28 February 2006

Pockets of Absurdity Vs. Pockets of Reality

Different Architects, Planners and Urban (Social) theorists have over the past few decades written extensively on the topic of ghettoization and transformation of various urban landscapes across the globe into ‘Gated Communities’ or even into experiments of ‘Urban Fantasies’ (theme park like realities).

During my architectural education and work in Bombay (now called Mumbai); I observed this urban phenomenon in various forms. From the organic and highly organized (though illegal) shanties of Dharavi (one of the largest ‘Slums’ in the world today) to the highly thematic Post-Modern housing township at the Hiranandani complex in Powai. I constantly run into such pockets of difference - difference from the overall urban fabric of the city. In some cases more than others I use to feel a certain sense of delusion or disorientation. To me these were pockets of the city that were disjointed from reality, disengaged from Bombay itself.

These areas of the city in a sense seemed more like – Pockets of Absurdity – where the urban fabric of the city was distorted beyond recognition. However, over the years this tremendously successful model has been constantly readopted (especially in suburban Bombay) and accompanying this process the city has also managed to recapture parts of these areas through familiar networks of seemingly disorganized programmatic interventions. Inevitably these Processes have started blurring the clear distinction between the ‘Absurd’ and the ‘Real’ by reincorporating many of these pockets into a new (identity of the cities) urban fabric.

Meanwhile, back home, Dubai (where I spent my entire childhood) is being increasingly eaten up by other forms of Urban Absurdities. Large scale urban projects - Malls, CBDs, Housing, Resorts, and Theme Parks - are adopting all sorts of aesthetics from Post-Modern to New Urbanistic and to even forms of irrational Manhattanization of huge chunks of barren desert landscape.

(The above snap is of probably the most absurd of all projects completed in Dubai - the Dubai Ski Slope - 400m of ski slope maintained at an average temperature of -2 degrees celsius in a country were the summer temperature constantly hits +50 degrees. Read more about it on the official website @ http://www.skidxb.com )

Read and see more from Dubai HERE
A decade a go, Dubai started small projects in distinct pockets - Pockets of Absurdities - where it would announce itself to the World. Today this absurdification project of Dubai has reached a similar point as that in Bombay where it ceases to be absurd any longer and it is in fact the city's new urban fabric. However, unlike the case of Bombay it is not due to the city's ability to absorb these projects but rather that the city has been absorbed by the absurdity.

In the past weeks back home I realized that whatever is left of the Dubai I grew up in, is now surviving in small Pockets – Pockets of Reality.

Read about a nice small trip to Hatta - HERE

23 February 2006

Escape into the Mountains (Hatta)

As a brief pause from the craziness of the city I managed to seek in a visit to the extreme South East of the Emirate (state) of Dubai to the beautiful oasis in rocky terrain of UAE – Hatta.

Though a popular haunt of citizens of Dubai and the neighboring Emirates Hatta seems to have been almost untouched by time. The sheer natural beauty of the mountains, date palm plantations and Wadis (a particular kind of streams running through these Rocky Mountains) is astounding.

However, most of the off-road tracks leading out of Hatta in almost every direction are visited only by a few adventure tourists and crazy Arab kids. Following instructions from an off-road guide to Dubai (and a kind Arabian tours guide) we went to what is known as the Hatta Pools.

Hatta Pools is a labyrinth of small Wadis (streams), Waterfalls and Pools that punctuate the seemingly flat bed of rock between the Mountains in the direction of Oman. The flow of water through these channels over years has completely transformed the hard rock into smooth flowing canyons which in my mind make up the most interesting and beautiful natural feature in and around Dubai.

Back to Dubai HERE

17 February 2006

Quick stop – Vienna

I had exactly five hours (excluding my flight transfer time) in the city of Vienna yesterday en route home to Dubai. So what can you see in five hours in a city you’ve never been to before?

Though I knew that it was impossible I wanted to see everything, at least everything in the city centre of touristy interest. Armed with a few tourist maps and an architectural guide map from the tourist information counter at the airport.

On my way to the city centre from the airport (20 minutes bus ride) I marked out a race route through the city centre including as many as possible Architectural projects. Though in practise I had to skip a few buildings so that I could squeeze in some amazing Museums and Art works by famous Austrian Artists – Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

And this is the only project I was sure that I wanted to see in
Vienna since I planned to stop there for 5 hours. The crazy Roof top office project by the Viennesean architects Coop Himmelblau.

Though I was always sure that I couldn’t get to see it from the inside I am not complaining. To see it from far below on the street level was great enough. Check out some interior snaps at the Architects website - http://www.coop-himmelblau.at

Although I was sure that I wanted to see the above project by Coop Himmelblau; how could I leave Vienna being an Architect and not seeing any works by the man who coined some great phrases like ‘Ornamentation is crime’ and ‘Form follows function’ – Adolf Loos

I could only squeeze in two of his projects (sadly that too from the outside), The American Bar and the Looshaus at Michaelerplatz.

This building by Hans Hollein from the mid 80’s created waves in Architecture for it’s response to its strong historical context in the heart of Vienna.

See more from Vienna - Here
This has to be my favourite building in Vienna (at least amongst the ones I could see). Designed by Joseph Olbrich, “Secession” was designed in 1897-98 and now houses one of the best works by the famous Austrian Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt.

Check this link to see Klimt’s fabulous “Beethoven Frieze” that’s housed in the Secession -http://www.artpoint.at/lang_en/page.asp/2054.htm. One of the best works of art I’ve seen in person.

The interesting looking building below is the Museum for Modern Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (MUMOK) designed by ORTNER & ORTNER. Sadly, with only 5 hours to see a completely new city I had to skip this Museum. Could manage only a peek into the main lobby.

Check the official website of the Architects here - http://www.ortner.at to see some need stuff.

Click here for more on Vienna.

14 February 2006

Judgement Day.

After about 4 months of research, partying, sleepless nights and hard work finally the first version of ‘The Evolutionary City’ or the “SPACEFIGHTER” game was ready to be revealed to the World. This game is not just a tool to envision a new form of Urban Planning but also a huge databank of parameterized Data on cities both contemporary and historical – its growth, its decay and most importantly it’s Survival.

In fact the ‘SPACEFIGHTER’ is not one game but a ‘Platform’ for hundreds of small games*. Games about People, about Markets, about Nature, about Cities and about the Globe. These games have been created by Abstracting from Reality itself. These games are designed on Evolutionary Gaming Principles and a complex set of relationships between different games on the Platform makes sure that these games impact each other (+ive or –ive) to create a dynamic field of thousands of very simple interactive processes.

[* - Though the whole Platform is not complete some major components are.]

In a simplest possible explanation of what the ‘SPACEFIGHTER’ does? I can say that the process of gaming on this platform generates hundreds of Scenarios for planning and managing cities from which important lessons can be abstracted back into the real world. So it starts at Scenario planning and goes much beyond it.

Though I realise there are a lot of questions yet to be answered about and by the programme, I strongly believe that it is worth the effort and that it is a step in the right direction from earlier experiments of Data Scaping by MVRDV and others. To me the idea of playing a game to help you make Urban decision (though naive at times) is a beautiful idea.

And above is a pic of the complete team that worked on this project. Thanks guys/gals for an amazing experience and for some great times.

13 February 2006

Here a few snaps leading up to the end of my first project at the BERLAGE Institute as part of my postgraduate studies in Architecture.

All of us with Winy.

Working on the booklet about our project (this booklet will get elaborated into a proper book as a collaborative between the Berlage and MVRDV to be published by ACTAR by July-August 2006)

09 February 2006

Mr Kool

The STAR Starchitect – Mr. Koolhas – himself was at the Berlage last night. Though I found his lecture a bit disappointing the rush of having heard the real thing is quiet nice.

05 February 2006

Visiting VPRO

If there was one project that I knew that I wanted to see in the Netherlands that I had not already seen in the summer of 2003 – this was it.

The head quarters of the Dutch Media Company – VPRO. Designed by Dutch ‘STARCHITECTS’ – MVRDV. I have to say that it’s impossible to describe this building. It has too many layers, spaces and experiences to be captured in words or images. I urge every fan of Architecture – Architecture of any kind – if you ever come to the Netherlands; you HAVE to see this Masterpiece.

Unlike other great works by Dutch architects like the tram station in The Hague (that I blogged on the 3rd of Dec 2005) by Rem Koolhas and OMA – which I called Magic; this project by MVRDV is quiet impossible to explain. Though I’ll give it a try.

* Here the ‘stacking’ act (that MVRDV is famous for) is stretched to an extreme condition where it goes beyond just placing different functions over each other.

* Here the surface of the floor flows through different levels forming a sort of landscape, sometimes smooth and flowing like a gentle mount of snow and sometimes rigid and sharp like cliffs into a canyon.

* Here the innovative use of traditional and not so traditional materials transcends it’s mere physical purpose and creates a collage - a collage of experiences, a collage of work spaces, a collage of memories.

* Actually beyond all the above here one gets to know what is Super about the Super Dutch.

Along side the VPRO within the same Media Park there is another MVRDV projects (see above). In this one another architectural act, this time of ‘lifting’ is explored in a very simple building that seems to be propped off the ground to form an interesting cave like feel in an undulating landscape.

04 February 2006

Rotterdam Film Festival

An amazing week of movies, people, parties and excitement. Something I had got used to not having anymore in my life. At least didn’t have any of that here in Rotterdam. But that all changed the last week.

The International Film Festival was greeted my a very different Rotterdam. One that was filled with energy and people (I know sounds strange right?).

Final got a chance to see some great architecture in this city (where I have been for 4 months).

Though I ride by the Pathe (see below pics) almost everyday I had never been inside it. And I have to say it was not disappointing. Inside a simple Section created by the clustering and stacking of movie theatres combined with some good material explorations has added to the whole movie experience.

And the beautifully scaled and designed plaza on the outside just makes this project one of the most important pieces of architecture in this city of Architects.

I have to say that the plaza with its strange (but beautiful) green lights and huge spot lights brings out the actor in quiet a few people.

And lastly I owe a big thanks to Ms. Lama Sfeir for going through all the 300 movies on at the festival and going through the pains of buying all my tickets. Thank you girl !!!

(Self seen here with good friends Melisa and Lama)

A Google map tracing my travels across the globe

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  • In Red cities where I have lived (more than one month);
  • In Blue cities with entries on this blog;and
  • In Yellow cities with no entries yet.