Friday, March 11, 2011

The City of Desires

‘Do we want to belong to a history which erases plurality?’ This is the question the students, of final year Bachelors of Architecture at CEPT, are attempting to address through their design dissertation- a project with an unusual format and ambitious intentions.
The studio, of five students, had initially begun with each student’s individual area of interest. Pranav is looking at the nomads, their living patterns and their exchange with the regions they travelled, a phenomenon very contrary to the civilized settled city; Abhay at work patterns and meaning of work spaces-which are inevitable industrial spaces; Nalini at the idea of pilgrimage, an opposite to the chaotic city; Vishnu at tribal life and their art forms which add value to their lives, Heena looks at the city as a knowledge source, negating the monopoly of formalized systems of knowledge and Maulik was interested in intelligent waste management, and not look at the waste as a by-product but an inherent part of the city. Though each of these cases were associated with the city, they were contradictory to it, in terms of values. Since these concepts were counterpoints or opposites of the ‘city of recent times’-which was unified, singular and had a dominant value system, the studio collectively questioned the larger idea of the’ Act of city making’. Thus evolved the idea to create a city where pluralities would be allowed to co-exist.
Interestingly, traditional Indian society had always been tolerant about the idea of co-existence of plural community value systems. In Arthashasthra, the diagram of the city included communities whose existence was complimentary to the socially structured urban cities. For instance, the trangenders were a part of the civic structure. A mainstream dominant social value system never existed before. The student study had made visible many suppressed histories of the city. And also make seen the invisible and unseen city.
“Truly a city requires the opposite to be complete. However there is always a tendency to deny or suppress it.”, says professor Chayya, who heads the studio. When the counterpoints o or the opposites are allowed to exist as the city itself will it be the utopia or the ideal city. “Philosophically, the Indians believed that life had many paths, and no one could judge one path from the other as the optimum.” However with today’s economical and social system, the attempt to make our society like the ‘Other’ is immense. There is a desire to belong to the ‘world class’- which believes in a unified and singular state of existence.
The utopian city is thus a plural society where diverse value systems will co-exist. The students will evolve individual architectural interventions-as per their respective areas of investigations, which will on a larger scale come together as the ‘utopian city’ and interact with the city to form meaningful relationships. The nomads will be given infrastructure by the city; the tribal art forms will disseminate in the urban life providing new meanings to either, the process of recycling will imbibe itself as a iconic and integral part of city architecture; the proposed workspace typologies shall be sensitive to various working patterns, knowledge centers will be integral to communities and not be centralized institutions and the idea of pilgrimage-peace and self reflection will be a part of the city itself. Thus are born Utopias.
In Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino describes a curious museum in the city of Fedora. It is filled with many miniature designs of ideal Fedoras. However each time the designs were complete, Fedora had changed. Hence now redundant, they were placed in the museum. The citizens often thronged the museum to feast on these cities of desires.

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