The Hall of Nations folly: A postcard from the future

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Dear Friends from the Past,

I am writing back to you a year after the demolition of the Hall of Nations. I have been made to use the commemorative stamps that were released in  conjunction with the demolition, that as you will note do acknowledge the folly that the demolition of Hall of Nations was. A soulless glass and cement building has now taken over the complex with a soul purpose of serving as a convention facility. Most visitors coming for the conferences and exhibitions here are appalled by the fact that a modern heritage of the scale of Hall of Nations was made to make way for a building of this nature. Realising the irreversible loss to the image of the city, civil society groups have finally taken to the streets holding placards and shouting slogans like ‘We want the hall back’. A replica of the building has also been specially constructed on the Jantar Mantar road as a memorial to the lost building.  Meanwhile a plan was yesterday found floating across the internet and being circulated widely across the social media, showcasing how ITPO could have constructed convention facilities in the complex while still retaining the heritage building. Friends from the past please help us identify the author of the plan, I am enclosing a image below.

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Hall of Nations could have been conserved

Consequently, the demolition has become a running joke among news commentators. Realising its folly and in view of averting further such disasters, the government has introduced mandatory classes on adaptive reuse and modern conservation for civil administrators. A decision coming too late for us but I hope friends from the past you can learn from our experiences and do something about it. I am almost running out of the word limit that the social media app ‘Time Portal’ allows me. I am leaving some photographs although that can convey my nostalgia more than words would.

Adios!

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Nehru Place: Part 2

Nehru Place – Space for all

day by day in delhi (and london)

I went back to Nehru Place. This is what I saw this time:

Nehru Place from Above Nehru Place from Above

Heavy Machinery Heavy Machinery in a back alley shop

Village-style Buttermilk in the big city technology market Village-style Buttermilk in the big city technology market

The summer drink of choice at Nehru Place The summer drink of choice at Nehru Place

"Genuine" Ray-Bans “Genuine” Ray-Bans to go with your “genuine” software

Magazines for sale Magazines for sale

~ Jessie

*Again all iPhone 5 photos – captured and edited.

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LIVING MAPS REVIEW [new journal]

In the current era, democratic mapping and consequently planning is possible. Living maps can help us embrace urbanisation beyond binaries

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LIVINGMAPS REVIEW

First issue of new online journal

Livingmaps Review explores map making as a democratic medium for visual artists, writers, social researchers and community activists. The journal has its roots in the highly successful series of seminars, walks and learning events presented by the Livingmaps network over the past two years across London. Many of the contributions to the first issue are drawn from material presented at those events.

LMR crosses boundaries between the arts, humanities and sciences, and also between professional and amateur mapmakers. We encourage the use of experimental audio-visual, interactive and graph- ic formats and especially welcome contributions from younger and unpublished   contributors.

The journal will document and disseminate innovative and participatory forms of cartography, opening up new spaces of debate and making visible what is hidden or erased by conventional mapping.

Highlights of the first issue include Phil Cohen on critical cartography and the struggle for a just city; Jerry White on Charles Booth’s maps; Andrew Motion…

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Light fractals of urban Punjab

Light fractals of urban Punjab. How Delhi’s urbanisation extends beyond the border literally up until Lahore.

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In this map, created from night-time lights of cities recorded by satellites, Lahore and Delhi and the surrounding Punjab form continuous urban corridors, or agglomerations. The densely coloured nodes represent 67 cities (in 2010) with populations above the 100,000 threshold (see http://ciesin.columbia.edu/). Map: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) In this map, created from night-time lights of cities recorded by satellites, Lahore and Delhi and the surrounding Punjab form continuous urban corridors, or agglomerations. The densely coloured nodes represent 67 cities (in 2010) with populations above the 100,000 threshold (see http://ciesin.columbia.edu/). Map: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN)

About 470 kilometres along the Grand Trunk Road from Lahore (a large urban mass with an orange core in this map), first through Amritsar, then Jalandhar and Ludhiana, then past Patiala and Panipat, and on to New Delhi – an even greater orange core, engorged with its status as a national capital territory, feasting on uncountable megawatts of crackling electricity.

During the days of the undivided Punjab, both Lahore and Delhi were divisions of the province, the other three being Multan, Jalandhar (usually spelled ‘Jullundur’) and Rawalpindi (usually called ‘Pindi’, a name that eased the toils of newspaper sub-editors…

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Beyond the city: A visual journey of Delhi’s extended urbanisation

This blog emerged out of a field trip I carried out in February 2016, for a analysing the Extended urbanisation around Delhi, especially how daily circular migration is shaping this. For this purpose I took a local DEMU train from the centre of Delhi to Rewari some 80kms away from Delhi. In addition to the photographs that I took to document the rapidly changing landscape. I also engaged in interviewing passengers on the train, about the purpose of their travel, destination, socio-economic profile etc. Some of my observations were –

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The overcrowded Palam station on the outskirts of Delhi.
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Most of the railway stations such as this one Garhi Harsaru have retained their colonial era character an ode to how this has been appropriated for human resource transport instead of the earlier purpose of transport of capital commodities.

DSC_0510The train halts in Gurgaon: Many of the passengers like to get on board through the other side in order to get sitting space on board.

 

  • In addition to people commuting from work, the circular migrants are also comprised of people coming to the city to seek services such as medical facilities, education etc. I was surprised to see many students on the train who travel upto 80kms everyday to study in schools in Delhi. The reasons for this are mixed however, with some coming to access better standards of education while some coming purely for attaining domicile status in Delhi.
  • The working adults conducting this sort of migration can be broadly put into three categories – trades people who come to sell their wares in Delhi and take purchases from the city back, guards and security personnel who work at airports etc. on the edge of the city and service personnel mostly working in government clerical level jobs.
  • On being questioned about their choice for undertaking this daily migration most of them cited living costs and standards as the overriding factor. They cited the unsanitary and squalor conditions in which people form their class live in the cities, queuing up for water, inadequate sanitation etc. Also the family could afford a much better lifestyle in the earning than they would if they choose to move to the city. Thirdly they said this way they can also maintain and help on farm holdings back in the village in their spare time and supplement the jont earnings of their extended families.
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Railways map of Colonial India, Courtesy – Wikipedia
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Railway network of India overlapped with population density in red. Courtesy – Wikipedia
  • The colonial era railway system shown in the first map was majorly designed to transport resources from the hinterlands to the ports but this has been appropriated into a unique form of urbanisation that has been described by Echonave & Srivastava as ‘Cirulatory Urbanism‘. Describing the success of circulatory urbanism that Konkan Railways made possible around Mumbai, Echonave & Srivastava make a case for an antidote to the intensive new town urbanisation policies that have plagued urban governance.
  • As a further reading into it, I am reminded of Schmidt and Brenner’s Planetary Urbanisation language that allows us to look beyond the urban-rural boundaries and plan for a unified urban field.
  • As a consequence of the density of the railway network, major urban agglomeration have tended to spring alongside.
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One of the many mobile vendors that travel on these trains to serve the daily passengers
  • These trains are like moving towns, complete with a commercial layer. A whole set of vendors operate on these trains supplying anywhere from parts for mobile phones, to vegetables, to snacks.

 

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A new-town some 30kms outside Delhi coming up along with its own flyover
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A dust-track next to a upcoming settlement.
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A high tension electric line criss-crosses the train line with a new town in its backdrop

 

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Another one of the fast-paced projects
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Another housing development coming up some 60kms outside Delhi
  • New-towns are springing up fast, rather too fast, sometimes without one even noticing. A lot of the people I interviewed on the train that happened to live around these new majorly housing projects had a very cynical view about them. They said that the projects are depleting their agriculture productivity by blocking the natural drainage, that allows water to reach their fields. Depleting ground water rapidly, producing wastes to the amount that were never seen before. Most of these are bought by middle class people from Delhi as second homes for investment
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Warehouses among fields has become a regular feature in the landscape

 

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A mustard field ready for the winter harvest.
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A dry port 60 kms from Delhi. This sits on the
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Land being tilled for the short Spring crop
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A wasterland some 20kms outside Delhi that has now become a big sportsfield
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Small flower nurseries are a common sight on the outskirts of Delhi.
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A typical medium village settlement, complete with communal spaces and statues
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Cattle farms such as these are quiet present till about 40 kms from Delhi, with the dairy produce going mostly to the city while the dung get’s utilised as biomass for the villages.
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Superimposed Ecologies : Can nature, city and settlement co-exist?
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A densifying village 50 kms outside Delhi. Regularised services, car-ownership and changing socio-economic profiles
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A new housing block coming up in the backdrop of a traditional settlement. The settlements that loose their agriculture land to these new developments often become marginalised landless peasents
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Kitchen gaderns like these were a common scene along the densely populated settlements along the rail tracks, with the residents often occupying reserve railway land for producing vegetable crops.
  • Settlements and the built landscape is transforming rapidly. With services penetrating deeper, resulting in hybridised morphologies.
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Smart-phone ownership is very common among the circular migrants, with many of them using it to watch movies and TV series on the go.
  • There is a very high smart phone usage among these migrants as they use it for entertainment and also to communicate with their families via internet messaging services like Whatsapp and Facebook.

 

 

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Marking the uncharted: A tale from Sangam Vihar

A City for all
A truly pluralistic sociaety. Courtsey – The author

In her book Ordinary Cities: Between Modernity and Development, author Jennifer Robinson poses the question on whether we are living in world cities or a world of ordinary cities? The author is opposed to the binaries that exist in planning language around us like north-south, urban-rural etc. and calls for cities to be analysed as spaces of production in the context that they occur. At the same while looking at the fate of planning and space production in Delhi today, I am reminded of Scott Bollen’sUrban planning amidst Ethnic conflict‘, Delhi’s caste and ethnic division runs deeper than what meets the eye. It is only when one is confronted with figures such as 75% of Delhi’s population lives in unplanned settlements that one confronts the nature of the problem. This other 75% which often lives in settlements classified as Slums, Unauthorised settlements, Urban Villages, rural villages, regularised settlements etc. is subjected to a very different standard of urban life than the privileged 25%. These settlements are often left undemarcated on plans and master planning documents, this keeps the fate of these unplanned settlements in a constant limbo, catching the residents in a web of illegality, they are often made to pay more for services; denied at will and so on. Given this background how is a design professional expected to engage in such a context to ameliorate the conditions in these unplanned parts of the city? or more importantly, how can one design for the other 75%?

 

One such solution is provided to us by the Delhi project of the urbanXchanger Delhi leg organised and initiated by the Alfred Herrhausen Society and curated by Ute WeilandMarcos Rosa. Through the initative, architecture and urban design offices of Anagram, Delhi and FAR, Berlin came together to ideate on Sangam Vihar, an agglomeration of unathourised settlement in South Delhi. The design firms engage with Centre for Urban and Regional Excellence, a NGO that is working in the area. Sangam Vihar is a bustling neighbourhood with over a million residents in an area less than 7 square kilometers, making it one of the densely populated areas on earth. The place is a microcosm of people from all over India and houses arrivals made up of mostly land-less peasents from the countryside, who come to the city in search of work opportunities. The place came up in response to the failure of  DDA to provide adequate low-cost housing for incoming residents in the city.

Walk taken along the edge during the immersion workshop_Daniel Grenz
The architecture offices walking through the forest at the back of the neighbourhood. Courtesy – Daniel Grenz

Sangam Vihar is straddled by the city on the North and Asola Wildlife Reserve on the South and remains vulnerable to seasonal flooding, disease outbreaks, inadequate municipal servicing and so on. The massive neighbourhood that reminds one of Parisopolis in Sao Paolo although based on a neat grid is poorly serviced and it sometimes takes upto one hour for residents to get out of the neighbourhood. The residents have been fighting for over three decades now to get legally authorized but their calls have fallen on deaf ears. The area is still demarcated as partly agriculture and partly forest land on the official masterplanning documents. Keeping this in mind the architect collective sought to work at this through their innovative ‘Schizo Plan’approach, whereby they intended to operate at multiple levels to negotiate the legality of the settlement.

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Through one of the approaches the ubiquitous google maps icon was utilised to demarcate the edge of Sangam Vihar with the forest. This not only demarcated the sensitive ecology of the forest for the residents but also demarcated the living ecology of Sangam Vihar as a neighbourhood. Through charting various events along the edge the architects were able to phenominalise solutions to the problems inside the community and how these could be solved through simple gestures.

Next physical approaches to the event icons were marked on the ground as arrows to guide the residents to them.

Which was followed by actual events that followed various themes such as ‘the game of composting’, ‘follow the waste’, ‘composting workshop’, ‘cleaning percolation pits’ etc.

The events attracted a good participation amongst the residents and was helpful for entry level activities in the neighbourhood. The mobile setup will hopefully now travel to the other blocks of the neighbourhood and other parts of the city that face similar challenges. The ‘urbanXchanger’ platform allowed for simultaneous experimentation in cities of Sao Paolo, Cape Town and Mexico City, where architects similarly engaged with other firms to bring about collective action. These sort of projects will hopefully seed an alternative form of practice among architecture and planning professionals to start engaging with the other 75%.

I am proud to share that the exercise is being exhibited at this year’s Venice Biennale – Reports from the front, under the LSE Cities pavillion – ‘Conflicts of the Urban Age’

(The author was the local coordinator for urbanXchanger Delhi and also for the Urban Age Award in 2014)

Oh my love for those old Bertin Maps

From time and again my love for the old projection styles comes to abound me. I found out today finally with the generous and kind help of Martin Grandjean that style of maps like the one that I have added below is called Bertin 1953

Agro-ecological zones map of the world
Agro-ecological zones map of the world- Courtsey FAO

This style was really prevalent while making projections in the post world-war era especially in the 50’s and 60’s also incidentally the time when world urbanisation was being for the first time mapped and presented. Organisations inside the UN and affiliates like FAO were publishing these to represent facts, figures and trends on urbanisation, resource availability and consumption etc.

Facts aside I really love the projection style as compared to the really flat (Mercator) ones that are in circulation these days especially the WEF ones.

WEF_mercator maps
Typical WEF Mercator maps in circulation around the web lately.

The problem with this projection which the Bertin overcame was that it was, at the same time as being geographically accurate, was able to convey the polar curvature in a very real sense. The Mercator projection cognitively distort’s ones world view. At this point, I am immediately reminded of ‘the dymaxion map’ by Buckminster Fueller, which being morphologically accurate has its own representation downsides.

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The Dymaxion

So, I take it to myself to popularise this projection style again by preparing compelling data in this style and sharing it with the outside world on a weekly basis. Also through my research on GIS forums i have found out that I can the Lambert project style to mimic this.

Watch this space!