How long-term should urban planning be? Munich’s Oktoberfest, the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India (or the largest gathering of humans on the planet), the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, and other major events demonstrate that flexible architectural configurations are temporarily deployed around the globe to provide medium-term shelter, often to enormous crowds. Such structures fulfill a range of functional tasks and are used in religious and cultural festivals or can take the form of military camps, refugee camps, or even temporary mining towns. This show traces a global phenomenon that has become increasingly topical given today’s current state of mass migration triggered by climate change, political strife, and natural disasters.
As a point of entry and exit, a threshold has a dual coding in society as both a physical and symbolic marker of separation and connection. Thresholds are often explicitly hard-edged or even brutal in their expression, demarcating rigid boundaries, as in the definitive lines of walls, barricades, and security checkpoints in buildings, around cities, or across larger territories. Too often, thresholds also divide human activity or communities according to social, ethnic, national, or economic characteristics. Architecture and planning can unwittingly contribute to these different forms of physical separation, especially in ways made visible through their practitioners’ interpretations of culture, religion, or legislation. As the academic disciplines that inform spatial practices, architecture and planning are themselves often similarly separated by disciplinary thresholds, inhibiting porosity between fields of research. By definition, an individual discipline necessarily is organized around a self-referential center of discursive production, but this often happens at the expense of the richness found at the intersection of multiple disciplinary perspectives. Is architecture, in its compulsive drive to create the autonomous object, inherently hardening the thresholds separating it from other disciplines and, by extension, reproducing those schisms within the built environment? Can architecture and planning intentionally construct soft thresholds―lines that are easily traversed, even temporarily erased―thereby allowing for multiple perspectives across different modes of research and practice and catalyzing disciplinary and social connections? What, then, is the physical expression of a soft threshold―a space that is visually and physically porous, plural in spirit, encompassing of its context, and yet rigorous in its expression?
This episode of Monocle 24's On Design podcast, which briefly surveys the state of Indian architecture and suggests a blueprint for a 21st Century vernacular, was written and recorded by ArchDaily's European Editor at Large, James Taylor-Foster.
In the first half of 2016 an exhibition was opened in Mumbai. The State of Architecture, as it was known, sought to put contemporary Indian building in the spotlight in order to map trends post-independence and, more importantly, provoke a conversation both historical and in relation to where things are heading.
This volume presents the research and speculations produced by scholars, Loeb Fellows and graduate students at Harvard Graduate School of Design by looking at possibilities for the city of Agra in India and the agency of design between Architecture, Critical Conservation, Urban Planning & Design, and Landscape Architecture in heritage conservation, economic development, and the planning of medium-sized South Asian cities.
The State of Architecture in India: An Interview with Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote, and Kaiwan Mehta
Today, the rapidly-developing country of India is one of the key places in the world where architecture could have the most impact; in spite of this, there has been little critical reflection on the country's architectural landscape, and architecture has struggled to assert its value to the wider population. Currently, the country's first major architectural exhibition in 30 years is taking place in Mumbai, curated by Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote, and Kaiwan Mehta and running until March 20th. In this interview, a shortened version of which was first published in Domus India's December Issue, Mustansir Dalvir sits down with the curators to discuss their exhibition and the past and present of Indian Architecture.
Looking back to the time architectural practices first began to proliferate in India, one sees that they always operated within an ecosystem of practice, academia, and association. We can trace this to the 1930s, when the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) was set up, which in turn emerged from the alumni of the Bombay School of Art. Teachers at the school were the most prolific practitioners in the country, and students made the easy transition from learning to apprenticeship, to setting up their own practices. Even patrons, largely non-state (in the penultimate decades before independence) aligned themselves with the architects in a collegial association. The Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects and their annual lectures became the mouthpieces of collective praxis, as the many presidential speeches show. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing, knowledge flowed centripetally.
In the years after independence, these bonds became looser as the nation-state became the chief patron. While private wealth and industry provided steady work for architects all over the country, the IIA still continued to remain the platform of discourse and dissemination – an internal professional rumination, largely distanced from changing politics and culture in the country, especially from the seventies onwards. While students of architecture did briefly take political stances during the Emergency, practice remained unaffected.
In an interview with The Indian Express, Rahul Mehrotra—conservationist, architect and author of Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral MEGACITY—talks to Shiny Varghese about his belief that the current notion of a 'smart city' is about "blanket replication, [which] will result in gated communities and flattening of the city, driven by infrastructure and investment." He argues that this approach "will create a form of exclusion."
The Alvar Aalto Symposium gathers together top names in contemporary architecture. This year’s international figures include American architect Greg Lynn, one of the Symposium’s keynote speakers. In line with the theme of the event – DO! – speakers will be rolling up their sleeves and personally opening up about what architects and urban planners really do. The symposium will be held on 7–9 August 2015 in Jyväskylä, Finland.
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.
Curated by the Charles Correa Foundation, the Z Axis is an annual conference bringing together pioneers, thought leaders, influencers, professionals, and students in the fields of architecture and urban design to create an intellectual community focused on issues related to the context of India and the developing world. Fifteen speakers will gather from across the globe to explore the theme of Great City…Terrible Place, including Charles Correa, David Adjaye, Alfredo Brillembourg of Urban Think Tank, Spain's "guerrilla architect" Santiago Cirugeda, Simone Sfriso of Studio TAM Associati and more.
With the International Union of Architects (UIA)'s World Congress taking place last month, the eyes of the architecture world were on South Africa where - according to Phineas Harper of the Architectural Review - the conference was full of architects of all backgrounds with "irrepressible energy," sharing ideas on how architecture can be used for social good with an urgency that is somewhat unfamiliar in the Western world. "Whoever said architecture was stale, male and pale should have been in Durban," says Harper. You can read the full review of the event here.
On his recent visit to Santiago, Chile we caught up with Rahul Mehrotra, founder of Mumbai-based RMA Architects and a professor of Urban Design and Planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Mehrotra is known for his advocacy work in Mumbai and has carried out projects on a myriad of scales including interior design, architecture, urban design, conservation and planning. His projects include everything from a house on a tea plantation to a campus for NGO Magic Bus, the KMC Corporate Office in Hyderabad and housing for mahouts and their elephants. Mehrotra has also written and lectured extensively on architecture, conservation and urban planning in Mumbai and India.
ArchDaily got the chance to briefly speak with Pritzker-prize winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura when he (along with the Porto Metro Authority) received the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design earlier this month. His design for the Metro system in Porto, Portugal garnered high praise from the jury, with member Rahul Mehrotra explaining that the project “shows generosity to the public realm unusual for contemporary infrastructure projects.” Upon receipt of the award, the head of the Porto Metro, João Velez Carvalho, thanked Souto de Moura for his efforts in this “urban revolution” and touted Porto as a destination in which people actively and enthusiastically seek out the architecture of Souto de Moura and fellow Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza.
Souto de Moura spent a few moments with us to describe both the challenges and rewards of working on a project that saw the completion of 60 new stations constructed in 10 years within the sensitive fabric of the city of Porto—a UNESCO World Heritage site.
ArchDaily: What is your opinion of architecture prizes?
Eduardo Souto de Moura: I won’t be modest, I like describing my opinion about them because the profession is so tough and difficult that is it complicated to achieve a high level of quality. So when you’re awarded a prize it’s like a confirmation of your effort. But the other thing is that a project is not the act of an individual, it’s a collective act. When there’s a prize, the press and the people, the “anonymous people,” go see the project and talk about it, critique it. That’s what gives me the motivation to continue in the profession. And every time it gets more difficult.