Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Habitat design

Today more than 30 % of India’s population lives in urban areas. In 2032, it will be in 41 %. Still it will be lower percentage than most of Asian countries. The problem is not its low percentage, but that too few cities are growing too fast. Miseries of bigger cities and metros are compounded by haphazard growth. The smaller cities and towns are other hand stagnating. All are in bad shape as much as infrastructure and housing are concerned. Channeling urban development is and will be one of the challenging tasks of India.

India is building. Building very fast too nowadays. The urban planning and the other hand has had a piece meal approach and did not and do not pace with building spree. Planning exercise in India has been based on selective and corrective bureaucratic measures, a legacy left by the British. And it depended wholly on controls on land development with very limited proactive role. The processes are too slow. Planning traditionally has been an exercise of distributing activities on two dimensional space and introducing networks and controls. And then wait. Architecture on the other hand has been concentrating on individual buildings and smaller complexes. Without a holistic vision of the city. While the new economic thrust invests heavily on real estate and buildings; the infrastructure and planning are lagging.

There was a need felt some decades ago for a discipline which will bridge these two areas and work in between buildings at one end and the city on the other. That resulted in ideas of townscape design and city architecture and then urban design. Design is a positive activity which is efferent from planning and it is meant to be proactive though planning tools could be used at times. The idea is to see urban development, buildings, architecture, heritage, transport, other networks and social concerns in a 3 dimension and not in a two-dimensional plane and also in an integrated way. Like town planning, Urban Design as a new academic discipline also originated in the West and looked at urban traditions developed in the western culture. It also had efforts concentrated in metro cities and leaned much on architectural aesthetics and theories. This certainly has undergone tremendous change in last two decades of evolution wherein behavioral sciences and social sciences as well as other humanities, law, finance and technology and more importantly the ecological aspects and resource utilization are getting integrated. So when we talk today about the metro lines, for example, we talk not only of its effects on traffic or its technology and alignment and legal aspects alone or how it changes the skyline, but also about its impact on the surroundings, on the behavior of people and on the additional development that may happen around etc. Essentially on what will be its impact on life on ground? This integration is not a projection of past it is also of proactive speculation and therefore, the domain of design.

When we integrate all this and take the discipline of urban design even to smaller settlements and to look at holistically with an ecological perspective, it is appropriate to name it Habitat Design. Habitat is more an inclusive a word than urban. Habitat Design is same as ‘urban design’ with a thrust on ecology and with a more integrated approach.

When we started the course on M. Arch (Habitat Design), at the BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore, we had this in mind. The courses and studios were programmed with this perspective and tried to learn from the existing urban design programmes in the country.

This will give opportunities to the participants to develop skills and attitudes to work in a variety of urban situations, not necessarily in planning or architecture alone; in urban governance or in areas of nongovernmental community work.

The approach to learning has to be a cooperative effort with students and teachers working together. That is where the studio approach comes to use. The design here is a process rather than a product to be thrashed out at the end.