In rambling mode: Designer cities

For a while in the fifties and sixties, the heyday of the industrial design boom, there was a similar thrust forward by architecture. Built cities designed from scratch to best achieve the sense of community and connection that man felt away from his roots at home were a popular experiment in habitat design in India.

Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier is the most famous. I recall Brasilia but know of few others. There’s Auroville, in Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu state, Pondi was a french territory in South Eastern India. That was a UNESCO city built on the concept of spirituality. Chandigarh, of course, was the epitome of rationality.

Then further back in experimentation, with all due respect to The Argumentative Indian, himself, Shri Amartya Sen who misses the energy of emotionally charged debate as exemplified by the chai addas of Calcutta – the tea shacks whose sole purpose was to keep the debaters eternally fueled on scalding cups of hot sweet tea and cigarettes if they were so inclined. And which Presidency College boy wasn’t?

This was much before my time of course, during the reign of  Akbar, the farseeing visionary Mughal Emperor of India, a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth the I’st? I don’t know its a fact that will have to be checked online at some point. He wanted to build a city from scratch that would embody his ideal of a universal philosophy that accepted all other schools of thought, so he built Fatehpur Sikri. And abandoned her when they discovered that there was no decent water supply for the Capital of his immense kingdom.

Nalanda University in the 4th century BCE was also purpose built. Hmm I do wonder if there is a pattern here that seems to point to a willingness to experiment, to prototype and then to build a working model, if the conceptual design seems to make enough sense by all the funda’s taught to us. By they who came before us, in today’s modern Indian engineering world is rarely our ancestors. Mostly we are taught by those who cleared the year above us. Surely, somebody somewhere would have good notes from which to study?

You see, we learnt very early in engineering schools in Bangalore University that quality of content matters, and there was so much signal vs. noise in the information available to students to study from that finding the "A lister’s" notes was crucial to get good results. We already live the social networking web 2.0oooey in India. Its also called jugaad. That’s another problem in India, words can have different translated meanings into english depending on the context in which they are used. In Chinese they use tone to differentiate between similar sounds, in many indian languages we use contextual meanings to communicate.

Take "Kal, Aaj aur Kal" and no not the Bajaj ad [talk about mindshare and brandbuilding] but the concept of the word "Kal" meaning Tomorrow and Yesterday depending on the context. I do wonder what this says about the Indian culture and society?

I want to see a chorus of comments please ;p unless things have changed from my time.

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One Response to In rambling mode: Designer cities

  1. Shalini says:

    I am from Chandigarh and used to play in the park where the monument to commemorate the building of the city was constructed. In fact, my grandfather was so positive and enthusiastic about the concept and energy of the city, that he built a house right opposite this monument.
    It is by far one of the best places to live in India, but there is a need to modernize it too. All architects and planners have deified Le Corbusier and Pierre Jenneret’s works and styles, with the result that instead of being a “modern” city, it is now just an “out-dated” city. Changes are happening lately, especially in the past year or two, with the Chandigarh IT City and a host of other companies setting up offices there.

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