The urban fabric has different layers to it. Roads, pedestrian sidewalks, public spaces, landscape, buildings, and railways form some layers of this urban fabric. Yet in most countries, we can notice that importance and attention are given to one particular layer above all which is the building layer. Cityscapes and skylines appear as the most important factors for some cities that they forget how important the experience goes through to get to these buildings and their surroundings. All these layers function simultaneously and smoothly when architecture becomes a vital civic interest. Architecture thus becomes a political act as it deals with the decisions and relationships of the people on how they decide to live, move and work.
This interrelationship forms the foundation of social construction. The elements of society can be seen as a reflection through the architecture of society. A project involves the allocation of resources, charting and distribution of tasks that are intact the underlying politics. Political decisions have always been the important ropes pulling agendas and policies for the future. Thus architecture can be defined as a commodity.
Dignified existence and quality of life are results of great architecture and urban planning that understands the social aspects of a community and further a city. When the picture is further broadened to that of a country, resources, finances, and their allocation become political matters that decide for a large number of people and their lifestyles. An architectural policy should always be based on a sustainability perspective as our resources are limited in nature. Hence, every policy of this nature should aim for a long term vision and act as a tool for overall development.
A look at a few examples can help us understand this relationship better.
1. Moscow, Russia
After the fall of the soviet union, Russia was on a mission to rebuild. A proposal to rebuild to the ideals of the western and European society. The political leaders at that time chose Moscow to be their symbol of financial capitalism. How they achieved this is a topic of great interest. Private plots were allocated resources and finances to build themselves to their best. This meant all the resources were put into just one layer of the urban fabric that is the building layer. The functional necessities like the transport network, public spaces and landscape were forgotten which led to the failure of this ‘big grandiose decoration’ named ‘Moscow’. Moreover, this layer stands too far from the cultural identity and character of the place and exists as a ‘bad example of replication’ and a hard pass on sustainability.
This war trodden zone was once the hub of different religious and cultural groups co-existing together peacefully. The alterations in the urban fabric of the place due to the political turmoil saw the downfall of this once peaceful country. Marwa Al Sabouni, a Syrian architect elaborates on how the political dynamics of her country destroyed peace and harmony through architecture. She goes on to explain how the replication of western living tore apart the cultural and traditional spaces which went on to destroy peace and brotherhood among the various communities. The skyscraper culture erased the courtyard homes, the social space, and the souqs (traditional market). This drove a huge blow to cultural identity. Yet again, the government is working on a redevelopment project which is still devoid of the cultural and traditional aspects of the place. The political factor in the case of Syria disrupted sustainability and peaceful coexistence through architecture.
3. Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh, India
Amaravati was set to become the people’s capital a few months ago. With design proposals straight out of a science fiction movie based on a Singaporean model by Foster and partners, the project is set to change the face of the state. Land acquisitions, redistribution, and master plans were done for this massive project worth crores of rupees. But when the new government came up, stories changed and the entire project was scrapped. This meant the loss of valuable resources and time. This can be a classic example of how changes in the ideologies and visions of the government can take a toll on the sustainable development of the state.
4. Delhi Central Vista, India
Re-envisioning the Central Vista which was a masterpiece by Lutyens and an excellent example of serial vision was a hot topic in our country a few months ago. The center announced its intention for a total revamp on the historic and administrative central vista located in New Delhi and allocated 20,000 crores for its commencement amidst COVID-19. The winning entry was from HCP Architects, an architectural firm from Gujarat. This project seems to be an overbearing one for a country that is struggling to make ends meet. The decision faced heavy criticism as finance and resources would be directed in an irrelevant direction in times of crisis.
These are a few of many instances happening around the world that establish the relation between politics and architecture which in turn affect sustainability. An architectural policy with sustainability principles embedded undertaken at the right time would be the ideal coexistence of all the three factors. While some may argue that architecture doesn’t have to be political; resources, manpower, finances and their allocation makes it nothing less than political.