This feature has been created in collaboration with urbanNext, a multi-platform aimed at developing, disseminating and distributing content centered on architecture through a focus on the contemporary human milieu and its challenges. Architizer features a weekly discussion from urbanNext’s journals to support its investigation of urban conditions and innovations facing the architectural profession today.
“A landscape of democracy is necessarily a landscape that is negotiated partly laissez-faire, partly contested, it doesn't have the consistency that we try to imagine cities to be,” says architect and urban planner Rahul Mehrotra in an interview with Ibai Rigby for urbanNext. A designer working between Boston, where he is a professor of urban planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and Mumbai, where he has established his architecture and research office RMA Architects, Mehrotra is concerned with the confined position of architects in influencing urban planning in Mumbai.
“In Mumbai, in the municipal corporation, there is not even a planner … Architects are marginalized from the debate about planning. Planning is run by bureaucrats … by policy-makers in the government. There is no attention paid to the third-dimensional implications of planning policy,” says Mehrotra in the interview.
Mehrotra is particularly concerned with architects’ lack of involvement in Mumbai given that the Indian government upholds the large-scale and homogenous urbanization patterns of cities like Dubai and Shanghai as paradigms of city planning. “Politicians use those [cities] as metaphors, emblematic of what might be modernity,” he says in the video. “But you know, what you forget, or even politicians forget when they use these metaphors, is that these are landscapes of autocracy, they’re not landscapes of democracy.”
Shanghai’s skyline; image philsteinhauser via FlickrWhile the formally impressive skylines of these cities might demonstrate a robust economic prowess, "a symbol of progress," Mehrotra argues that this "visual coherence," is a result of autocratic control "where somebody makes all the big decisions, and the small decisions."
"In a democracy, the urban designer's role is not the grand vision but one I call the 'grand adjustment,' because they have to negotiate the differences … how do you make very plural things work together, how do you make those adjacencies come together, what are the interstitial spaces that can get animated as the glue."
Mehrotra hopes Indian planning can follow a democratic approach, that designers can reclaim the development of their spaces. "Architecture needs to re-think its own position, its own instrumentality, its own autonomy," he says, "construct its own vocabulary and find the new frameworks with which it can engage with the urban in order to begin to look at solutions and to be able to also imagine the form of the Indian city."
Chicago from above. Photo by Iwan Baan.
Words by Joanna Kloppenburg
See more video interviews concerning issues of socially oriented urban design on the urbanNext website.
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