas. Zones, partitions, walls, enclaves, and compounds are familiar aspects of the city.
Many skyscrapers in the city lie empty or with just a few floors occupied, stadiums are empty but with floodlights on all night, a 325- bedded hospital just serves about 50 patients a day. Money can build buildings but can it build communities? A city without people or life is akin to a body with no soul.
This kind of fragmented urban development produces interstitial and backstage spaces of a strikingly different character. Just a few miles away from the city in the Industrial Area are labour camps in which 6-10 people live in 30sqm rooms; very often with poor sanitation and poor airconditioning – in desert where the temperature may go up to 45-50 degrees centigrade. This is where 60% of the population lives. It’s those who live here who built those skyscrapers and stadiums. How ironic!
There is no real need for skyscrapers in the city at all – but they give the city the perception of urban grandeur and perception is everything. Here you’ll find the biggest of everything; the costliest of everything; the most exclusive of all.
These kind of singular function spaces drain the element of surprise from the city. You don’t walk to the bus stop and buy some fruits on the way. When you go to shop; there is no place to pray. You get exactly what you came for.
This is not true just for Doha though. The most popular form of residential housing, world-wide, is the gated community (Setha Low). This is exclusivity in terms of people who can afford to live there. This creates dead edges and introverted communities in cities. Richard Sennet (Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics) says that edges in a city may be either borders or boundaries. Boundaries are limits or edges which separate one territory from another and borders are zones of interactive edge between territories. Are we building borders or boundaries in our cities?
‘It’s an urbanist’s dream to create a space that is intense, mixed, complex and flexible. If it’s the sort of place we want to make, it’s not the sort of space most cities are building.’ says Richard Sennet.
There seems to be something inherently wrong with the term ‘exclusivity’. While it seems to be a nice word to use in a developer’s ad, making urban spaces ‘exclusive’ to certain people or certain functions kill the life of a city. You invariably become a person either living within the gates or outside it.
“The evolution of urban space in Doha must face a turning point that will lead to new spatial transformations that will shape a built environment reflecting its inhabitants rather than being an imposed urban shell containing them.”
Source: Urban Evolution Of The City Of Doha: An Investigation Into The Impact Of Economic Transformations On Urban Structures’
Can architecture play a role in diminishing socio-cultural boundaries? How can architecture be used for integration? How can a settlement relate to the rest of the city in healthier way- inspite of strongly prevailing social stigmas? Can a settlement with flexible capacities be designed? A settlement with rigid infrastructure; allowing organic growth that adapts to the needs of the transient labour population?
An attempt to answer these questions is the Undergraduate Design Thesis of Ar. Shwetha Muthu, compiled in the document below.
[This article is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Ar.Shwetha Muthu, based on her Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Living or Surviving-Design for Migrant Workers in Qatar”]
Cities EVOLVE. A place which had a specific moral yesterday can mean something else today and a different one tomorrow. No context stays static. It seeks manifestations that appropriate to its time and place.
Having said that, are we acting conscious to those transformations? Has the progress our communities made created sensible reflections in our cityscapes? Do our city-building strategies embed visions for the future or are they just remedies for present? Why aren’t we putting people and socio-cultural networks as the prime stakeholders of our planning decisions?
I was pondered all these questions while viewing the city of Madurai through the lenses of urban design. Madurai, as a city with multiple hues, has rich historical significance. The city which emerged as planned settlement along the southern bank of R. Vaigai, has now expanded almost equally on either sides. Literature, Art, Commerce, Religion, Administration, Tourism all holds relevance with city. But, the unorganised urbanism of today implants pieces that in no-way can become part of the whole and strengthen the urban fabric.
As an individual being born and brought up in this city of past glory and architectural excellence, I believe the rich past is insufficient for a powerful future. It needs an intervention that responds to the context of TODAY, through the lines of what it should transform to be in the future; respecting the past yet bringing new dimensions.
1. Interrogate the ‘today’:
Old vs New + South vs North. The city of Madurai extends over an area of 2,42,977 sq km with the population of 14,65,625. It stands as a notable second-tier Indian city and a commercial centre for southern Tamilnadu. Though the city started emerging along south, with time, the growth process took a shift towards north as it gained most of the new public services after 1900’s. Few of the existing public functions in the old city also faced relocation as a decongestion measure.
These events in consequence molded the present scenario where the south city majorly offers commercial and socio-cultural dimensions and the north provides administrative and civic services. The city thus engages with two varied relationships; one between Old & New, the other between South and North. The design concern should therefore be oriented along these connections and contrive our cityscape as a continuous fabric.
2. Socio- Cultural Intervention in the North:
The expanding city boundary puts the people of north on the verge of getting disconnected from their cultural identities. The public services that were trans-located from south to north also stand as introverted establishments. The catchment population of south and north were as now almost equal, an active socio-cultural node in the north is a timely need to neutralize the present and formalize the future.
Vandiyur tank in the North-East is the largest water body within city limits. The tank spreads for an area of 577 acres and is the prime source of drinking water. The western and the southern edges are predominantly residential; the eastern edge adjoins the national highway and the proposed SEZ zone whereas the northern edge accommodates relocated inter-bus terminal, integrated flower market, Central vegetable & fruit market and the Omni bus stand.
The geographical location, potential to integrate existing functions, ecological significance and the economic asset that can be generated, makes it an ideal site for intervention. The design can conceptually take a similar model as that of the old city. The temple Vs The tank; The old city Vs The new city.
3. INCLUDE public opinions:
Encourage public participation. A new urban intervention that aims at bringing a change in cityscape should encourage public participation at all levels of decision-making. The concepts have to be simplified and people’s opinions and preferences should be recorded and respected.
The people’s impressions over the qualities of city’s existing public spaces can be discerned through a survey [Sample above] to decode the patterns of usage and spatial expectations. The public spaces in city can be categorised as religious, commercial, recreational and leisure spaces.  The options are listed as three parts by differentiating its physicality as open, semi-open, closed spaces. Based on the findings from audit, a case-study for every dimension should be made to broaden the urban understanding.
4. INSPIRE from the existing:
The city as an Event Space. The old city imbeds abounding layers of planning principles and spatial narratives. The Meenakshi Amman temple as the central foci of old city generates and ties-up the activities around. The five-layered concentric planning unfolds the city progressively; differentiating them in scale and morphology. The religion as a medium connects the city and people through yearlong festivals. These festivals work in relation with geography and make dynamic interaction across the fiver-layered structure.
The city, called as “THOONGA NAGARAM”, is known for its night life. The business-activities work round-the clock, and cause the transit areas, market areas and the ancillary night activities to be awake throughout.
Festivals and Sleepless activities are thus the essence of city which reconstructs the urban fabric periodically as temporal event spaces. They should also be re-interpreted as contextual catalysts to anchor the city’s spirit in north.
5. DECODE the Context:
The timelessness of the design is based on how it harmonizes the context, develops a sense of place, and shifts the focus towards the Vandiyur Tank. Here, the northern and western edges of the Vandiyur Tank with the land adjoining Inter-bus terminal was the right point for initiation as it holds potential to engage diverse users and serve as a unified socio-cultural node for the city. The site cultivates contrasting interfaces along road and tank. The tank edge is conceived as a green pedestrian ring concentric to the vehicular road, which adopts disparate roles and articulates temporal performances along the perimeter.
The patterns for celebrations and possibilities for night activities form the primary design parameters to bring optimum physical, visual and cultural connections.
6. INSCRIBE variety in design:
The architecture in specific should pay respect to context, people’s preferences and city’s aspirations. The built fabric is thus framed to enable a strong city-people network.
Here, the street culture of old city and the need for green open spaces in modern society were overlapped to create spaces that express spatial similarity, and yet extend new experiences. As the design was ideated to turn the north city tank-centric, the programs were structured to relate and work with the tank-edge. The tank edge will work as a daily use leisure/neighbourhood space, as a recreational centre when there is water, which can generate sports activities and as a cultural space engaging the performance floors and decks located along the strip.
The commercial activities and daily use market spaces were located in relation to road, to strengthen the street image-ability and enable accessibility.
7. IMAGINE big- Phase the development:
The tank, with time will evolve as the city’s physical and social identity. The proposed SEZ zones, the residential neighbourhoods and other public sector institutions along the tank will open out their backyards and infuse multiple characters. The tank can thus progressively become the cultural foci for North city and bring tri-fold (social-economical-environmental) connection with the cityscape. With further interpretation, other potentials of the site could also be unravelled as a comprehensive urban vision that grows together with the city.
In a larger urban network, the role of architecture in isolation might seem smaller. But, the impact generated by a building conceived with a larger vision will be much bigger. If the city’s vision was clear or at least if there ever was a vision, the tank would have earned a face lift decades back.
The lack of macro-level planning and growth predictions inflicts our cities to run in lag. Our city planning agendas should start taking infrastructure developments in conjunction with creation of active public spaces. The contextual connections need to be acknowledged and strengthened.
The cityscapes have to be put with periodical evaluations to promote evolution than expansion. The vision for our urban form is the vision for our lives.
[This article is a collaboration between Hashtag Urbanism and Bala Nagendran M, based on his Undergraduate Design Thesis, “Urban Connect- Framing the Ephemeral Performances”, compiled in the document below.]
- Research paper “Dichotomy of urban public spaces” by Priya Sasidharan and Prof. David.
- Article in The Hindu on Water Storage in Vandiyur Tank.
To be able to look at, think and talk about history is no easy task. There are different ways of looking at it, indeed, and for too long we seemed to have focused on ways which suit our own convenience and through our present day lenses.
Cities have formed the backbone of our historical narratives for a long time. Whether mythical (Atlantis) or lost to time (Mohenjodaro) or continuously inhabited ones like Madurai or Varanasi or even our very own Chennai, the idea of a city in history is not just about its physicality. The rush you feel when you pass through the historical Central Station and become one with the spirit of countless millions for whom its sight meant hope. Walking along the ghats of Varanasi as many have done before, when this city meant life, and death, and rebirth. Visiting the ruins of an old palace or fort, and pondering on the lives of thousands who would’ve built and lived and even laid down their lives defending it. Or reading about mythological cities and getting lost in the humdrum of their daily lives, of battles won and lost, with blissful abandon.
One could try to explain this fascination with our history with nostalgia, or a passion for heritage, and so on. But it is never just that, is it? Cities, especially old cities, fascinate us not just because they’re about architecture. They’re about people, and ideas.
Because cities are incredibly complex creations. It fills me with amazement that the city as a model (both big and small) has been extremely successful around the world. A network of various complex systems, each running smoothly (or sometimes not so) to form the wonderful beast that is the city. And to think this is entirely a creation of us humans. The environment? Hardly so, and it would be arrogant to suggest so (Not to mention such arrogance of man’s ‘mastery’ over nature had partly led to the December 2015 in Chennai). But it’s other intangible systems? Yes, and we’ve done it so well that some even consider cities to be the most complex entities created by humans. And to imagine the wheels for this started turning when humankind shifted from foraging to agriculture, which led to an agricultural surplus and division of labour, and establishment of ‘state’ to control this, and so on and so forth..
Cities fill us with purpose because they’ve evolved, and are evolving. They are constantly a melting pot of cultures, ideas, ideologies, political systems. They are truly an embodiment of time and place because a city records constantly in its various layers the imprints of people who’ve lived and died there. Take a walk down the history lane of a city and you’ll find strings of a narrative here and there – its architecture, planning, street and place names, or even where it gets its water from. As a citizen of the 21st century, I admire and support globalisation, but it fills with regret when the amateur historian in me realizes that in 200 years, the “recent” history of every city around the world would almost be the same.
Archaeological sites of ancient settlements are different, because they form a rift in this grand narrative. What turn of events – natural or man made – made them uproot their lives and move on? The ancient Roman city of Pompeii is a striking example; the city along with its people was completely destroyed and buried under tons of volcanic ash during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The degree of preservation with which the city had been found in its eventual rediscovery during the 18th century – eerie and poetic at the same time – has made it one of the most famous Roman city examples, despite being only a mid sized city at best during its time. In death, even more than in its life, the city has stayed true to character.
Closer home, the major sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation tell us other stories. Even though not as well preserved as those in the Roman Empire, their sheer size and level of organisation suggest a civilisation contemporaneous with that of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The planned layout, the street grids, the building materials, centralised drainage systems, the Great Bath – all of them point to the level of sophistication achieved in urban living close to 4500 years ago. Much closer home, the legacy of cities in the Tamilakam during the Sangam period (3rd century BC to 4th century AD) live on through heritage structures, mythology, and a few archaeological sites.
Rather than imagining our cities and its people as fitting into neat narratives of an unbroken culture, it is more wise to think of them as urban centres populated by people just as you and I.
The purpose of this exercise, of course, is not merely revelling in the past, the “golden age”, or twisting historic narratives or artefacts to fit our preconceived notions of history, and culture and religion. The first positive step begins when we start to look at our history not through the clouded lens of ancient Indian ‘culture’ but through the objective eyes of an unbiased historian. Rather than imagining our cities and its people as fitting into neat narratives of an unbroken culture, it is more wise to think of them as urban centres populated by people just as you and I. More hard working perhaps, or more religious, but still human. History then, and the story of our cities, become the story of ideas through time – sometimes evolving, sometimes failing – nevertheless stuff to learn from. The main reason to study our cities through time is to rescue some good, provocative and inspiring ideas which may be put to use in the present day world.
If this seems like a pointless thought exercise, consider that this same rationale for studying history is the bedrock of the Renaissance in Europe. Fuelled by the ideas and ideals of the ancient Greco-Roman world, Renaissance scholars, architects, artists and philosophers were able to incorporate into their society the ideas of rationality and humanism. This revolution in thought and reason lifted Europe from the dark ages and was responsible for many enduring works of the Renaissance which we study and appreciate today.
To sum it up, the question remains – why not here? Historic, archaeological and literary sources have shown that India has had in various points of its history great cities and civilisations whose legacy still live on. We seem to have gone the other way, force-fitting outdated ideas of social hierarchy on the present day world and yet ignore timeless ideas which can endure. We see the invaders and the invaded, “us” and “them” and not the substance behind each action because of our own religious fanaticism.
When do we stop mixing history with mythology and religion and start viewing it for what it is? When do we claim our own, home-made Renaissance?
When we think of “our” history, in ancient South India, what is it that comes to mind first? Lush green landscapes and temples and agraharams? Self sufficient kingdoms with able rulers? An unbroken, ‘pure’ culture leading all the way upto the 18th or 19th century when it was ‘corrupted’ by British colonialism? Neat linguistic divisions of Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu?
What if I told you that South India had been a cultural fusion of beliefs, religions, languages and nationalities from antiquity? The history of ancient Tamilakam (present day Kerala and Tamil Nadu) is contemporaneous with ancient Greek and Roman empires, but much less well known. In fact, the port cities of this empire were much more cosmopolitan than any you’d find today, but they lie forgotten. It is only in the past decade that we’ve been putting together this history with archaeological excavations that may well be the find of this century.
Muziris was an ancient seaport and urban center in the Malabar Coast (modern day Kerala) that dates from at least the 1st century BC, if not before it. The port was a key to the trade between southern India and the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Roman Empire. The port lost its importance and fell off the global chart after the devastating flood of river Periyar in 1341 CE, which ultimately caused the destruction of the city, opened up Kochi as a port of importance, and changed the geography of Kerala forever.
A series of archaeological excavations from 2007 onwards have placed Muziris back on the radar, sometimes considered the site of greatest archaeological importance of our times. The debate about exact location of Muziris notwithstanding, it now finds place in the Kochi-Muziris biennale and the Kerala Tourism’s Muziris Heritage Project, among others.
My Design Thesis on “Rethinking Muziris” was an attempt to answer the questions raised by this article:
- Given a strong geographical, historical and religious context, what does the area require in its transition to an archaeological hotspot?
- How can history and archaeology combine to form a result which is as much accessible to public as it is sensitive to academia?
- How can the living realities of its context and surroundings become a part of the narration of the romanticized history of Muziris?
[This article is a collaboration between ArchiBlab, run by Sarat Chandran KP and Hashtag Urbanism, based on Sarat’s Design Thesis,”Rethinking Muziris”]