Designing the Indian City - IIA NATCON 2016 Presentations

Events Diary Dated:  Dec. 19, 2016
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Indian Institute of Architects - Karnataka Chapter

Speakers at the Session 5 titled 'Designing the Indian City' at the recently concluded IIA Natcon 2016 at Bengaluru dwelled on the following topics.

Focal Points:

  • Can the city be "designed" like a work of architecture, or does one have to adopt a different approach?
  • How can we move beyond our current perception where we see the Indian city purely in technical terms, to connect with the inherent condition of urbanism?
  • Can we transcend our tendency to emulate the global city? Does Indian urbanism have unique characteristics that must be considered?
  • What design principles can guide our response to the socio-cultural, economic, informal, typological and ecological character of our cities?
  • What are the respective roles of the specialist disciplines of Architecture, Urban Design, Urban Planning, and Landscape Architecture?

About the Speakers:

Dr. Bimal Patel is an architect, urban planner and academic. He heads HCP, a design, planning and management practice based in Ahmedabad. He is also President of CEPT University.

Dr. Patel received a Diploma in Architecture from CEPT, Ahmedabad, a dual Masters in City Planning and Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley and a Doctorate in City and Regional Planning, also from Berkeley. His architecture, urban design and planning projects have won many national and international awards. Dr. Patel has published research in land-use-planning, land management. housing and building regulations. He has recently completed a book on the architecture of Hasmukh Patel.

Aneerudha Paul completed his B.Arch from Bengal Engineering College, Calcutta (1990) and his M.Arch from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi (1993). He is presently the Director of the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture (KRVIA), Mumbai, where he has been the Deputy Director from 2000-2002 and the Coordinator of the Design Cell from 1995-2000. Through the Design Cell, he has been involved in consultancy and research projects; engaged with various stakeholders like the government, community based organization and communities, to inform and provide for alternative imaginations for a sustainable urban future through cities in India.

Swati Chattopadhyay is Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Trained as an architect, Chattopadhyay's research focuses on modern and contemporary urbanism and the cultural landscape of British colonialism. She is the author of Representing Calcutta; Modernity, Nationalism and the Colonial Uncanny (2005). Unlearning the City: Infrastructure in a New Optical Field (2012), co-editor (with Jeremy White) of City Halls and Civic Materialism; Towards a Global History of Urban Public Space (2014) and Critical Approaches to Contemporary Architecture (forthcoming 2017). A 2015-16 Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, she is currently working on a project on the Gangetic Plains.

Bijoy Ramachandran moderated this session on Designing the Indian City.

Speakers' Thoughts:

The core of Bimal Patel's presentation was 'A City is Not a Company Town'. Dr. Bimal reckons that when imagining cities, we must take our inability to predict the future very seriously. It is impossible to predict future: population, technological progress, economic activities, wealth, political developments, cultural developments or lifestyles. Consequently, very few aspects of a city can, or should be 'designed', in the architectural or engineering sense of the term. City building is a necessarily uncoordinated, incremental, erratic, messy, wasteful, blundering and fractious process that cannot be directed. Indian planners, taking their cues from architects and illiberal economists have mistaken cities to be like company towns. Their attempts to design cities have done immense harm.

Aneerudha Paul spoke of 'Learning From Informality. His presentation traced KRVIA's attempt to engage with the subject of informality through its research projects as well its design studios. Its intent was, through looking at these projects, to be able to abstract the learning of this engagement and subsequently evolve a framework that is systematically able to incorporate this subject within the academic curricula. This effort is embedded within the frame work of the BINUCOM (Building Inclusive Communities) project that has a larger question of trying to make the practice of design relevant and inclusive for the other half of the population, not only in India, but also globally: for people who live, work and recreate, outside what the legal systems can provide. The BINUCOM is a project funded by the European Union, of which KRVIA is a partner along with other European and Indian institutions that has the primary objective of being able to frame course material on the subject. However, to be able to achieve this goal, the collaborating institutes have realized that the twin phenomena of informality and inclusivity needs to be understood in the Indian scenario.

By being able to comprehend these phenomena there is a possibility to provide alternatives to the narrow imaginations of living and working, based on which most of the formal plans and policies of the contemporary global cities, including Mumbai are created. In these cases, much of the city is not able to participate and is left out of the popular imaginations of creating thriving exclusive "financial centres" with "world class residential environments".

However, to affect this change, apart from understanding the twin concept of informality and inclusivity it would also entail expanding the process of design, the mode of representation as well as the techniques of form making that are presently embedded in our architectural curricula.

Swati Chattopadhyay's presentation titled 'Hacking The Code' deliberated on the fact that the central problem in theorizing cities today in India and elsewhere is a paucity of vocabulary. The structural changes that have occurred in cities in the last two decades have strained the limits of our existing vocabulary: the language of urbanism and urban theory are at odds with an emergent urban code. Her presentation discussed a new approach to the materiality of public space - how public space is constructed, challenged and reshaped - that might help us unlock the new urban code.

Source: IIA, Karnataka Chapter. Reproduced as Digital Partner, NATCON.

Find the other presentations here:

Session 1, Session 2, Session 3, Session 4, Session 6

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