We included an article on these structures exactly one year ago today – and were still hopeful that the Indian Government would see sense and agree to retain these important pieces of architecture. Alas, they made a terrible decision and sent in the wrecking ball.
There was no real justification for this act of cultural vandalism. It is a disgraceful destruction of modern heritage, not to mention the environmental waste.
Next month the AHRC and Indian Council for Historical Research will be sponsoring a workshop on ‘Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India‘ in Delhi. Its too late for the Maidan but let’s hope the workshop can provoke some much needed change.
The 6th Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa, has just concluded with a particular focus this year on ‘Building Resilience through African Urban Culture’. Held at KNUST in Kumasi, Ghana the conference welcomed speakers from Nigeria, South Africa and UK, as well as a host of research papers presented from scholars based in Ghana.
Key note speakers (including Prof. Chike Oduoza, Dr Obuks Ejohwomu and Prof. Mugendi M’Rithaa) lucidly presented the varied and many challenges facing African cities today – with particular focus on energy use, digital infrastructure and the internet of every/things.
Prof. M’Rithaa’s presentation included some very striking map visuals, including the image below that shows the true size of Africa relative to other countries – something that Mercator projection of the world fails to reveal. You can just make out on the poor quality photo below the outlines of USA and India. He also spoke very eloquently on how our solutions must be people centred, rather than imposed solutions. Dr Ejohwomu also challenged us with many provocative questions and themes – including a cartoon showing an emaciated cow and a worker abandoning it in pursuit of an obese cattle. His challenge was that we can’t simply walk away from the problem and that Africa needs us to focus on its problems rather than attempting to flee them in the ‘global north’. This message also reinforced by Prof. David Edwards and Dr. Erica Parn in their presentation.
I gave a presentation on the rich modern architectural history of Ghana, and the infrastructure of culture that exists here. I focused on a series of building types including education, community centres, and libraries, as well as the town planning and historical development of Kumasi.
Nearly 50 papers followed on a vast array of topics as well as a striking art installation on the plight of the African Giant Snail’s ecosystem. A new journal was launched ‘Journal of Built Environment (ISSN: 2026-5409) and next year the conference will migrate to Lagos – we look forward to hearing more from this important gathering.
This moderated discussion concerns architecture and emergency urbanism in history, focusing on the constructed environment of the UNHCR-administered refugee camp complex at Dadaab, Kenya, near the border with Somalia. Paradoxical for its scale and ephemerality together, the Dadaab complex at once approaches and resists being “urban,” on the one hand, and a “camp,” on the other. Established in 1991 to shelter thirty thousand refugees, the Dadaab complex expanded over the course of a quarter century to five settlements with a compound headquartering a centralized structure of humanitarian agencies. According to unofficial counts, it currently houses one half million refugees and asylum seekers, along with humanitarian aid workers in residence. In early 2016, citing security threats, the government of Kenya announced that it would close the complex prior to the next general election, and dismantled the Department of Refugee Affairs as a decisive measure. Through a detailed discussion on design, use, aesthetics, and affect at the Dadaab site, we hope to study the social and political lived realities of an environment constructed to be liminal.
Introduction by Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
Discussion with Samar Al-Bulushi, Alishine Osman, Ben Rawlence, Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
As a Syrian architect, my enjoyment is complete when I wander through the districts of Old Damascus. I used to walk with my daughter and tell her stories about each significant place we passed. In Old Damascus – one of the longest inhabited cities in the world – 5,000 years of history come alive. The tight network of traditional streets are complemented by stunning architectural masterpieces, such as the ancient Umayyad Mosque (completed in 715AD), the Roman Temple of Jupiter and the Byzantine arches.
Al Asruniyeh souk was our favourite destination on special occasions. Al Asruniyeh is a commercial neighbourhood located between the Citadel of Damascus and the Great Mosque of the Umayyads, inside the walls of the ancient city. The souks of Damascus are a part of the daily life – bustling marketplaces where political, social and cultural differences are forgotten.
Yet since the start of the armed conflict in Syria six years ago, much has changed in my home town. Although the city remains relatively safe compared to other parts of Syria, many have fled, lives and livelihoods have been lost and treasured cultural heritage has been destroyed.
In April 2016, a fire raged through Al-Asruniyeh. For the local community, losing part of Old Damascus is like misplacing part of their own soul, their memory and identity.
Yet history has shown that despite attempts to destroy Damascus, it has always risen from the ashes, stronger and brighter, powered by the local community. Time and time again, the Damascenes have proven adept at rebuilding their lives and their city in the wake of disaster.
Rising from ashes
For example, in 1860 when Syria was under occupation by the Ottoman empire, the quarter of Bab Tuma in the north-east of the city was ransacked. Over 3,500 houses, churches and monasteries were comprehensively looted and set ablaze. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were displaced.
The district was rebuilt between 1863 and 1880, by local builders who returned after the clash. Elements of the old Bab Tuma were preserved by using traditional materials to create similar urban forms. Yet innovative features were also added. Builders used new decorative techniques, and added open windows to the façades as a reflection of “new” social needs, opening them up to the street outside.
Again, on October 18, 1925, the city was bombed by the French army in an attempt to quell a revolution against French rule. As a result, the western district – known at that time as Sidi Amoud – was mostly destroyed. Several traditional masterpieces were burned or damaged, and hundreds of lives were lost.
The district was remodelled in 1926 by the French, this time according to modern European characteristics. The local community, who had no voice in this reconstruction, changed the district’s name into Al-Hariqah – which means “fire” in Arabic – to commemorate the terrible event. This rebuilt area has a peculiar character. The orthogonal road network and the heights of the buildings differ from the organic urban fabric of Old Damascus, and the new structures do little to reflect what was lost.
Rebuilding Al Asruniyeh
Today, Damascenes are once again confronted with the task of rebuilding – and this time, they control the outcome. Yet the loss of Al-Asruniyeh raises critical questions about what should rise in its place.
The history of Damascus shows that when ruins are rebuilt by the local community, the new layer is imbued with the soul of the city. Rather than covering the city’s history up, the new buildings become a part of it. For that reason, community input is needed now more than ever before.
The heritage of Syria has been a source of pride and dignity for the Syrians, despite differences in religion and political opinion. Their built heritage has been always a source of shared memory and history, as we all enjoy its authentic and aesthetic character. Old Damascus, with all its souks, khans and districts, embodies Syrians’ cultural, social, educational and economic values.
Because of this, safeguarding the architectural characteristics of the old city should be a cornerstone of the reconstruction process. City authorities must develop a plan to manage Old Damascus’ urban heritage, in a way that upholds its social and cultural integrity.
What’s more, rebuilding the Al Asruniyeh souk presents an opportunity for reconciliation. Although the armed conflict continues, Syria has been enduring it with dignity and pride. Starting the reconstruction now is vital, to encourage Syrians to return and participate in rebuilding their country, spreading a feeling of safety, ownership and pride in the city once more.
“Founded in 1922, Deo Gratias is the oldest photography studio still in operation in Accra. As the city celebrates 60 years of independence this week, the studio has revealed new photos of life in the 1920s and 1930s”.
Call for Sessions: 6th International Congress on Construction History
The 6th International Congress on Construction History (6ICCH) will be organised in Brussels, from July 9 to July 13, 2018. For the first time, thematic sessions as well as the usual open sessions will be organised. Therefore, a two-step procedure is adopted: the call for thematic sessions is launched first, followed by the general call for abstracts. The general call for abstracts will invite contributions for the special thematic sessions as well
as contributions dealing with a broad range of construction history topics (typology, the action of building, knowledge transfer, process and actors, materials, services, etc.). With this combination, the organisers aim at both a broad and an in-depth assessment of new research in construction history. The present call invites prospective session chairs to suggest topics for the thematic sessions. Their aim is to highlight explicitly the latest themes, approaches and directions in construction history research, and to foster
transnational and interdisciplinary collaboration and discussion on burning issues. Proposals should include a description of the theme (max. 400 words), a motivation of the relevance of the theme (max. 400 words) and a CV of the applicant chair demonstrating his/her relevant expertise. The organising committee will select up to 12 thematic sessions, limited to one per applicant.
Chairs of the thematic sessions are expected to be present at the 6ICCH and give a short introduction to their session. They are, in collaboration with the scientific committee, responsible for the selection process of the submitted abstracts and for the editing process of the submitted papers. For each session 4 to 5 papers will be selected. No more than one paper of the chair’s research team can be selected. The scientific committee reserves for itself the right to redirect papers towards other thematic or open sessions.
Proposals should be sent to email@example.com by April 1 2017. Session chairs will be informed about the selection of their proposal by the organising committee by May 1 2017.
Call for sessions: March 1, 2017
Submit sessions: April 1, 2017
Call for abstracts: May 1, 2017
Submit abstracts: June 15, 2017
Submit papers: December 1, 2017
KU Leuven (Krista De Jonge)
Universiteit Antwerpen (Michael de Bouw)
Université Catholique de Louvain (Patricia Radelet-de Grave, Denis Zastavni)
Université Libre de Bruxelles (Rika Devos, Bernard Espion)
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Inge Bertels, Stephanie Van de Voorde, Ine Wouters)
The Road Less Traveled is the overarching title given to a yearlong series of exhibitions programmed at the Kohler Arts Center to celebrate its 50th Birthday Anniversary – including a major exhibition on Indian artist and visionary environment creator, Nek Chand. The Arts Center has the largest collection of Nek Chand sculptures outside of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh – and they’ve put 200 sculptures on show in an extraordinary exhibition.
Curator Karen Patterson was looking for a more collaborative and creative approach to curating the shows and selected a responder for each exhibition to bring new and unique insights to the work and the final shows.
Karen asked me to send her a few ideas on how Nek Chand’s sculptures might be presented and exhibited. We met in Liverpool and discussed a range of concepts, including developing a virtual reality film of the Rock Garden [something I’m really eager to do]. We spoke about the experiential, almost cinematic nature of the Rock Garden – and how it is arranged as a series of distinct ‘outside rooms’ or events. Moving through the space and watching the sculptures being ‘revealed’, hidden, and glimpsed through this process is crucial in Nek Chand’s work.
Sculptures by Nek Chand
Sculptures by Nek Chand
It was also a decade since I completed my PhD research – and I felt it was a good time to revisit my measured drawings and catalogue of the Rock Garden. Karen agreed to exhibit my survey work and I got the catalogue reprinted at A3 size and its 250+ pages hard bound. I really enjoyed ‘re-discovering’ my old work. The survey drawings had been kept rolled up in a plastic tube for ten years, and I carefully extracted the coil of drawings, not knowing in what condition they might be in. Thankfully, they were exactly as I’d left them- tattered at the edges, full of rips, holes and dog-eared corners. I sent them off to the Arts Center, hoping they wouldn’t get lost in the post…
The catalogues of Nek Chand’s work
I arrived at the Arts Centre a few days before the official opening, having seen the CAD drawings of the proposed show, produced by the exhibition designer and co-curator Amy Chaloupka. There’s always a disconnect between an architectural drawing and what it represents – and this was no exception. The scale of the exhibition is vast – and the amount of work required to produce, install and prepare the ‘terrain’ is incredible. One really gets a sense of what it is like to be in the Rock Garden – without there being any sense of pastiche or mimicry. The sculptures are arranged according to type on a series of terraced podiums that sweep through the space, compressing the visitor into a narrow gorge-like passage where the sculptures are densely arranged facing into the walkway. This approach puts the sculptures at eye level and really enables a dialogue to emerge between the viewer and the figures. As well as the concrete sculptures there is a collection of the cloth works – an often overlooked component of Nek Chand’s work – they are again arranged as a group and tightly gathered so that they read as an ensemble of works that need to be walked around, and examined.
An early Nek Chand sculptures, c.1960
Coloured ceramics suggests early edition, but facial features are much later – is it a re-work?
Clinker hair, and brick-dust pigment gives the pinky-brown hue to the skin
In addition to Nek Chand’s sculptures there is an archway reminiscent of the Phase-3 part of the Rock Garden. Contained within this segment of the exhibition are four panoramic photographs, the catalogue and the survey drawings.
Installing the Drawings…
Panoramic photos and drawings. The catalogue sits on the perspex stand.