The journey of a person in search of money and opportunities is most likely to end in a metropolitan city characterized by tall concrete buildings, glass facades, crowded roads, and a general sense of anxiety. It almost seems like a self-imposed jail term that one has to go through before they can even dream of vacationing at the picturesque towns and streets of a certain Morocco, Norway, or Portugal.
The point is not to criticize the decisions made by these people, but to address the lack of choices available to break free from this mind-numbing sameness that characterizes such cities around the globe. ‘How we can design timeless cities for our collective future’ is a TED talk by Ar. Vishaan Chakrabarti that shines a light on this issue.
“Are they condemned to live in the same bland cities we built in the 20th century, or can we offer them something better?”, asks Vishaan.
The talk dwells into details of how major cities are still imitating outdated practices and are suffering from a lack of innovation. This refers especially to the material-heavy and expensive system of designing cities that we have carried forward from the era of the industrial revolution. He further discusses ideas on how the Architectural community could join hands in creating modern, universal and sustainable versions of cities with a unique identity.
Note for designers
A widely known yet ignored factor that designers need to understand is the psychological impact that surroundings have on people. An overdose of the same, dull and cold visuals is proven to create a sense of stress and fear in the minds of users. The modern city is a ‘concrete jungle’ that is a slave to its inventions, complemented by the unimaginative overuse of other materials like glass and asphalt. This, coupled with a competitive work environment, leaves a person craving warm, open, and calm spaces.
While the concept of aesthetics is arguably subjective, the beauty of a city is much more than that. Vishaan used ‘charm’ as an adjective to describe likable cities, and the word has multiple connotations in this context. A likable city projects unique cultural, social, and aesthetic qualities. Such cities are always a reflection of its people and their identity.
Danger of modern trends
Improved connectivity set in motion a natural process that led to an influx of developers and when allowed to progress without control, resulted in gentrification. While this has its advantages, the uniqueness of the city will be compromised for the aesthetics of every other city. This is a case in point for the proposal that architects should become developers since they understand the idea of designing with the context in mind.
A massive 57% of the world population live in cities. While the rate of migration is expected to increase in the coming years, we can see more and more people losing a sense of connection with their habitat. History, heritage, culture, lifestyle, nature, politics, traditions, art, etc. are important characteristics that reflect the identity of a place. Living or growing up in places that lack an identity will have a significant effect on the subconscious mind. People will not be able to identify with a design that is oriented towards factors other than the people inhabiting the place.
Cities of tomorrow
Keeping in mind the shortcomings and dangers of blindly following an age-old system of planning and design, the Architectural community has been working on alternate design concepts that could shape the cities of tomorrow. Here are a few interesting points to take not of:
- Diversity, walkability, and social interaction are 3 important ideas that will dictate the design of future cities.
- Sustainability is no longer an esoteric concept. Creating a net-zero city by minimizing consumption, wastage, and pollution will be mandatory.
iii. Green, open spaces and interactive public buildings will continue to be an important part of urban development.
- The design will largely aim to contribute towards the health of the public.
- The public will have a say in decision-making and planning.
- The entire city will remain connected with the help of technology.
vii. Cities will be prepared for natural calamities such as floods, concerning prevention and damage control.
viii. Unlike the present scenario, pedestrians will take over from vehicles as the primary users of roads and streets; Bicycles, e-bikes and public transportation will be encouraged.
- Artificial Intelligence can be incorporated to ensure that the spaces function to their maximum potential.
Vishaan Chakrabarti addresses the very important issue of how the design of modern cities could have a devastating impact on the human race. While they spread the fake propaganda that such places are designed to elevate one’s lifestyle, the actuality is that of deteriorating quality of life. Under the present circumstances where every design is a response to new regulations and not what the people need, designers need to work their way around such obstacles and find creative solutions.
The new world has new needs that cannot be satisfied by a system that is essentially the solution for problems faced by an older generation. It is time to make a change in the way we approach design and also plan for the foreseeable future.
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