A Bombay Minute

observations, inferences, & visualizations

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The Formal Wait, While the Informal Grows

Transport networks are the pulse of the city, defining livability and urban space.  In Mexico City, Mumbai, and Sao Paulo these networks have the most eccentric pulses, but their networks are indefinitely clogged.  This article from the NY Times articulates a traffic scene in Mexico City, one that hit very close to home - as I witnessed many similar events in Mumbai.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/world/americas/in-maddening-traffic-even-road-rage-is-too-much-trouble.html?_r=0

 Being back in New York, and experiencing the original ‘city that never sleeps’ is exciting and exhausting, but congestion, traffic, and noise - it is surely lacking in comparison.  Spend but one day in Mumbai and you’ll never complain about getting cross town on 34th street during the holiday season at rush hour.  Don’t get me wrong, there are very few places I love more than New York; but the pulse of the city, while most likely much more ‘livable’ perhaps, is not as exhilarating as you would find on the streets on Mumbai.  But, you have to be up for it.

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As the middle class grows in Mumbai, and other developing cities, the desire for people to live in their own middle class bubbles renders itself on the street in the form of the private car and the private driver.  Now, in the defense of the booming middle class, at least in Mumbai, the public transportation options are not ideal.  Effective, perhaps - but dangerously crowded, and not really suited for carrying laptop, ipads, or whatever else you may need for your work day.  Believe me, I know…

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 So the status of the middle class, marked by the ability to use one’s commute to answer all emails, make calls, and find some god damn peace and quiet, is both self serving and a means to be able to achieve more in the work day, to be able to function within a somewhat dysfunctional society.

While the middle class continues to clog the streets as a mode to escape the ‘insufferable’ moments of society, they are in fact only conducing the exact behavior that they are escaping from.  Traffic encourages hawkers to quickly fill in any space there may be in between rickshaws, cars, animals, and people - real estate has never been at such a capital gain, and where better then next to people that are bored and impatient?  Here a girl is selling Republic Day pins to me while inside a cab…

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The poor and homeless beg for money from foreigners and the wealthy - easily tagged in their Audis; and occasionally a young thief may seize the opportunity of a woman, distracted and stuck, loosely holding onto her purse inside a rickshaw with no protection from the open sides of the vehicle.

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Via conversation with a colleague working on a project in Sao Paulo I’ve learned that there is equally as much, if not much more, traffic, and a larger disparity between the rich and the poor.  Traffic has gotten so bad that the upper elite now all have helipads and private helicopters to literally ‘rise above it all’.  

And of course, as noted in Mexico City, definitely in Mumbai and perhaps in Sao Paolo - we wonder where is the government while all of this is taking place?  Most likely taking a back seat, breaking the rules they are supposed to be enforcing, and even bribing vehicles to be able to do what they are allowed to already - take a u-turn or park.  Its either pay or slowly move forward or continue to look for another spot - searching a pin in a haystick.  This behavior leads to proactive public behavior - and should that turn into a brawl, well then what better reason for the cops to either watch, or penalize yet again, with a bribe.  On the good witch side of the story, many times I have seen people get out of their cars to untangle an intersection amidst a cacophony of horns everyone else is trying to close off.

Beyond the general public there are many great organizations ‘doing the needful’ in the way of improving traffic, livelihoods, and the greater good across the urban transportation board.  Embarq, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, and the Urban Land Institute are three of the larger groups providing solutions to not only traffic, but deeply embedded social issues in developing and developed countries.  What’s notable, and something to leave you thinking on is that most often developing countries look to developed countries for how to modernize their systems, specifically to the US in designing cities as the great automobile centric cities and livelihoods we have painted across our landscape.  On the ITDT website for the United States, their work is precursored with a statement that indicates a sentiment that I and many people already know and stronglu believe; that the great cities of the future are not made, or even resuscitated, on the failed attempts of our past, but created with ingenuity and activism that technology and globalization enables access to.  Every country within the ITDT network has its own section on the website, yet none start with such a disheartening statement as this :

'America’s public policy and investment decisions in the twentieth century spurred growth, but also encouraged sprawl, increased driving and ultimately took a toll on community livability, energy security, and the environment.'

The End.

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The American Dream

A hiatus on the blog as I’ve been back in New York and trying to figure out my next step - which have included many opportunities, talks, meetings, interviews, and the such about possibilities here and in India.  While I haven’t been writing, I have been thinking - a lot - about many things related to India - but being back in the states, has led me to start analysing the US and urban development over here - something I haven’t done for awhile.

Being back in America, I traveled along the east coast for 2 weeks from Rochester over to Ithaca to Maine and down the coast, Boston, Cape Cod, Long Island.  As I flew into Rochester, over a vast landscape of widespread suburbia, corn fields, and the ‘American Dream’ rendered in backyards and McMansions - a thought struck me that I’m only getting to writing out now…

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The American dream, prompted by the model design of Levittown has now turned the American landscape into an energy hungry, two refrigerator a house, multiple car garage, over consuming monster. Problems abound in the American lifestyle (costco, walmart, etc) are only supplemented by our suburban design.  However, there is one point to the American model I never thought of before, and that is the idea that where we are at today should not overlook what the country did hundreds of years ago - and that is a movement of epic feat and amazing accomplishment - a huge urban development exercise which pinpointed the problems, and addressed them to the best of the capabilities given at that time.

There is constant negativity attached to the ‘American’ model and while that is justified today there are two things also that come to mind

1 - post war, the country needed homes, transportation, neighborhoods, and people - and the country was able to mobilize such an agenda that built neighborhoods, laid down railways, provided jobs, boosted the economy and population, and developed a system for future urban development

2 - this model has now been tried and tested and is not one that should be exported, as clearly noticed there are countless problems with the ‘American’ dream style of living, and so while it shouldn’t always be viewed as an epic failure, it should not be repeated either.  

But that’s precisely THE problem, the developing world only sees a skewed image of the big backyard, the shiny cars in the driveway, and children playing in streets - what they don’t see, or want to see, is that America is one of the biggest culprits contributing to green house gases, that the economic gap in America is just as bad as theirs (although, seemingly getting better now), and that the ‘system’ has endless loopholes and is built on false assumptions and credits.

A new lecture by the Architectural League will be highlighting many of these issues and how as designers, we can try to alleviate these problems :

http://urbanomnibus.net/2013/09/the-five-thousand-pound-life/

They ask such questions as -

With so many potential actions — from embracing less consumptive lifestyles, to changing land-use patterns and investing in public transportation, to harvesting carbon-free energy sources — where do we start? 

and say things like this -

The United States faces two immense and inextricable challenges: how to reimagine the American way of life to address the impacts of climate change, and how to build a new and robust economic structure that offers viable and sustainable livelihoods and lifestyles across the income spectrum for all Americans. 

On another somewhat related note - the documentary Chasing Ice, provides a picture (literally) of the impact of climate change on the glaciers - a beautifully shot and interesting movie about what Jean Gardner was telling us back in 2006 - ‘the waters are rising people!!!!

http://www.chasingice.com/

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In closing, there is a lot of research and hard facts, not speculation, and conversation about what our way of living is doing to the environment, however, ill repeat, the American model is being viewed wrongly - 1 - it’s constantly viewed negatively, instead of trying to say, ‘ok this is what we did, how can we fix this? and 2 - it’s being used again, instead of being seen as an answer that was specific to a time, place, and a particular way of living.  Instead of borrowing from an old model that needs a lot of touching up, developing cities need to invent new hybrid models of living, particular to their climate, society, and modes of operation; a difficulty of new urbanism, as there is no precedent to guide this discussion - put there are far more tools and research to support this development.  As for America in the early 1900s, well - we gave it our best shot; just don’t take our leftovers. 

***a note to clarify -  I’m not speaking about American suburbs in comparision to Mumbai or Delhi, I am speaking about the kind of development that is happening in China - a quote by Wang Shu, the first Chinese Pritzker prize winner :

Many modern cities in China have been constructed by blindfolded people. Planners lacked an understanding of what a city is meant to be, what it is for. They build wide roads everywhere, studded with supermarkets and apartment complexes. That’s not a city. It’s suburbia. I often joke that in the past decades the Chinese have worked incredibly hard to turn our cities into huge suburbs.” That’s not “urbanization,” it’s “suburbanization.”

BUT also in India, if you looked at the idea of Chandigarh - that is a western suburban model trying to fit into an Indian urban space - which is, another topic, for another day.

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uttarakhand…photos before the storm, thoughts after the storm

The emotions of shock and disbelief as response to the recent natural disaster in the state of Uttarakhand are themselves, a bit shocking.  While I feel great sadness for lives lost, people completely displaced, homes and communities destroyed, and a real setback across the board for the whole state; what I am most sad about is that this is how India currently operates, and it has become an accepted norm. 

There are no disaster relief efforts set up in a country which operates on a scale of chaotic and only knows how to move in a state of recklessness.  Monsoon season is nothing new to the country, yet flooding and avalanches continue to happen, with no real foresight from the government to try and give as much preventive measures as it can to its people. 

In Uttarakhand, flash floods, cloudbursts, and landslips have claimed tens of thousands of lives, ruined hundreds of home, and wiped out entire communities as well as damaged one of the most holiest Hindu temples in the country, setting it into preservation for a year plus.  The disaster itself is entirely the work of mother nature, out of our hands and most often out of our understanding.  However, I wonder, how much of the disaster after the natural tragedy was man-made?  How could preventive measures have helped the state?  And lastly, why wasn’t this predicted and an evacuation plan put forward in the state? 

I know, I KNOW, the country, the state, the people are poor – but where is any sort of support network for these instances?  There is money floating around in India, everyone knows it.  However, none of it is ever seen in the name of its people, in the name of preservation, in the name of safety.  A lot of speculation into unregulated dam construction in the state is confirming that yes, indeed, the natural tragedy was one thing, but the disaster that ensued was entirely another.  Could this event have claimed less lives and devastated less landscape if dam construction was regulated, properly structured, and organized?  On top of this, indiscriminate development in the hill towns, with guest houses, hotels, and all manners of illegal encroachment have taken place along the rivers; almost asking for trouble.  The state has resisted declaring an environmental fragile area as ‘eco sensitive’ as a means to prioritize commercial concern and monetary gain over people lives and the environment. 

So all in the name of money and development the state is now dealing with an epic disaster because of conscious, man made decisions.  One article writes ‘the State Disaster Management Authority, which was formed in October 2007, has never met till date.  Nor has it made any rules, regulations, policies, or guidelines.  The states authorities were virtually non-functional…..Let alone utilizing funds, the state disaster management authority didn’t even have basic personnel in place.  Some 44% of posts in the district emergency operations cells were lying vacant, paralysing emergency response efforts…..on and on and on.

Clearly the state, and the country, can not continue to run on this model.  The continual struggle between destruction and development will only continue to keep India stagnate, in fact, it seems that the rich and the government are almost wasting their efforts and their money.  While seemingly moving ahead and ‘modernizing’, each step forward eventually gets knocked down 4 because of regulations overlooked, people unconsidered, and environment disregarded.  My constant argument in the case of India’s development is that it’s a matter of scale.  The problems, the people, the noise, the garbage, the everything is too large to ignore; it will and it has come back to remind us that it can’t be pushed under the rug, it must be dealt with, it must be considered.

What made this story really hit home for me is that I was JUST THERE.  For 2 weeks in May I went up to Uttarakhand to visit a friend and take some treks.  In fact, her father is in charge of all tourism in the state and does a fantastic job of keeping safety regulations on any and all tourism, making sure key areas are preserved, and being personally in touch with everyone that works under him.  If only his dedication, honesty, and authenticity in his career were carried across the state, and the country, this place would be a well oiled machine…but alas – it is not….I’m sure that a lot of Mr Singh’s hard work will now be in a major setback as the state starts to rebuild itself.

I was able to take treks to Deoria tal, a well preserved and maintained forest area / camping ground (although besides us there was only one other group of 4 individuals during high season) that overlooks the Himalayas…..waking up for sunrise was spectacular…

imageOur other trek was 4.5 km up to Tungath, India ‘s highest temple devoted to Shiva – snow, high winds, and cold temperatures greeted us, but so did a breathtaking view and smiling faces - people who live and work at the top…imageAfter this I made it to Mussoorie, queen of the hills….overridden with development, tourism, and gimmicks, but lovely for some snapping of quirky buildings, fenestration, and the usual….

imageSome touring through hot Dehradun at the Forest Research Institute…image…and to visit the state’s first green building!  A renzo piano / California Academny of Sciences inspired project…inspiring and progressive!

 and lastly to Rishikesh – hotter than hell at 112 degrees provided yoga, sweating, a 5K race (yea, don’t ask!) and my first chance to dip in the Ganga….(yes I did!)

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A bittersweet feeling as I feel blessed to have experienced the state in all its beauty and friendliness, yet sad to have to wonder about those kind people I met along the way…

photos…. 

https://www.facebook.com/kristen.teutonico/media_set?set=a.10101160814350688.1073741826.15707575&type=1

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‘the city is the product of growth, not of instantaneous creation’

“There should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor again excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil.” -Plato, 427-347 BC

In September 2012, a young entrepreneur from Austria named Fredrico decided to move to India.  He told himself that the future lay here, and that the ‘old continent’ was on its way out.  He and his two business partners decided to move to Gurgaon, thinking that ‘it would be like New York, and give us the buzz we needed to feel the pulse of the emerging economic superpower that we came to find.  Instead, we are in a shitty version of Delhi.

From its floor to ceiling windows, Frederico’s high-rise apartment overlooks a wide highway, with similar high rise complexes beyond.  The piece de resistance in this 200 square metre flat is the Jacuzzi: large, round, white, plopped into the floor in the corner of the bathroom.  It is big enough to seat half a dozen people, and I imagine the kind of wild parties three young, single men could throw here.  I ask Frederico what it’s like to bathe in it.  “I don’t know,” he shrugs.  ‘I have never managed to get water running long enough to fill it.’

This may sound preposterous to the uninitiated visitor to a city often touted as the symbol of India’s future, where some of the world’s most well-known multinational corporations have their offices, and India’s cutting-edge technology companies work out of gleaming office towers.  Aren’t we supposed to be well into the third industrial revolution, that of IT, cyberspace and alternative energy?  How is it that Frederico is so concerned with something like a lack of running water?

The article (taken from Motherland, Volume 04 Issue 09 2013 ‘The Gurgaon Issue) then goes on to detail just how bad the water problems are in Gurgaon.  Not only water but other civil services and society are also deeply suffering from the lack of foresight in city planning.  Hardly anyone votes in Gurgaon.  The rich are safely cocooned in their colonies with private generators, private water supply and private security guards.  They see no link between local politics, tax money and what are considered public services. 

The idea that a city can spring up overnight is overwhelming; but the idea is not just that, it’s the idea that a city can spring up, for the rich, overnight.  The economy of a city cannot be supported by the wealthy.  The rich, generally, have no interest in supporting anyone but themselves and they shouldn’t have to.  That is the role of the government, which in the case of Gurgaon, is non-existent.

This article, when I read it last week, really sat with me – tugging at me to put this on my blog and discuss not only Gurgaon but countless examples of this in India; but it wasn’t until last weekend that the NY Times published an article on China that these ideas really hit home. 

‘Leaving the Land : China’s Great Uprooting : Moving 250 Million Into Cities’, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/world/asia/chinas-great-uprooting-moving-250-million-into-cities.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, highlights China’s latest urban development plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years.  The ideas that the government is implementing are aligned with China’s infamous Great Leap Forward in which the country was slated to shift from a rural economy to an industrialized / consumer culture.  This was essentially a failure, and the economy actually did worse during these times. 

Again, attempting to socially engineer their society, China is now also attempting to engineer all of its landscape into urban land, high rises, and concrete.  While at least in India there is a democracy - there are people, there are voices all of which put up a strong fight to at delay the inevitable, in China of course exists a communist state which does not allow for the voice of its citizens.  This is pure creation via forced migration and development.  The major problem here is now that China is looking at transforming all of their landscape, making lifestyles, traditions, cultures and practices obsolete and essentially ruining China’s ecosystem. 

This video and article from 2010, highlights China’s housing bubble and ghost cities :

http://boingboing.net/2011/04/18/chinas-housing-bubbl.html

According to the article, the logic is this :

The primary motivation for the urbanization push is to change China’s economic structure, with growth based on domestic demand for products instead of relying so much on export. In theory, new urbanites mean vast new opportunities for construction companies, public transportation, utilities and appliance makers, and a break from the cycle of farmers consuming only what they produce. “If half of China’s population starts consuming, growth is inevitable,” said Li Xiangyang, vice director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, part of a government research institute. “Right now they are living in rural areas where they do not consume.”

The problems of civil services, livelihoods, society, and economy again boil down to the local governance bodies, which already are straining to provide benefits to locals.  The likelihood of the government now extending a lending hand to new migrants is minimal at best. 

So in India we have society who have transformed rural into urban, aided by private capital and private enterprise resulting in a high gap between rich and poor, ruining an ecosystem (the infamous extinction of Gurgaon’s blue cows), and essentially failing in  their attempts.

In China we have government who is attempting to transform rural into urban – ruining lifestyles, traditions, and cultures – forcing a culture of consumerism on society.  As for the result – I guess we will have to wait this out to see if in fact China succeeds at growing the world’s strongest economy or in nurturing an economic, environmental and social disaster.

The fundamental ideas behind new urbanization are those which need to change.  We can not cater to only the poor, nor can we change lifestyles, ruin the environment, or live in individual castles in the sky.  The potential synergy between the rural and the urban holds the potential for a new and different approach to urban development that understands the everyday, utilizes technology, and incorporates local materials, conditions, culture, and environment to create dynamic urban spaces in which the space of the self is fashioned and the space of the urban is shared across different communities. 

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in support of….

some numbers - to support my last article…..

Mumbai has a growing population of 18.41 million, according to provisional 2011 census data and it’s only increasing. With many parts of Maharashtra – Marathwada, Solapur, Ahmednagar, Sangli – suffering from the region’s worst drought in 40 years this year, serious questions have been raised about water consumption in Mumbai.

According to data released by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the city’s demand is 4,200 million litres daily (MLD). The BMC supplies 3,400 MLD, a shortfall of 800 MLD. Hydraulics expert Madhav Chitale in a 1999 report submitted to the government says the city’s demand for water is expected to rise to 5,400 MLD in 2021 with the city’s population at 1.65 crore.

Legislation
In 2002, the BMC put in place legislation mandating that all constructions on an area of 1,000 square metres have to set up a water harvesting plant as a prerequisite for obtaining a completion certificate. In 2007, the BMC amended it and made it mandatory for plots measuring 300 square metres and above to show a rain water harvesting plant in its plans. It has also made recycling compulsory for buildings having centralised AC plants. But despite putting in place such legislation more than a decade ago, the government still doesn’t have concrete data to show the number of buildings that have implemented rain water harvesting.

Water consumption
Data shows that on an average, a household uses only 20 per cent of its water supply for cooking and drinking. Sixty per cent of it is used for flushing, cleaning and bathing. Importantly, a single flush uses ten to 12 litres of clean water. This amounts to over 60 per cent of potable water going down the drain.

Potential to tap rain water?
Mumbai has an average rainfall of 2,146.6 mm in the island city, and 2,457 mm in the suburbs. Data by the Centre for Science and Environment shows that the city, with an area of 437 square kilometres, has the potential to harvest 2,394.52 MLD of water. The data further suggests that if one considers 70 per cent of the city to be paved and 50 per cent of it roofed, collecting 70 per cent of the rain water that falls over it will result in the harvesting of 589.34 MLD of water, which can be reused.

Rain water harvesting systems
Cities like Delhi and Ahmedabad use recharging techniques, while cities such as Chennai and Bangalore tend to store their roof water in sumps and recharge soil with surface run-off water. Mumbai needs a combined method of storage and recharging due to the monsoon pattern the city receives, says a BMC report.

The process of rain water harvesting is an easy and indigenous process of water conservation that can ensure self sufficiency at an individual and community level in the long run. According to a BMC report, Mumbai, which has incessant rainfall followed by dry spells, needs a combined method of recharging aquifers and water storage. This stored water can then be used for various purposes – gardening, car washing, flushing, floor swabbing, etc.

Residents of Chennai, considered a city that has almost successfully implemented rain water harvesting to tackle its shortfall, have gone a step further and have started potable consumption of harvested rain water. All three storied buildings in the city have to mandatorily have a rain water harvesting system. New water and sewer connections are provided only after the installation of rainwater harvesting systems. While implementation of existing laws, especially environment related, have always been sluggish, initiatives at the individual and community level can pave the way for a self reliant and sustainable system.

If you are in Mumbai and you want to start a rain water harvesting system at an individual level or in your colony, you can contact the BMC at Rain Water Harvesting Cell, Third Floor, Municipal head office annex building (022 2262 0251, ext. 2309).

Thanks to MumbaiBoss for reposting this from Firstpost.com!

http://mumbaiboss.com/2013/06/13/why-mumbai-needs-to-harvest-rain-water/

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monsoon.

blanketing.  wet.  destructive.  relentless.

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While welcomed by the country to nourish crop fields, cool down the cities, and to relieve the villagers of drought and death by dehydration; monsoon season also brings illness to people and to cities.  

How does architecture and urban design play a role in this season?  Better yet, what role should architecture and urban design play during monsoon?  The obvious answer is for homes to have water harvesting systems - as it is supposedly compulsory for all homes in Bangalore to have within its design : 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLY-xOHXoL0

Yet - as usual there is no one that follows up on these regulations, these paper guidelines to a happy and healthy city life.  Instead, what Indian cities have are concrete buildings which are susceptible to mold and cracking while urban design boasts minimal gutters and hardly any watersheds lending the cities streets to fill like pools with each heavy downpour monsoon lays on.  Marble stairs and slippery cobble line (Mumbai’s) streets, train platforms, and stairs making monsoon treacherous to walk in, requiring a slow pace and a strong grip to keep from slipping.  

Just the other morning 3 articles appeared in the morning newspaper outlining just how unprepared Indian cities are in dealing with a season that prevails their existence.  These three articles address 3 different sectors of society - buildings, pedestrian walkways, and traffic - all essential parts of a livable city, yet all three failing when face to face with the monsoon season.

This first articles speaks about 16 buildings in which 683 families have to relocate due to dangerous living conditions during monsoon.  About half of Mumbai’s buildings are unaccounted for - sending the number of deaths related to poor business practice soaring - especially during this season.

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This second article speaks to the slow construction processes in the city in which trenches have been open in Bandra (the queen of the suburbs) for 4 months and will now have to wait until after the monsoon to be finished.  This is a well waiting to swallow up cars, rickshaws, and people once a large enough rain fills in the hole and presents the trench as a mere puddle.

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Lastly, traffic - infamous in Mumbai on a good day to take excessive amounts of time to travel small distances is only compounded by flash foods and blinding downpours.  This article naively suggests that people are going to drive slower, pay more attention, and be more courteous on the roads.  I think anyone that has been to Mumbai will feel just as I about this article - if you’ve even spent half a day in the city you will know the rickshaws are only looking to be the first and fastest in their own personal race, taxi drivers are at best sporting one side view mirror and poor wipers, and personal drivers feel as if they are above it all - no leniency for other cars let alone pedestrians.

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While the first rain is quite lovely, and the cooler temperatures are welcomed - the city is not at all prepared for the annual destruction this season brings and it really makes me wonder, when will the city and the government catch on to the idea that monsoon is not disappearing and it is time to change practices, materials, and regulations to give the city and its people a fighting chance against mother nature.

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aesthetics of the everyday

'everyday aesthetics' or 'the aesthetics of the everyday' is a claim that objects and activities not essentially connected to art or nature can have aesthetic properties and/or give rise to significant aesthetic experiences.  The sharp distinction between the fine arts and other domains of life has also been challenged by the observation that art emerges out of, and is in many contexts integrated with, everyday practices.

As I continue to observe Mumbai I wonder about the aesthetics of slum housing especially after visitng Japan,  I have started to see these informal settlements and Japanese homes as similar diagrams.  It isn’t only until now, that I had come across this residential design, Tinshed House in Australia on arch daily that I finally decided to think this thought through – however far strung it may be…

http://www.archdaily.com/357865/tinshed-raffaello-rosselli/

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As it seems there is a desired aesthetic in the rusting, the worn out, and the layered making of facades with punched openings and various colors, which Indian slums are defined by -

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 In the aesthetics of the everyday, the paper discusses what constitutes the everyday, how it differs from art, and why everyday objects cannot be involved in the analysis.  However, for my purposes I have pulled out certain moments in the essay to discuss my observation of aligned aesthetics across cultures; and yes, their relevance to art and what does it mean if two very different cultures have similar ways of layering and formalizing space even if unintentional.  ‘From a practical perspective, the claim is often made that a serious interest in the aesthetics of the everyday promises a richer life, as we attend to satisfactions that are readily available but that we may not have tended to notice or take advantage of.’  The Japanese are world renowned for their sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities, minimalism, and high modern  design in all realms of life, whereas Indians are better known for the bombastic design sensibilities, bejeweled and bedazzled, gold plated and spectacular bursts of vibrancy across the board.  Visiting Japan from India literally felt like I had landed on the moon….Or had I come from the moon?  In whichever case, while I am not looking to romanticize the slums; I am simply drawing a parallel between patterns and form making in facades between slum architecture in India and residential design in Japan through observations I have had while visiting both countries.  And in fact, I wish I could go back to Japan to photograph this a little more in depth – but alas, that’s the way it goes.

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Sartwell suggests, based on observations about the continuity between art and everyday life in many cultures, that art should be redefined as ‘skilled and devoted making’ that may eventuate in artifacts that serve a variety of everyday functions.’  This strikes a chord in this discussion because on the one hand, the Japan have gone through skilled and devoted making in the designs in which I am bringing to light here, while in India these ‘home owners’ have simple worked with what they have, unknowingly producing interesting facades and innovative spaces with no access to the world of art and architecture.  Can art exist if not achieved through ‘skilled and devoted making?’  Better yet,  if something is made through skilled and devoted making, but not intended to be as art, or aesthetically pleasing, can it then be called as such?

The essay succinctly speaks on this notion - 

‘Would it not ultimately be more rewarding to focus on great artworks and the natural sublime, which promise more significant edification? The aesthetician of the everyday may reply that the aesthetic pleasures of everyday life are worth acknowledging because they are available to everyone, even those who lack access to art and untouched nature.  Moreover, even if the texture of everyday life is such as to yield aesthetic satisfactions that are relatively subtle, continual awareness of these satisfactions may offer a payoff inquality of life that is very much worth having.’

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So then, if people had access to the ideas of analysis, art, architecture, design and so forth – would they be able to understand the art that they have created?  Is, somehow, the nature of their environment  lending itself to a certain aesthetic experience? (and again, I stress the form making, layering of materials, etc – I am not speaking from a naive point of view, I am well aware that the nature of these environments needs a lot of attention)

 We all know that spatial environment has a powerful effect on emotions and perception, but if unaware of this power - are the effects still there, does the everyday aesthetic still hold power if unintentional or unnoticed?

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the ugliest little building that ever could be

Time after time I drive past the under construction massive heap of concrete that is slated to be the Bombay Art Society and wonder who built this, what is it, and why does it look like this?

I”ve finally come to find out that Sanjay Puri Architects has designed the new cultural space on the premise that ‘this is a carefullly planned, organic building, designed for artistic & cultural exposition, in the city of Mumbai.  Located within a tight plot of 1300 square meters, the sculptural profile of the building generates 2 discrete spaces that inhabit different programs and users.  The design ensures that the public and private spaces flow effortlessly into one another’

There’s so many things wrong with this statement starting with the idea of the carefully planned organic building….didn’t we get rid of the idea of organic having to look like blood plasma a long time ago?  O how Frank Lloyd Wright would be fuming right now!  We can critique this building by looking at Wright’s ideas on organic architecture :

-be inspired by nature and be sustainable, healthy, conserving, and diverse.

-unfold, like an organism, from the seed within. (BUT SHOULDN’T LOOK LIKE AN ORGANISM)

-exist in the “continuous present” and “begin again and again”.

-follow the flows and be flexible and adaptable. (READ : NOT LITERALLY)

-satisfy social, physical, and spiritual needs.

-“grow out of the site” and be unique. (NOT AN EYESORE)

-celebrate the spirit of youth, play and surprise. (NOT SURPRISE - THIS IS A MESS!!!!)

And to quote a good friend on the form of this building - he says ‘it looks like a robot that has been cut in half’.  Nicely said, Jerry.

This is a classic story of the decorated shed vs the duck; and this most certainly - is a duck.  Why the architect thought it would be fruitful to ‘sculpturally’ express this movement of circulation in what looks to be to pieces of Play-Doh molded by a 5 year old is beyond any aesthetically minded persons’ thinkable imagination.

The other LARGE problem we have going on at this building site are these renderings as if the building sits in the middle of a a green field…. image

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Where, tell me where, do you think this building is located? Because….when actually; the current construction site of this building looks a little more like this at the current moment :

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And one detail of these lovely shaped lima bean windows…

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shoes & the city

A small piece of Mumbai that I’ve recently stumbled upon while working on the next edition of SPADE, volume 4 : of architecture and opium ( http://spadeindia.in/  ) is bespoke accessories design firm, aka.  Our intention was to understand the firms design pedagogy behind their fanciful footwear.

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Aka allowed us into their studios to photograph their work and to speak with them about the firms ideas behind shoes, design aesthetics and functionality.  They also spoke about what it means to design for a country that has a long tradition of handcrafted leather shoes yet on the day to day the mass of people slap on the worst made, least functioning, and cheapest shoes around.  And it’s not to say that function, well made shoes have to be expensive either.  India has a long history of nicely crafted leather shoes made around the country.

While my contribution for SPADE is the graphic design, coordination, and part editing of the journa,l I am also contributing some photography to the issue - and covering the piece on shoes.  Having written something that has been chopped in half, I wanted to share the ‘deleted’ piece here….as I find it interesting, relevant, and yes, a bit whimsical; but with shoes like this - who can’t help but have a little fun?

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Shoes & the City 

Fashion design and architecture; the processes of making shoes  and making buildings have always had overlapping relationships - proportion, material, structure, scale, construction, and aesthetics.  The gap is in fact quite small between shoe design and architectural design; between fashion and product design.  Matters of scale and product output cycles determine if a client will be getting a shoe…or a building. 

 Handcrafted leather shoes in India is no new concept – Kolhapuri shoes have been made and worn for hundreds of years – and if a shoe is in need of repair; a good cobbler is always just around the corner. 

 Handcrafted leather shoes are a timeless craft; however 5 inch platforms and Mumbai are a pair lost in time and space.  Uneven surfaces or the likelihood of ruining the shoe deter fantasies of custom made, fancy, or pricey footwear in a city which constantly keeps you moving at a quick pace.  Coincidentally, it is these uneven surfaces and wayward steps that are the heart of the argument for a well fitted shoe to help balance the body, protect the toes, and to stand out (from below!) amongst the crowds. 

It is ironic

…..that a culture so embedded in craftsmanship with a long tradition of handmade crafts wears such cheap chapels and plastic monsoon shoes; sold by the dozens in a colorful pile; just as the vegetable hawkers that line the city’s streets.

               ….that in a country so tied to yoga, meditation and the sensations of the human body a majority of the people allow their feet; the soles of their bodies to be housed in a structure that leaks, pinches, rubs, and distorts.  A housing which allows the soles to become rough and callous; immune to any sensations; registration of place, texture, or material. 

               .…that a culture so akin to energies and alignments allows the energy of the city to be blocked; a numbing of the sole, a numbing to the registration of people and place.

 When walking through a city of 1 billion, of overturned pavers and broken concrete; of masses of people – people moving and shouting, hawking, and pushing……does this help to numb the sole and just keep moving? 

Bespoke shoes are a small tribute to the return of the handmade; the recognition of beautiful aesthetics and colors found within the country, inspirations taken from structures, fabrics, and lifestyles of the city.  It’s a method to return our soles to the city, to sensationalize the foot and the act of walking; to celebrate the act of being in a city that energizes….and constantly keeps you on your toes.

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Wait for the issue to check out the rest of the photographs, the full story and lots of other interesting gems we’ve come across that links the ideas of India, architecture, and opium!

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Should Have Thought Of That Earlier…

The cover story of the Mumbai Mirror this morning really does a great job at hitting the nail on the head –

'Another blow to Mumbai’s bloated realty sector'

Kohinoor wants to turn office towers into hotel, houses 

The ongoing commercial real estate slump has claimed its most high-profile victim yet. The promoters of the under-construction Kohinoor Square in Dadar have applied for a change of use to convert parts of their three-tower property, which was envisaged wholly as commercial space, into residential apartments, a five star-hotel and a multiplex.

Early in February, the developers applied to the state government seeking environment clearance to change the use of the building from IT and commercial to hotel and residential.

According to the group’s new plan, the 48-floor Central Tower will house shops, a multiplex, food court and a 300-seat restaurant. The five uppermost floors will be turned into a five-star hotel.

The 32-floor East Tower, which was earlier marked as a commercial space, has fully been turned into a residential space in the new plan. It will have 13 floors of public parking space, with the remaining floors full of apartments.

The six-floor West Tower will house retail outlets and offices. “We have taken the decision to convert pat of the property into a luxury hotel and another part into apartments after seeing the market scenario,” said Sainath Rajadhyaksha, vice president, Kohinoor Group.

“The decision was taken in our board meeting and we have recently submitted a plan with change of use for getting environmental clearance from the government.” The group, which runs a hotel management institute, will run the hotel by its own.

“Once the hotel is ready, Kohinoor will run it,” said Rajadhyaksha. “We believe the change in use from commercial to hotel and residential will be good for the company since we will face losses if we go ahead with the initial plan of a completely commercial venture.”

Sources in the company said while residential properties in Central Mumbai are going at Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per square feet, commercial rates have come down to around Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 from Rs 25,000 per square feet.

“There is over-supply of commercial space in the area,” said the source, who did not want to be named. “If we had persisted with our initial plan, we would have suffered at least a 50 per cent loss on the projected revenue in the property,” the source said.

The 4.9 acre Kohinoor Mill plot was auctioned by the National Textile Corporation in 2005 and was purchased at Rs 421 crore by a joint venture between former chief minister Manohar Joshi’s son Unmesh and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, who was then with the Shiv Sena.

Thackeray’s Matoshree Infrastructure exited the venture in 2009. Unmesh Joshi, who is the chairman and managing director of the Kohinoor Group, could not be reached for comment.

Balbir Singh Khalsa, national director for office and industrial business at real esate consulting firm Knight Frank, explained in Parel and neighbouring areas there is an over supply of commercial spaces. “Several new buildings have come up in that area. The vacancy of office spaces is around 40 per cent,” he said.

So now - who thinks that a little market research could have told Kohinoor that a mixed use building instead of, yet another, empty unattractive glass tower in the sky would be more profitable?

It’ll be very interesting to see how they convert floor after floor of office space into a spacious luxury hotel, a multiplex, and a single story food court.

Sounds so enticing; I really just can’t wait to go.