Design Prose

Some Ruminations on Constant Muted Wars in Urban Spaces

Posted in Built Environment, Urbanism by designprose on February 27, 2010

Urban planning is a logical initial stride towards an organized development of a city or a commercial hub. In doing so, larger governing body looks after the development process and more often than not, follow a yardstick of regulations, forms and codes. This would work well in an environment where dynamic forces are negligible. But dynamic forces cannot not exist, like migration issues, pandemics, employment and economics predispositions, cultural mutinies and sociological confrontations. All these are primers which work towards the way we organize or interrupt ourselves in some patterns in an urban setting.

Such patterns are present all the time and it only presents the fact that planned approach has its limitations in our organic approach towards life and living. Allow me to give you an example. An urban place, striving really hard to combat basic diseases, basic sanitation in the vicinity which is inaccessible due to lack of good infrastructure and heavy migrant influx, has built a fancy state of the art commercial retail establishment. Would such a mall work? Another example is to build a fancy futuristic commercial premise with only escalators as means of going up and down. This would work well if the generation living is adaptable and youthful. I have noticed older and aging generation in India is not comfortable using escalators since it was not a regular feature in the buildings in their times of adaptability. They excuse themselves from the family and take the elevator and meet them at a final floor of the destination and split while returning too.

Governing bodies can use strategies and authorities to seek some order and organize people in certain desirable pattern. Such attempts, if they neglect the status in quo and conditions on how vibrantly people on their own adapt themselves or adapt the space to suit their needs and requirements is in my opinion a very critical factor. And this adapting happens all the time and this is more and more visible in places of retail establishments. The generation which is not able to afford high price tags go to fancy places only to browse and go to street markets to find similar looking things to meet the pricing and haggling instincts.

Organizational attempts to give urban space some sense of homogeneity is an ambitious premise since the population that inhabits it, is rarely homogeneous.  They are varied with background, cultures, beliefs, history, personal traits and quirks, desires, future dreams and own sketchy framework to achieve them. Migrants to USA from India and China can rarely adapt to food habits available and offered. Asian markets, Indian spices and vegetables become a sought after category after initial hangover of salads, sandwiches, fries and so on. This illustrates that there is a force working towards making strikingly different food joints and supporting peripherals to to co-exist. Speaking in Indian context, aspiration of a migrant father from a rural environment, now working in a service oriented industry in a city will be different from a young girl moved from a small town to a big city to peruse and pursue a dream in the city. They both will be working towards forces of means of commuting, public transport, cultural baggage, work environment, food habits, socializing habits, aspirations and adapted methods to go about all of them.

In a nutshell, by assuming  readily that statistics and data are perfect and planners and designers should use these calculations that will allow them to come up with some meaningful viable solutions is a weak and temporary. In short, these professionals view vision imparted from university and college education together with plans and designs as the only solutions and means that can provide a suitable place for humans to live can have limitations. Strategy which relies mainly on power relationships based on top-down approach can overlook critical variables of diversity, uncertainty, resisting forces and individual capability to adapt in their own understood way. More and more social and urban theorists, interventionists and design critics see the failure of what the “plan” and “design” can guarantee and what form it eventually takes and settles for.


Factoring in Green and Beyond: Footprints in Buildings

Posted in Green Architecture, Sustainability by designprose on February 20, 2010

“Green” is probably here to stay and a premise that should have never lost its consideration in built environment, interior or exterior. The way we live and where we live are consumptive in nature and to nature. Consider these, what we eat, what we wear, where we move, where and how we live and all the activities that are essentials in community civilization. All these considerations and choices based on them are critical if we have to make our development sustainable. Sustainability is another buzz word which is here to stay if we have accept the finiteness of resources available on earth. Trees, sand, ores, minerals, petroleum, clay, water, are all finite unless we constantly work in cyclic movement of products reducing the wastage to zero or almost zero. Do examples like, lighting the spaces with natural lighting during day time, using recycled wood, steel, paper in construction and natural ventilation to reduce air-conditioning to save electricity and energy come to mind?

Building and construction sector has tremendous impact on the earth and environment. Here is how. Buildings consume more than 30 to 40% of our energy and 60% of electricity while the water consumption remains at alarming number of millions of gallons. Sensible sustainable buildings play a role in reducing negative environmental damages. Better construction practices and attempt to conserve and recycle materials and resources can reverse this impact. Let me focus on materials and resources and wiser attempt at using them in construction. I will focus on other aspects like water usage, sites, energy consumption in future in different posts.

Materials and resources are intrinsic  to build but are critical if they have to become sustainable design because it will call for extraction, mining, hauling, processing, packaging, transporting and storage during the construction. Are we disturbing the natural habitats or contaminating water and air and depleting resources which cannot be replaced to their original form and quantity?

Next comes the waste generated through construction and demolition and how reusing, recycling and salvaging them will have to be an important and intrinsic design practice feature towards scoring points on sustainability. Usage of local materials and reducing transporting of materials from far-off places will challenge the architects to innovate the design process to adapt to regionally obtained and manufactured materials.

Vertical Chutzpah: Social Tale of Tall Buildings

Posted in Built Environment, City Scapes, Urban Planning by designprose on February 9, 2010

World of Architecture is buzzed with a newest addition tearing into the azure: Burj Tower. It has been claimed that it is now the world’s tallest building and it is expected that it will attract tourists from world over. In its basic physiological needs, this architecture and engineering gem will provide, awe, wonder and a sense of supremacy that human race would like to keep it in their tow. Currently, Burj Tower stand tallest leaving behind earlier claims to shame, above Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, Toronto’s CN Tower, Chicago’s Sears Tower. Human scale in this is of  little significance when human greed to become taller, bigger and larger is amongst the front-runners. It would work rather well if only we weren’t clusters of social beings.

Denser developments of cities or vertical towns, are the need of the hour if we have manage our environmental resources sustainably, I am told. What about social, emotional and well-being resources sustainability? Are human beings quick enough to adapt to social viability of class creation through vertical developments? Are human beings adept at tailoring their emotional viability in escaping from fellow human beings where only select few may reach? What about calculation on inculcation of techniques to mitigate fears like vertigo? What about feeling of safety in cumbersome accessibility to towers? What about structural soundness which cannot deflect deleterious air-borne attacks?

Architectural achievement of this height, not only, does not signify distributive nature of wealth but it also violates the law of natural progression of the race. On the onset itself, we see interference with the equilibrium of nature. Migration from one’s habitat space is a highly organic and often a slow process. Hence the experience out of such a feat will mostly be temporary and not transcendental. Why then, do we like to build skyscrapers while extended slums crammed with migrants and congested unsanitary habitation strive to thrive at the bottom of it? Never mind the human rights violations of labor workers, for now, we will just turn our eyes. More such building race up in the sky, bigger the moral and physical squalor at the bottom is going to be.

If we as human race continue and keep living in defiance then nature has it’s own mean means to proclaim the equilibrium. Isn’t it critical that architectural community joins a collective force to intervene with intellectual intervention to understand and disseminate the same knowledge for better and safer built environments?