Swa-oorja : Envisioning a Zero Waste Pune.

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indiaOur 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?


Architectural Concern:

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.

Waste to Energy- Biomethanation over Incineration
The programmatic challenge was to find the ‘sweet’ spot between industry, education and recreation,


Demystifying the industrial infrastructure was important, to design an architecture that addresses both its processing and social functions, and be 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.


Design Development:

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:

  1. Plane: The surface on which the social activities take place.
  2. Organic line: Circulation on the ground, traced by the instinctive movement of people on the site, and the topography.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


Design Development: Overlaying the Industrial and the Social


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.


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.
Section across the site connected by the production line.
Dry waste processing Centre
wet waste 2
Wet Waste processing Centre



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.

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‘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.

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Swa-oorja : Envisioning a Zero Waste Pune.


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

Noteworthy Mention: Shortlisted for NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards West Zone

Nishant PaiNishant 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!



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.

Site 1

Quarry 1
Ecological evolution of the Quarry
Site Segmentation
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.


Eatsup- Food and the City

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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!

Food offers 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’.

Bangalore, the restaurant capital of the country.


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:

  1. 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.
  2. The buildings themselves are largely introverted (barring a few), not even attempting any engagement with the chaotic street.
Mapping Church Street and its existing food culture.
Analyzing the street elements .

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.

The building’s conceptual massing was a response to the site and programmes of the Urban Eat Street.


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.

Unlike the other buildings on Church Street, the design aims to engage with the street and create an open ambience.
Street Montage of the Eat Street.
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.]

Institution – School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, Chennai.
Review Members – Ar. Shakthivel Raja, Dr. P. Meenakumai,
Thesis Guide – Ar. Saravanan

Noteworthy mention – Presented at NIASA (National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture) Thesis Awards South Zone jury.

Through Calvino’s eyes.

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I was introduced to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities in a hostel room one rainy night. Four of us sat together and read aloud his ‘cities’.  The boundless imagination with which they were conceived filled us with excitement, curiosity and wonderment. It wasn’t as if I understood it completely, but that again added to its lure. I had forgotten the heights that imagination could possibly reach. After a long time, I found something that was this free of any boundaries or restrictions.

A few days ago, I came across this post and found it very interesting. It also got me thinking. Are his cities purely ‘imaginary’? Couldn’t you see that, in many ways, we have built around us, cities that are as chaotic, as wonderful and as strange as the ones Marco Polo speaks about? So, I decided to do an exercise –to try and look at cities the way he sees them, to try and find invisible cities within our cities. This is a bizarre thing to do, and I tried to be as open-minded and imaginative as possible while doing this.

The Phoenix City:

I have to talk here about the famous city of Boux. Around it lies the desert. As you approach the city, you find that the city has been born again, from destruction. The city stands in the midst of its own rubble. And like broken limbs are patched up with casts and plaster, its buildings show signs of wreckage. Every once in a while Nature comes in all fury and shakes up the city, leaving nothing, and every time, it rises again, not without wearing its wounds proudly for others to see.

The Phoenix City of Boux
The Phoenix City of Bhuj

This was inspired from the city of Bhuj, where I spent four months. Bhuj was the epicenter of the earthquake in 2011. The Kachchh region has always been susceptible to earthquakes and has been facing major earthquakes every hundred years. We have heard many stories of abandoned cities and cities that were totally destroyed by a natural calamity. But Bhuj is the Phoenix city.


The Excess city

With every single item you could possibly think of, this city forms a maze of streets, all overflowing. There is nothing you can’t find here- Sweets are sold in shops with a grand staircase and blouses laid with precious stones and lace are found on the street. In many ways this is a city of desire: The very desire that sages warn us from – material desire.  Everything is displayed and everybody is called in to touch, feel and buy. It is a city of overwhelming excess.

The Excess City

This city was born from roaming around Commercial Street in Bangalore. There is literally nothing that you can’t find there. And while that may sound nice, it was an overwhelming experience for me.

The city of Surveillance:

Everyone walked as if they knew where they were going. Confident, smiling and greeting each other warmly. Every now and then someone or the other stealthily looked up towards the ‘eye’ and quickly looked away from it. It is hard in this city to not be aware of the ‘eye’. These are everywhere. They follow you out in the street. They follow you out in the office, when you go shopping, in the restaurant, everywhere. I can’t casually state that I think this is unnecessary. It wasn’t the most comfortable city. Everyone stole moments away from the ‘gaze’ and relished them, while acknowledging that the surveillance gave them ‘security’.

The City of Surveillance

The city for Anyone.

Leaving the city of surveillance to come to the city for Anyone was a contrasting and liberating. Here you could find  the ‘liberals’, the lovers, the drinkers, the social deviants, the outcasts- anyone and everyone. There weren’t many rules. Nor were there any responsibilities. The city lived by accommodating these ‘outsiders’ who found this haven. Well, for them, it was haven. But a person from the surveillance city would feel like a fish out of water and wouldn’t know what to do.

It was the ultimate freedom city, where no restrictions of any sort were in place. Here most common ‘illegel’ things were legal. Cities like these crop up when the existing ones squeeze out of them the people whom they consider as ‘undesirables’.

The city of Signboards:

It was hard to focus here. My eyes wandered restlessly, trying to settle, but that was impossible. There were signs on roads, on buildings, set in, jutting out….there were even people walking about with sign boards on their backs. Where they felt signboards didn’t do the job, they resorted to flyers or shouting. The city, to me seemed to have an excessive attention seeking character. But that was the way its people survived, competing with each other, to have bigger, better ways to capture the attention of passers by. Sometimes, I felt they were descending into madness, trying to come up with new ways of capturing attention. The kind of madness that made them hang a board on a human and made him walk up and down the road.

The City of Signboards


We live and work in cities. Everyday, we travel through the same roads, and it becomes easy to take things for granted. Yet, is that all? Aren’t cities man-made wonders? Aren’t they like huge machines, chugging through the centuries? Cities today have grown, with them new habits and lifestyles have formed and this means what we take for granted now might have been a very surprising, even laughable phenomenon at another place and time. I would like to leave it there, and hope you will find ways of looking at the place and the time we live in, through a different lens.

[Divya RV, the author of this beautiful interpretation of Italo Calvino’s seminal work, “Invisible Cities”, is still grappling with the process of becoming an architect while juggling with writing, traveling and adjusting to the ubiquitous ‘PG’ life in the city. ]






Living or Surviving? Design for Migrant Workers in Qatar

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‘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’.

Doha has witnessed a massive growth, solely fuelled by the labour of migrant workers.

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.

Population Ratio in Qatar

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.

Zones, partitions, walls, enclaves, and compounds are familiar aspects of the city.
Floodlights blaze at a nearby stadium, while lights are off at a labour camp. Source: Amnesty International
The city is built by them; not for them!

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?

Boundaries are hard and create dead edges. Borders are permeable and become alive place of exchange between communities. – Richard Sennet

‘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”]

7 Steps for Urban Connect at Madurai

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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.

Evolution of Madurai City over the years.
Urban pattern and growth over time, leading to the clear bifurcation of the North and South, Old and New.
Madurai needs an intervention that responds to the context of TODAY, through the lines of what it should transform to be in the future.

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.

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
The city engages with two varied relationships; one between Old & New, the other between South and North.

 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 and its immediate Context.

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.

Sample of survey of Public opinions in Madurai

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. [1] 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 Meenakshi Amman temple as the central foci of old city generates and ties-up the activities around.
The religion as a medium connects the city and people through yearlong festivals.
Festivals and Sleepless activities are thus the essence of city which reconstructs the urban fabric periodically as temporal event spaces.

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.

Analysis of existing urban conditions around the tank.
Graphic showing how this site would connect bring out the essence of the city of Madurai.

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.

Masterplan for Vandiyur Lank Front Area
Comic strip showing progression of spaces on site

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.


Bridging the South and the North, Old and the New.

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.]



  1. Research paper “Dichotomy of urban public spaces” by Priya Sasidharan and Prof. David.
  2. Article in The Hindu on Water Storage in Vandiyur Tank.





Millennials and the Chennai Vardah Cyclone

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We are the so called millennial generation. We like to feel special, we have earned a lot of resentment against our generation—the notion that “we’re a spoiled, entitled legion of precious snowflakes who expect prizes just for showing up, pout when we’re insufficiently petted, and never go anywhere without slathering on creamy layers of self-esteem.”

We seem to want/need instant gratification and possess a disturbing penchant for capturing instant moments, frozen in time, in the numerous selfies that flood the picture galleries on our phones.

Sounds familiar?

But to sum it all up, we are a generation that seems to think we can get what we want, WHEN we want it. Instant gratification. Now. Right Now. NOW!

But are we so consumed by the present that we are unable to sustain the momentum to last into the future?

We are the generation that has started countless things but not finished them. These days, it’s funny; we snicker, when we come across a meme that talks of broken New Year resolutions. But it’s scary to think that has come to define our entire generation.

What does all this have to do with Chennai, Cyclone Vardah and Trees, you ask? Everything.

While enough has been said about the recent loss of trees in Chennai due to Cyclone Vardah, and the initial enthusiasm and zeal to plant trees is noteworthy, it is the subsequent discipline, upkeep and sense of duty in continuing the movement, which will have lasting impact on restoring Chennai’s tree cover.

While we may piggyback on the efforts of previous generations to initiate planting of trees in Chennai, it is the Millennials who are going to have to sustain it, continue it, and fight for it in the future.

Watch this space to know how. Watch out for our city’s Millennials.

#chennai #cyclonevardah #trees #planttrees #hashtagurbanism#millennialmovement #jointhemovement

Graphic by Keerthana Udaykumar.