Life & Style

Cities got to work hard and play harder, this year

Highest Praise

Ahmedabad-based Balkrishna V Doshi became the first Indian to win the illustrious Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest award in the discipline. The 90-year-old has done nearly a 100 buildings, though his contribution to Indian architecture finds recognition in low-cost housing projects and his finesse as a teacher and institution builder. His “quest for cultural centred-ness as a modernist” found expression in numerous ways including in the Aranya Community Housing, Indore, where he provided a social connect through its open spaces, and in the CEPT University, Ahmedabad, where he developed the idea of “education without doors”.

Heritage MattersBalkrishna V Doshi, Pritzker Architecture Prize, CEPT University, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, unesco, Urban Parallax

Mumbai won its third UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) award, this time for its ‘Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles’. Spread across nearly 163 acres, the buildings include areas around Fort, Churchgate and Marine Drive, with the Oval Maidan in the centre. While these buildings point to invested patrons and planned strategies by the government, they are also telling of how the metropolis grew, from being a mill-workers’ hub to an educated working class had reached its shores. From housing and cinema halls to office buildings and universities under the WHS tag, the challenge lies in finding a fine balance between heritage and development.

Renewing Vows

Many academics, historians and architects found ‘the city’ as a new love interest, finding ways to understand her and cope with her complexities. Be it Amita Bhide and Himanshu Burte’s book called Urban Parallax – Policy and The City in Contemporary India; Urban Spaces in Modern India, edited by Narayani Gupta and Partho Datta; or Gautam Bhatia’s Stories of Storey: Art, Architecture and the City – these books investigate our relationship with our environment, from observations around the unseen in our cities to questioning urban policy. If well-known town planner Patrick Geddes’s Notes on Ahmedabad turned an exhibition into a conversation on the past and future of our cities, for the first time an international film festival themed on architecture and urbanism was curated in Pune at the National Film Archive of India.

How Not to Plan

If there was any lesson that the redevelopment of government colonies gave us, it was on ‘how not to plan’. While most of these low-cost housing blocks, designed by architect Habib Rahman, gave importance to open spaces and a sense of community, the current plan to increase density, felled trees by the thousands, and relegated requirements of traffic, water, and the community to the background. What, therefore, emerges are towering eyesores that will affect the physical and urban fabric of the Capital. It also points to how bodies such as the Delhi Urban Arts Commission have lost their teeth.

Fighting Chance

Even as the National War Museum might never see the light of day, the Andhra Pradesh capital, Amaravati, will get its first permanent building as the stage is set for the foundation stone ceremony. While these competition-led entries went through the roller-coaster of red tape, bureaucratic inertia and some really bad design, private initiatives by architects and organisations made room for ideas where alternative plans could be investigated. The Institute of Urban Designers India called for a design challenge for the ‘Redevelopment of Sarojini Nagar’, and Ahmedabad-based architect Kirtee Shah, challenged professionals to make low-income housing projects that are more
people-centric’.

Bridging the Gap

Exhibitions have always been a way to reach out and show exhibitions around architecture and practice this year attempted to do just that. While the ‘State of Housing’ in Mumbai carried forward the challenges to find a home in the city, it showcased how projects around the country saw a change in the definition of the word and meaning of ‘housing’. The ‘Death of Architecture’ held conversations around cities, and the direction of the profession. And in Jaipur, investigations around “When is Space?” showed how distinctions between the built and unbuilt could actually mean something.

 

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