Reclaiming Public Space for People: Panel Discussion
Duration: 02:03:52; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 86.392; Saturation: 0.008; Lightness: 0.515; Volume: 0.289; Cuts per Minute: 2.938; Words per Minute: 140.081
* Naresh Narasimhan, Architect
* Soumitro Ghosh, Architect
* Dominic Dube, Architect
* Arundhati Nag, Theatre Director
* Edgar Demello, Co-Curator, CoLab Art & Architecture
About the Lecture:
Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, public space, as an equitable and democratic form, has been shrinking in our city. Who are the arbiters of this most essential commodity in our public life? And what is, in our context the real meaning of Public Space, in its more contemporary manifestation? How do we, as citizens, participate in the process of bringing new ideas to a stale status quo? That allows us the freedom to choose between leisure and doing, between reflection and rushing. What we need is not only imaginative thinking, but affirmative action. But finally it is both, the large ideas, imagined at the 'top', as well as the small initiatives, that will transform our city.
About the Panelists:
* Naresh Narasimhan, an architect, responsible for the regeneration of the NGMA - the brief included restoring the heritage building, gallery additions and conserving the natural habitat.
* Soumitra Ghosh, an architect, who transformed the Central Jail into the Freedom Park, perhaps one of the only large planned open places for people in the recent past.
* Dominic Dube, architect and agent provocateur, on matters urban whose projects range from houses in Auroville to urban design competitions for international cities.
* Arundathi Nag , theatre director, who with the Ranga Shankara, transformed a part of JP Nagar into a cultural threshold for its inhabitants and for the city.
Moderator: As I said, we normally start on time, but since we are all here...we start, yeah.
I will first just introduce the theme, before I introduce the panelists. I'll probably take ten minutes.
We intend this...or I intend this not be a sort of a polemic. It's more sort of thought-provoking exercise that will hopefully provoke action on the ground, or atleast thinking and the making and constructing of ideas that will lead to a better cityscape.
We've got more people, more buildings, more cars, more chaos, more disenchantment...everybody complains. And things haven't changed on the ground very much. Most of us go to our clubs, we go to our social living rooms, we go to watering holes and Bangalore is left to fend for itself. Now, one important thing really is for all of us to know, not just architects and urban designers because we might be just a little bit more in the know -is that who are really the people who chalk out ideas for change? Change of the city, change of the cityscape, small gestures, large ideas. Government, NGO's, who are they? I mean neighborhood groups, neighborhood organizations. Something that we have to really look at extremely seriously.
Important thing really is that, we have to stop being peripheral to the idea of the city and we have to bring people to the center. A center which is actually democratic, it's equitable and it's free for all. It's not something that is special. We see it in so many other cities- Asian cities, European cities...we need to ask ourselves whether we want that change. That's I think, an important question. So when we talk about the things that we hold dear to ourselves, very often we talk in generalities, you know. We talk in..We don't talk in detail. Sometimes we even talk condescendingly. You know this is what I call the Chickpet complex...you know we always talk so much about Chickpet, about Avenue road, about the wonderful life that unfolds there, but what really has happened in the last..let's say at least my lifetime, If you look at the traders and what they do over a day's thing..it's hard work and all of us go there to shop and come back...autorickshaws because you can't take cars.
But what do we actually know about people who really live there, you know...the women, the children, the children who have to go to school, negotiate the type of traffic that just fills up those streets, and the elderly. So how do we actually look at things dispassionately, you know, in the sense, at the same time with passion. I think at some stage or the other, we have to get rid of this, sort of, what is it called? Endorsement of this chaos theory. That if it's chaotic, then it's Indian and therefore it's fine. I don't buy it always. So that's the first question we ask-how do we look at change in areas that we have for, I don't know, atleast my generation, much earlier left to fend for itself.
Now I've been saying this more often, that there have been in the recent past just two large urban design ideas that have overtaken the city and one was the Freedom park and one was the NGMA. One an institution and one a very democratic platform for everybody. But, I'm talking like this for five years now. These projects are already that old. So what's new and who is really going to set up the agenda for this new? That's the second, sort of, provocation.
The third is that you know, in 2009, in our calendar that was called 'Architecture and Public Space', we spoke about...or let's say we imagined a large idea ...and took the space between...imagined the space between the Vidhana Soudha and the Attara Kacheri and from this side, let's say the LIC...and the multistorey building..or the edge of..what is now the edge of Cubbon Park, to be one huge gigantic plaza. That's why I was provocative in putting up, not an Indian square or a street as a public domain but something in Sienna, in the middle of Italy. Now is there somebody who can, sort of, get this discourse going, since we have a big upheaval in that area...the metro is going through, thankfully underground. Once it's finished, are there going to be ideas for transforming that whole area where all sorts of people can intersect-politicians, bureaucrats, the legal profession on the other side, tourists, ordinary citizens like us? Is there a..something like this can happen? Are we actually ready for it? So that's the third.
Fourth is, where does one actually begin, because you know, there is this romance that we all have with the automobile. It's my car, my castle, you know. And also a certain servility to power. And I think that is what keeps projects like this in hibernation. And ideas that really don't find light of day. I think finally, we must be able to show that the beginning of the 21st century had something called 'Urban Designers'.
But of course as much as we must think big, and large scale, and look at how our city can actually reinvent itself...not just by changing its name but by actually giving it character that is fresh, is new, is urban...there's a certain urbanity to it. We were a group of people who went to Istanbul recently. I mean an extraordinary city. But forget its history, its culture and it's meeting of East and West...I mean there were two things that really impressed one there, you know. I think, one was its urbanity and the other one was its humanity. And I think when these two come together you have a very good mix. And you see it in its people. And when I say urbanity I mean..I'm using it a little loosely...I mean small, little, incidents of design.
Streets that have suddenly transformed, a little square being given another little lease on life, building material very sort of well put together so that it can...you know in three days things start to transform themselves. So because of that urbanity, I think there is a humanity and people are full of humor, they are full of laughter, they are full of music. And I think that that is something that is wonderful when you can see it in the people, in the street. I think we have come to a stage where there is not so much laughter anymore in our lives..atleast out in the open. Now I'm looking at provoking response to what I'm saying...of course and also to the response to..which is the real idea..to the four panelists that will follow.
Now as a sequel to this thing of the Vidhana Soudha and this whole thing of the metro, I think the metro has done irreparable damage to the city. of course it will take people from A to B. Surely. But I think that...ok forget the fact that it's going to be underground ...we can go on discussing that forever, but what has happened..we shouldn't lose atleast the opportunity. We lost one, when four architects were asked to give designs for stations and atleast it would have been that..one of the accomplishments would have been that it was something that was designed by architects. And one day to the other all those schemes were squashed. And we are getting now what you see coming up.
So is the promenade on MG Road going to come back? In what way? It's obviously not going to be the same. Will the repair work..the urban repair work in South Bangalore be done and when? CMH road, that wonderful Trader's Street which was disrupted inspite of protests...what is going to happen to the spaces now between those two series of building blocks?
So I ..with this, I just give you to ponder, and will now introduce one by one the speakers. And they will be presenting in that order.
Naresh, an architect responsible for the regeneration of the NGMA...it was an exercise in which the brief included restoration of the main building which is a hundred odd years old. Additions, galleries and other facilities and as importantly, you know, conserving the natural environment of very old trees.
Soumitro, also an architect who transformed the erstwhile Central Jail into a Freedom Park. Perhaps one of the few large twenty odd acres planned open spaces that have been done in the city, in the recent past.
Arundhati, very well known theatre director who with her Rangashankara transformed literally, atleast a part of JP nagar and made it a cultural threshold, not just of that area but of the city. People go from one end of the other to ...and get in time because the doors shut at 7.30 or whenever.
And Dominic, architect and I have called him in his own language, Agent Provocateur. I don't know if that is pronounced correctly. It's not a very, what is it called...? It's not a very...what's the word you used the other day...it's not a phrase that is appealing apparently, but I use it well. It's not a compliment but I mean it as one.
He's here because he has dealt with matters on Urban Design, issues in urban design and he has been in Rome, Istanbul, Auroville and now Bangalore.
I'd just like to briefly talk to you about the format. One by one they will..each of them will talk about their experience and their work with the city for about 10-15 minutes, 12 minutes. And after each of them, we'll just open it up to the audience. Maybe I will lead a thing, or somebody can lead..put up a hand and..and that will take maybe five or ten minutes and then we'll ask the next person and it will go on like that until we open it out entirely. But of course the chaos factor must be in control so I hope you all will see my hand go up now and again and I'll see your hands going up and again.
Naresh: So let me start by..thank you Edgar for this opportunity. You said that your experience of Istanbul was humanity and urbanity and to put it in properly a simpler line..what you really are saying is that cities should be for people first and for everything else next. And I want to start with...a series of..it's not so much prescriptive but I'm just trying to throw a few ideas out into the audience as to where we stand today.
This is a photograph of Tahrir Square (slide), if any of you recognize it. How a public space changes a country.
I would like to first talk about what does public space..I mean the word..the theme of today;s talk is actually a fairly loaded sentence...it says 'Reclaiming Public Space for People' but what do we understand when we say 'public space for people'?
Is it this, that our cities are not static Western models of clear boulevards and clear separations of function, but...should it be more..Are Indian cities more open? Should it be participatory? Should it be inclusive? I want to use the word kinetic, because are cities in India defined more by use and diversity of their uses and the public spaces of a city or by pre-programmed function? Is there a ..there is a debate about it currently going on whether Indian cities are different from other cities in the world? I'm not so sure about that, but if you saw something like this on your way to Max Mueller Bhavan today, it won't really have shock to you at all, because in an Indian city, you expect this kind of thing completely randomly which is very difficult to understand from a Western point of view.
Again why 'reclaiming'? Who is occupying the public space that we need to take it back from them?
Many of you would have gone on this street..a street crying out for pedestrianization, in the heart of Bangalore. And many people have been making attempts to do this for 15 years. Edgar I'm sure you recognize it..Woodys is there.
Commercial Street. Look at the...I mean it's almost crying saying, 'Let me become a pedestrian area.' There is not a single person who lives on that road. There seems to be enough activity, both at a lower level and increasingly now at a higher level. And it's just messed up with cars, and people trying to dart between and completely ruining your experience of shopping. Inspite of everything, funnily enough, according to a recent study done of all the malls in Bangalore, this street generates the highest revenue per square foot. Inspite of this. So that is a strange thing about India. No mall comes even close to generating the kind of revenue per sq.ft. that this street generates.
The other thing that is happening is that increasingly as Edgar also mentioned, our public spaces what we take for granted as..you know a public space is also the road, it's also the playground, it's also the park near your house, it's all these things. And our roads are being taken over by infrastructure over which we seem to have no say...either the people have no say, even the professionals have no say. Somebody at some very high level makes a decision and this is what happens...the metro happens without any real consultation with the people who love the city. There's no consultation at all and things just happen as in the city is seen as a theatre for infrastructure. It is not seen as a place for people. It is seen as a theatre for major infrastructure which is driven by big business and big money.
Increasingly our public spaces are getting securitized. If you know, there are more than 500 parks in the main core area of Bangalore and every park is shut between 9am and 4pm, with chains. Why would you close a park? First of all the idea of putting a fence around a park itself may be required because of cattle, maybe required because of...maybe required because of wanton elements. But why would you close...I've been asking the corporation this for a very long time..why would you want to close a public park between 9am and 4pm in the evening? And with a lock and key? And nobody can get into it.
I want to talk a little bit about Bangalore and Edgar also made a statement saying that the beginning of last century, there was a little attempted urban design, which seems to have gone down the tube immediately. I just want to recall some issues about Bangalore itself. Bangalore looks like this now (slide). What you can see now, is still that there is a fairly large, green chunk in the middle of the plan and the rest of it, as you go towards the edges...you can see the..and there seems to be some sense of order right in the middle. But as you go to the edges you can see the sprawl just going out.
Some elements of...let me just go to the next slide..this is what Bangalore started off as (slide). I don't know...many of you can recognize that white dot in the middle is City Market. And that was the old pete of Bangalore with the railway station on the top, which is actually a lake in front of it and the bus station. The bus station right at the north end of the image is actually the lake which gave water to the city and the fort is below.
And that's what the original plan of the city looked like (slide). And you can still see that there is an urban organization..there are neat grid-iron streets...the shape of the fort is probably due to the topography. The shape of the pete also directed more by security and so on and so forth.
And this is what it looks like today (slide). This is the density..the urban density of Avenue Road. This is Avenue Road right in the middle and the streets cutting across it. Inspite of this density, you still notice that there are open spaces..it's not very clear in this drawing but where those trees are, where those...the junction of the two main...that exact point is where Bangalore started. The junction of Avenue Road and Cubbonpet Main Road, right in the middle of the image..the two wide.
And the four...there are four pillars there marking the beginning of Bangalore. Two are destroyed, one is taken over by a garment shop and the other three are in very bad...we don't even know that there is a physical point that we started in Bangalore. If you ask me, it's a great public area. Avenue road is another street crying to be pedestrianized and made into a fun place, rather than weaving between autos and petrol fumes. Really, some effort has to be made to bring the old character of the old city back. And you see that there are these little little open spaces which you just come across when you walk in the streets..it's not clear here but believe me, they are there.
And then, the British came and created another city, which is on the other side. This is the original plan of the Bangalore cantonment (slide). This was the formal layout...you still see that there is a difference between public space and open space and what we proudly look upon as the Cubbon Park which was actually that large. Including the golf course on the top, is now whittled down only to the area at the bottom of the image. Which is still quite a bit, but you can see how big it was. And funnily enough Cubbon Park was actually created as an Apartheid park, to keep the blacks away from the whites. It was a huge expanse of public space which was controlled by gates, which you had to cross to move from one city to the other.
So there seems to have been some sense, atleast if not in the formal urban design sense, atleast a common sense sense, that the city has to be balanced. The built areas have to be balanced with green areas. And you can see that very clearly...how the amount of encroachment that has happened over the years and how slowly Cubbon Park has got whittled away.
This is what the city looked like in the turn of the century (slide), just before the big plague hit around 1880 or so. And you can still see that there was a lot of opportunity, a lot of big lakes, all over the place. All of them have disappeared today. In 1892 or so Dewan Sheshadri Iyer, because of the plague outbreak created this locality. I don't know how many of you can recognize it, this is the oldest surviving drawing of Basavanagudi and you can see how beautifully...and the word why I particularly showed this drawing is it says 'Public Square'.
There is ...this is the original drawing. It's actually a funny layout because it is completely separated by caste. If you notice, Brahmins live here, Vaishyas live there and Muslims live here and all that. But funnily enough, an integrated neighborhood...you might question the secularization of this today, but Dewangas..it's completely..but you also see that there is a 22 and a half acre public space with four primary nodes in the corners. You also see that there is a temple; there is space for a mosque in the bottom. There's also..I don't know..there's no church here, but there's also a market street, which is..you see the Gandhi bazaar road going down. It's thought of. And if we could do this in 1893, and probably I would consider Basavanagudi the most successful urban neighborhood in Bangalore, because it is completely integrated with all schools, all shopping, all open spaces and its...I don't know why we just can't replicate that rather than...instead of doing.
See this is what it looks like even today (slide). It has preserved its urban form for 120 years, without breaking up. The park unfortunately is now fenced. And the BBMP, in its wisdom, has now dug a horrible underpass when nothing was required. The roads were all, if you look at the road widths..they were 100ft wide, in 1893. So you...can you see the vision of Sheshadri Iyer, thinking ahead 100 years. And the roads still work. Only now they have gone and ruined it by putting a horrible underpass, when nothing was required. And Lalbagh Lake was on the right. So interesting balance of built and open.
The top picture shows the further extensions after independence which is Jayanagar. The Lakshman Rao Boulevard you see, is that green patch. You also see that there are neighborhood parks; there is a clear urban order in what is going on and then you see Basaveshwaranagar IIIrd stage, at the bottom, which is total disaster, made. You can make out that there no sense of either planning or open spaces, or built to open ratios or any sense of urbanity at all in the whole thing. Crude storm water drain flowing all over the place. And what actually happens today in Bangalore is that all layouts, all new extensions are planned like this by the BDA. They get a random piece of land; they draw a completely random grid on it without looking at the contour. Unfortunately there is this storm water drain, which you can't stop water flowing. So that comes there. And whatever incidental spaces are there in terms of what piece of land the government has acquired, becomes the public spaces of the civic amenity sites, as they call them. And they become just the stray bits and pieces which are not integrated into the neighborhood at all. Which is not part of the life of the neighborhood, like what you see in Basavanagudi.
So is it...is everything very depressing, and there is no way forward? So how do you make cities for people...let's just look at it.
Yeah, that's all..I've just got another five-six slides.
We have to focus on the human dimension...cities are about our senses and the scale. The moment you see juxtapositions like this...bigness does not constitute greatness. It actually creates, actually, a sense of being small and being as though you have no effect on the system. So the cities have to be scaled to people and scaled to all your five senses have to be stimulated.
When Edgar spoke about Istanbul, people are laughing, people are drinking...the city allows that to happen by creating detail at scale...and you don't do things like this which are completely out of proportion...or out of any kind of relatability.
The battle for quality..you see, when people are in a city and when they are walking and they are also staying...everybody just emphasizes walking but I also want to point out the benefits of loitering, and staying in places. People are not moving more than five kms an hour and really speaking, the detail of a street must increase in inverse proportion to the speed at which the space is perceived or used..the smaller the speed people are moving, the greater the amount of clear detail as to how a street is separated, where do you walk, how public infrastructure is done carefully.
You know, whenever one goes abroad, I don't know whether you've noticed that you spend the first two days looking down and walking and then you realize there is no need to look down and you look up and walk. In India, you only look down and walk on a street. You completely never..you don't know where you will fall into..so clearly this level of detail is required for...when you say pedestrianization, it's a big word. But it has to translate into, not just urban design but also clear detailing of external spaces.
This was Cheonggyecheon, old river which was a sewage canal in Seoul, which has been...you know, there was a highway built on it-they broke it, brought it back. And then I want to sort of emphasize the point that we all seem to think that the city is about buildings but the city is about life, and the spaces in the city. The buildings come last. Everybody here is wanting to build bigger and bigger buildings to create a sense of urbanity and I don't think that's a very...this is a cleverer way to do it.
Ok..this is just another three slides of a small project we have been working on along with Hundred Hands, and Architecture Paradigm and a few others. We just took a ..along with this Abide group which is trying to do something for Bangalore...we tried to look at one of the prominent junctions of the city and say, 'What if?'
Many of you will recognize that that is Brigade Road (slide)...I'm sure..I don't know whether you've noticed that there is a beautiful little park at the corner with a war memorial going back to 1914 which nobody sees. And people are struggling to hang around here in the evenings, because Brigade Road slopes up and in the night it looks quite cool, so people are trying to take photographs with their behind and hopping around traffic and all that. We said, 'What if we make a space for people here?' This is an abandoned..almost like an abandoned park which is used by a developer for some advertising. And this building has been the foreground of this. Mayor Hall has been chopped off rudely by this road. What if we could do something?
So I'm just quickly...i don't know how many of you are architects but if you recognize..this is Residency Road and that is Brigade Road, and Brigade road continues in some...just bends like that and there is this little bit of a park with the war memorial and all the Big 10 buses stand here. And there is a petrol bunk in that corner. Many years ago, this road has become one way, and this road has become one way, but there are a lot of artifacts on the road which relate back to the time when this was two-way and this was also partly two way. So if you look at it, and the alignment is completely gone and the footpaths in this portion is about 1 and a half feet wide and here it is about 3-4 ft wide or 5ft wide and a little bit of space in front of that motor arcade. And there are lot of beautiful trees here, all over the place.
So what we said was, if you look at it at an urban design level, there is something wrong with the alignment. What if you rechange the alignment of the roads that way, rather than this way? Rather than what it is? Then what would have happened is..if you do that, you would gain back that much public space. Nothing would have happened to the traffic, there are still three lanes flowing. Brigade Road still works perfectly, this whole park becomes defined, the area in front of the mortar arcade has becomes a very wide footpath..there are lots of people hanging around here. This corner which is unnecessarily cut is removed, very few vehicles are actually...there's enough place to turn, that no-mans land in front of motor arcade, which used to be a car-parking lot, will be reclaimed. And that's what it will look like (slide), instead of what it looks like now. From Brigade Road if you look down towards St.Patricks- the park there is removed, a bunch of steps is put, a small tourist office and some toilet can be put under it, the war memorial is highlighted, maybe some water body and I don't know what else you can do.
And that's what it will look like from Residency Road (slide). Look at the instant change in the quality of life, something like this will bring and how do you create a ...and this is not...nothing to reclaim. It is already there and all we have to do is, somehow convince..I've been trying to convince the authorities for the past one year, 'Please give me a budget to do this, or atleast let me do it with corporate sponsorship.' Well, the wheels of government move very slowly. Easy to do.
That's what it will look like from an aerial point of view (slide). You get a huge urban plaza in front of this thing. The footpath becomes super wide, you get these lovely steps with which you can sit and see the monument. Also sit down as a public space, for people to just sit and enjoy themselves in the evenings. And the buses also can stand behind it, and keep moving from there..the Big10 buses. So it integrates..it integrates both public transport, people, solves lot of problems and doesn't cost more than 2and a half crores to do...which doesn't seem like a lot of money for doing this much work.
I'd like to end with this. A nice quote from Kierkegaard, saying that you can always 'walk' away from any problem.
Moderator: That was interesting..the diverse nature of the first slide, with that of the second last one, where...but I think in all cities, this sort of manifestation of diversity, if that is something that can be allowed is ..I think, would..makes a city much more livable. I think what came out very strongly and what Naresh was talking about is, I think, this sort of idea of life, space and building is really what we have perhaps missed in our sort of urgency, you know, to build, and build and build.
I'd like to throw it open to people who would like to..because I mean, I think it is interesting that he has also shown a project ..a hypothetical which..there is something that can be made possible with a budget that I'm quite surprised is only two and half crores. It would be interesting if somebody would want to inquire about that aspect.
Q: My question is, the proposal which you have given, do you think it is practically possible, considering the fact that in India the property is privately owned?
A: The interesting part of this Brigade Road proposal involved zero acquisition. All the space is already there...it's just badly designed and that's the point that I was trying to make..that there's nothing to reclaim, it's just reclaiming what ..you don't even have to pay anybody or ask anyone. It's already there and it's badly designed. And just by cleaning up urban design you will get that much amount of open space for people. I'm sure there are other issues in other places where this problem will come up, but you know, for instance pedestrianization of Commercial Street is not happening because there is a huge resistance from traders who think that business will go away. Correct?
So there it is a question of showing people case studies, trying to build public opinion. This is not like somebody from above...I mean even this Brigade Road..this proposal that I showed you has been shown to that association. People have understood why it's required, people are supporting the initiative and so on and so forth. You have to take everyone along with you.
Q: No, actually I would like to make a point, because when I was in my eighth semester, I worked on a project which had...it was nothing but redevelopment of Commercial Street, and we went across, we asked people. They complained...they complained. But then when you ask, 'Are you ready to...are you willing to give it', they're like, 'So it's not pakka hai'.
A: No because you probably didn't have enough data to make your point. See if you are able to build a story and tell...as I said in the presentation, it's not about building or doing a project. You remember the sequence. It's address the life issues, address the space issues, then we'll talk about building. I don't mean building as in building a 'building'. Before building a city. The sequence is always, we always want to do a project and try to tell everybody that it's good for them. I think the approach should be from the other way around, that you figure out how to make it..how will it improve people's lives, how will it make a tangible benefit to the people who are directly or indirectly affected by it. Then you are able to build a consensus and then build a ...I don't get depressed because it doesn't happen. One day or the other it will, but once..the tide of public opinion has to rise.
Moderator: See another point that needs to be made here in the context of your question, is that this re-pedestrianizing streets is not something that is new, you know. It has been going on for 40-50 years, all over the world and everybody has faced very similar situations. I mean the traders, the businessmen, the shopkeepers in Europe, all these central sort of business district..they also had to worry of losing business. But what has it shown? That if you are able to provide for high quality public transport, people can come to these places easily. The business not only doubles, it probably goes even more than that. So it is always tied up to a very intelligent and functioning public transport system. There was somebody at the back?
Q: I wanted to tell Naresh that you know, I had a small project in Commercial Street at the corner. And these same points came up, and during the time when pedestrianization was brought in and parking was banned for a while or even driving in, there was a lot of resistance and I asked the guy, 'Why are you'll..you know this is supposed to be really good for you guys and it will improve the street.' And he said, 'But the fact is footfalls have come down. And you yourself say, 'I don't know why people go to the street inspite of the smoke, and the vehicles and fighting for space and literally getting run over by cars'. But that's the way... I don't know.. we're also lazy to a certain extent, let's accept it. We'd rather drive everywhere and just let the car park in front of the shop than park it somewhere and walk up to the particular thing.
A: My answer to that is that from the point you park your car to walk to a pedestrian area must be pleasant. We don't like to do that because it is unpleasant to walk. We are all walking on the roads in Bangalore rather than on the footpaths. It's unpleasant. It's not enough to just pedestrianize Commercial Street as an example. You need to take an impact area probably about 2km around that and figure out how to clean up the whole thing and make sure that all approach..for instance you're going to have this problem in all metro stations. I've been trying to cry myself hoarse saying that, 500m around every metro station in Bangalore will be a hub of pedestrian activity. Right now, all that is being planned for is a bus...core location of a bus. It's just going to become a giant mess if somebody doesn't look at it. But how does one use the power of urban design or the weapons of urban design to counter the weapons of mass infrastructure and project constructability and the sheer money power, is something that I have not been able to figure out properly yet.
Moderator: As I was saying, that I think we have to go very seriously into damage control, into urban repair. And how we do it is going to be a very very important thing. I think we are getting a little bit into too much detail. So I think it would be a good idea to get on to the next...we'll all come back to the generality again.
Q: I just want to add to this and say that maybe the first step is to get ourselves on the pedestals where people do these things and you're not becoming a part of that realm where decisions are made. Somehow architects and urban designers are never a part of this core group which is put together for a project.
A: No, the answer to that is, the guy who lead the Egyptian revolution was a Google executive. So I don't think you need to come on any pedestal. You need to make up your mind that you want to do it, and things will happen. When there is a critical mass, change will happen. And I don't believe any pedestal is required.
Moderator: The time for change has come and I think it's a series of many things that are happening, not the least this whole idea of you know, getting rid of corruption, the Lokpal bill, a new generation of architects. I mean everything is...I think the time is really ripe for this to happen and it will.
I will now ask Soumitro to...
Q: One last question on the last lecture? Please?
Moderator: okay, if you are brief, yes.
A:...what he likes with it. But in the public space, the vested interests are 'us'. It is not anybody else. It is you and me, who are the vested interests who will..if it is created, we will protect it. And the private property, you can't do much about it unless you pass a heritage regulation or something which is no ...which is also under consideration but has not been happening. Looking at builders or developers or anybody else who is developing a property...is as the people who destroy a city is not a correct logic. I think a lot of us...we allow a lot of these things to happen as citizens and it is very difficult to actually call a public meeting even in the city today and expect people to come, even as early as three or four years ago. But I'm very happy to see that there is a giant rise in public accountability in Bangalore in the last three or four years. I'm sure that no more damage ...atleast we have to stop the damage. Forget about repairing it, first anything you see, please go and get involved and try to stop damage. Thank you.
Soumitro: Thanks for the opportunity to be part of this panel..to CoLab and Max-Mueller. I am..actually wanted to focus on a few issues which...while thinking about our cities, one is, I think. I tend to be a little disturbed with always having a very romantic vision of old cities. They're very pleasant, but they were also not the result of a democratic society as such. So I'm not very sure how democratic they were in their use, in their time.
But we have these beautiful images of how the cities used to meet the water and various rituals used to take place. They still take place and these are living parts of our cities, while our contemporary cities have sort of...the fringe has become like a sand dune which gets blown away every time...it just gets shifting and it's always shifting out without end. So the relationship of cities to the natural habitat is something which has become uncontrolled and it has no end. On one hand it is not dense enough to generate a kind of urbanity and an urban life, of people which is largely pedestrian. So we get the urban sprawl and the fringe of the city and the places which existed for various different things have become tiny pockets.
I'm also going to look at a few things which I think have been preoccupying a lot of architects in general, which is the idea of life on the street. And the idea of courtyards and things, as open space, as public spaces. And how they've...because of architects inability to control or take control of public space at a larger scale, that it has entered into the realm of their own projects in smaller scales. These are examples (slide) and now we have 1.2 billion. And our cities have changed...looks familiar. The hubs of urban life have actually become points...which have become points of attraction. They have their own space which they form but it's clearly private space, which gives the semblance of being a public space.
So we have dots of, you know, malls..which why they grow up, where they grow up and you know why they come up and what is the scale...I think it has also to do, a lot with property ownership which is at a very small scale, so we are talking about smaller developments. So we are talking about development happening at a scale which actually does not engage with the larger surroundings. And rather, it becomes...first it becomes an attraction, and then it becomes a menace.
In Delhi, there was a very interesting experiment which is in process in a small area which actually, I'm sure could work beautifully. I mean Naresh..i think that was Bijoy's scheme which was very interesting on the ground. What in Delhi they're doing actually is to look at the skyline. What they are actually doing in Delhi...this of course is Bangalore.
But what they have done is, there are huge number of small shops which are close to each other, so what they have done is..they have made a street and they have cafeterias all along..all different peoples own different terraces. So it's become a huge thing which is actually away from the streets, which is getting occupied by the cars. So the action has completely shifted, with segmented ownership between different people and they collaborate to gain revenue by combining all this. And I'm sure that such things can take place with private enterprise. These are just a few images of some attempts to reclaim space. This is just a collage of images of certain projects which...like this was on the edge of a lake and it sort of makes a cavity into the ground, which connects to the water.
Trying to make space which..making cavities which are urban cavities, which are hard. They are...they are also...they sort of negotiate between different realities and I think in various projects, that you'll see how the romance of the street, which actually appears..starts appearing in smaller components in various projects, almost trying to emulate an organic urban growth within..within the body of projects.
This is Doshi's project. This is Charles Correa (slide). This is Louis Khan. Trying to make urban space within campuses.
This is Charles Correa's mall which is extremely interesting, because this is one space which is, where no common space is actually air-conditioned. It's totally open. So there's a lot of activity which sort of just happens around. But I see that these are all small gestures. These are all small gestures which show up, but still they are contained by the periphery of their existence.
So various...so this actually falls in various private projects and then you start imagining whether this was an urban space which has open things..you can move around, you can..it has a certain porosity. I think, there is...I mean beyond..I think I like the point which Naresh mentioned about life being..as the primary and the most important thing..and I think that that's something that needs to be captured. That what we are trying to enliven is something which happens around the joy of living in a city.
This was an interesting project (slide), which was three and a half kms length of riverside which we had done. A competition project which identified...that's the colored belt..is the 3and a half kms length along the river..and nine points of intervention, which are partly old buildings to be refurbished. This is in Porto in Portugal. So it was to do with how to take away traffic..because this was a clear project because the old city was dying. And this project was aimed at enlivening the entire edge, so that it doesn't die and also to see that the local people do not leave the place, rather than just making it into a tourist attraction, and sell it off.
So they wanted...kind of a sustaining cultural continuity to the whole place. It's quite scenic. That's the riverside, 3 and a half kms along this length. So various interventions and trying to make places, creating identities, crossing over streets.
Now these are very grand plans..and the city is doing it over the next 25 years. So it's a big plan which is in process. Then you start looking at how does one deal with the opportunity of the river, and how you sort of engage with the river.
And things which are particularly specific to the culture..how people use the space and how they like to be connected to water.
One of the larger projects which we did was the Freedom Park. And sometimes the decisions can be very...I think it was..I think maybe after three years of..when the park had already started, the design was approved, everything was done. And then this line was drawn (slide). There was a government order that this had to be separated. So now that's become a separate body. We've been sort of struggling to negotiate that, 'Ok, we can do something to integrate this thing'. But I think certain decision processes are actually pretty oblivious of their impact or why they've decided or that there should be discussion. A democratic discussion of 'If there is a need, how to address the need'.
Yes, it's lying empty right now, it's fenced. It's exactly fenced here. That is here. That's the old wall here.
That's just images of the park, which tries... I mean it has an advantage. It has a high wall all around so it's an isolated space which has the luxury of getting a little bit of less noise inside and having nice old buildings which are existing, which become focal points, and a large open space which, unfortunately, just like what Naresh said about parks being locked up...if you walk on the grass, I think it's a nanosecond before a whistle is heard. And, I mean it doesn't really matter if kids were to run around here or cycle here or skate here or whatever. But it has become, it's capturing certain activities which happen from time to time on weekends, cultural activities. So it's becoming a place which is being recognized I think, firstly by virtue of it being one of the places where there is open space. And there is a little bit of infrastructure to do certain things, you know, in a much easier way.
This is an ongoing project, again trying to create certain, you know, public space. This is an underground..this is the Martyrs Memorial, which is center of city. And again is unfortunately going to be fenced all around. This is in the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain, the other half..opposite the planetarium. So that sort of goes, leaves the entire ground as green, and the building sort of squeezes underneath. Because of the trees the plan sort of shifts around. These are certain pictures of the construction that is all underground.
I think I won't take the five minutes.
Moderator: Thank you., Soumitro.
I think one of the operative words that could be used in conjunction with what we've seen just now is revitalization. I think various cities have revitalized, reinvented themselves in different ways. One through commerce, one through culture, which of course go hand in hand sometimes. There was Paris, there was Barcelona, there was Bilbao. Also Ahmedabad. Interesting developments that are happening along the Sabarmati.
So when one sees projects like these, in a very nascent sort of stage, thatIthink there is a silver lining somewhere..that the time is coming for change.
Arundhati can I..?
Arundhati: Having been one of those lucky people who had a dream and managed to fulfill and complete that dream, I think that's what gives me the opportunity and the right to be here. Rangashankara was probably a space that really wanted to be born. It's a theatre space, for those of you who don't know. It's a small 300 seat auditorium, drama..meant for theatre. Built on a civic amenity site, given by the Karnataka government. So this is one of those occasions when the civic amenity site allocated for a drama theatre was used for a drama theatre. Otherwise you have civic amenity sites, where people apply for them and build Kalyan Mandapas on them. That I am called a Mandap keeper in the eyes of the BBMP is another issue, because there isn't a single theatre built on a civic amenity site.
You don't have the precedence of a trust that has built a drama theatre. A trust that is a not-for-profit organization, so the government doesn't have brains you see. It doesn't have a heart. And it only has rules. It does not know how to discern and recognize that here is a theatre which is actually doing theatre and encouraging the amateur theatre in the city. So we pay our taxes. We are called Mandap keepers. So be it. So Rangashankara was a civic amenities site...just 100 x 100ft. We applied for it, and then we went out and asked everybody in this city and everywhere to contribute...and we got money and built the theatre, and now the theatre is seven years old.
It's been here in Bangalore south, JP nagar, for the last seven years. We have a mandate of a show everyday except Monday, which is the holiday we take. And we have had more than 2500 performances in these last seven years. So that is the success story of this space. It is open to the amateur theatre of India to apply and if..there is a soft filter because it is so affordable. We charge only Rs 2500 if the group charges Rs50. So we charge you less if you charge the audience less and you're not allowed to charge more than Rs200 per show. And if you charge Rs200 per show, then you give us 10per cent of whatever tickets you sell. So it's a kind of very equitable ratio that we have worked out. We are probably the most affordable, well-equipped theatre spaceIwould reckon in the country, if not the world. Because Rs 2500 is literally the electricity bill of the space for three hours of 50 tonnes of air-conditioning. And keeping the place clean and thirty lights with the facility.
But by virtue of being open, being affordable for the theatre community to be able to rent the space for such a low rent, and use it from ten in the morning to whatever time they finish their play, which is 9.30 or ten at night, has encouraged the theatre community in Bangalore to try to do better plays. We realize..we have to realize that India, a country of one billion, one drama school in Delhi, one National School of Drama which doles out 20 graduates every year, who make a beeline for Bollywood. Or television in Bombay. Karnataka has the distinction of having a Ninasam in Heggodu, and we have a Rangayana..otherwise other states don't have this luxury of having a drama school.
So the amateur theatre community is what has kept theatre..urban theatre going in India. And a space like then, a space like Rangashankara becomes extremely important, where the middle class audience can come. They know that you have a show happening here. You know that the ticket rate is not more than Rs200 ever. So you're not surprised by going to see a Naseeruddin Shah play and suddenly you are told the ticket is Rs1000 or Rs500. Affordable, quality, these are the things thatIthink people look for also, in an entertainment sense, in a performative art sense. We have hardly any spaces that display traditional culture. I mean..Indian performing arts were out in the public spaces. They were not in auditoriums. This is an extremely European phenomenon. I would say, even Rangashankara is. It is not so Indian a phenomenon. We close the doors at 7.30. No Indian space closes. It's open. Your Ramayana, Ram Leela, Mahabharatha, Yakshagana...they go on through the night. A woman puts her child to sleep, goes home, cooks, comes back and knows exactly where the story is. So in that sense, Rangashankara is a European fallout, but thenIwould say it's an urban fallout also.
How does a space like this..for me the question has been 'Having fulfilled the dream, having gotten the money, now running it for the last seven years- great story. Great success story. But how does to bring in more than just these people who came to see the 2500 performances? How will a space like Rangashankara now begin to talk to the people around it? Will it begin to become a platform that is able to discourse with the issues of the community around?' Those are issues that have actually begun to now come into my mind.
As far as the architecture is concerned, I think it is on a 100ftx100ft, so it looks like a cake that fell from the sky...it's just 'Boom. There!' It has no setbacks. The government does not care. It allots a civic amenity site to a drama theatre and then allows traffic on that road. So everybody who is trying to avoid a particular signal is going on this street. And the latest news is, as of day before yesterday, we have a sand..a jelly kallu market bang opposite ours. Who is going to speak for these public spaces is what I would ask. We don't have a common platform where we can voice our grievances. And everytime I am the one who goes and tries to kind of talk to a bunch of matador drivers who decided that the street was going to be their parking lot.
And then I'm the bad person. I have a file that big, built up with the government of Karnataka, requesting them to give this space the respect it deserves. By just making the street into a one-way, a no-honking zone. Signage's leading to this space. People from all over the world come to this building and say, 'Wow, we don't have one like this in our city'. But this state, and this city, has...I have not yet been able to wake them up. So I mean, instead of cribbing, I was really thinking of how ...can we ask the government to create a single window agency? Can this single window agency have people like us who are concerned and who would then effect some kind of action, I don't know. Dr.Ravindra is here. He..not only is he a town planner, he has also been within the annals of power over here which make decisions. I don't know how it works, but it is time.
I mean my need to discourse with the community comes out of these issues and therefore now, not only for this project, but for more. For more public spaces..for public dialogue to enter into not just governmental discourses, but in real spaces. I would call Rangashankara, a real space, which will probably become more real the day it begins to talk to the slum that is hardly half a km away. The day it begins to address issues for atleast a 5km radius of citizens who have issues of pollution, problem of traffic or whatever...whatever be those issues.
The other issue I would like kind of really like to bring into the..though it does not concern this project Rangashankara, but is the visual pollution. How are we addressing it? You look at the hoardings in the city. I know that Chennai has managed to get rid of all the hoardings. They filed a case against their corporation and they've managed to pull down...and suddenly you are seeing Chennai. You're noticing buildings, you're noticing trees. And it's just the opposite in Bangalore. The hoardings are just becoming larger and larger. And I'm sure that we as a body of citizens who may have voice in this city..we should be able to do something, that will claim that part of our visual space.
I think, architects...I want to ask architects what they are doing about it...because there are some architects who are really doing it to this city. Is there a sense of aesthetics that guides..is it only the customer, the consumer who is going to get architects to design these fantastic monsters with glass on them. Something happened to our designers in this country. Someone sold their soul. Someone sold everything. Someone sold our simple sense of aesthetics that Naresh was talking about, when the human being and scale had some respect. Glass everywhere, grass everywhere..we all know we are grappling with a water problem. We don't have enough water to grow the kind of lawns we have got on our plans.
I think we really need to look at many more real issues when we claim a water space or a body, then...how much I know...I know there is evolution and things have to change...everything can't look like a thousand year old amphitheatre but you can't just discard thousands of years of wisdom. That cannot go I'm sure. Wisdom can't take a walk. I did ask one of my friends who is an IT czar and has this big campus where..that's INFOSYS..don't have to guard it. It has this horrendous trapeziums and triangles..it looks like Gotham City which is not connected to anything. It does not look like it belongs here. You know, or I asked the gentleman who is in charge of the Bangalore International Airport, 'When will Bangalore airport look like I have landed in Bangalore?' Surely every city has its character. And if one city is going to look like the other, what's the point? Every human being is different.
So those really would be the issues that would bother me about architecture, the city, the public spaces. Who is allowed to be there? When will the architecture dialog with the human being? When will the space dialog with the human beings?
Not too different from what Naresh said. It has to be people-centric and move outwards. But we can't put many other real things aside.
Moderator: Thank you Arundhati, for that very explosive and straight from the heart critique on many aspects of our Urban life. One importantly, connected directly to her is -when you fulfill a dream that took many years, and is now seven years old, what happens afterwards? Which really is the story of all our lives, you know. I'm not so sure that we always build badly but we have absolutely no idea what we do after that. And things just...you know, I'm using this as a metaphor of course..and things just start to deteriorate and we don't care for environment and you just get used to blight. But I think the time has come when we must ask ourselves, 'Should we actually?' And if we shouldn't and if we have actually come into the modern era and with a contemporary mind..something has to change.
And although I would agree with Arundhati in some respects, with the sort of architecture that she was decrying just now, but I think a time...I mean, there are certain other aspects of the city that have to do with connections, with traffic, transport and things that have international standards. They have a certain international sort of image that I think at a very invisible level can incorporate an image of Bangalore. And I personally think that a time has come for us to review and reinvent without throwing anything away.
I'd now like to...before I bring Dominic on, maybe respond to Arundhati first, because it's more immediate and then maybe to the work of what Soumitro had shown us earlier. Anybody? Yes Naresh?
Naresh: ...a vision and see whether something like this can happen in other parts of the city?
A: Unfortunately, not yet. Seven years is early. I mean yeah, we are all impatient. I would love it. But I think, for me, in these seven years what I have learnt is it's not enough just to make just one Rangashankara work because there is literally no money in this. And what happens after me is what I would worry. How did the institutions like Rangashankara survive after the person who has begun them and actually put them on their feet. Today, my job..my main job is to look for money, to pay the salaries, and run it the way it has run. It is probably the only institution that has not hiked its rentals in the last seven years inspite of so many other hikes. When people were getting thrown off with pink slips from their IT jobs, Rangashankara still gave its 10 percent hike in salary to the eight people who run it.
Q: And you are not supported by the government in any way, which is a tragedy.
A: No. But what is very beautiful is, Rangashankara is supported by the Biocon foundation, by the Infosys foundation, and by Titan and these are people who have their establishments here in Bangalore or in Karnataka. It is not big money but if they pull support, then one has to worry about how we are going to run it. We have managed to save enough money to run it for one year but after that what happens? So those are the kind of real issues and one should not be foolhardy and go and take the next site..civic amenities site that the BDA would probably give us and build another space, where people would also contribute but it's about running and about continuity.
One needs to just sit for a little while and think of those factors which we should be able to crack. It's not going to be difficult, but when you say four theatres like Rangashankara for the city, which is the plan that I had given to S.M.Krishna when he was the Chief Minister and that's why we got the first money from the government for the building. It should be possible, but it really means I must write off the next ten or twenty years of my life. And it's very difficult to find people who would be able to do it. Or rather I do not have those skills. I think I was just a foolish actress who saw that there was the need of theatre...I went and built it. Now I need people with more wisdom to do that.
Q: Can't you use..you did mention about the other auditorium spaces available. Now for instance, Indira Nagar you take...there is Indira Nagar, Sangeet Sabha. Can't you have an arrangement with them to have dramas? Because they are never used for dramas. They are used for music performance or certain other functions.
A: Sir, the problem is..the drama is for a good presentation of a theatrical whatever, drama...you need many things in place. And Rangashankara has atleast,Iwould say 75percent of them in place. Most of the theatres in this city do not..are not conducive for a good performance to be staged. You know, I mean..and Nandan asked me to go and take a look at the Mysore theatres...Mr. Mohandas asked me to take a look. That was when I saw the monstrosities...they had three theatres over there. Not a single theatre lends itself to a theatrical performance.
They are for movies or for conferences, which was when I said, you know, 'Two and a half crores is not much money for you. Just give it to me, I'll build you the best theatre and send the best theatre for your IT kids to watch.'
Did not happen. Every..infact we should able to...if the architects, because who is designing these? Architects are designing these. If architects can just understand the thumb rule. We need green room stage; we need the lights to come on the stage at a 45 degree angle. There are many things that just must happen, for a drama to happen. Not for a music program or a dance performance. If architects would come and just take a look at one, two, three, four, five things that must be done. Every corporate office would have a decent theatre; every college would have a decent theatre. Every college has a theatre even now, but you cannot stage a performance there.
Q: Maybe now you should motivate the architects, the new ones.
Yes, some kind of a white paper from even the government has these spaces..
Q: My question is how do you address such an issue where, you know, the city needs these landmarks, especially for people coming in from the outside. Now I grew up in Bombay, so I kind of, Gateway of India is my landmark and would be a landmark for anyone from the slums to anyone living in the Taj Hotel across. Now those kind of landmarks for Bangalore which was something that would help in terms of urban revitalization or even urban continuity, so how do you address this issue in a design..like both these designs. I mean both are huge spaces.
A: I mean the issue of urban influx is a reality. It's not just Bangalore; it's going to be other cities very soon, once this spills over. In terms of..I mean compared to Bombay, or the largest of colonial settlements, where there's Madras, Delhi and Bombay. Bangalore doesn't have that quantum of, you know, identifiable landmarks in terms of just sheer mass. It doesn't have historically. And whatever there is, is of either residential nature, so it's getting erased very quickly. So it's something which is vanishing.
Yes, it does become an issue, especially with these public projects and..now this Project came during, S.M.Krishna's time and the Freedom Park. The other one is more recent, which is just about a year old. But it is a bit of a struggle to...because for me it's difficult to understand, and beyond a point I'm unable to argue that why a public space, whether it's a memorial...why it should have...why should it be contained and locked off? Because it doesn't make sense. I mean just like public parks for controlling, you know, certain activities which should not take place, is compounded and cut off. I think the bigger question is 'Are we actually making these spaces, whether it's a neighborhood park or whatever.' There is perhaps something wrong with the way we are dealing with the space..we are all the time putting a periphery of trees, a peripheral pathway which goes around in a..you know..that's all there is. So it is not actually dealing with what people need.
I'm sure if there is light and people are walking across all the time, in this park, it most likely is going to be the safest place in the neighborhood, rather than just becoming either, you know, deserted beyond a point. So I think the issue of new identifiable landmarks, what we are talking about, malls is a kind of reality which is to do with...it is also to do with the age group. We are looking at a city where the average age group of the influx population is perhaps in the range of 25-30yrs. And so the fastest growing things are typically malls, schools and medical facilities. So there is a link to this whole thing.
Now to create the character of a city, I think, if we are talking about the master-planning aspects of controlling what direction..or, you know, how do we make the city at a larger scale. Now that has different things, I mean Naresh pointed out urban sprawl...we live it, we see it. And how are we saving the center or enhancing that? So I think, one is of course prime criteria...it would be very important to focus on the center because one it is a much easier and smaller area to handle and it gives an image which can be very quickly and it's much more realistic to handle. of course there are problems.
On the larger scale, as the city sort of dissipates towards the edges, that's a bigger problem.
We all know that there is no planning which is happening how the development is happening outside the city. So nothing is new..I mean, we all know how it happens. So I think yes, the core areas would be the most critical ones, not only to conserve but also to revive. And also find new ideas, because to me revival of an image of old Bangalore is not really making it a contemporary urban place to live in. For me it's important that, it has to have the diversity of its history which is important and also have the edginess of the present and the future. And that's what, I think, brings life to urban places. So it definitely needs something which is to take care of the past, and it also needs something which is to create scenarios by which we can actually generate. Because what we are doing today is actually going to be the image of Bangalore tomorrow. So what is that? So if there is no, no project which is beyond our own sight, then it gets very miniscule to make any impact.
Dominic: Thank you. I'm extremely confused infact..I'm not sure if I'm happy to be the last one or I should have been the first one. I don't know. I just felt for the last one hour maybe, one-one and a half hour, an immense kind of lack of joy, immense suffering everywhere, I mean..and plus absolutely no ideas. This is just amazing. I'm not saying I'm going to put ideas, but it's kind of a you know, I've been somehow introduced by the one who was in Auroville...that kind of a place, you know the dream and all these things. Frankly speaking in Bangalore right now, we are far from dreams. There is no issue.
This is a project which we have participated in Noida recently. It's kind of a multi-function project. 10 lakh sq.ft or 7 lakh sq.ft. in Noida. I'll come back to that.
This is like Naresh started. When we start talking about retrieving whatever public space..we want to know what is a public space? And we want to know what people is? What human being is?
So I came to that...this is Paris..the beautiful Paris. I mean cities are living organism..I mean they grow bad, they grow good. They are controlled or totally out of control. They are guided sometime by good people..they are guided sometime by stupid people. I mean, it goes like that. I mean, there is nothing new in that. And this is our great history..we evolve like that.
Again what I have heard so far, there is no evolution. At the most trying to copy what we have done in America or Europe for the last sometime. Saving cities when they are becoming bad. So Jean Nouvel here has done a fantastic approach in term of ...into a very beautiful historical kind of a ...everything is historical in Paris anyway. So he has created this fantastic park below building..next to that. I mean this is again living organism which is just nothing else, and trying to help the new baby to born. And people at the level of Jean Nouvel, believe it or not. It's not thatIlike necessarily this architecture. It's not a question of judging this.
They are intelligent and sensible enough to go with. And as Soumitro just mentioned a second back, to not only look carefully at what was, but to look extremely carefully what will be. And this is what people like that move in.
And you have this park...I mean this is green. This is Auroville, this is beautiful, this everything.
And if I come back to that..this is what we wanted to do. I mean we designed the project, we proposed, we lost. And then I as often, I'm a bit obsessed with the design process. I want to know where this is coming from.
Here we are in Paris, it's cold, it's beautiful even if you freeze during the winter. It's always beautiful anyway. Though we come to cities, building around. We go, we go, we go and we think about detail. We think about soul basically. This is the only purpose of architect, like Jean Nouvel and many other- to establish a clear strong guidance for souls to come..for existing souls and souls to come. But as it has been put already in different ways, all this is about people. I'm not even..I will take one more step..I will talk about individuals, which...people is like a crowd..correct, we have people.
There is I don't know 6-7 million people here, we are 1.2 billion in India etc etc. But what is about the self. What do we understand about the self, and by extension- culture. I mean, one self and many self together create culture..create gang of people together. So what I have tried..and this is just to balance your...everybody was talking about the lack of smile..this is just to balance this. I mean don't tell me, ok I am a foreigner living in India for twenty years. I love to smile. And it's not true that I go to Commercial Street, that I don't have smile. Even if I struggle between two cars. I mean the originality of what needs to come is so very much deep into what's going on outside. There is no escape. There is a transformation to come. The next slides, I hope it will work. I'm not sure I know how to do that. Yes, is it working? Yeah, ok.
So you just listen to that for sometime. I mean this is walkthrough..nothing to do with urban, nothing to do with cities and all those things. This is Ingah's house, which is maybe little known by some of you. But rarely you've seen a walkthrough. It's a very badly done professional. It's not working. I don't have sound. I would have loved to have sound, because it's really weird. Anyway..don't forget that chapter is oneself and culture. I mean I'm right now with the camera, walking into a very very simple building. This is not my music.
And I'm designing a city. I'm understanding the soul of one person, the person was Ingah, the owner...or excuse me we are owning nothing in Auroville because it belongs to whoever. But the journey with Ingah like we are with clients or like we are with cities, is the understanding...I mean the refinement. And while walking into this house and showing to myself for many years..this is already a 7-8 years project. I mean this is nothing else than the city...and I'm walking into the soul. And I'm walking peacefully, and I'm walking in love infact with that thing. This is what, what is missing. I don't need to do the same video..though we were thinking to do the same...walking in the sweat in Bangalore, everywhere showing the mess..could have come where...in the same movie, like love was existing everywhere like the photo previously. This beautiful girl smiling and Hillary in the middle. And it's not to talk about peace, stupid peace here.
I mean one know, architect, designer, dancer, actresses, whoever. We all know the effort which is required to reach something harmonious, something beautiful and this is what we...if I'm asked...I'll come back to the project of the beginning, the Noida project. Again without saying that I succeed into that. But if I feed myself with that kind of an ambience, that kind of a soul, mood...very very deep into understanding one person, am I capable to extrapolate and handle millions of people? Without looking, there is a style to this building, but it's not important. It's not modern, it's not traditional, it doesn't really matter. I mean and the beautiful thing of this corner...though it's Auroville.
Auroville is nothing but a fantastic forest. It's a fantastic garden. So how to bring these things? Not copying, not saving green, not being eco-friendly. Not all that things. But how to make sure that you are deeply charged with something which is universal. I meanIam a French-Canadian..we are in India, there are many cultures here. How to move above that kind of a limitation basically? This is my city, it goes like that, it's bad, lets repair it, it will look like a square in Europe. This is just fantastic. But how relevant this is with the life...every moment life we have here? In this auditorium, or in Bangalore or in India, since we are talking about India.
Might just be my background of these years spent in Auroville..I mean probably before that even, working with Doshi or opening Sri Aurobindo center there. This peace basically which can be called spirituality somehow. I mean how you allow these things without going crazy into Gods and whatever it is. How you allow this to really give this pulse to your blood. And when you are creator, designer, someone who is medium...nothing else than a medium to receive and give and manifest. How far you can go into this understanding, of one person, one building...a building, like I said, is nothing else, like I said, other than multiple spaces.
This is a city. I'm walking through a city right now. This is of use to sit..to talk like that. But how this is coming back to me and giving me a feeling that...not only that ..that this is correct, the job is done. I mean when you put this, you offer this, to one clients, to a community, to a country and you walk yourself into that after that and you just feel it. I mean it's above, again, judgment. If it gives you peace, even if you are the architect, as I said often, I mean I go to this house. This house as it is now, it's still empty. This lady Ingah, lives and sleeps on the floor for Zen, Buddhist reason, God knows what.
When I go to this house, I sit in each and every corner which you have seen there. And I think for myself, I said, 'Who the hell is the architect?' I mean this is the...when I will reach the 'Who the hell is the urban planner of this city?', you can be sure that you are proposing something correct, harmonious..no matter what it is. But I'm extremely afraid of references. I mean if there is a way which you are telling me to walk like this, because the historical path of this place is like that, and we damage and we have to sit back a bit and come back to green...I'm living in Shanthinagar, on the fourth floor. My panorama is the mess of Bangalore. This is beautiful. This is just amazing. I mean they keep on building room on top of each other. This is just amazing. It's life.
I don't have any answer to that..how to go ahead with that. But I'm so happy to let it be, you know. I cannot stop them anyway..it's kind of a machine you know. I find that kind of interesting infact. Because I was hundred per cent convinced that I cannot talk one second. It looks like I am not stopping. But the contrast, you know, you should see what I have in mind. I mean, I am talking about this panorama, and I've been living in this house. And I'll come back a bit to Jean Nouvel, and I'll come back to the Noida project. This is exactly the accident I wanted to create. Sorry for all of you, but first of all to put myself in the situation I said, 'What the hell does it mean?'...this plus this plus this..three elements put together, how this can help retrieving public space for the people. I still don't know. But I'm kind of happy and satisfied somehow to just offer that kind of a thing.
Don't worry we are getting out of the house soon, and we'll come back to reality.
It's not bad. And you know this beauty; this is very much subjective Arundhati...this beauty requires your entire soul and dedication. I mean this is..and this is what we are facing you know. But what is real beauty of Bangalore? You know, the slum is probably equally beautiful to your theatre, you know. I mean we live in slum. Doshi, I was giving with..a seminar with Doshi in CEPT last year. Three days seminar, teaching to student's presentation at the end. There was one kid who was doing a study...he was about saving a slum in Bombay. And he could not. He was very sad. His entire presentation was totally crap. It was brilliant, but he thought that it was crap.
Until Doshi the great, stand up with his fantastic pencil, went to the paper and...little street, slum..a mess you know, without any green, nothing, poison everything is horrible. And she started scribbling, like drawing on the corner..he said, 'You see in this corner, you will have prostitution here' and this is allowed. This is life. You will have next to that, a tea-wallah. And one tea-wallah, two tea-wallah, you have a community..you have an urban thing. And it was so exciting you know. You need nothing in India. It's not healthy, it's dirty..ok all these problems are there...I'm just finishing..because I have to be serious after that. Yeah, I'm getting done, thank you.
I thought that you know this eco-friendly thing and green, I mean, this is very much Auroville. I mean when you put sculpture, talking, dialoguing with this nature which we are all aspiring to..if you look at the Freedom Park, if you look at the other kind of a park we have here. I mean this is beautiful context, but the point is not there. The point is the understanding of one-self by extrapolation of culture and this is the owner of the place.
And then..get ready for this one. The one before was good no? Wait a minute...I have to stop this thing.
Yeah this one was good no? Look at this one. The very essence of India is the next one. Look at this one..no no I don't want this. Look at this. What do you think about this one? We are somewhere in a village, all looking at the future, looking at the puppet. I mean for me, this is the most beautiful thing of India. I mean there is something so basic into that. And this is the very essence of what India should be.
So next, public space. Now we are..we were having a bit of the collective, at the beginning, the urban. And we moved to individual to understand the self, the culture etc. etc. I move atleast. And then we move to that. So this is not Paris. This was a six building we had...we have been given for this competition and we have to fill the space in the middle. It's nowhere. There is no Paris around that thing. It's totally empty around and we have to use imagination. But what strikes me very much at the beginning, is that we are in Delhi. And it's really 50-55 degrees sometimes and it's really cold sometimes. I mean what do you do with the people? It's a ten lakh sq.ft. project. You'll put the massive crowd of people. These are the building..the massing proposal on these things. And this is not what we have referred to, because we didn't think about that thing at all, even if I knew the project very well.
But it just happened somehow that we are into a context and we tried to do something and we tried to put below-building some green. We created gigantic umbrella basically, suspended and we let the people be, I would say, not even...they walk into a urban kind of..normal urban set up. I mean, we wanted to throw the people below that, into this garden. These are the sketch for that, which is already showing that. We wanted to throw the people...literally throw the people into..or being poetic. Don't think water, don't think bench, don't think sitting. You have this massive canopy on top of you, that you like or you don't like..and this looks something like that. I mean this is kind of a striking building...nothing..I don't know if I can say that. But for me atleast it was...it is a bit like 'no pretension'. It's just kind of a bridge..a suspended bridge. And people are below that..the way they were..they are below this one as well.
It is proven and landscape-wise, in an organic way that nature can go below building. We are having here, a building of seven stories of emptiness below the mass. So trees can slide below, people can slide below. And againIfeel that this is, kind of above style. I mean there is no style..it is just a box, this thing. But this is a box suspended from a..we call that infact the supramentalship...I mean something which is so highly suspended, to put whatever function, whatever crowd you want on top of that. And let the people be below. I think I'm done. No, not yet. But I'm really done.
But look at that..this is not bad. I mean this is no landscape yet but this is an intention infact..the poetical intention. And which has come to happen..to be manifested somehow even if that's just a project. By..I can pretend atleast by the understanding of what urbanity is..what a city as a living organism is and what a individual is as well. I mean, you put this ..all this masala together, you may come to something like that. Thank you.
Moderator: I don't want to start by saying anything. I'd like you to..
Q: ...all the projects went to Singapore. In relating to this so... Indira Nagar BDA is the biggest one I heard, so..
Moderator: I've also read this very recently, so I don't know what is the background.
A: Clearly the city is being planned by real estate developers and highway planners. And we are the catalyst for them, so clearly the city, you can see that. And I'm saying it seriously; I'm not saying it as a joke. The city is not planned by architects or urban designers. The city is planned by real estate developers who see potential like..somebody pointed out in an earlier talk.
First it's always real estate, then it's also planned by a bunch of people who are in the transportation sector- transport planners. Asking a question like whether it is done by Bangalore or Singapore, I think is moot, at this point. Because really speaking unless there is a public outcry saying that the open space in these complexes...in these shopping areas are actually where people hang around rather than inside the shops. That thinking has to change in government. If the government also starts behaving like a real estate speculator, then there is no escape. That's all.
I had an interesting experience just to share with..I was called one morning to the BDA office and l later realized that they were actually shelving out BDA complexes, to people..no, to architects.
Q: ...For instance here, I mean how can it used as a public space too? That question nobody has asked. Although this appeared only a couple of days back. Can there be a moment just for this one? There are so many BDA complexes in the city...shopping complexes. How best can they be used from the public point of view? From all that has been shown..people, life etc. And everything is not just commerce. That can also be part of it...in today's world, we do need some kind of shopping malls, eateries, everything. Keep that but can there also be..can it also be a public square for instance?
The BDA complex itself if you take, there is a lot of open space. So you convert it. The whole thing can be planned in such a way that you have public uses, people can gather, but at the same time there is scope for entertainment, for you know, shopping etc. And that is something where architects can play a little role.
A: Architects can play a role if their..if the program and the brief set out by the government is to..as you said if the priority is the amount of FSI that can be generated out of it and build it all up to some 2.5 or 3.5, there's very little architects can do. And architects also have to eat to live. So when the developer comes, you try to make sense, but if the developer says, 'No, build 3 FAR', then where does the public space...if the government says whatever public space is already there, open space, nothing can be touched. You can do whatever else you want with whatever is built, then the brief changes.
Q: No, I agree. But now that the government is not saying that. Frankly although I'm a part of government and this is the reality.
Q:....I think they'll hold. One is the example of Heggodu as something that is a mixture of rural and urban, and is something that could be seen as a solution to this kind of massive influx of people into the big cities, and the big cities sort of exploding beyond itself and not being able to sustain itself. So the question of sustainability in India, or in any other place, would therefore lie between a sort of a mutation between rural and urban. So this is something, that I think people movements or activism..that should sort of come from the people. I was wondering what the people here would have to say about this.
Moderator: You're talking about a series of...sort of things that you are talking about. On one hand you are talking about Heggodu and the theatre in rural..and you're talking about influx, you're talking about migration. So it's a very large palette that you've...So you want to be a little more specific to ask somebody in particular or...because there are many ideas that are coming out through what you're saying...or observations.
Q: I was just speaking to sort of throw it open. The idea of moving away from the city as the center of urbanity or urbanism.
Moderator: Maybe Dominic can do that, coming from a cross-cultural background..two continents.
A: I guess it's inevitable, crowding in the city, the writings on the wall as Soumitro said. Bangalore will fill up, we'll go to Mysore. 1.2 billion is not a small number. So how we are going to help people in the rural areas remain there, give them livelihoods, live-in dignity, those are other issues. How are we going to retain the quality of life in the city? How are we going to give these numbers their spaces, I guess is something that one needs to look at. While you still have the BBMP going and painting all your walls with horrendous art. Who gives anybody the right to paint my city with that kind of art, which never was representative, never will be in the future, is not going to inculcate anything. It's just a lot of money made by somebody buying oil-paint, and putting it on our walls, and none of us spoke against it.
We did. Some people. But I guess we need more.
Dominic: Soul, and love for these people..will this not be enough? I mean is it the end tomorrow because they scrap the city?
Arundhati: It's not the end, but it's their end for sure, no?
Dominic: Not really. I mean we are still all alive.
Arundhati: Have you seen the tiger cub playing with the elephant on the wall? You can't see it every day. The gorrilla playing with the elephant.
Dominic: Yeah it's everywhere. All the walls are painted. What is horrifying in that? It's just an expression of something. I mean go to Europe and see graffities ..it's really crazy. And it's not that who cares
Arundhati: But it did not happen till this year, you see.
Moderator: No, no graffiti was something that's propagated by the state. They don't give people to do graffiti and give them 300 crores, or 80 crores. What's being paid to these people is an astronomical figure which could have been used wisely.
But anyway, I think we are getting into romance now...and love and things.
So is there a last ..
Q: If you don't mind. I have a question, which is like I'm going to be opening it up for any of the people who might want to answer...also somebody who had asked the question earlier. I think we were talking about public spaces, we spoke about open and closed and everything. We're not really talking about what public spaces are supposed to do to people, both individual and collectively. It's like..I mean, maybe Arundhati, now you spoke about how theatre has developed because of that space being provided and stuff like that..but even with the spaces that we already have..stuff like BBMP parks in every locality which are rather small, but still they exist. They shut at 10 o'clock in the morning and again open at ...it's really weird. I'm just saying, that what can we do as people to use that space? I don't understand, we don't have a dearth of man power. If it's only about security, why don't we have two people manning each gate? Why don't we just allow people to stand over there and talk to each other, or just wait around, or meet or come up with ideas?
Even small places in Bangalore like India Coffeehouse used to be a powerhouse of ideas because a lot of creative people would meet there, collaborate, come up with projects and do stuff. I know this because I have a lot of friends who do that stuff, so it's not really about open spaces or closed spaces, or ticketing or you pay to go inside or you have to...I'm just saying what can we do with existing spaces today, to give it really some meaning? Because public spaces is not just space; open space right there...yes we can have a good stroll in the evening, and enjoy the good weather of Bangalore until it lasts. But with the stuff that we already have, what can we do, before we think about what more we can do, what can we change, what can we restore...there is already some space, but people are not allowing us to use it, so I just want to hear your thoughts about what can...
Moderator: Do you want to talk about a specific space, or a specific...or are you just talking about in general?
Q: In general...I just gave an example of parks where we already have these parks. I mean can we...will it be..there are a lot of permission problems that we also have, right so can we have a theatre group going and performing in these parks? You know, in the middle of the day and getting the community together for various causes that brings a city together. I just feel that a visual character of a city is not just like Gateway of India standing over there. It's a lot about Bombay that makes it Bombay. It's not a physical place. So it's a public space is more like something that makes you do something. So I'm just saying is there a..
Moderator: I think the point has been made..
A: The point has been made but I think you start small. I mean all of us want to take giant steps, you know. Either from zero to hero and Indians are very good at standing with their feet in the gutter and only reaching for the stars. So I think, really speaking, a good thing for you to do, tomorrow morning, at nine o'clock, is go to your resident welfare association in your neighborhood, if you live around here. Join it and make a small difference to one park that is locked up in the..next to your house. I think if each of us did that one thing..there are a hundred people in this room. There are only 343 parks in Bangalore, right? So it's not like an insoluble problem. The reason is- it's a nimby problem...as long as it is not in your backyard...the problem is not in your backyard, nobody gets up.
So stop doing this 'nimby, not in my backyard' issue. Take a positive step. It won't take more than two-three hours of volunteering every week. Join that-whether its garbage, or making your park, or bringing...like you said, bring street theatre into your park. Do it, yourself. What does it matter? I'm sure Arundhati will send you 20 troupes to talk about public...and do a play about keeping the park open at 12 o'clock in the afternoon. I think it will drive the point home. Instead of trying to tell the whole city how to behave, I think, be the change you want to see yourself.
Q: My name is K.B.Pati, I'm a senior citizen. And I have been following this pedestrianization and reclaiming of public space, all these things, and I have been walking as a pedestrian atleast for 40 years, and by riding the public transport bus. Even though I have car, I used to leave it at home and walk, many decades back. Atleast 20 years.
Moderator: Sir, do you have a specific question?
Q: You are talking about macro-level reclaiming of public space and pedestrianization. What is actually happening is exactly opposite to that..what you are trying to plan. I'll give you an example. I live in Indira Nagar, 13th main, which is a very narrow by-street actually.
It's declared as an arterial road and all traffic from 100ft- 80ft road was diverted...and atleast forty year I used to try to walk...early morning walk, or evening walk or even for going to the shopping and all that. Gradually I have to stop walking now...latest, last month what they have done is they have assaulted the complete width of this road, 13th main, and marked in very bold white lines, edge to edge, leaving no space at all for pedestrians to walk. This is the BBMP themselves, encroaching and pushing out..squeezing out the pedestrians. This is happening at macro level.
Moderator: Unfortunately in our country, our city, the pedestrian has the least right of..
Q: I have been in this RWA and praja.in, all associations fighting for such things. Next to my house is a small children's park, which is being encroached again and again by vendors and so many elements. Nobody bothers to do that..temples are constructed.
Moderator: So some consider it as the dynamics of the country.
Q: All the architects put together, can you take it up with the concerned authorities, like BBMP?
Moderator: Okay, I'd just like to just make a closing sort of comment. Tara if you can just be very quick.
Q: So when you have say, an evening today where you are discussing public spaces and your invitation has gone out to a select few, why not start here, and make it..let it go out to a much more larger crowd..to the public..so atleast they are aware and maybe we can start a reaction?
A: No, it has gone out to many people but I think you will always get a particular, you know, group that will come. I don't think there was a small group, it was a reasonably represented.
Q: No, I mean to the public. You know, I mean make it really big, so you start something where the public begin to think
Arundhati : National High school grounds
Q: Almost, yeah good.
Naresh : When I was part of the BATF, we used to think of ourselves as an irresistible force which is pushing against an immovable object. This is the paradox of working to improve your city. So...you cannot give up putting that force, but the object might wobble sometimes, and you might get a little bit beyond. But the wins will be very small and you have to have a lot of patience, and many attempts..trying to get people together..it all peters out very very fast because in this day and age nobody has any time. Everybody..It's very difficult to spare time for people. The idea of pro bono work among architects is almost non-existent. For the public good. And unless there is a cultural change in the way..in ourselves..in all of us. No amount of sitting together in rooms like this...nicely air-conditioned rooms and talking about this is going to make it happen. Whatever little victories are going to come our way are going to come our way..whatever danger...damage has been done. Atleast if we can try to stop further damage like somebody raised the point about all this BDA shopping complexes going to become FSI monsters. Start with one project, let's not try to fix the whole place. Everybody takes one project I think some effort will change.
Q: What can we do make it like the Attara Kacheri movement, I mean, there was a time when..that was stopped. Can we mobilize ourselves now, here, today and say, 'This is the beginning against this BDA, FSI thing' ?
A: ....if the guy from the village comes and looks at your road, he says, 'What a fantastic place you have, already.' Compared to what he is coming from. So he says, 'My effort will be on that, I'm not interested in this.'
Q: That's really tragic, because we are looking at all the projects today, we are looking at kind of, points in the city...what I would also be concerned with is getting from one point to the other..the fact that I can't walk on a pavement. The pavements are 50cm high and if I had a slightly sprained leg, I couldn't walk off a pavement. And I've figured now..I've checked with the BBMP, there's no manual, no statute, no guidelines, for doing a pavement in the city. So you essentially have a contractor who just does what the hell he wants. So as architects, could we get together and work on policy with the BBMP?
Moderator : I think I just want to sum this up, because it will go on forever. In principle, I think to look at, and to listen to a whole of people today. In principle, what's come out, of this is ...there have to both types of gestures, you know, there have be small gestures, there have to be neighborhood gestures, somebody has to regenerate this park through theatre. There also have to be big gestures; there have to be big ideas. And I really don't care where it comes from, you know. Dominic wants it to come from Salem, or somebody else wants it to come from Chicago. It's ideas that start a discourse and I think the discourse is what is not there. The discourse within the profession is not there.
We have..I don't know how many associations..but we really don't talk about things that matter. And each one is sort of talking about their work, but in the context of the city? No, so I think the agenda that will come out of this get together really, is that how do you sort of create a strategy for small and for big. And how do you sort of, prepare ideas that can counter, atleast to bring it to the public. Now whether the public comes or doesn't come..but I think the discourse has to start. Now I have a feeling of this whole thing of pro bono and architects being busy and things...that's all going to die off after a while. And I think when architects come off a particular age...I can speak for myself..then I think it is time then, to do things that will have a little more effect, in the work that one is doing already. And I would like to say, in this public forum, that CoLab is thinking of...and I was looking at what Naresh and Bijoy and all did for that intersection of Residency road...And, I mean I think, those are the ideas that have to be brought out in the public domain and CoLab is wanting to do exactly that. And at a level where, perhaps we get people to fund 'Idea Competitions', where it goes beyond the profession.