The Nineteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2017
Berkeley Prize 2017

Aman Sinha Travel Proposal

Arcology: Principle to Precedence

I spent my childhood in a small town named ‘Haldwani’, located close to the foothills of the mighty ‘Kumaon Himalayas’. Although, not significantly popular, there is still something remarkable about the life led by a common man there - his self-reliance in terms of resources which were elementary to his sustenance. Today, when I think of my hometown, memories of my eventful childhood come gushing down and fill me up to brim with nostalgia. The times we spent on our rooftop braving the soaring heat and yet comfortably spending our days inside, because our mother pestered both me and my brother to water the roof once we were done with our daily dosage of cricket. Or those chilly winter nights when my father’s ‘masala chai’ (tea) and ‘pakoda’ (potato fritter) were the only reason that we climbed out of our cozy beds. We still slept very well and warm at night, partially because our parents in regular intervals ensured none of us crawled out of the blanket, but also because our home was insulated from the unrelenting winter by the adobe walls. Ecologically sustainable practices weren’t enforced, but simply were a way of life. These practices were etched into my lifestyle, but my recent shift to a relatively bigger city ‘Bhopal’ made me realize how grave the situation really is in the so-called 'urban' cities.

Our cities are expanding at an aggravating rate with no due considerations to sustainability. This always makes me wonder, who we are? And what price are we willing to pay to satisfy our unquenchable greed to expand beyond our given restrictions? It is sad, rather appalling that the price we have set to achieve this has kept our planet at ransom. If a farmer finds a debilitated tree, it is not the branches, but the roots he looks at for the diagnosis. Just like a farmer, we need to focus at the roots of ecological imbalance. And the roots - We are the roots… It is on us to take care of this planet - our only home. It is high time we now realize that we are not apart from nature, but a part of nature.

In my final essay for this year’s Berkeley Prize Essay Competition: Culture | The Determinant, I discussed how the benighted potters’ community, adopted the vernacular materials and the traditional, socio-cultural knowledge base for the construction of their dwellings, which made them ‘ecologically sustainable’, unlike their modern counterparts, in the urban fabric of the Indian city of Bhopal. Expanding onto this, I believe that it is not an obligation, but a responsibility of each and every individual to be sensitive towards the need of ecological balance.

Paolo Soleri, a world renowned Italian-American architect, urban designer, artist, craftsman, and philosopher, in late 1960’s made an attempt to achieve the same. Through his philosophy of 'Arcology' (architecture + ecology), he formulated a path that would aid us on our evolutionary journey toward a state of aesthetic, equity, and compassion. Exploring the countless possibilities of human aspiration, and to embody his principle of Arcology, Soleri, in the year 1970, came up with a project - Arcosanti; an internationally eminent 'urban laboratory' and a self-sustained experimental town, in the Arizona high desert, United States. It attempts to test and demonstrate an alternative human habitat which is greatly needed in this increasingly perplexing world. The project has the goals of combining the social interaction and accessibility of an urban environment with sound environmental principles, such as minimal resource use and access to the natural environment. It exemplifies his steadfast devotion to creating an experiential space to "prototype" an environment in harmony with man.

Arcosanti, is now an ever-growing community of a thousand plus members, driven by a single principle - Arcology. Round the year, Arcosanti conducts intensive, five-weeks workshop programs, teaching students from around the world about the principles of Arcology while they participate in the on-going construction of the ecologically sustainable architectural forms unique to their community and the production of the world renowned ‘Soleri Wind-bells’. It is through these workshop fee and sales of the Soleri Wind-bells, the funding for the on-going construction of Arcosanti is received. Thousands of volunteers attend the workshops annually and eventually take the construction forward. As a result of their continuous efforts and hardwork, Arcosanti has till date reached approximately five percent of the total construct (as proposed by Soleri back in 1970’s), and already takes precedence over several other experimental towns existing across the world.

In a five-weeks workshop conducted at Arcosanti, the initial two weeks comprise of a number of seminars, visits to some architectural landmarks in Phoenix, and a few recreational activities such as hiking, field trips etc. This is followed by an extensive hands-on construction for a three-weeks period at the site itself. Practical experience of applying the principles of Arcology in construction would deepen my understanding about the subject. This one-of-a-kind combination of a number of activities, makes Arcosanti the most promising option for my Travel Fellowship destination.

One of my professors once said, “Architecture cannot be taught, it can only be learnt”, and I believe that for a fourth-semester architecture undergraduate, there is no better opportunity to travel and learn other than this Travel Fellowship. Visiting and working at Arcosanti while tackling the harsh conditions of the Arizona desert, would help me immensely to enhance my understanding of the biggest threat of today’s world, and the best possible ways to tackle it through sustainable construction practices. At this initial stage of my architectural career, this experience would form a sound basis for my further explorations, studies and professional career. Further, I would be sharing my knowledge gained from the visit to Arcosanti, about sustainable architecture and the employable construction techniques with my fellow mates at the college and related communities back in India, through some interactive sessions.

This would ultimately fulfill my prime objective of this travel fellowship - involving more and more aspiring architects to work for a better tomorrow, because I believe, it’s not just about you and me, it’s about how the two of us along with our architectural fraternity can ameliorate the lives of the masses across the world.

ITINERARY:

-Wednesday, June 21, Fly to San Francisco from New Delhi.

-June 22-23, reach San Francisco, explore the city and the architectural marvels of SF.

-Friday, June 23, Fly to Phoenix from San Francisco, followed by a 70 miles travel from Phoenix, AZ to Arcosanti, AZ.

-Sunday, June 25, Commencement of the five-week workshop.

-Monday, June 26 - July 9, seminars, field visits to Phoenix city and other specified tasks as per the program schedule.

-Monday, July 10, commencement of hands-on construction workshop at Arcosanti.

-Sunday, July 30, Conclusion of the workshop.

-Monday, July 31, Fly to New Delhi from Phoenix (via New York).

BUDGET:

-Visa Fees, USD 160.

-Round Trip airfare USD 1580. DEL-SFO, SFO-PHX, PHX-JFK, JFK-DEL.* (United Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa, https://www.goibibo.com)

-Phoenix Airport to Arcosanti and back, transportation expenses, USD 70.

-Workshop program fees USD 1750 (The fees are for programs and cover registration fee, tuition, meals and accommodations.)

*DEL- New Delhi ; SFO- San Francisco, CA; PHX- Phoenix, AZ; JFK- New York City, NY.

TOTAL EXPENDITURE - USD 3660. Any of the further expenditure, apart from the above mentioned will be borne by me.

REFERENCES AND CONTACTS:

-Dr.Tapas Mitra (tapasmitra@spabhopal.ac.in) and Ar. Abhishek Venkitaraman Iyer (abhishek.iyer@spabhopal.ac.in) - mentors for the Berkeley prize competition.

-Arcosanti, AZ, workshop coordinator: Miss Melanie ( E-mail workshop@arcosanti.org ) For further details about the program, visit, https://arcosanti.org/workshops

Shall I be granted this opportunity to travel, I hope to document the whole journey, from Delhi to Arizona and back at every stage, through photos, sketches, interviews, observations, which would supplement my Report to the Berkeley Prize Committee. Finally, a special thanks to the Jury Members, for this opportunity to further the conversation of the social art of architecture and to apply for this Travel Fellowship.


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Soleri's futuristic vision
Soleri's futuristic vision
Arcosanti- Everything amidst Nothing
Arcosanti- Everything amidst Nothing
A perfect Volunteers-Residents symbiosis
A perfect Volunteers-Residents symbiosis
The utopian construct embellished by the Soleri Wind Bells
The utopian construct embellished by the Soleri Wind Bells
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