The choice of the title is significant. Even if its significance is not manifest in the conscious day-to-day actions of the architects, it must be there in their sub-conscious minds. Otherwise, this title would not have come up for discussion.
It is my feeling, indeed my belief, that architects by their training and the usual pursuit of their profession are not fit to play any significant role in Urban and Rural growth. They are there only to cash on any growth process. In simple words, an architect is normally supposed to design a building, or a group of buildings or prepare a layout to meet the requirements of a given brief.
Some would say that it is the job of Town Planners to prepare a brief for the proper Urban and Rural growth. From this concept have emerged such phrases as, Town and Country Planning, Urban and Rural Planning, Regional Planning, Area Planning etc. they do talk about, “what happens in cities is going to affect the surrounding countryside” and vice versa. There is a lot of hue and cry about developing small towns to relieve the pressure on metropolitan cities. There is also a lot of emphasis on developing our villages so that rural population is discouraged from moving to the cities. They would like to locate Industries in the villages, or at any rate outside the cities, which really means, in the surrounding villages, so that urban areas remain clean.
Inspite of all this, the Urban areas continue to grown and keep on swallowing the countryside. The natural pressures of growth appear to be beyond the comprehension of town planners.
The Architects, not to be outdone, have invented the term “Urban Design”. “Rural Design” as a term has not found favour with the architects, possibly because there is no bread and butter in it. But Landscape Design is very much in vogue with the architects.
In actual practice the terms used so far mean as many things as there are Designers or Planners.
The latest compromise appears to be that “Three-dimensional designing” or physical planning of space is the domain of Architects, and allocating functions to the ‘Spaces’ is function of Town Planners. This is not a real or agreed compromise, only a sort of ‘working’ arrangement, but with a lot of overlapping and confusion. The line of thinking is that in the ‘Modern’ advanced age there has to be more and more specialisation. There should be: Urban Architects, Rural Architects, Industrial Architects, Hospital Architects, Housing Architects, Landscape Architects, and so on…
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I wish to submit that if the architects wish to play a ‘role’ in the urban and rural growth, then they have to significantly enlarge their awareness of what is happening around them, and considerably alter the scope of their training and activities. Most architects are quite satisfied by good draftsman. In our schools the emphasis is on how good a ‘Design’ you make, and not on development of ‘thought’ and significance. There are stereotyped ideas of beauty, proportion, and yearnings for fantasies, with consequent frustration while entering the profession.
Without beating about the bush any longer I would like to lay down what I consider are the areas of awareness which the architects should consciously cultivate.
- Productive Aesthetics
- Productive Motion.
- Cycle of Life.
- Architecture as a Tool of Economic Growth and Social Change.
- Rural Urban Integration.
1) PRODUCTIVE AESTHETICS: Long ago, as a student of architecture I began to read a book entitled ‘Seven Lamps of Architecture’ by John Ruskin (I think). In this book in the very first chapter or the introduction it was stated that only that portion of a building or dress, or anything has aesthetic significance which his otherwise useless, e.g., applied ornament, pattern on flooring, embroidery, tracery etc. my sense of values rebelled against this approach and I could read the book no further. I felt that aesthetics and beauty had to be, or at least, can be useful also. With the passage of time, even if my value judgement has not changed, my observations tell me that Ruskin was right and I was wrong. I would like you (challenge you) to look through any magazine of Architecture, Landscape design, Interior Decoration, Urban Design,—indeed any magazine which deals in Aesthetics, and pick out Fruit trees, Vegetable plants, Bee hives, Cows, Buffaloes, Goats, Pigs, Chicken etc. as elements of aesthetic expression. On the other hand you will certainly find Flowering trees, Flowering plants, Exotic shrubs, Pedigreed dogs, cats, parrots and such like as objects of aesthetics. Chandigarh is called ‘The City Beautiful’ because it is totally unproductive. Its landscape elements are: Gulmohrs, Jacarandas, Cassias, Silver oks, Royal palms, eucalyptuses etc. it has a big rose garden. Cactii garden, Moonlit garden of white flowers and such like non-productive beauty features are being planned. But if one looked for a Mango, Jamun, Amla, Tamarind tree, or a medicinal tree like Neem, or a fuel tree like Kikkar, or a timber tree like Sheesham, one would be severely disappointed. The trees provided do give some shade, but none like the magnanimous shade of a Banyan or a Peepal which too are conspicuous by their absence. They do not fit into the aesthetic discipline. No one is allowed to keep any cows, buffaloes, goats, or sheep. Yet the cows roam the streets and are frowned upon, all measures are taken to extradite them. At the same time the campuses of Agricultural Universities at Ludhiana and Hissar have all these productive elements juxtaposed with the human habitation and activities. They have shown that the animals are no more dirty or ugly than the human beings—indeed the animals are more productive and useful to the human being than vice versa. I have had in my younger years, the privilege of keeping a cow and a buffalo they were both loving creatures, and fully responded to the human love—more than the fellow human beings. I notice that most urban children today are scared when they have to pass by a cow or a buffalo. But I can pass by any anima without any fear—indeed with a feeling of affection. Once with Joseph Allen Stein, we were pleased to see both cabbage and flowers grow in the same bed outside a house in the fashionable Diplomatic enclave of New Delhi. But such experiences are the exception which only prove the rule. There was a time when we as children could pick Jamun, Shahtoot, Amla and Imli for free from the trees growing along the road. But now I find, because of the invasion of aesthetics, all these privileges are banished and sterile. Search your hearts and speak if you would grow a date palm in preference to a royal palm, if you would keep a pet goat in preference to a pet dog, if you would display vegetable plants in preference to flowering plants. This change of attitude is ‘basic’ for our thinking if we want to pay any role in Urban and Rural development. ‘Beauty is there in everything. It requires EYES to perceive it.’ Words to this effect were uttered by my friend B.P. Mathur long ago. I did not agree with him then, I do so now.
2) PRODUCTIVE MOTION: We live on the Spaceship earth (Buckminster Fuller called our Earth Spaceship, rightly so). The earth is constantly in motion, rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun, and participating in the cosmic journey of the entire solar family. Yet this motion does not in any way hinder the productive and creative activities of the inhabitants of the earth. Not only the productive activities, the very pattern of life on earth is dependent on the motion of earth. Should the motion cease, life will cease. But the means of motion created by man are too productive or creative. The only exception is sea travel. One could do a whole lot of things on board a ship. Corbusier wrote a considerable part of this book on Modulor on a ship. But that mode of travel has become a rarity (This portion of this paper is being written on the prestigious Rajdhani Express, Bombay to New Delhi, but I have to struggle to keep my pen steady). In other trains I would not be able to write at all. One can say that the air flights are very steady and one can write or sketch at will. This is true, but the duration of journeys by air is all too small, except international fights. My observations regarding productive motion may be irrelevant as far as air travel is concerned. But the fact remains that none of the means of locomotion except seagoing is designed for productive activity. The design brief is that they should be able to contain human beings without discomfort while seated. In some cases there is provision for sleeping also. But most of the travel has to be done in containers in which human beings are packed like sardines. There is yet an exception: the space travel. The space modules are designed to enable the human occupants to perform all the functions of living while in space, and lot more. To this aspect I shall return later.
One may be wondering why I am bringing the topic of locomotion in the subject of Rural and Urban development. The reason is that some years ago I became aware of the fact that no matter what steps are taken to meet the ‘motion’ or ‘movement’ requirement of people, they always fall short of demand. In Delhi the bus services like ‘Mudrikas’ were introduced. For a few short months it appeared that the bus service is going to be efficient. But such hopes were quickly belied. I had the privilege of designing the Bus terminus building of Chandigarh—in 1960 or thereabout. The brief from the Transport Deptt. was that we were to cater for just four buses at a time. After discussion I designed for about ten buses, and for room for extension to handle about twenty buses. By the time the building was completed and began to be used it overstepped the capacity. The performance of the Inter-State Bus Terminus at Delhi is well known. Same is the story of the Train services, Railway stations and all other means of locomotion. This is equally true of the movement of goods—by trains or by trucks. The natural consequence is that all roads and rails are chocked beyond capacity, and getting worse.
The important part of the observation is that the rise in the demand for travel is not in the same proportion as the rise of population or urbanisation. It is twice or thrice the rate of urbanisation. What is worse is that most of the movement is ‘compulsive’, not voluntary. Just for survival one has to get himself packed into a bus or train and spend upto two hours each way in that condition. This paper is not intended to go into the causes of this phenomenon, but only to state that the present pattern of growth or urbanisation is not going to improve the movement system—only worsen it. Later on I am going to suggest how it may be checked. But what I will say is unlikely to be accepted. Even if it is accepted as logical and possible, and therefore implemented, it will take so much time to reverse the trend of deterioration (at least two generations) that it is worth while to think in terms of creating means of locomotion that the life may not only become bearable but also productive while in motion as a necessity. Technology may yet show a new method of movement if we enunciate our requirements correctly (like the INSAT or space technology is doing in the field of communication) that it may be possible to get to where you have to be like such a travel productive. May I ask, why should we not be indulging in our normal creative activities while in motion? May I ask, why cannot a school lesson start inside a school, and back (A teacher can be largely dispensed with in modern technology)? Why cannot an office goer start his work in the train itself? (Some businessmen certainly do their work on board their private aircraft). My submission is that the very idea of productive and creative activity is absent from the means of locomotion. And since we are being condemned to more and more compulsive motion for our very survival, our lives are becoming more and more sterile. Let us strive to retrieve the very purpose of life as much as the human genius possibly can. Let this aspect not go begging because of lack of awareness. Urban as well as Rural lives are entrapped into the network of modern styles of movement.
3) CYCLE OF LIFE: There is one prerogative of the cycle of life: there is no ‘waste.’ Life sustains on the principle of regeneration. In a colony of termites, there is absolutely no waste. It is only the human cussedness which has caused many byproducts to be called wasted, to be burnt, buried, or disposed of in our rivers and lakes. Nature has been kind to man. For a long time nature managed to absorb human wastes in its bosom, and give back nutrition. But now we have reached the stage of creating so many wastes in such quantities that nature is not able to absorb them anymore. So nature is hitting back lesson. I wonder if the oil crisis can be attributed to nature. But this crisis was the highest eye-opener for mankind. It is brought home in no uncertain terms how vulnerable ‘Mankind’ is if it follows a unidirectional, or linear approach to ‘Consumption’–not putting back in the reservoir from which you draw. However great an energy source may be, it is not inexhaustible. Secondly, every process has a byproduct, which if not utilized becomes a waste. The utilization of a byproduct cannot be left at the mercy of ‘Economic viability. It is now a question of survival. If we do not plan every process to zero waste (or minimum possible waste as dictated by our present scientific knowledge) we are bound to head towards self-destruction. Such is the speed with which things are moving today. We can do good at a fast rate, but we can do harm at a much faster rate.
In this paper, I am not concerned with the larger issues of Atomic energy wastes, oil spills, and Deforestation etc. But in the context of Rural and Urban growth, I wish to draw attention to certain issues for which the architects have certain responsibility.
We are all concerned with the waste disposal in the cities. We see heaps of garbage stacked on the roadside waiting for the truck to cart it away. Where? On the outside of the city. There the rubbish rots and stinks, and the stink is carried to surrounding areas by the wind. In sophisticated societies the rubbish is burnt in big incinerators polluting the atmosphere no less. It is not enough for the architects to simple design the Garbage collection centres so that the garbage becomes less visible, or design the building to house the incinerator. Similarly, the human excreta is a big problem. We all crave for the sewage system and the sewage disposal plant. But most of the country does not have the sewage system. We see a lot of people defecting along the railway lines, and we are told that India is one big lavatory. The villagers go to the fields to ease themselves, and we are told that it is very uncivilized. We have banished (at any rate trying to) all productive animals- cows. Buffaloes, goats, pigs, etc. from the cities, because they produce dung which attracts flies. But we do not think there is anything wrong in keeping the same animals in the villages surrounding the cities.
If an architect is to widen his horizon, he should know that this method of waste disposal is highly wasteful and polluting. Each bit of organic waste human excreta, animal dung, droppings, fallen leaves, cut grass, vegetable peels and wastes, kitchen wastes etc. is a potential source of ‘Energy’ and ‘Fertilizer’. We have enough scientific knowledge to process all wastes into useful energy and fertilizer. The policy makers have tried to sell the idea of Gobar gas plants in the villages with very moderate success. But, why only villages? Why do we treat our villagers as second-class citizens? If the Gobar gas plant is good for villages, why is it not good for the cities? The main reason why the idea of Gobar gas plants does not succeed in the villages is that it is being applied too far away from where the essential know-how lives. New knowledge is best applied where the seat of learning is. From there it gradually percolates to far off places. Besides the villagers do make some use of the Gobar that their animals produce, however unscientific it may be. But it is certainly better than the total waste which the citizens practice.
What I am trying to say is that the architects should play their part in designing human settlements in such a way that all processes, be they for city wastes, or industrial wastes, a Cyclic approach, and nothing is wasted. Just now, in our cities we have a large number of ‘kabaries’ who lives on collecting inorganic wastes from houses and dumping places and recycling them in one manner or the other, Most of the architects look upon them as undesirable. Kabari markets are considered dirty. They are dirty. But does the answer to their dirtiness lie in abolishing them or in studying their usefulness to the ‘Recycling of resources’ and preventing waste? While making studies of the Rehris of Chandigarh I came to the conclusion that they render a service of higher order than the regular shops of Chandigarh. If we study the contribution of Kabaris to, the fabric of a city, I am sure, we will come to the same conclusion. It should, therefore, be our duty to design for the Kabaris and give this job higher priority in Urban planning. The kabaris won’t come to the Architects for a design. They are too suspect. Architects will themselves have to go to them with sympathy and understanding and evolve designs which will suit their requirements and be good for city.
4) ARCHITECTURE AS A TOOL FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH AND SOCIAL CHANGE: We seem to have fallen headlong for differentiated planning—zoning—, creation of campuses, and complexes. Chandigarh prides itself in proclaiming that there is a place for every type of activity–living, working, care of body and spirit, and circulation. The city works like a mechanical system. The whole concept is built on the idea that for every activity there has to be ‘Specialist’ worker – like a colony of bees or ants. The logical outcome of this concept is that every place has a limited occupancy, and there are crests and troughs of activities in different areas of a city. Life seems to be divided into worktime, Livingtime, Recreationtime, Travellingtime etc. All this appears very logical. But God almighty did not conceive ‘man’ in the image of a ‘Machine’. Human organism works in totality and in unison. A house may be a place for living in, but it certainly is not a ‘Machine’ for living in. It is much more than that. Indeed it has been much more than that, a total place for Living, Working, Education, and Recreation. For this reason one did not have to travel much for earning a livelihood. But now we think big. There has to be a mass entertainment stadium or auditorium, instead of self-entertainment. There has to be Educational campus instead of learning by doing, or knowledge transferred from father to son and mother to daughter. When you look at factory you find that barring a few exceptions, like steel manufacture, aircraft assembly, most industries are a multiplication of single machines. For example, a handloom in a house occupies about as much space as a power loom does in a factory. But so many looms in a factory generate too much noise and are housed in a ventilated humid hall. The cotton fibres fly profiteering and concentration of wealth. Karl Marx is quite right about the nature of capitalism. But the ownership of Capital by the state does not change the nature of work.
Again where does Architecture come in this type of thinking? The answer is that we architects are as much responsible for creating such differentiated and undesirable zones of activity. Our bread and butter are derived from them.
Once in my adventures with the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), I had occasion to sit among other distinguished people to interview distinguished architects to decide who would be suitable for commissioning for their work. One of the questions asked of the architects (I think the architects were Charles Correa and B.V. Doshi) was:— what do they think would be the best way for providing accommodation for the tourists? The answer was very appropriate: The local populace should be encouraged to provide accommodation to the tourists. They may be given loans to furnish or augment the accommodation they have., and a system of information created whereby the tourists can be directed to various places. The tourists would see a place and meet the people in real life. The wealth they bring would be equitably distributed rather than concentrated in a few hands. Economic prosperity and social change would come simultaneously. But inspite of this sound logic it could suit neither the I.T.D.C. nor the architects. ITDC would have very little to show, which it does now through its chain of five-star hotels, and Charles Correa would not be building the Kovalam Beach Resort. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not blaming Charles for building the Kovalam Beach Resort. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not blaming Charles for building the Kovalam Beach Resort. I would have liked to do the same thing if I was lucky enough to be in his shoes. Indeed, I am doing such architectural jobs as I have without bothering about their social significance. But I do blame the profession of architecture as a whole for not having a say in generating economic parity and social justice. For example most of the profits of the Beach Resort will be pocketed by I.T.D.C., and the tourists will get only a filtered version of the Indian culture and the social scene. What is more, a portion of the Kovalam beach has been cornered exclusively for the resort. Others, that is local people, are not allowed there. We have always blamed the British for making exclusive areas for themselves, like the ridge in Simla and Mussorie. Aren’t we doing the same sort of thing ourselves? Earning of foreign exchange is no justification for cornering the bounties of nature for exclusive use of some people.
I could give a number of other examples to illustrate how architects are part and parcel of a system which promotes social injustice and economic disparity. It is quite true that our bread and butter comes from building such institutions. But then we should not talk of Rural and Urban growth, or we should become aware of our social responsibility, and within that context, find our means of livelihood, at the same time create beautiful environment.
5) RURAL AND URBAN INTEGRATION: What is a city, and what is a village? What is urban, what is rural? Who is a city ‘dandy’ and who is a country ‘bumpkin’?
The size of a settlement does not define its character. A city is sometimes the seat of power, sometimes a trading centre, sometimes a place of education and culture. But why are there no similar attributes of excellence attached to villages?
The truth is that the basis of a city is ‘Consumption’ of ‘Wealth’, which is generated in the villages. All activities of a city life flow from this basic concept. Why did Shahjahan build Shahjahanabad? Not for the common man, but to create a place where he could enjoy the fruits of power. Why was Chandigarh built? To create a seat of Government? That is why any activity which is productive, e.g. Animal husbandry, agriculture, is banished from a city. Trading, education, culture, struggle for power etc. are allowed in a city. A city is conceived in excellence, a village in poverty.
In India, however, scratch the skin of any city dweller, you will find a villager in him. This is a good sign. Barring very few most people in the cities are first or second generation urbanites. They still possess the love for soil and for animals. The large mass of work force of any city is derived from villages. Inspite of their grinding poverty how do they survive? By indulging in one or the other productive activity which is derived from their villages. They still return to the land in season every year to till it and to take out what they can from it.
But now all this is threatened. They may not keep any productive animals in the city, non-productive ones are alright. The distances are becoming too great to travel to the villages frequently. The traffic is now too dangerous. The places have become too small for any activity other than stretching our feet for a nights rest. Work and travelling time take all the waking hours of a person’s life. Now women are also driven to the workhouses to keep body and soul together. All this inspite of the fact that the modern world offers lot more opportunities for generating wealth.
The architects are part and parcel of this situation because they preach and practice Rural and Urban disintegration. It is all very well to say that the industry should be located in the villages, more and more job opportunities created there so that the village people do not move to the cities for earning a livelihood. But may I ask, how many architects are likely to settle in the villages or how many architects are likely to earn a livelihood there. Secondly by what logic can we deny them the facilities and amenities which the dwellers of a city enjoy. The bigger a city the more the amenities.
Many people are loath to leave Chandigarh because there is a P.G.I. there, and there is an Engineering college and a College of Architecture. The further a child is born from a big city the less are his chances of availing of the opportunities of Education, Medication, Entertainment etc.
It is our job as architects to understand which way our lives are going on account of this divide between the city and the village. Firstly our nutrition is affected because the food, particularly the perishable items of food, has to come from greater distance. Since such food is spoiled in storage, artificial preservatives have to be added which lower its nutritional value. Secondly more and more time has to be spent in movement of men and materials causing wastage of scarce sources of energy and producing pollution. Thirdly more and more people in the cities are deprived of the bounties of nature. Fourthly there is more and more concentration of wealth and power in a few hands. Fifthly a large section of population in the rural area is condemned to lower rate of growth as the boons of knowledge cannot reach there. Sixthly same thing happens in the cities because more and more time has to be spent in travelling unproductively.
It is also the job of architects to understand that with the assistance of new knowledge it is possible to do things which are usually done in the villages in the cities more effectively. If the means of production and consumption are near each other then they can be utilised more efficiently, and the job opportunities created near the place of residence. This policy can bring social equality and economic justice without the use of force. It can make the boons of knowledge available to all people more effectively. It can prevent the wastage of resources; make possible scientific recirculation of wastes, and utilisation of energy natural and man generated, more efficient.
This being so, why should the architects not play their role in brining about the integration of villages and cities, of agriculture and industries, of education and practice, of recreation and nature, of science and life, and of all that is good in the kingdom of God.
In this paper I have tried briefly to touch upon the various aspects with which an architect should familiarise himself if he wants to play in effective role in the growth of Rural and Urban India. It is not enough to perform an assigned job efficiently and beautifully. It is necessary to understand the genesis of things and to be aware of their impact on all aspects of life. A nuclear physicist can do a lot of harm to mankind if he pursues his vocation without any awareness of what his work can do to mankind. Similarly an architect can do a lot of harm to mankind by building skyscrapers indiscriminately, no matter how beautiful they are individually.
The first job of an architect is to become aware of the consequences of his action on 1) nature 2) space 3) society 4) economy. All actions of the architects should promote good life.
I had earlier mentioned about ‘space travel’ as an exceptional example to emulate. In a space capsule there is neither village nor city, yet it is a system which both villages and cities could emulate. It has the application of the highest in technology that the human genius is capable of. At the same time it is an example in total self-sufficiency, like that of the primitive man. Everything that is inside a capsule has to be minimised and everything has to be utilised to the maximum. Everything has to be recycled so that there is absolutely no waste. I imagine that even the breath of the occupants has to be recycled. I just am amazed at the very thought as to how people in space continue to live for months together in as small a volume as is feasible and carry out the most sophisticated tasks that man can think of in the shortest possible time. It is a state of perfection that is imaginable. Can we tell ourselves, while thinking of the development of our villages and cities that there is an example to follow as an ideal, and that example is a space capsule.