Do we indulge in wishful thinking for super dense cities?

The thought popped out at me as I read an interview of Jonathan Solomon, who has authored (along with fellow architects Clara Wong and Adam Frampton) what appears to be a fascinating book called Cities Without Ground on alternate networks and spaces in Hong Kong. In the interview, Solomon talks about how the impracticality of trying to impose solutions in other contexts. He says, “Paul Zimmerman (HK district councillor and urban design activist) and I disagree vehemently about this — his position is that all the footbridges are more or less bad and that Hong Kong should act more like a Dutch city. We need to make safer, healthier streets for pedestrians. Pedestrianizing Queen’s Road makes a lot of sense. But there’s a lot of wishful thinking involved thinking that Hong Kong will suddenly turn into Linden or Delft.”

To me, that sort of summed up a lot of how urban designers and planners function. Delhi, where most of my work is based, is also unique in the layers of history and social complexity. While we admire experiments in other cities globally, we find it challenging to replicate best practices in the context of Delhi because of its unique structure and settlement typologies. Furthermore, the urban poor in Delhi have incrementally built highly dense settlements that require context specific solutions to enhance quality of life. To offer those, we need to deeply understand how this density works or doesn’t, it’s networks, how spaces inter-relate and a whole lot more. To assume that Delhi must become a Shanghai or a Singapore, or even Curitiba or Medellin is obviously naive.

I am piqued by the graphic approach Solomon’s book takes. Could we use advanced graphics software and innovative observation to first understand and then re-imagine Delhi’s dense informal spaces?

Father’s Day creations from my enthusiastic children

There is nothing more than an early morning creative outburst. To create this surprise for Rahul papa, behind his back while he was at the gym, we slit apart old used A4 size envelopes, glued them together to create this long strip and then the kids just unleashed their creative juices on them. Dadi (their grandmum) offered them discarded kajal (kohl sticks), lipsticks etc and we used acrylic paints, crayons, toothbrushes, etc.

Aadyaa chose to recreate the mountains we recently holidayed in, while Udai drew a fleet of spacecrafts! Mummy and mausi chipped in here and there. We cut out the words from old discarded brochures. The entire process took us a couple of hours.

When Rahul walked in sometime later, the kids were shouting out ‘Happy Fathers Day’ atop their voices. The house rang with yells and laughter, smiles aplenty and lots of cheer. We breakfasted on a dish of yesterday’s chapati reinvented with garlic, onion and tomato seasoning and another experimental smoothie made with curd, milk, watermelon, beet root, red bell pepper,carrot, apricot and cucumber. A morning of creative reuse and family fun, with good old Furby joining in! Feeling really satisfied!
20130616-123318.jpg

20130616-123543.jpg

20130616-123257.jpg

20130616-123516.jpg

20130616-123552.jpg

20130616-123235.jpg

20130616-123414.jpg

20130616-123430.jpg

20130616-123336.jpg

20130616-124812.jpg

Decision Making for Education

ramblinginthecity:

This is an interesting post for architects and designers. How much do we really understand of the activities and the philosophy behind the spaces we are called in to design. And does a really involved design process mean the modern design practice (numbers, large projects) needs to be rethought drastically? Also what’s the role of partnerships, how do we learn from a variety of experts and non-experts?

Originally posted on Markparkinson's Blog:

Here’s an interesting and very telling story from the Guardian newspaper, UK:

Guardian newspaper – School Design

The gist is that civil servants and politicians, sitting in their ivory towers will dictate to schools and local schools’ management boards about how schools are to be built. This includes what features they will/ won’t have etc. In India, ironically, so far, this has been a much healthier state of affairs. Government sets down (and occasionally enforces) minimum standards about such things as square footage space per student, rooms available and numbers of toilets etc. of course, there’s still a further irony that whilst these rules are imposed on private schools there are vast areas of the country where the government’s own schools in the public sector don’t comply with the rules.

Reading this news story I was troubled by the underlying message that government wasn’t interested in views based upon the…

View original 299 more words

Busy streets, quiet insides: Peeking into chawl life in Parel, Mumbai

Obviously, I didn’t do much thinking about the architecture of Parel and other parts of central Bombay when I grew up there. Bombay of the ’80s had a distinct flavor about it. I remember it as very working class. The mills were still functional and I have memories of visiting people in the chawls that the mill workers lived in. Now, you drive through a city of dead, decaying mills and tall glitzy (mostly ugly too!) skyscrapers. But what I absolutely love about this part of the city is the street front mixed-use architecture. It epitomizes all the good stuff we keep elucidating about mixed-use. Because the ground floor has street-facing retail shops, pavements must be in good order and there are always people around and about.

Mixed use main road in Parel, built in the European tradition

Mixed use main road in Parel, built in the European tradition

Built concurrent with the industrial age in Europe, iron was widely used as a structural material to build these chawls and mainstreet mixed-use structures

Built concurrent with the industrial age in Europe, iron was widely used as a structural material to build these chawls and mainstreet mixed-use structures

Intricate details!

Intricate details!

Parel was one of the original islands of Mumbai and came up as a business and industrial district starting the late 18th century all the way upto the beginning of the 20th century. The mills prospered and chawls were built by both the government and the mill owners to accommodate the men and women who worked in these mills. The chawl typology meant sharing a common entry passage as well as street areas and life was lived as much on the street as inside the home, which was usually overcrowded and dingy.

To put some figures in, in 1865 there 10 mills in Mumbai employing 6500 workers. At the peak of the textile boom in 1980, the mills employed near on 300,000 workers. And then they shut down in 1982 after the Great Bombay Textile Strike.

The residential areas are entered through a street that branches off the main roads creating small self-contained residential enclaves. Similar to the katras of Delhi and the pols of Amdavad, you step inside a world of quaint silence and domesticity, a world in which people know each other and your foreign footsteps break the comfortable humdrum of lives.

I got curious stares when I entered Krishnanagar in Parel. It’s beautiful gates beckoned me in. At the entrance, I saw a group of men sitting and reading papers, their red tikas displayed proudly as caste marks, denoting that this as a Hindu neighborhood. There is a temple inside the enclosure, people seem to know each other. Old ladies sat out on the common verandah talking, stitching, some people were getting ready to go to work, a young man was brushing his teeth while staring down at me, a young housewife in her trademark cotton printed nightie was walking her dog…It was a bustling middle class neighborhood with homes that proudly displayed plants, pictures, ornamentation of all types.

Life inside Krishnanagar had the humdrum pace that was familiar from my childhood in these parts, even though I never lived in a chawl like this

Life inside Krishnanagar had the humdrum pace that was familiar from my childhood in these parts, even though I never lived in a chawl like this

Another shot! Just because I wanted to think about how this might have been a long time ago!

Another shot! Just because I wanted to think about how this might have been a long time ago!

The entrance: Shot from inside Krishnanagar

The entrance: Shot from inside Krishnanagar

Pride in their home is something I distinctly remember. Manda mavshi who looked after me when I was a child had relatives who were mill workers. Their homes were always pretty, clean and organized

Pride in their home is something I distinctly remember. Manda mavshi who looked after me when I was a child had relatives who were mill workers. Their homes were always pretty, clean and organized

The gleaming two-wheelers in front of that stunning entry arch made a statement

The gleaming two-wheelers in front of that stunning entry arch made a statement

One gentleman stopped me to ask why I was taking pictures. He was reassured by my reasonably fluent Marathi and accepted my explanation that I had lived nearby as a child and was revisiting the neighborhood out of sheer nostalgia. His attitude was not threatening, but clearly voyeurism wasn’t going to be tolerated here!

Uncharacteristically, I decided to enter the little temple and pay my respects to the Gods within. Perhaps that’s what helped me make it to my flight later that day, despite many obstacles, just in the nick of time!

Thinking urbanism: An evening at the BMW Guggenheim Mumbai Lab

To be in this part of Mumbai, the part that I remember rather well from my childhood, is sheer pleasure. After many many years, I visited Rani Bagh. Queen’s Gardens, later named Jijamata Udyan, is where the Mumbai Zoo is housed and we used to be enormously excited to go there as children, especially when the cousins descended from Goa and we had a rollicking time!

On Monday evening, I had the occasion to visit Rani Bagh again because the BMW Guggenheim Mumbai Lab is running at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, the erstwhile Victoria and Albert Museum, which is located here. The Museum has been beautifully restored through a PPP between the municipal corporation, INTACH and the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation. It is a UNESCO heritage site as well, pretty impressive. Regular people like hotel receptionists and shop owners at the other end of the block have no idea though!

The Bhau Daji Lad Museum inside the premises of Rani Bagh in Mumbai. A UNESCO listed heritage site.

The Bhau Daji Lad Museum inside the premises of Rani Bagh in Mumbai. A UNESCO listed heritage site.

The tower at Rani Bagh that you can see from the road when you pass by. A certain memory from my childhood in Mumbai

The tower at Rani Bagh that you can see from the road when you pass by. A certain memory from my childhood in Mumbai

The BMW Guggenheim Lab is an attempt to understand urbanism and debate issues around it in a specific city. I walked into a well-designed, attractive temporary exhibition-cum-interaction space that housed some thought-provoking exhibits and also had a series of presentations being made.

The exhibition space was set up at the back of the museum building and was beautifully designed and executed

The exhibition space was set up at the back of the museum building and was beautifully designed and executed

This exhibit re-imagined an unused space in the city where massive pipelines currently exist and would become defunct in the near future. Interesting.

This exhibit re-imagined an unused space in the city where massive pipelines currently exist and would become defunct in the near future. Interesting.

IMG_2218

A close up view of the model

Side view. The sides of the exhibit were used to showcase books on urbanism and urban issues

Side view. The sides of the exhibit were used to showcase books on urbanism and urban issues

Another exhibit mapped the city of Mumbai by density and revealed just how dense the city is, especially its slums. For me, this defied the mth that high rise is the best way to accomodate more people

Another exhibit mapped the city of Mumbai by density and revealed just how dense the city is, especially its slums. For me, this defied the myth that high rise is the best way to accommodate more people

True to the spirit of the initiative, the discussions touched on issues like open spaces, sanitation and water resources that impact the lives of people in a city. I was happy to hear that all the speakers, to lesser or greater degree, advocated community-based approaches to address urban issues and spoke about the immense knowledge that comes from non-experts.

This is reassuring for us at mHS at a time when we are piloting technical assistance kiosks in communities where self-construction is the way people build their homes and where professional assistance is considered not just a luxury, but frankly, unnecessary. Clearly, while safety must not be compromised, it is important to understand why professional assistance is redundant and learn from the positive innovations that self-built homes exhibit. For a city like Mumbai that has attracted migrants for centuries and is very diverse, bottom-up approached to urban design are imperative and could produce stunning results.

The BMW Guggenheim Mumbai Lab kick-started on the 4th and seems a great way to help people connect with their city and think about urban issues. However, it seemed to me that the exhibit was a bit tucked away from public view and was attracting a niche crowd. I sincerely hope they have walk-ins from a cross section of citizens so that the information gathered through it (done via simple questionnaires that people fill, public walks and talks) is rich and diverse.

At this point in time, when India is getting ready to riding a speedy wave of urbanization, such interactive processes that involve citizens with urban issues could be considered in many cities, as much to inform professionals and governments as to inculcate awareness and a sense of pride among citizens. Broad-based platforms of interaction, data gathering via crowdsourcing and public debate can be excellent tools by which the shape of the future could be molded to achieve inclusion and better quality of life.

As I walked out of the Lab, I spotted my friend Asim’s name on a placard, only to find myself staring at his gigantic work of art Punha through a glass door! Spent a few minutes walking around this installation, hearing it sounds, feelings its moans and groans. Icing on the cake!

Asim Waqif's work 'Punha' caught me by surprise as I walked out of the Lab

Asim Waqif’s work ‘Punha’ caught me by surprise as I walked out of the Lab

 

Is ‘Cities for People’ the new mantra? Takeaways from the ’100 Urban Trends’ report

“Urban thinking, whether related to architecture or urbanism, has become dramatically less focused on infrastructure, and more on the ultimate goal and reason for the existence of cities — that is, the well-being of the people that inhabit them and constitute their very soul and essence.” I am quoting from the ’100 Urban Trends’ report brought out by the BMW Guggenheim Labs after a 33-day series of free workshops and citizen consultations in Berlin. This glossary of terms is an attempt to document the “temperature” of a specifc time and place, Berlin in the summer of 2012 and it is interesting to note how some things havent changed and at all and yet, how citizens and urban professionals alike are moving towards a more human, more experiential understanding of what a city is. So much for those bizarre robotic urban imaginations depicted in sci-fi movies. Cities for people are here to stay!

I find it heartening that this sort of people-centric thinking is gaining prominence and read it as a sign that there will be a growing movement towards changing the bureaucratic and technocratic mindset to a more interdisciplinary one. Here are some of the concepts I found really reassuring and exciting:

The idea of community life and accessible and well designed urban commons (better known as public spaces) is now well understood and established. There seems to be concern that urban environments are reducing the number of connections we make and a recognition of a need for city design to help us maximize human connections.

The role of citizens and non-designers/non-experts in how a city evolves- terms like ‘activist citizen’ and ‘bottom-up engagement’ are turning traditional thinking about urban planning and design on its head. Collaboration, crowd-funding, digital democracy, self-solving, place-making are some of the related terms that give an insight into the muria ways citizens can influence their urban environment. The citizen is no longer being viewed as a passive player at the mercy of policy and regulation, but as a powerful force of change.

Sustainability as a growing concern is reflected strongly and is intertwined with the ideal of a healthy city. This in turn includes ideas like the need for experimentation, walkability and cycling as a means to get around, a concern for food security and the links between urban and rural, mixed-use over the typical use-wise classification of spaces, intelligent buildings and smart cities, the reduce-reuse-recycle adage, the need to promote the share culture, the idea of upcycling (increase the value while reusing) rather than merely recycling,…many innovative trends can clearly be seen in this area. To me, these moves towards sustainable living combimed with bottom-up efforts can really be a potent combination for positive changes to happen. However, all of this will hinge on the ability to create awareness, dialogue, debate and a deeper and wider understanding of the issues among non-designer, non-expert citizens.I found it interesting that the report acknowledges the sheer complexity of urban form, and how the megacity is changing our notions of the centre-suburb model. This is a significant shift that will influence lives and the practice of city design considerably.

The idea of “Minimum Variation, Maximum Impact” in which small changes can be made to move towards more “sustainable and socially responsible cities” seems like a good way to do things.

The powerful concept of ‘cities as idea generators’ was in here too, and it is vital for cities to leverage their innovation power in order to grow economically and to survive in an ecological sense as well.

The idea of technology as a driver of change came across strongly, as a means to interact and have dialogue, as a means to deliver services, as a means to collaborate, design, a whole bunch of functions in fact.

[On another note, Disneyfication was a term I loved here. Its something I've always thought about and never realized it was an actual term! It refers to "a process of urban transformation that increases homogeneity and simulated reality rather than the preservation of historical elements and cultural difference.". Poor Walt! I'm sure this wasn't his intention....]

What does this report mean for another city, another time, another context?  I work in India, in the Delhi-NCR area, which happens to be one of the fastest growing urban agglomerations in the world! I certainly see many of these trends relevant for my city. As an urban practitioner, the 100 Trends outlined here help me think through and prioritize issues even as I often gasp with the sheer complexity of what we do as urban problem-solvers! Most importantly, some of the terms here helped me find specific ways to move to a more people-centric, people-driven agenda for city development, and that’s a big reward.

An afternoon of art and nostalgia @ Mandi House, New Delhi

Stolen moments of pleasure are always special. But often times, when you suddenly find yourself at a loose end with time on your hands, when a meeting gets over too soon for example, it’s hard to figure out what to do. I rack my brains to think of all the stuff I always want to do but never seem to have time for, and nothing comes to mind.

The walk from SPA’s archi block to planning block never looked so good in our days….some things do change for the better!

Well, today the cylinders inside my brain fired up at the right time when I realized I was done early at college and my car wouldn’t pick me up for another hour at least. I walked briskly to the other side of the road and caught the first auto to Mandi House. This was a nostalgia trip for sure, for Mandi House was where we went whenever we had a free afternoon, back in the days when we studied architecture in SPA. A sort of culture hub, we were always sure to be able to see a few art exhibitions and would end up catching a play or music performance at one of the 5 or so auditoriums there.

This afternoon, I headed first for the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was always our favorite among the Mandi House venues because it is a Joseph Allen Stein building, beautiful, always serene and quiet. As usual, most galleries were open and walking through the art, both paintings and sculpture, was pleasurable indeed. ‘Polemics of a Soul Catcher’, an exhibition of very large paintings, oil on canvas, by Satish Sharma offered a commentary of the place of modern man, his moral dilemmas, his new increasingly urban environment..thought provoking. A group art show in the open air court offered a variety of techniques and themes and the sculpture court was also full of interesting works.

Triveni has been a magnet for art lovers for years. Now of course, many modern art galleries have opened up in South Delhi and suburban areas too, and the importance of Mandi House has diminished somewhat.

You can’t not be in love with Stein’s architecture

Lallan Singh’s work filled the sculpture garden at the Triveni Kala Sangam. This was one of those endearing spaces where we spent some afternoons sitting around and sketching the exhibited work.

I had but a short time left, but I still tried to dash across to the Lalit Kala Akademi building, where again I know there always is something worth looking at.This ws quite a job with all the construction happening in this area. Thankfully, there were marshalls who were actually stopping cars so pedestrians could cross! I don’t come here often, but since I was a pedestrian today I noticed just how much the vehicular traffic has increased by in Lutyen’s Delhi. It completely destroys the charm, the constant whirring of cars with impatient drivers who don’t really want to wait for the pedestrians to cross! And this is the only walkable part of the city!

This is what the lovely patch of green at the cnter of Mandi House circle looks like now! To think that we spent many hours of one memorable night sitting in that patch of green on our group date as fresh hostelers in 1994! Hope this gets fixed soon…

Rabindra Bhawan’s memorable arches

I had only about fifteen minutes at Lalit Kala Akademi. The building, Rabindra Bhawan, hosts important cultural institutions for literature, fine arts and performing arts and is an iconic building designed by Habib Rehman, one of many public buildings he designed in the ’50s and ’60s. The art gallery here has been renovated and I was entering the renovated space for the first time. Rather nice and uncluttered. The exhibition, and I cannot remember the name of the show or the artists, was an exploration of abstraction using new media. I quite liked some of the works, especially those depicting nature and human form.

An hour or so well spent, in my own company, soaking in art, the city and its spaces….

Fun at the Dastkar Nature Bazar at Kissan Haat, Andheria Mod, Delhi- Oct 29, 2012

We visited the Dastkar Nature Bazar on Saturday. It’s been my favorite place for pre-Diwali shopping in Delhi, followed by the Blind School mela. Blind School’s advantage always has been its fixed location. You know where to go and what to expect each year. Dastkar, on the other hand, keeps moving around and it’s not always convenient to get to. We skipped last year because I couldn’t get to Pragati Maidan.

This time though, the exhibition has moved to the Kissan Haat in Andheria Mod, near Chhatarpur Metro Station. Therefore, on Saturday morning, six of us, all women and all geared up to shop, hopped on at Huda City Centre to troop to the Dastkar Nature Bazar.

It didn’t disappoint. In fact, I thought this was a nice home for the exhibition and was delighted when someone mentioned that Dastkar had signed a 15 year lease for this space. I see no official announcement or press item to this effect though. I looked up to research what the Kissan Haat was originally built for. I always thought there was a mandi here, or some sort of direct selling farm produce type of establishment was going to be set up here. Whenever I drove by, I saw the signs and looked forward to such an announcement. Fresh produce markets would do so well in South Delhi!

But today, I found online that the government had failed to start this and finally decided, sometime during the Commonwealth Games preparation, to set this up as another Dilli Haat, replete with food stalls and crafts outlets. I suppose that is what they achieve by handing the space over to Dastkar. I don’t know what Dastkar plans. I heard there will be 4 exhibitions a year instead of an annual one.

For those of you who haven’t yet gone, do go! If not to buy, to just see. If you love handmade, hand crafted, hand loom; if you love original work and design; if you value authenticity; you will be happy here. Plus you have the satisfaction of buying directly from craftspeople of from organizations that work directly with them. I interacted with founder Laila Tyabji last year at the India Urban Conference at Mysore and was impressed with the depth of her knowledge of crafts-based livelihoods and her advise to urban practitioners on how to design and plan for such communities and how to integrate them into the economy. Here’s a link to a post wrote about her when she got the Padma Shri.

It’s on till November 9th. For pics etc, do check out the Dastkar Facebook page. Happy shopping!

The world class Virasat-e-Khalsa museum: An architectural delight! Oct 2, 2012

Aside from having a good time with my girl friends, some new some old, the focus of my outing to the Doab region of Punjab was the chance to see the Virasat-e-Khalsa museum that opened in Anandpur Sahib only in November last year.

Moshe Safdie, an Israeli architect won the international competition to design the museum, then called the Khalsa Heritage Memorial Complex way back in the early 90s. We must have been first or second year students at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) when he came to speak to us about the design, the concepts behind it and his vision for this monument. I remember thinking it was rather outlandish (scroll down this page to see the sketches he must have shown us), but I was impressed by Safdie’s self-assured demeanor and exotic accent!

The museum was our first destination and we went there just as soon as we had dumped our luggage at the Bharatgarh Fort (will blog about that quaint place tomorrow!) and gulped our evening tea! It was a Sunday and the crowds were overwhelming. For a museum in rural Punjab, I was pretty surprised.

Teeming with people…first glimpse

Entrance- At this point, I have no clue what to expect inside!

We were ushered in by a smart police officer of few words who our hosts, the local royal family had requested to assist us. Our cameras and bags were kept in lockers by a smart young man who spoke good English, besides Hindi and Punjabi. In a few moments, we found ourselves in the middle of an audio-visual treat. Orijit Sen and his 13 collaborators have created this 3D panorama of life in the Punjab- a three floor high mural full of color, depicting daily activity, people and cultures, rural-urban transitions, rituals, celebrations, street scenes, architectural sections of traditional typologies like havelis and caravan sarais…..all accompanied to sounds depicting seasons, local music. It’s hard to explain. All I can say is that you start the experience here on a most unusual note; it’s not what you expect from a museum that claims it is about Sikh history and heritage!

The rest of the galleries- and there are 14 open at present out of a planned 28- did depict that history, but it was far from boring. Fabric, texture, other unusual materials, light and an array of crafts have been used to stunning effect to depict the evolution of Sikhism and the life of the main Sikh gurus. At no point does the content get preachy or overtly religious. Audio visual displays puncture the visuals and text to make it easier on the senses. Hordes of villagers from surrounding areas pass through,awestruck and absorbed. This is a world class museum that isn’t just for the elite and the lovers of history and art. It’s for the people who live the heritage it depicts.

It was dark when we stepped outside again and the magic of Moshe Safdie’s architecture hit us like a punch in the stomach. The lighting highlighted the bold form, the water body created an added dimension of playful reflections. Serene and monumental, the walk around the museum transported me into another world. A full moon added the poetic touch. After a long long time, was I affected this way by the sheer power of architectural design. For all those of you who are architects, or think they have it in them to appreciate architecture, the Virasat-e-Khalsa is a must-visit. Bundled with the peacefulness of the Gurudwara next to it, it’s a pilgrimage for the eyes and for the spirit!

To visit the museum, drive to Anandpur Sahib near Ropar. It is about an hour and a half from Chandigarh and the roads are excellent. The museum is closed on Monday and Sundays are usually crowded. The audio guide is available in English, Hindi and Punjabi and is excellent, we were told by our hosts.

The lure of Vanar Vatika @ other narrations: Shikshantar 10th b’day @ J Block- Sep 29, 2012

Yesterday, our family spent a few hours of sheer innocence and happiness in J Block of Shikshantar. While the big school presented the 10th anniversary of the school to parents in an exhibition mode, the pre-primary block’s experience was more like a mela. Teeming with people, sounds, color, activity, smiles and conversation, an air of abandonment and unbridled joy.

Udai and Aadyaa bond over creating a story in Aadyaa’s classroom

Rahul, Udai and Aadyaa have a chat. Tree climbing and such like pleasures are very much a part of the culture of simple enjoyment that Shikshantar has strived to create…

The theme of stories was enjoyed and experienced to the hilt by little children, whose uninhibited imagination and simplicity endows them with the ability to engross themselves completely in the world of stories. They identify strongly with fictional characters and effortlessly merge reality and fiction, art and narrative, the world of depiction and that of performance.

In these kids, aged between 3 and 6, I saw a certain freshness, innocence and lack of pretension that revived my spirits. Since kids this young do not think too much about what others’ might think of them, the content of the stories was much more varied (than in older classes, where I think they chose themes that found approval with the school philosophy to some extent). Cars, parents, friends, spaces they experience, fears, dreams, nature, color, journeys, conversations, we saw all these elements in their little stories. One class had illustrated their little stories using tiny clay sculptures and it was a joy to see how well those little hands had created forms as complex as an octopus, a car, a snake, a house and many others.

We were drawn into their world this afternoon. In one classroom, we created stories out of rhythm emanating from different people playing a variety of instruments in spontaneous sync with each other. In other rooms, we drew, painted, cut and pasted to create our own imaginary worlds. We became little children again and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Udai participating in the musical stories

A young child exploring some of the instruments

Admiring the cute little paper swirls that twirled in the breeze

All of this was wonderful, but the most magical thing about the J Block in Shikshantar still remains the Vanar Vatika. I have watched Udai and his friends connect with it since he was in Raindrops (Playgroup) five years ago, and how much they continue to miss that space even now, when they are in Grade 3 and over eight years old! They recreated this space so well in the model they made for the birthday, the nostalgia was evident!

This is a play area full of little physical challenges. No super fancy swings here. We are talking stuff like a giant pipe under a mound of mud, you can climb over the mound or walk in and through the pipe! Or the concrete beams at varying heights and angles that you learn to balance on. The little brick wall with punctures in different shapes. And the bean pole that you shimmy down and eventually, perhaps, learn to shimmy up as well! The swing, the tyre swing, the guerilla obstacle course stuff…..Vanar Vatika is an unmissable call to become a child again. Aadyaa too, I can see, is in her element here. She complained bitterly on the days it rained heavily and Vanar Vatika was out of bounds for them.

Upside down is normal in Vanar Vatika

Cat crawling up the balancing beam

 

And shimmying down the pole…Papa goes next!

Inside the pipe

Udai and his friends from the big school soaking in the Vanar Vatika experience..sheer nostalgia

From a professional perspective, Vanar Vatika always makes me think about the intimate relationship we share with spaces we experience. Why some spaces click while others don’t has been studied extensively. Vanar Vatika clicks because it is designed as an intimate space, with a scale suitable for young children. Everything is simple, nothing overwhelming. No swanky, shiny stuff that says ‘touch me not’, no manicured flower beds. All softscape, no hard ground where kids might hurt themselves. Surrounded by green edges. Offering challenged simple and tougher, making it something they want to go back to every day.

As a planner, I wish our cities were filled with Vanar Vatikas. Such spaces should be public, accessible to all. In 2011, we visited Barcelona and visited many public parks with spaces like this for children. When children are happy, they draw in adults into a world of peace and enjoyment. In India, a nation with the youngest population in the world, we certainly must have more happy spaces for children. We must consider this an investment in our future.

Gathering in the front laws for song and food….