Ahmedabad: The government’s grand design of building 100 smart cities across country came in for some nuanced criticism from noted architect and chair of the department of urban planning and design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design Rahul Mehrotra. “It is dangerous to universalise smart cities," he said.
Mehrotra cautioned the likelihood of such cities homogenising all aspects of social life, including spatial environs, in a country as diverse as India. “Technology should not be the only agenda while designing a smart city. Every city responds differently and the notion is that every city will carry on a single image," he said.
Mehrotra, son-in-law of famous architect late Charles Correa, was speaking on the sidelines of a lecture at the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology University (CEPT) in Ahmedabad, which is considered to be a premier architecture and planning institute in India, on late Wednesday evening.
Citing an example, he said Madurai will respond differently from some north Indian city. “You have to do capacity building, study smaller towns that have the potential to become smart cities and need a system that it responds to. Remember a lot of diverse people are going to live in these new cities, so it has to be culturally specific too," said Mehrotra who recently released a book Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Mega-City in New Delhi.
The book, a product of Harvard University South Asia Institute, involved a team from Harvard University, including Mehrotra and other professors and researchers who monitored the grand event in 2013.
“People see photos of Kumbh and they see it as a festival of world’s largest gathering of believers. We looked at it from governance, planning and public health. It is the world’s biggest ephemeral megacity where three million people come together for 55 days and then disappear. It gives an insight of how a temporary settlement of such huge population can be efficiently managed. Such a kind of ephemeral city can be useful in times of Tsunami or other natural calamity. In fact, Kumbh at Allahabad is a fine example of smart city," he said.
Mehrotra, who heads Mumbai-based firm RMA Architects plans to hold an exhibition at Mumbai in January next year called ‘The State of Architecture’.
He hopes that the exhibition will trigger a national conversation on the state of architecture and aims to address issues like why the profession is not engaged enough with the public.
His ongoing research is focused on evolving a theoretical framework for designing what he calls a ‘kinetic city’—perceived to be a city in motion, temporary in nature, often built with recycled materials and one that modifies and reinvents itself.
Mehrotra, who has earlier been involved in various conservation projects including a conservation master plan for the Taj Mahal, has been selected to design a modern library at CEPT. The library would model on the famous Anup Talao built by Mughal emperor Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri.
On the new project, Mehrotra said the area will be cut and carved to build a stepwell and a portion of the building will be submerged. The library, proposed to be built at a cost of ₹ 11 crore will have a courtyard and the building will be away from the edges, not touching them.