Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Photo courtesy Wordpress

Recently a movie with the same title by Marijke Meerman was screened at the camp. It got me thinking, So what is all this fuss about Gurgaon?

It is a glitzy new addition to an overflowing city where “glitzy” until now meant the wide roads and colonial bungalows of Lutyen’s Delhi. So why do we have such a love-hate relationship with it? (Loved mostly by the residents of apartments with fancy anglicized names, and hated by righteous architects.) For one thing, when built, Gurgaon had a never seen before glamour. Never seen before by the farmers of the “original” village of Gurgaon, not by the frequent fliers of Delhi who had already lived and experienced the “actual thing” on their visits to US, Singapore etc., and therefore felt and immediate kinship to it. And so the NRI’s, the multinationals companies, filled up the new city, while the locals stared in awe. Little islands of comforts cropped up, in the middle of a rural settlement.

Isn’t the story of how it all began the premise of all that is wrong with the place? A haven which is nothing but a reminder of what the residents left behind? A larger than life, overly expensive memento of the “western” way of life, translated better way of life

Everything else aside, how can a city built entirely on an aspiration to ape what exists a thousand miles away, live and survive on its own without an identity. . If we are all coming from diverse histories, why are we all heading towards a common future? Why can’t we aspire to create diverse futures?

Even if for a moment we put aside the most common concern voiced by the people, the constant humming of the generators in a city with no electricity, the shortage of water outside the islands of comfort, the complete absence of public transport, is it still the nightmare it is projected to be? After all, more than half of Delhi suffers from these planning concerns. Are the deplorable civic amenities all that are wrong with the city?

Maybe what is even more disparaging is the striking and absolute contrast we see in way of life, inside and outside the islands. While the islanders complain about power shortage and the hum of the generators, which keep the A/C’s working for them non-stop, the peripheral populace struggles to get their fans working a few hours a day. While water in taps is taken for granted at all times inside, the outsiders barely get enough to drink. The problem is that there is no in-between to level out the playing field. Both extremes stare at each in the face, and each breeds contempt for the other. The rich want to push away the poor, and demand exclusivity even in public spaces. And the poor in turn detest the rich even more.

This ground reality, is going to shape Gurgaon into a future that we cannot predict. But a hunch says, it will not be a healthy one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Monthly Platform Discussion

Thank you for being a part of the interactive exhibition 'Architecture for Humanity' at India Habitat Centre.

As you are aware, arch I as a vocal platform for architects, designers and other creative minds will organize platform discussions, every second Saturday of the month at 4:00 PM.
This month we will be screening a movie 'I AM GURGOAN: the new urban India' by Marije Meerman at our camp (150, Second Floor, Kailash Hills) followed by discussion and tea on 14 November, Saturday, 4-6 PM. The following is a brief of the movie:

Gurgoan is a satellite city outside of New Delhi. Its shiny facade symbolize India's unparalleled economic growth. Gurgoan was built at the turn of this century by the largest project developers in the world. What was a village 15 years ago has rapidly grown into a city of 1.4 million inhabitants, living in glossy apartment buildings, but with little or no infrastructure. How viable is this new type of city? Residents of the grated communities of this privatized society offer insights in their hopes and desires, and in the new self-confidence of the Indian middle class. Gradually, the consequences of the credit crunch appear. In this model city, the gap between rich and poor is growing, affecting the psyche of its inhabitants. Is Gurgoan a new Ponzi Scheme or the prototype for future mega cities all over India?

Hope to see you again.

arch I
150,Second Floor,
Kailash Hills
New Delhi-110065
Ph: +91-11-41060083
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Apoorv : 9999321976

Interactive Exhibition : Architecture for Humanity

About the Exhibition..

In a world where buildings and architects are increasingly seeking to achieve the impossible, to attract the most attention,

Are we forgetting who we are building for?

Are we forgetting where we are building?

Are we forgetting Humanity ?

In three different corners of the world lie three small buildings, by three passionate architects. One in the countryside of the Netherlands, the other in southern jungles of Delhi and the third in the depths of Afghanistan. But they all speak the same language, the language of architecture for humanity. Through a showcase of these works by architects Onix, Revathi Kamath & Anne Feenstra, and two panel discussions, we tried to understand this language and attempt to find how they are able to create their unique interpretations. “Architecture for Humanity” was an endeavor to spread awareness as well as generate new ideas about more responsible and in turn more sustainable architecture. In the course of the exhibition and open discussions some critical questions were raised. Can architecture become more than a glitzy piece of art? Can it become a social catalyst? Can we find roots of architecture in the evolving culture, physical setting and environment of a place?

“Architecture for Humanity” is not just an event, but is also intended as a movement of sorts. Starting with three countries and three materials, the exhibition will include more such like minded architects in different countries, and different materials. The exhibition will then travel to these countries, generating more discussions and dialogues, across the globe.

The Opening

The event “Architecture for Humanity” was a largely successful even with overwhelming response from a variety of audiences. The event was opened on 26th October 2009 by The Deputy Ambassador for the Embassy of Netherlands in India and the Cultural counsel for the Embassy of Afghanistan in India. It was followed by the first panel discussion.

Panel Discussion One

Responsibility of an Architect

This discussion focused on the “Humanity part of “Architecture for Humanity”. We discussed people and their habits, regions and their cultures, architects and their ideologies. Are copy pasted western models valid? Or can we find inspiration in a place and its culture for our art, craft and architecture. How can we truly involve people, the communities, in the design process, of a building which is completely for them?

The most important point highlighted was the importance of maximum people participation in any design process. Whether it be Revathi Kamath’s effort to rehabilitate the slum at Shadipur depot or Inder Kochhar’s zero km. resort at Lakshmansagar.

The process of architecture needs to be slow and participatory. The architect needs to sit down with all the stakeholders and try to understand their needs. At Shadipur, the Kamath’s did not bulldozer out the slum to give rehabilitated dwellings to the people, but instead opted for an “evolving home”. They sat down with the 350 odd families, to understand individual needs to give them a first home on the ground. At the same time they equipped them with the skills to build and evolve their house as the family and resources grow in the future.

This participation need not be limited to buildings only. For example, SEWARA’s resort in Lakshmansagar uses only local labour and materials not only for the building, but also for the products inside the resort. The owner himself lived with local people and learnt their ways over a period of months, and then, only after gaining their confidence and understanding their crafts, did he begin the building process.

Moe Chiba, the heritage specialist from UNESCO, presented a very valid point when she brought to the audiences notice the plight of the dying arts and crafts. These crafts should not replicated and put in the bracket of heritage, but should be given a contemporary interpretation if we are to save them. Ms. Moe Chiba also pointed out the role of dying urban open spaces which directly lead to the demise of local crafts. It is her viewpoint that it is only in these urban open spaces, the leftover spaces between the buildings, the land which has no ownership, which is a breeding ground of culture.

In the end a short mention was also made of the role of the environment in building, by Mr. J.K.Dadoo, Ex Secretary, Environment, Delhi. He talked of a few simple things that we as architects or users can incorporate in our lifestyle, for healthier living, for example rainwater harvesting, switching to CFL’s, waste treatment, planting trees, etc.

The audience showed some concern over things like, what trees to plant? And cost of installing a rainwater harvesting sytem being too high. They were informed of the native tree varieties which are fast growing and need no maintainance, and govt. subsidy programmes for harvesting systems.

Panel discussion Two

Nature and Materials

This discussion focused on the “Architecture” part of “Architecture for Humanity”, and was a more technical discussion. We talked about building materials beyond cement, glass and steel. How can local materials be innovatively used for both sustainability and novelty? What are the lessons to be learnt from history and tradition of a place for sustainable building practices? How sustainable is a “green building” really?

Firstly building rating systems were deeply criticized for their shear detachment from the local conditions. An interesting point was raised when someone said that India one of the most diverse countries. Even Gandhiji once said that in India after every150 Kms. it seems like a different country. Even within such short distances, the language changes, the food, clothing, the rituals change. Then why do we have uniform building code, uniform rating systems, for the entire country? Why can’t the building laws change with every 150 Kms.?

Dr. Amit Rai from BMTPC argued that enough advancement has been made in alternative building materials. The problem is how to bring them to the masses? How can the progress be taken from labs into mainstream?

One answer is, education. If the youth is educated early enough about these materials and applications, it is more probable that they would put it into use rather than the established architect who already too comfortable in their own niche of convention.

The various materials which offer a lot of scope are mud (Revathi Kamath’s own house, which was also featured in the exhibition, is built entirely in mud), fly ash, bamboo etc. What is needed to create faith in these materials, to create sociological acceptance, which NGO’s should really focus on.

Kamath also mentioned that materials like steel should also not be completely shunned. Steel can also be sustainable if used in the right manner and the right amount (maybe as a composite also), since it has a lower embodied energy than other materials like aluminum, and is also extremely durable.

A large scope lies in disaster management and rehabilitation projects, Usually houses are quickly built on a large scale in materials like corrugated steel, and a few years later, are found unlivable. These houses could well serve as demonstration projects for alternative materials and techniques.

Another possibility is schools. There are thousands of government schools being built every year. Of these even if 5 are commission to be built on the lines of alternative techniques and materials, the trend will grow for sure.

Another point of view, which can be termed as somewhat cynical was that of Mr. Stephane Paumier, practicing architect in Delhi. He believes the root cause of all these problems are the roads. Wherever the roads go, differences crop up. People start using different materials, since they don’t have to use local materials anymore. Isolated islands on the other hand have to make do with whatever is available locally, and are hence sustainable.

Another problem is too many laws and codes. Excessive rules and regulations lead to in-efficient material use, due to over-dimensioning. For example, a steel and concrete building uses almost as much steel as a purely steel building. Why then can we still not build without concrete?

The government subsidies on materials like burnt bricks, cement etc. was questioned. A brick or cement is not always a local material, and needs to be transported over long distances. But the govt. subsidies prevent people from looking beyond them, to local options. Why can’t we subsidies the manufacturing of materials like mud bricks, fly-ash bricks, etc.?

An audience member pointed out a very practical point – Everything that sells, works. There id nothing in the media, which says mud or bamboo is “sexy”, unlike the glass buildings of Gurgaon. These materials need to be glamorized if they need to be brought into mainstream.

At the end of it all an aggravated architect Mr. Anil Laul, put the entire blame on the Indian bureaucracy by saying“ Man proposes God disposes but in this country Man proposes the CPWD disposes” and this is followed by “Behind every successful man is the hand of a lady but behind every unsuccessful project is the Hand of a Bureaucrat”. This is how things stand but few would want to take this head on.

To conclude, he said that this detachment with all that is local and this obsession with all that is western came with the British.

Lord Macaulay in his speech in the British parliament on February 2, 1835 on introducing English education in India said “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her cultural and spiritual heritage, and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native self culture, and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”.

Thursday, November 12, 2009




Building with a heart: Anne Feenstra Exhibition

Building with a heart: Anne Feenstra Exhibition

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About arch I

The Team

Anne Feenstra, a Master in Architecture from Delft University, The Netherlands has established a collective platform for architecture along with four young and ambitious architects, Apoorv Goyal, Himanshu Lal, Sneha Khullar, Tanvi Maheswari. Anne has been practicing architecture in the European continent and in London (William Alsop architects). In 2003 he established his own design group-AFIR. He has been lecturing/teaching in India, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, and Germany and –of course- The Netherlands.

Mission Statement

Architecture and urban design are a reflection of our contemporary cultural identity. In the search for the definition of this identity, eco-friendly architecture and sustainable design should play a more important role than it does in the present situation.

We think it is important to put the ever growing commercial pressure aside for a more tangible, humane, perceptible and sustainable architecture. More space for reflection, thinking and dreaming.

This design approach requires extensive research into the complex layers of history and culture, into the specifics of the environment, biodiversity, building materials and craftsmanship. Research will be an inclusive part of our working method; it will play a pivotal role in our search for a better architecture and urban design.

The people, the children, the different communities are the most important and valuable stakeholders in this search. We believe that architects, planners and designers should follow a more ‘open design process’ in which listening and sharing of ideas/concepts becomes the starting point. Through social, cultural and economical engagement, we believe a higher level of ownership can be achieved.

On a regular basis, we will be hosting vocal platforms in New Delhi, every second Saturday of the month, where all stakeholders will be invited.