Design Prose

Work and the City by Frank Duffy

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, Research and Analysis, Uncategorized, Urbanism by designprose on March 13, 2011

“Nevertheless the physical fabric of our buildings and cities, not least workplaces, will change: to paraphrase a famous remark on Architecture by Winston Churchill, we use technology and then technology uses us.[…]

The ways in which the physical fabric of buildings and cities are being changed by information technology. However, equally important, if not more so, are the ways in which information technology is making it possible for us to reinvent the dimension of time by dissolving temporal conventions that have been taken for granted for centuries.”

Above words are quoted from Duffy’s introductory passages in Work and the City where he takes a contemplative look at future of workspace, nature of work itself and how it impacts the office development and eventually affects the fabric of life and cities, both culturally and ecologically. Technological connectivity has  enabled us with an alternate model of work and advancement is here to modulate our workspace such that we maximize its offerings. In reality, how are we responding to these changes and how much cultural shift will be viable and sustainable is yet to be seen. Although brief in his writings, Duffy touches the surface of the issues that will be forthcoming as the city turn more urban and technologically advanced. He says,

Even more imagination will be required to envision what the new world of universal connectivity will be like. However, one thing is certain: new temporal and social conventions must be invented that will be strong enough to take advantage of the enormous potential freedoms offered by the new technology as well as equally capable to avoiding the destructive effects of the hugely invasive power of information technology.

This will make study of human ecology even more critical with respect to culture, local or global and it manifests itself in the fabric of city striving towards modernity yet remaining sustainable to environment and societies. Such that hidden costs are incorporated in the business solutions. This will impact the way the construction industries campaign their development model which is rarely inclusive and present only an artificial side of demands to real estate and hence the supply side is highly lop-sided while maximizing their benefits.

That said, forms for the buildings and cities of the future will demand more secured environments which will have to be fluid as well as organic while responding to interactive knowledge economy where buildings are not merely in response to symptoms of industrial model of working. There is a need to figure out how efficiently cities can be designed keeping in mind adjacencies, scales of spaces and their complimentary functions. Such a model is planned but it also allows adaptability to the forces of organic human behaviors and their individual needs to adjust perform and leverage potential.

In Duffy’s words,

My vision of the future city is almost exactly opposite. It is essentially urban. The vision depends upon social logic of the knowledge economy which will thrive on open ended discourse much of which will be aided by technology but that will also continue to be social, plural and face to face.

In essence, we will modify our mode of working from time to time and may call it advancement but it will not essentially eradicate human interaction and proximity of face to face meeting value. It will continue to be highly social and technology will be its background only and not the foreground.


Great City, Terrible Place

Posted in City Scapes, Sustainability, Urban Planning by designprose on April 9, 2010

This is an expression coined by Charles Correa on his impression of City of Bombay. Charles is a renowned architect, activist and a thinker of contemporary architecture and urban planning. In his essay, Great City…Terrible Place he outlines his views on cities and their evolution and how they work occasionally and sometimes fail miserably. A passage quoted below is from the above mentioned essay which captures the essence of underlying urban forces and fabricated sense of ecstasy which is often misrepresented in expressions like great spirit of Bombay or the City that never sleeps.

This is true of Bombay. While it is getting better and better a city, and disintegrating (very rapidly and quite unnecessarily) as environment…perhaps what we are experiencing in the last burst of energy…the spastic twitches before the end. Living in this city we wouldn’t notice it ourselves.

If you drop a frog into a saucepan of very hot water, it will desperately try to hop out. But if you place a frog in tepid water and gradually, very very gradually, raise the temperature, the frog will swim around happily…adjusting to the increasingly dangerous conditions. In fact, just before the end…just before the frog cooks to death…when the water is exceedingly hot…the frog relaxes…and a state of euphoria sets in (as in hot-tub baths). May be that’s what is happening to us in Bombay. As everyday we find it is getting to be more and more of a great city…and a terrible place.

This holds true for the most talked about city of Bombay in a developing India and perhaps this has worked negatively and has brought Bombay on the brink of explosion. Bursting with people, diversities, cultures and its related social implications and grappling to find its identity and some sense of order in all the chaos and confusion. An attempt to create this Utopian  city which will accommodate every Indian and his or her dream and offer squalor and confusion garbed in hopes and misery and a drive to keep fighting in just one single city is a failed strategy. It has become a hub for almost every upward bound economic engine with an exception of Bangalore and Hyderabad which brings migrants in extremely large numbers. Not all migrants want to leave their place of origin if it provided access to basic needs and means to empower themselves and sustain locally.

We need multiple hubs spread strategically around the map of India which will give more even spread of population. So, need for evenly distributed development is not just a humanitarian call but a practical solution for city to sustain. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty will not be able to live too peacefully in close proximity and extreme forces from both ends will create imbalance as we have seen in the case of Bombay’s class divides. One will find people commuting from farthest northern suburbs to work in southern commercial hub. Attempt to redistribute the work force and organize work and housing locally in short distance have been made in places like New Bombay, Bandra-Kurla complex, Lower Parel and Andheri but it hasn’t changed things dramatically and commute still remains a nightmare for residents. Roads remain congested, traffic unruly, urban spaces heaped with garbage littered everywhere and more importantly the complacency and civic sense of people remains questionable.

Lack of planning and unorganized spurts of development remain chaotic and confusing. Dynamic forces like diversity, migration, cultural clashes,  disparities are not given enough consideration & research and it amounts to solutions that do not seem to be working. Thus Bombay remains a place for constant chase, unsatisfactory living conditions and unfulfilled, unrequited sense towards excellence.

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.