As the location of the world’s largest single-purpose gathering of people, the 2013 Kumbh Mela obviously required a significant organizational effort from those charged with planning it – but what is less obvious is exactly how this need to plan can be squared with the nature of the Kumbh Mela itself. Located in the floodplain of the river Ganges, most of the 23.5-square-kilometer area of the festival (commonly referred to as the nagri) remains underwater until a few months before the festival, and organization is at every stage challenged by the uncertainty and ephemerality of the festival itself. In this excerpt from the recently published book, “Kumbh Mela, January 2013: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega City,” Rahul Mehrotra, Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard GSD, and Felipe Vera, Co-director of the Center for Ecology, Landscape and Urbanism at UAI DesignLab, explain how infrastructure and street grids are deployed in a way that not only enables the Kumbh Mela festival itself, but enhances its ephemeral and democratic spirit.
Standing at the Kumbh Mela at night looking towards an endless functioning city where the temporary construction of the nagri is fused with the city of Allahabad, there are two things that one cannot avoid asking: 1) How was this enormous city planned in terms of scale and complexity? 2) How is the city actually constructed? One of the most interesting elements about the construction process of the city is that unlike more static and permanent cities—where the whole is comprised of the aggregations of smaller parts, constructed in different moments that are tied together by pre-existing and connecting urban infrastructure—the city of the Kumbh Mela is planned and built all at once, as a unitary effort.
Prisons are often seen as problematic for their local communities. After centuries of correctional facilities discouraging economic growth and occupying valuable real estate as a necessary component of towns and cities, many of these institutions have been relocated away from city centers and their abandoned vestiges are left as unpleasant reminders of their former use. In fact, the majority of prisons built in the United States since 1980 have been placed in non-metropolitan areas and once served as a substantial economic development strategy in depressed rural communities.  However, a new pressure is about to emerge on the US prison systems: beginning in 2010, America’s prison population declined for the first time in decades, suggesting that in the near future repurposing these structures will become a particularly relevant endeavor for both community development and economic sustainability. These abandoned shells offer architects valuable opportunities to reimagine programmatic functions and transform an otherwise problematic location into an integral neighborhood space.
Why repurpose prisons rather than starting fresh? The answer to this question lies in the inherent architectural features of the prison typology, namely the fact that these structures are built to last. People also often forget that prison buildings are not limited to low-rise secure housing units – in fact, prisons feature an array of spaces that have great potential for reuse including buildings for light industrial activity, training or office buildings, low-security housing, and large outdoor spaces. These elements offer a wide variety of real estate for new programmatic uses, and cities around the world have begun to discover their potential. What could the US learn from these examples, at home and overseas?
Among the many complex interactions between humans and water in the Ganges river basin, perhaps none is more awe-inspiring than the religious festival of Kumbh Mela, which every twelve years hosts the largest single-purpose gathering of people on the planet, with an estimated 2 million temporary residents and 100 million total visitors in 2013. In the following excerpt from his book “Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River,” Anthony Acciavatti recounts the history of this spectacular event, as well as the smaller annual Magh Mela – and explains why even though it is temporary, the huge tent settlement that supports these festivals is not the “instant city” it is often described as, but instead a microcosm of settlement patterns across the whole Ganges.
Dangling at the tip of the Ganga-Jamuna Doab, where the Lower Ganges Canal system terminates, the city of Allahabad overlooks the confluence of the Ganges and Jamuna rivers. While the Jamuna, to the south of the city, runs deep and narrow, the Ganges, to the north and east of the city, runs shallow and wide. Where these two rivers meet (and a third mythical river, the Saraswati), is known as the Triveni or Sangam, the most sacred site within Hinduism.
Every twelfth year, the sleepy university city of Allahabad is transformed into a colossal tent city populated by millions of pilgrims for the Kumbh Mela (literally Pitcher Celebration). And it all seems to happen so fast. After the deluge of the southwest monsoon (June-August), the waters of the Ganges and Jamuna slowly start to recede. A city grid is tattooed into the banks and shoals of the Ganges. Tents and temples pop up in October. Pontoon bridges stretch from one bank of the river to the other and pilgrims begin to arrive in January. Then come reporters and camera crews from all over the world, who come to document the life of what must at first appear to be the world’s largest Instant-Mega-City: a temporary tent city with the major infrastructure of a metropolis.
Few geographies in the world nurture such a rich and complex imaginary as the Ganges River Valley. The heart of Indian Culture, and home to over one quarter of India’s population, the Ganges is one of the most fertile and infrastructure-heavy river valleys in the planet. Its many physical, historical and spiritual natures defy a single interpretation: always in flux, source of life and destruction, and venerated as a Hindu Deity, the Ganges fully embodies the complexities and excesses of the Indian Civilization.
In “Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River,” Anthony Acciavatti orchestrates a magnificent portrait of the Ganges River Basin, and its continuous reinvention as a test-bed for infrastructural innovation. Through the hybrid genre of the Atlas-Almanac-Travelogue, the book unfolds the many nested spatial and temporal scales that characterize this highly contested territory. Those captivated with the planetary urbanization of water will find in this book a timely and relevant volume of encyclopedic ambition and exquisite design.
Threatening to end Cairo’s 1,046 year dominance as the country’s capital, earlier this month the government of Egypt announced their intentions to create a new, yet-to-be-named capital city just east of New Cairo. The promise of the more than 270 square mile ‘new New Cairo’ has attracted headlines from around the world with its sheer scale; a $45 billion development of housing, shopping and landmarks designed to attract tourism from day one, including a theme park larger than Disneyland. And of course, the plans include the promise of homes – for at least 5 million residents in fact, with the vast number of schools, hospitals and religious and community buildings that a modern city requires – making the new capital of Egypt the largest planned city in history.
The idea of building a new capital city has appealed to governments across history; a way to wipe the slate clean, stimulate the economy and lay out your vision of the world in stone, concrete and parkland. Even old Cairo was founded as a purpose built capital, although admittedly urban planning has changed a little since then. It continues to change today; see the full list of different ways to build a totally new city after the break.
Dr. Vikramāditya Prakāsh is a professor at the University of Washington and the founder of the Chandigarh Urban Lab. In the following article he discusses the past, present and future of Le Corbusier’s vision for Chandigarh, explaining the reasons behind the petition he started against a new residential development to the North of the city.
Le Corbusier’s famous Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, India is about to be ruined by the construction of a gaggle of towers to its immediate north. The new project, called ‘TATA Camelot’, is being developed by TATA Housing, the real estate wing of TATA Group, a major multinational and one of India’s largest industrial companies. TATA Camelot’s 27 proposed towers, each between 13 and 36 storys tall, will not only destroy the architectural and urban design integrity of the Capitol, they will also disrupt the fragile Himalayan ecology of the area. In the contest between development and preservation, it is the larger public good and the long term perspective of the ecological that must be prioritized.