Narratives

Revitalization of Abandoned Quarry, Chennai

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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.

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Ecological evolution of the Quarry
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Careful analysis of Site conditions was carried out to assess its potential.

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.

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Zoomed in segment of the plan (Refer attached document for better viewing)

 

“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”

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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.

Review Members – Prof. Priya Sasidharan, Prof. Sachidanandam, Ar. Aravind Rangan (Aravind Varuna Associates)
Thesis Guide – Ar. S.F. Salma.

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.


 

Context Reservoir- Re-wiring the tribal systems of Melghat.

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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.

 First rains ideationInterpreting 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.

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Understanding the context of Melghat and settlement structure
Understanding the lifestyle patterns of the Korku.

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.

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Responses to the built and un-built- Site observations
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Schematic diagram mapping the flows of the watershed
Initial sketches of the settlement morphology
Initial sketches of the settlement’s morphology
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Schematic section through the proposed community centre
Schematic diagram through the proposed stepwell
Schematic diagram through the proposed stepwell, that acts as a psychological, physical and economic support to the people.
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Exploration of local materials like bamboo, mud and stone to develop a rational, low cost sustainable design that meets local standards.

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.

Retrospection

 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.

Institution – VIT’s PVP College of Architecture, Pune.
Review Members – Ar. Nachiket Patwardhan, Ar. Vijaya Shrinivasan, Ar. Prasanna Desai, Ar. Narendra Dengle, Ar. Shekhar Garud, MN Ashish Ganju (He was on the panel for the final internal jury.)
Thesis Guide – Ar. Minal Sagare

Noteworthy mention – Presented along with 9 others at NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards West Zone jury.


Women in Urban Space

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Poverty is experienced differently according to gender, age, caste, class and ethnicity and within households. Poverty pushes you across geographical boundaries and the societal frames set by the same factors in order to survive.

More often than others women tend to fall victim to the Burden from these discriminatory power relations in the society. The working women from the lower economic section of the city today are those who have set about to tackle this problem on their own by their own means. They could be migrants, victims of displacement caused by developmental projects or survivors of natural disasters or simply looking for work.

They work as housemaids, sweepers, petty hawkers and largely vendors who now fall under the informal sector of workers in the big cities. The concerns of informal economy workers and particularly women workers can be easily overlooked in the process of policy making and even urban planning. The urban space these women occupy and function in, are not theirs and therefore are shortchanged by urban planners and various government officials who do not completely comprehend their significance in the neighbourhood or the city as a whole.

An Indian city without these women is somehow rendered, devoid of life and colour in my imagination.

A photo series of working women from the streets and neighbourhoods of different cities, by Krithika Sriram. 

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A niche in the Wall, Bangalore.

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On the streets of Jodpur
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Inside the Jodhpur Fort
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On the verandah, Ahmedabad.
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Quiet afternoons at a temple in Bangalore.

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Early morning Markets, Ahmedabad.
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On the tourist beat in Jodhpur.

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Gulab Gang, Darjeling
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Along the Mada Streets of Mylapore.
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Along the Beach Road, Chennai.
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Braving the rains, Port Blair, Andamans

Teach them how to fish!

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“Everything is world class, Sir!”

In an era of uninhibited consumerism and commercialization, one can oft hear this cry- the strive to emulate international standards and cultivate a global image of the redundant City. This urban growth for the sake of growth neglects one important ideal real human development, which is essential for creation of humane habitats, especially for the urban homeless. The move to create 100 new smart cities in India, comes at a time when measures to elevate urban poverty still progresses at a sluggish pace, if at all. Slums, squatter settlements and the countless homeless people who survive on the streets of the city are testimonies to the harsh realities of life, against the backdrop of ceaseless “growth” in some parts of Chennai.

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Informal Sector, the foundation of urban society.

The urban poor in Chennai, especially the homeless, depend on the Informal sector for their livelihood. Loading and unloading goods, operating the pushcarts, garbage disposal, painting, tinkering and housekeeping are among the many odd jobs that they do, localising around areas where the demand for informal labour is high. Now, the interesting point is that this informal sector thrives in the commercial districts of every city, like George Town in Chennai. Consequently, places that see the most money changing hands are also the places that have the most number of homeless poor squatting on the streets!

Hidden amidst the ever-present sheen of commercialism in George Town is another side to this historic core – the countless urban poor who have made the streets of George Town their home because of the perpetual demand for labour and the mélange of opportunities it confers. As a result of its proximity to two major transit hubs, the Port and the Central Railway Station, it has transformed into a prime commercial district, powered by the never-ending supply of migrant laborers.

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Map showing concentration of Homeless in George Town, the CBD of Chennai. [Source : Study done as part of Gsen Trophy NASA 2013]
Within George Town, the homeless poor settle in and around the streets they work in, resulting in a high degree of fragmentation and a displaced sense of territoriality within them. They appear in the night, keeping themselves to the shadows, losing sleep to the mosquitoes and policemen, huddled together on the pavements for warmth and safety. Come morning, they disappear into the crowds, transporting goods in their rickety pushcarts the whole day. This repeats every day, all year. Take a drive through the streets of George Town at 4 in the morning to see pavements lined with sleeping families, some even inside standing autos and pushcarts!

 

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The settling pattern of Homeless along Urban fringes. [Source : Study done as part of Gsen Trophy NASA 2013]
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Study of the Homeless population on Broadway Street, George Town. [Source : Study done as part of Gsen Trophy NASA 2013]
The urban poor are considered to be significant only in terms of the benefits they provide for the economic sector. They are used and accepted as an army of cheap labour. They are nothing more than an invisible workforce to the average urban dweller and it is this invisibility that does the most harm. The lack of a definite ‘home’ excludes them from most social welfare schemes; they are relegated to the sidelines even in the matter of their own relocation programmes, forcibly executed by the local authorities.  These rehabilitation crusades blatantly disregard the dependency of the homeless on the immediate context for survival. This is why forced eviction fails– it separates them from a context they are irrevocably tied to. It moves them to places alien to them, and unable to find employment they revert to the original conditions in the core of the city.

 

So, what is the government doing wrong here? When did housing become an investment opportunity, a privilege rather than a basic human right? While evicting the homeless from their settlements violates that right, what then is the most humane way to tackle the issue of urban homelessness? Moreover, how can architects and urban planners contribute in creating truly humane habitats for the homeless, in a city that is inclusive and socially cohesive?

Integration with the Context

First, it is imperative to understand that the urban poor have a complex, inseparable relationship with the society and the surrounding context. This interconnected nexus dictates their lifestyle and status in the urban fabric. Contextuality is the key to survival for the urban poor. Providing surface level interventions might produce an interim solution but in order to create a lasting effect, all rehabilitation measures need to devise frameworks that integrate the poor with the existing urban context, making them more acceptable in the society.

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Urban poor have a complex, inseparable relationship with the society and the surrounding context- an Urban Nexus.

Dealing with identity and empowerment

Designs for affordable housing need to address issues of individual and communal identity within a social group that has been marginalized and neglected for years. The way forward is in not in just providing housing on a silver plate; it is in empowering the poor. Like the saying goes, Give a man a fish, he will live for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will live forever’. Likewise, enabling and empowering the poor, creating opportunities to break the vicious cycle of poverty is paramount to the success of any rehabilitation scheme. Spaces dedicated to expression of self, social interaction and bonding with the community will generate a form of social capital, a unique asset to the creation of cohesive cities.

Changing mindsets

Above all, a change in the city requires a change in the mindsets of the people. Demarcating areas as ‘slums’ or developing new neighborhoods for the urban poor in the suburbs is nothing but a form of modern spatial apartheid, not unlike the spatial apartheid during British colonisation that saw the creation of Black Town, now George Town. Slums, squatters and other informal settlements should not be viewed as the dark side of increasing urbanization, but as a new form of architecture and urbanism that fuses ethics with aesthetics. It is a resource, one of immense potential, to be shaped and nurtured, and not a liability of a developing city. The value of a slum is generated by its people, through their work in the city and locality. Blurring the boundaries around these settlements, enabling a give-take relationship with the city and society is the first step towards creating a truly ‘world class’ city. Give it time.

[This article is the joint work of NASA Gsen Trophy team of 2013]

… Charm of Timeless Spaces #1/6

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A couple of years ago, a friend and I were part of a competition that questioned the notion of a “public space” in a city in the year 2099. What made it interesting was the fact that we had to understand how a city would change in the future, plot our predictions and design a public space that would be in tune with the mindset of the society in the near future. After aimlessly tossing around Spielberg-inspired ideas for futuristic spaces in an apocalyptic world on the brink of doomsday, we chose to dwell on the notion of the public space of the present. A notion largely shaped by the largest public space in our city – the Marina beach.

The Marina beach in Chennai stretching from the Chennai Harbour to Santhome is the single largest public space in Chennai and the largest urban beach in the country. There’s hardly anyone in Chennai who hasn’t visited the beach at least once. Frequented by a diverse populace of different social and economic backgrounds, this sandy stretch has long been the go to place for Sunday evening breaks.

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Be it the early morning joggers, the bajji stall owners, fishermen pushing off to the sea, or the rag pickers, they all lay claim to the Marina.
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Aerial View of Marina

More than just a space to relax, the Marina, has also been a platform to voice dissent within the society. Historically public spaces have been the trigger for social and political revolution from the Jallianwala Bagh that sparked off the Indian independence movement to the recent Egyptian Revolution at Tahrir Square. Public spaces take on many roles in a city. Here, they took the role of a social lever, enabling the people to join hands and tip the balance against forces that threatened to bring the city to an urban standstill. The Thilakar Thidal in the Marina Beach opposite the Presidency College was the place where great national leaders like Balagangadhara Thilak, Mahatma Gandhi inspired more than 5000 people to join the Freedom struggle. Sadly, all that remains of this historic stage is just a sandy plaque.

A public space is truly “public” only when it is free, open to all and democratic. It is precisely this freedom to just be that makes the beach so alluringly our own. The Marina beach is the one public space in Chennai that welcomes people, rich or poor without any bias, without expecting anything in return. In spite of this, we are witnessing a steady increase in the number of malls in the city that have taken over as the new public/private spaces. While it might offer relative comforts of air conditioning, hygienic toilets and spacious food courts apart from shopping, we need to realise it has a downside too. It is world where entry is a privilege, we are policed and observed when inside, expected to act in a certain way and dress in a certain way. Yet, the very policing that strips it off its freedom is what forces us to be responsible towards the space. We consciously don’t litter, we make it a point to put the toilet seat down, we behave in a civil manner, we respect the place.

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There’s a steady increase in the number of malls in the city, which are taking over as the new public/private spaces.

Why is it that we abandon all sense of civic responsibility and care at a democratic place where we are not policed? Why isn’t the Marina, which is far better “public” space than any mall in the city accorded the same level of respect?

Be it the early morning joggers, the bajji and balloon stall owners, the love struck couples holding hands, the impatient kids running around, fishermen pushing off to the blue sea, or the rag pickers scrounging for waste, they all lay claim to the Marina. It is home to hundreds of fishermen and slum dwellers living at its fringes, and thousands more depend on the Marina for their livelihood. It is delicate ecosystem, a microcosm of life that offers glimpses of many aspects of urban existence and social values. This microcosm invariably reflects and informs the macrocosm of the city. How we treat the Marina in the coming years will define how Chennai grows as a city.

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As seen few days before Pongal. Barricades erected along the entire length of the beach.

It all comes down to whether a public space is a right to all or a privilege to some. To what degree should they be policed and regulated? Spaces like the Marina survive on minimal policing but will flourish only with our social and civic responsibility. It belongs to no one and everyone. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?

(This is the first of a six part series on elements, rituals, spaces and contexts that make the city what it is. It hopes to build urban narratives born out of this synergy between a place and its memories.)

– Photos by Siddarth PT, Vaishali Chellapa, Harini Vijayakumar, Chandiran Joseph.

 

City and its Stories

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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.

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The streets of Chennai are witness to myriad stories that get played out everyday.

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.

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From the fishermen on the beach to the scrap dealers in the city dumpyards, they are all part of image of the city.

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.