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

[ID:1866] Goals for Equitable change

India

“This growing myopia is a malaise that has afflicted the West as well. This is why a century which started with Manifestos and heroic attempts to postulate a Brave New World (with Equity for the poorest, and Justice for all), is ending with the Haves in pitched battle, defending their possessions, and winning, while the poor and illiterate and unemployed are likely to be left to fend for themselves... …Surely you and I are going to survive, possibly even triumph, but we will have become very much more tiny in the process.”

Charles Correa (1999).

This essay is for everyone to read. It is about nothing less than changing the world. All human endeavors are about changing a certain quality of life, most often, to better it. This essay is about reflecting upon the quality of life that we as individuals lead, the lives that rich lead, the lives that poor lead, and comparing them. It is also about developing an ethical framework, through reason and compassion, which guides us in our thoughts and actions for developing a better world.

It has been 16 years since India adopted a neo-liberal economic policy and opened its doors to free market forces. The growth story of the last decade, as perceived by the media, has been phenomenal. There has been previously unprecedented growth. The economy has been on the double, growing at close to 9 percent, which is far more than the yester-decades, the stock market is booming, the foreign reserves are at an all time high, there is a burgeoning middle class, freer trade is finally delivering "world class" goods to India. Some Indians are booming too; there are over a 30 Indians in the Forbes’ world’s richest men listing of 2007. There has been an addition of over a dozen newcomers in this elite list of stratosphere dwellers this year. India is being projected as an emerging world power (not that it cannot be, or should not be). The message being conveyed by an effervescent, blinkered media is clear: it has never been so good.

However, when one puts aside all hype, and studies statistics fastidiously, one finds a disturbing lopsidedness. This "so-called" development is extremely unbalanced. There has been colossal privatization of public assets, resulting in profit maximization becoming the maxim. The country now has an act legitimizing Special Economic Zones, which are nothing but private cities. Given the small populace that is in profit, it can be said that this development is at the cost of the nation. By profit is meant the ability of a person, or a group, to be able to sustain a desired pattern of life even in conditions of climate change, political unrest, high inflation, etc. It is estimated that about 836 million people, or about 77 percent of India, lives on less than half a dollar a day; that about 26 percent lives below the poverty line, defined as less than a quarter dollar a day [NCEIUS_2007].

The economic boom in India is primarily in its cities. The cities are the only engines of growth. These engines, however, are running on a separate track than the train they’re supposed to pull along. The agriculture sector in the country is ailing. At the same time, the demand for workers in the city is increasing. The result is migration from villages to cities. Disillusioned with prospects of survival in the villages, workers arrive in the city with hopes of means of sustenance; and they do just about survive!

Owing to the urban swell, the essential resources in the city, like that of housing, sanitation, transport, recreation, and so on, are under huge stress. There are just too many people vying for limited resources. This, coupled with corruption, mismanagement, vote bank politics, etc. has resulted in social problems like that of sprouting up of slums. About 54.06 percent of Mumbai lives in slums followed by 32.48 percent in Kolkatta[NSS_2001]. Though a slum is now considered part of a city, it is not what a city is meant to be. Though at many instances one does see well-kept homes, there is a dearth of sanitation facilities, healthcare facilities, educational and vocational facilities, recreation facilities, etc. Illiteracy, disease, crime becomes commonplace. On the other hand, one can see contrast: the gleaming glass buildings in the vicinity, standing tall, as if smiling sardonically at the slum. This boils down to social exclusion based on economic status in society. The din is getting louder by the day. Enjoyable city life has become an exclusive commodity!

Architecture of this epoch of globalization in India is new. There is a rationale for this change. India is one of the world’s largest emerging retail markets. It also has a large outsourcing industry, manufacturing sector, financial services sector, etc. This has resulted in thousands of shopping malls, business parks, sprouting in all major cities in India. Architects are reduced to commodities, with a price tag, ready to perform according to developer’s agenda. The designs of these buildings usually do not respond to the climate of the place making them lavish energy consumers (in a country which has an energy deficit), they speak a non-regional language architectonically, mimicking western archetypes. They are just intended to be popular icons. It can be called architecture that is two-inches deep from the façade, and unsustainable too. On account of congestion in the city, and paucity of open spaces for recreation and social interaction, shopping malls are becoming the new places of meeting. Supposedly, they are for everyone. Malcolm Voyce, a sociologist of law, vehemently argues that shopping malls (in India) are social “fortresses” which render invisible those not part of the middle class consumer group. He goes on to say that these buildings represent “dividing practices”; that they forcibly deny access to some sections of the population (Voyce_2007). Architecture as a social art (meant for the masses) is practiced marginally, usually, in times of disaster. It is barely commonplace. Roberto Benigni, in the Oscar-winning movie ‘Life is Beautiful”, remarks: ‘This is a city! You can do anything here.” Quite the opposite: our new architecture renders strict control.

Turning to the Indian village, one sees a dour picture. Marred by feudalism, caste oppression, migration, disease, gender discrimination, the village has developed quite opposite to the Gandhian dream of every village being a self-contained republic, where everyone has a home, a job, enough to eat and no disease (Charles_n.d.). Development is about expanding real freedoms that people enjoy (Sen_2000). The opposite happens. Rural India has not been able to cope with modernism because of it being a completely alien method of living. Indigenous knowledge is decaying. Education, health and nutrition are major issues in rural India today. The government has initiated numerous schemes for rural betterment such as Bharat Nirman, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. These schemes have a lot of potential to better the lives of people. They do, however, fall prey to half-hearted attempts by the implementing agencies, corruption, and lack of participation by the educated (read students and professionals who can become part of the process to better it) among other reasons. These schemes end up being not even piecemeal solutions.

India is the world’s largest democracy, where one-sixth of the world populace lives. The preamble to the constitution of India states that India is a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC Republic. It goes on to state that the people of India have resolved to secure to all its citizens JUSTICE, LIBERTY, EQUALITY and FRATERNITY. The father of the Indian constitution, a low-caste dalit, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, clarified, “If things go wrong under the new constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad constitution. What we will have to say is that man was vile.” And things have gone wrong. If statistics are to speak: India has an average literacy rate of 61 percent, there are 5.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, infant mortality rate of 34.61 per 1000(WorldBank_2007)…the list is long, and the picture grim. It is, therefore, the ethical responsibility of the people, who subscribe to the constitution, to bring about equitability. The professionals: engineers, architects, doctors, planners, and managers, armed with specialized knowledge need to spearhead the movement for equitable change.

World leaders from 189 nations met at the UN Millennium Summit in September of 2000, to discuss the role of the UN at the turn of twenty-first century. These world leaders ratified the UN Millennium declaration, on the basis of which were derived the UN Millennium Development Goals, which are scheduled to be accomplished by 2015(UNFPA_2006). The goals, 8 in number, aim at reducing extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, develop a global partnership for development. These goals aptly outline issues that need immediate attention in the world’s developing nations.

Having read through this essay, you and I find some merit in the argument that there is an exigency to make the on-going change equitable for all. The world leaders too, have endorsed the idea. For this, I propose means to a start: a competition of ideas to help India accomplish what has been set as the MDGs. I shall now explain the concept, structure, and working of the competition in detail.

The competition is about designing buildings, resources, environments, and other creative methods, to take India towards accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals. The actual form of solution is left to the imagination, and sensibilities of participants.

The competition is for everyone. In a world where specialization matters, the competition especially calls on the city-building professionals: architects, planners, engineers, social workers, etc. Competitors can either work individually or in teams. This decision is left upon the discretion of the participant(s) such that everyone can participate: some people prefer working alone, while others in groups. The criteria for evaluation will be same for groups and individuals, and for laymen and professionals.

Owing to large number of issues that are to be dealt with, the competition aims at doing ‘more with less’. It is about doing humane and sustainable, but thrifty design. Another basic aim of the competition is proposing solutions that have a wide reach. An instance could be a public facility strategically placed in a city or a village, which acts as an informal school in the morning, a women’s centre by day, and a healthcare facility by evening, and a place for recreation or assembly all the time. Such a facility would be a valuable community resource (this is just meant to be an example: the project can be something completely different). Some creative projects that have been ‘built’, which could be inspiration while musing about this competition are: the Wikipedia project (www.wikipedia.org), Buckminster Fuller’s ideas and projects, Barefoot college in Tilonia,. These are projects where people have imagined beyond the usual; involved the users, and created something that transcends the material boundaries to benefit everybody; their aesthetic goes much beyond visual composition and finishes-Something remarkable!

Objectives:

1) Create need-based, contextual, multi-functional resources that take the country forward to accomplishing the ?Millennium Development goals.

2) Explore existing public-private partnership models for proposing solutions; propose amendments and new models wherever necessary.

3) Involve the community in the design (or problem solving process). Use local methods, wherever possible.

4) Create environments that change people's mindsets as regards use, ownership and other ?problems like vandalism in public buildings/resources. ?

5) Design truly sustainable ‘architecture’.

6) Develop a new aesthetic of social art in architecture.

Designs can be proposed anywhere in India; be any size; be spread along a neighborhood, locality, city, region or country.

Entries will be evaluated on how well they address the aims and objectives of the competition.

The mode of explaining the solution can be drawings, text or sketches. The submissions need to be made on a maximum of 6 A1 sheets. Actual models are not allowed but photographs can be included. Computer drawings are allowed.

Entries will be accepted till after 6 months of the date of announcement of the competition. Sufficient time is given owing to the nature of the competition, which involves tasks such as active engagement with the community, intensive research. The calendar for the competition will be such:

August 1, 2008: Competition announced.

February 1, 2009: Last date for submission of entries.

February 15, 2009: Announcement of winners.

April 1, 2009 – Document on the competition.

The jury I would want to invite for evaluating the entries are:

1) Prof_Jean_Dreze: Renowned development economist, co-author of several books with Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, and a spearhead of various people’s campaigns like that of Right to Information and Right to Work. He lives in a slum in Allahabad, India.

2) Ar_Charles_Correa: Indian architect, planner, activist, theoretician and a fundamental figure in the worldwide panorama of contemporary architecture. His work in India shows a careful development, understanding and adaptation of Modernism to the Indian context. His land-use planning and community projects continually try to go beyond typical solutions to third world problems.

3) Ar_P_K_Das: Architect from Mumbai. He has experience of working with community participation in urban and rural areas. He has done a number of projects that have become valuable community resources. Some examples: Earthquake victims’ rehabilitation, reclaiming public spaces in Mumbai (Juhu, Carter Road, Bandstand), slum dwellers’ rehabilitation.

4) Sanjit_Bunker_Roy: Founder of Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, where rural people ‘study’ sustainable methods. The College addresses problems of drinking water, girl education, health & sanitation, rural unemployment, electricity and power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural communities.

The jury comprises members from an array of disciplines relating to development. These are people who have converted theory into practice. It is hoped that this jury will be successful in understanding the holistic view of the competition while assessing the entries.

The winner(s) will be given a cash reward of appreciable value intended to help them take their ideas forward.

Since the issues discussed here are relevant to many countries and regions, I would campaign with national and international organizations (both governmental and non-governmental) to endorse the idea of such a competition and make it a regular feature. I would try to inform public opinion and secure funds for promising projects that can be implemented in India.

You would be wondering why so little has been written about ‘Architecture’ (perceived as the built environment), when I, a student of architecture, am the author. I believe that the problem we have at hand, is not of ‘Architecture’ alone. It is a problem of public action (read inaction), of people realizing the need for something, getting together to do it, and then architecture being the process that supplements the built form. This will be real social architecture, something that is rooted in the needs and aspirations of the masses. If architecture is to become a social art, we need to see things from architect Hans Hollein's perspective: “Everything is architecture. Everyone an architect”(Hollein_1968). We need to turn from ‘aesthetic of architecture’ to ‘aesthetic of doing architecture’. I would end in clarity by stating the mission: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however, is to change it.’ (Marx_1845)

Contact_faculty_Prof_Akhtar_Chauhan_+919323399792.

If you would like to contact this author, please send a request to info@berkeleyprize.org.


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