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.
Harper’s review also singles out the “electrifying” keynote speech of Rahul Mehrotra, who explained how he used his architecture to bridge social and cultural gaps while still serving his clients’ needs, in projects such as his Hyderabad offices. You can see him discuss these ideas in our interview with Mehrotra 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.
“I think that the most important issue facing architects and architecture–generally, around the world–is the question of inequity,” Mehrotra told us. “I think architecture is a deadly instrument in hardening the boundaries between the communities in society. It hardens thresholds very easily; we don’t realize it.” In the full interview, Mehrotra speaks more on inequity, what architecture means to him and how his practice and teaching inform each other.
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.
As we announced earlier, Pritzker Prize Laureate Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture (China), Rahul Mehrotra of RMA architects (India) and Francine Houben of Mecanoo (The Netherlands) participated in GREENHOUSE TALK at the 2012 Venice Biennale. The informal discussion focused on the current reality of design culture in the great countries of Eastern Asia and Europe.
The video begins with an introduction (in Italian) by architect and Senior curator of MAXXI Roma, Pippo Ciorra, which then leads into some fascinating commentary (in English, with Italian subtitles) by the highlighted protagonists.
The GREENHOUSE TALK event was promoted by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome, in collaboration with MAXXI and NAi.