We Need Sensitive, Not Smart, Cities

Architecture theorist Kaiwan Mehta says architecture is best enjoyed collectively, not through exclusive balconies or swish buildings where people hardly share the sun or the breeze with the pedestrians below

Published: 22nd October 2015 04:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd October 2015 04:14 AM   |  A+A-


QUEEN’S ROAD:Kaiwan Mehta is a lifelong student of architecture, literature, Indian aesthetics and cultural studies. He is a theorist and critic in the field of visual culture, architecture and city studies, authored Alice in Bhuleshwar: Navigating a Mumbai Neighbourhood and, among many other distinctions, was elected as the jury chairman for the international artists’ residency programme across 11 disciplines at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. This week, he was in Bengaluru to present a talk on ‘Making sense of architecture: as knowledge, as practice’ at the InCITE Gallery as part of the closing of the exhibition ‘Think Global, Build Social - Architectures for a Better World’.

smart.jpgThe exhibition, organised in association with the Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan, showcased 15 examples of an alternative approach to architecture.

In an interview with City Express, Mehta talks about how Indian cities are developing unimaginatively and in complete isolation from their own ethos. Excerpts:

On designating certain landmark areas, like the Vidhana Soudha corridor, as public spaces

Cities are complex entities and it is not useful to point out a few landmark spaces and places where the city enjoys itself. It is the broader outlook of the entire city towards its many neighbourhoods that is important. Neighbourhoods as in not enclaves isolated from one another but as areas interconnected and networked. They are important for a city to live a healthy and intelligent life. Cities need to be sensitive and intelligent, rather than smart. Bengaluru became a global city from a regional metropolis overnight, and that shift of scale was so sudden that the city did not have time to understand its own growth. It took refuge in smart systems and infrastructure, imagining that was the solution, but it only created a chaotic mess for a good decade in this once beautiful city.

As for the re-imagining of Vidhana Soudha as a public space, why fixate on one or a few landmarks? Why not see how we can create public access across the city, through different scales, varying neighbourhoods and changing geography? We should mix public and private scales rather than create exclusive zones, either economically or culturally.

On what is wrong with the Bengaluru urbanscape

Why Bengaluru? Most cities in India today are creating zones and enclaves of exclusivity and producing an imagined aura of security. People are most secure when they live in shared spaces, not when isolated within layers of security rings. We are living in times when architecture is very interior-focused. There is a kind of denial of the shared public space. We talk about public spaces but do not really let them breathe or nurture them.

On the idea of ‘Think Global, Build Social’

Architecture can be a catalyst of change and this exhibition had that as its central premise. Architecture is the crucible within which human life takes shape and it is grown over years of cultural and political exchanges and dilemmas. Architecture is about brick and mortar but it is also the site for making meaning out of our private and public lives. Design is the key process through which we understand how architecture can and does connect with everyday life! Any city when it is not stuck in geography but thinks beyond its region, borrowing lessons from multiple cultures across the world, is truly a city of some worth and value. A metropolitan experience has to essentially be cosmopolitan! When we force cities to act, behave and think in one language or through a particular cultural lens, then we are slowly murdering our cities. Cities are by nature global and transcultural.

On how can Bengaluru become more habitable

To be global is not to ape architectural models. It is not imitating slavishly in the hope that the image will bless you with the prosperity we associate with globalisation. Globalisation should mean a furthering of our cosmopolitan values. Architecture is best enjoyed collectively, not through swish buildings where people hardly share the sun or the breeze with those walking on the streets.


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