Kinetic Landscapes: Rethinking Architecture beyond ‘Permanence’An antithesis of traditional notions of permanence of architecture and urban planning, temporality puts forth the idea of architecture as a non-static entity that explores the realms of time and space. The intangible layer of time gives new meaning to architectural space by encouraging interaction with the built environment. Thus, the interaction and movement of people in space, the transient nature of the physical elements, and the symbiotic relationship that is shared between the temporary elements and static space bring life into the place. 

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But what happens when we rethink temporality in the larger urban context?

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Kumbh Mela: The Ephemeral City_©Shenzhen Biennale

Cities are often compared to living organisms that keep evolving, mutating and growing. For urban environments that are in a constant state of flux due to incessant human movement, a fluctuating economy, vulnerability to natural disasters, the systems that run them are why so rigid and unadaptable? 

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The urban fabric consists of a myriad of layers, from buildings to people, activities to mobility—all of which, in a way, within a given timeframe, are temporary. Also, given that the lifespan of buildings generally outlasts its performative systems, the people it once inhabited, their socio-cultural values and needs, how can the physical fabric respond to the multiplicity of these systemic dynamics and impulses? 

Thus, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way we perceive urban systems, where they are reimagined as more malleable, kinetic landscapes that are not limited to static spatial configurations. Therefore, there is also a need to rethink the urbanistic framework in the face of climate change where it can be reused, recycled, disassembled or reassembled, leaving minimal impact on the natural systems, thus encouraging permeability in urban areas. 

Pre-existence of Ephemerality in Urban Indian Context

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Urban India has seen tremendous growth in the last century. The traditional Indian towns or colonial precincts are now characterized by illegible and incoherent urban form due to ever-increasing, unchecked migration and the resultant distressed urban growth. But within this fragmented yet dense and chaotic imagery, one can see the pluralistic nature of Indian cities. 

Characterized by an array of visual, temporal and social landscapes, cities are an amalgamation of these aspects in a multifaceted whole. 

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Pluralism in urban fabric: Hyderabad city_©touropia.com

The urban landscape of Indian cities is dominated by informal and temporal spaces. Street markets, hawkers, food stalls, vendors, set-ups made for celebrations, festivals inform the everyday visual spectacles of the city and evolve as cultural and social markers. What if we rethink temporality in cities as a manifestation of a more adaptive, dynamic and resilient urbanism?

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Temporary set up for Ganesh Utsav in Mumbai_©Rajesh Vora
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Removal of set up after the celebrations, thus giving the space back to the city_©Rajesh Vora

The city of Mumbai transforms during the Ganesh Chaturthi, alleys and streets are marked by the presence of mandaps, thus redefining the streets as vibrant public spaces. These temporary structures encourage meaningful neighbourhood interaction and emerge a sense of community. Diverse groups congregate, diminishing the divisions and hierarchies amongst people; hence, blurring the lines between private and public spaces, making the urban fabric more permeable and inclusive.

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Manek Chowk food market_©ajaykannaujiya, youtube

An example of temporal characteristics of the Indian street market is the Manek Chowk. It serves as a lively commercial market during the day where commodities like utensils, traditional handmade fabrics are sold along with fruits and spices. The central plaza, lined with gold and silver shops, transforms into a vibrant food market during the night, attracting food enthusiasts from all over the city. Thus, the purpose of the market completely transforms, changing the character of the market into a dynamic public space.

Indian cities are emblematic of overlapping dualities, cultures, lifestyles, materiality, planned versus informal, ‘static’ vs ‘kinetic’; the latter being more of an experiential pursuit that holds associative values and collective memory of the people. Architecture and the city are not perceived as one single entity but as a plethora of layers and activities that bestow new meaning to spacesa notion where they can be reinterpreted, morphed and recycled.

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Mumbai: A case of contrasting duality_©Surabhi Patil

“The Kinetic city is a temporal articulation and occupation of space which not only creates a richer sensibility of spatial occupation but also suggests how spatial limits are expanded to include formally unimagined situations in dense urban conditions.” – Rahul Mehrotra, on Negotiating the static and kinetic cities. 

Thus, these instances from everyday spectacles and kinetic landscapes are archetypal of the scope of ephemeral urbanism in the Indian urban context, where temporality and its relation with the society, become an integral element of the urban systems. The ephemerality, fluidity and dynamism of the temporal framework, recycle the existing resources, facilitate active fluxes, allow reassembly and transfer without leaving a trace on the urban fabric, thus making it a sustainable practice. 

Temporality thereby turns into a tool to mediate between the society, culture, environment and economy. The identification of the transitory nature of physical elements and their relevance in the static world become fundamental to the process of the city’s growth. Thus, there is a need to rethink cities beyond the preconceived notions of permanence and embrace ephemerality as a design and planning measure to generate adaptable and resilient urban landscapes.

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References

Mehrotra, R. (2020, July 25). The Indian city kinetic: consuming, reinterpreting and recycling spaces. Architectural Review. https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/the-indian-city-kinetic-consuming-reinterpreting-and-recycling-spaces?tkn=1. 

Mehrotra, R. (2012). Negotiating the Static and Kinetic Cities: The Emergent Urbanism of Mumbai. rmaarchitects. http://rmaarchitects.com/2012/11/negotiating-the-static-and-kinetic-cities/. 

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from Chepos Bundle 3 – Temporary Architectureby Chepos. (2020, June 12). WHY WE NEED TEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE. issuu. https://issuu.com/chepos_cheops/docs/bundol_3_-_temporary_architecture/s/10645357. 

Author

Surabhi is a student of architecture and is trying to figure out how she can contribute to the field and society. She finds architectural writing as an escape to a world full of possibilities and hope. Her curiosity, zest to learn, explore and share, is what keeps her going.

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