This article was an invitation, to write for a publication By Maraa ( maraa.in) called IMAGINARIUM OF SENSUOUS EXPERIMENTS -Field notes from a city in flux ( Bengaluru). It contains pieces from artists, researchers ,journalists , filmmakers, photographers, authors & urban planners. “This book is in itself a performative act of storytelling. A moment of recollection and self-reflection, an assertion of presence, a reclamation of the artistic right to civic dissent” in Ektas words.
MARAA is media and arts collective which works for promoting public-centric media platforms and communize usage of urban public spaces using multidisciplinary creative tools.
BLUE PRINTS FROM AN ARCHITECT by Meeta Jain
In trying to clarify the ‘role’ of an architect, each time feels like revisiting one’s own commitment, more than educating a layman. One cannot but help having this feeling of falling into a bottomless pit ,when one begins to actually deeply reflect on the transformational power this role may hold. Commonly perceived by what is ‘seen’ in terms of style, the ‘unseen’ part of architecture does much more for human life. Let us call this spirit for a moment.
But before we even come to that, let’s acknowledge that, an architect is someone , who is trying to respond to a functional need of a space within a complex web of parameters. He/she is trying to interpret an appropriate response to climate, geology, available technology, budgetary constraints and most importantly, a true understanding of a culture or a place that he/she’s set to build in.
The degree to which the architect has been able to deeply understand these parameters, and use his/her skills of integration to create a ‘unified oneness’, judges of the success of his/her architecture. However, in addition to this skill, an architect must also have a vision, a vision of a society and environment that the space he/she designs will facilitate.
Extending the intent and design brief
An architect is not just trained to answer a set of requirements posed by a client. But, by way of his/her own dictates of practice, he/she can also show a world of possibilities ,and urge the client to extend this brief towards making a better world in small and big ways. She begins by asking some questions:
How inclusive can my spaces be?
Can I extend to new spatial possibilities to weave and make people meet in new ways?
Can I create opportunities by way of my design, for more more public encounters in a society that is becoming increasingly divisive ?
Can a private residence also become a part of the street and include spaces for community events?
How can gated communities include spaces for the working class meaningfully?
How can spaces be arranged in a workplace to enable easy collaborations?
WHAT CAN I OFFER to this city, while I am designing a house, a living community, a workplace or a public space?
How ‘public’ is the public space I am creating?
How deeply can I acknowledge to the eroding heritage around the site by way of new forms i create?
So Does the answer lie in ‘reinventing a culture’ or ‘a way of practice’ or both?
The seed to answer the questions above does not belong only to the realm of physical design, but also treads outside it.
The form or image making role of design has lesser impact on the lives of people if it does not come with a relevant, embedded space typology or a model of space organizations. ‘What do i place next to what’, ‘how far’ /’how near’/ ‘how big’/ ‘how small’, has far more crucial impact than ‘how does it look’? Spaces that extend themselves to a variety of people, life and activities; justify the production energies of means involved especially in a culture like ours. We need to consciously think of our public spaces as not being glamorous facilities, but as zones that are ‘vibrant with use and movement’ on the one hand, and are adaptive and constantly capable of evolving with time on the other. The true quality of any city life can be measured from the nature of its public spaces.
However, in trying to get to the heart of these questions lie inevitably the questions of control, ownership and boundaries. It is here that a creative practitioner is urged to extend his/her role to also understand ‘the politics of space making’ and start seeing his/ her position with respect to it.
And then, probably recognize the inevitability of a new kind of multidisciplinary engagement with the city or larger settlement, if one claims to have a creative responsibility.
HOW PUBLIC ARE PUBLIC SPACES? A CASE FOR BENGALURU
With the wealth of a conducive climate and a regional culture that is largely open and welcoming, the city of Bangalore has become home to an eclectic mix of people, giving it a mindset that is exploratory. It has been home to many alternate cultures and subcultures.
Historically envisioned and experienced as a Garden City it has seen a fast transformation via the IT boom in recent times. These times of rapid urbanization, fast erasure of locale, a confusion over the local and mindless expansion, begs the question: “How do I creatively engage with the city, bringing back its lost spirit or then, reinventing a new one?”
One can attempt to build these answers collectively by studying what exists and works well and acknowledging the new positive changes that have occurred
In my view ,the most crucial public spaces in any Indian city remain the ‘maidaans’, that were once usually lake beds, now running dry. A maidaan reflects a public space prototype that maximizes its magnitude of openness apart for its huge ecological role of being large percolation zone for rain water to enter Earth . Maidaans are alive because of the changing nature of activities they can hold on their large space from versatile exhibition to being playgrounds for all sorts. However this An unpaved, open ground borne out of least damages to the environment, is not perceived ‘iconic’ enough with regard to the imaging of a city . But in reality it is the most profound public space, infinitely flexible, one that can save our city.
After maidaans comes the ‘parks’ of the city. In this context Cubbon park is unique as it represents a ‘typology as multidimensional thoroughfare public space’.The multiple access points and unique mix of both institution and diverse natural environment, set it apart in terms of its true public flavor.
Amongst the new public spaces that have been commissioned in recent years, the Freedom Park and the Rangoli Metro Art Centre (RMAC) are noteworthy. The political decision to convert an erstwhile prison to a park is worth applause. The programming of the space to include multiple, spaces of meeting, exhibitions and even demonstrations in a park sets the right tone for the kind of vibrancy the city deserves. However, the use of the space remains limited with regard to the original vision, leading to some shortfalls. This has to do with the nature of control. A single entrance to a large public space is limiting and and keeps it somewhat out of bounds. Secondly, the vision for a cultural practice needs sufficient inventing and implementation if it is to thrive as a public space, attracting new audiences.
The Rangoli Metro Art Centre (RMAC) is also praiseworthy, as an effort borne out of giving back to the city post the excavations of the Metro. By virtue of being under the Metro line, it presented a unique public space protoype; a ‘cultural hub attached to a linear pathway’ like a string of activities. Unassumingly, by being a ‘throughfare’ public space, it ends up drawing in all kinds of passersby inciting them to be part of planned events and activities. The decision to leave a large proportion of spaces as open and semi-open along-with few enclosed galleries works well . The vision of space use and curation along with its timely implementation has indeed made RMAC a model to be emulated with more vibrancy and rigor.
A PROPOSAL FOR THE FUTURE- TOWARDS A VIBRANT PUBLIC SPACE MODEL
The recent protest by a group of artists to safeguard Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) will be an important event in the history of public space. It raises questions about the nature of ownership, declaring it as the prime determinant deciding the flavor and texture of a city space, before any physical intervention should take place.
Beginning as a protest by artists to save an existing public gallery from privatization, the discourse has extended to not just ‘save’ but ‘reinvent’. The local art community is using it as an opportunity to review.
Both artists and as public space enthusiasts, seem to work together and use the site of the gallery for new ways of expressions. Rejecting the new model of both public-private partnerships and the new building proposed by private parties, the group is campaigning for retaining ‘the openness of the physical space’.
VAG is located in prime land and is in vicinity of a history and science museum and Cubbon park. If the group can find ways of overlapping with adjoining institutions by way of activities and temporary spatial gestures, there lies a great potential to lay a vision for a unique masterplan of an art/culture/science/green zone, one that Bangalore can truly be proud of.
Drawing from the example of the Kochi Biennale, within VAG movement exists as a possibility to come together and institute a strong culture of perhaps, a City Art Festival, with a scale and dimension that makes commerce and tourism tick, alongwith benefiting the public. It is indeed an example of the right model of development, one that strongly elevates itself to highlighting the local with a global expression – much needed in the times of the ‘Iconic Smart City’ models being hurled out by governments. In fact, the VAG movement can be a crucible where all types citizen groups can contribute creatively.
But this can only happen if all creative practitioners and groups including architects pro-actively identify themselves with the purpose and find ways of imaginative engagement , stepping outside the comforts of their individual practice and prejudices.
NATURE OF CREATIVE PRACTICE WITH/IN CITY: A DISCIPLINARY QUESTION
In face of rapid urbanization and fast erasures of the ‘local’ one may feel powerless as a creative practitioner. Urbanization processes are governed by many factors. The typical urban life in India being vulnerable to massive changes in the face of global corporate pressures, one sees its urban landscape undergo massive transformation in short time spans.
How does one view the new development models of smart cities? Where does the notion of quality of life emerge from?
It is becoming increasingly clear that the need of hour is for creative practitioners to WORK TOGETHER!
And also begin engaging with processes of governance. Since an architect by training is adept in visualizing ‘the idea of whole’, he/she can play the role of a prominent integrator of processes. By default, he/she is adept to not getting bogged down by the reality or chaos of life, but instead traverse through them and weave solutions to problems.
The role of the designer/architect needs to start shifting towards creating these ‘alignment processes’, not forms alone. The field of architecture mediates between varied strengths, all of which need to come together to work on projects that encapsulate the spirit of the city.
The designer/architect needs to be searching for “need of the hour projects“, models that are sustainable not just environmentally but are also instituting a social ecology strong enough to sustain a culture and nourish an ecosystem. They need to be on the lookout for stakeholders for their shared vision. With them, they can then co-conceive projects that are bold in their approach, challenging stereotypes and creating new paradigms.