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Urban Design is a discipline that forms a bridge between architecture and urban planning. Architecture examines three-dimensional form, culture, aesthetics and experience, but does not examine the urban scale, focusing primarily on individual land parcels. Urban Planning examines wider questions of the city, but tends to cast a two-dimensional gaze of policy abstractions. Urban Design seeks to combine the two, concerned about urban scale while also concerned about three-dimensional form and aesthetic/cultural experience.
Urban Design works within the frame of Urban Planning, defining the quality, history and specificity of neighbourhoods. The three disciplines of Urban Planning, Urban Design and Architecture are meant to work in tandem, each affecting and informing the other, to lay down an ethical, social and cultural ideal of urban life.
Urban Design is a discipline unrecognised and unimplemented in India, where officialdom views the city through a two-dimensional lens that imagines it as a techno-economic entity rather than a cultural or ecological entity.
The discussion will reflect on what good urban design should be and examine key questions in this respect. What are the constituents of good urban form? What have we lost in our cities because of this shortcoming? Given that the discipline’s protocols derive from the Western city, how should we view Urban Design in India so that we do not destroy the vibrance of informal urbanism? What steps should we take toward mainstreaming Urban Design in the Indian city?
Brinda Somaya is an architect and urban conservationist. Upon completion of a Bachelor of Architecture from Mumbai University and Master of Arts from Smith College in Northampton, MA, USA, she started her firm Somaya and Kalappa Consultants in 1978 in Mumbai, India. In May 2012, she was conferred an Honorary Doctorate from her alma mater, Smith College. In 2014, she was awarded the Indian Institute of Architects – Baburao Mhatre Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In 2015, she was honoured as Distinguished Professor by the Indian Education Society’s College of Architecture (IES), Mumbai. From 2016-2021, she was the Chairperson of the Board of Governors, School of Planning and Architecture, Vijayawada, an Institute of National Importance. In 2017, she joined the Board of the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, Zurich, Switzerland and was also elected as the A.D. White Professor-at-Large by Cornell University, U.S.A.
Over four decades she has merged architecture, conservation and social equity in projects ranging from institutional campuses, rehabilitation of an earthquake-torn village to restoration of an 18th-century Cathedral, showing that progress and history need not be at odds. Her belief that ‘The Architect’s role is that of guardian – hers is the conscience of the built and un-built environment’, underlines her work that encompasses large corporate, industrial and institutional campuses and extends to public spaces, some of which she has rebuilt, and others reinvented as pavements, parks and plazas.
She is the Founder Trustee of the HECAR Foundation which has brought out several publications on Heritage and Architecture. In 2000, she curated a conference, ‘Women in Architecture 2000’, and organized a seminal exhibition on the work of women architects, with a special focus on South Asia. In 2020, she chaired an international conference ‘Women in Design 2020+’ a landmark event for women designers from across the globe to showcase their work as well as provide a platform to collaborate. In 2018, with MAPIN Publishing and the HECAR Foundation, she brought out a monograph ‘Brinda Somaya – Works & Continuities’ covering her diverse practice.
Brinda Somaya was on the IAWA board of Advisors (International Archives of Women in Architecture), U.S.A. She has delivered analytical and critical talks as well as presented papers in India and abroad on her work. She has lectured extensively in the U.S.A, U.K., Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, and her work has been exhibited in the USA, UK, and Japan.
Rahul Mehrotra is an architect, urbanist and educator who is the Founder Principal of RMA Architects and is Professor of Urban Design and Planning at the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Mehrotra has designed projects that range from recycling urban land and master planning in Mumbai to the design of art spaces, boutiques, weekend houses, factories, social institutes and office buildings across India – thereby engaging diverse issues, multiple constituencies and varying scales: from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation and planning. See Featured Projects
He studied at the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad graduated with a Master’s Degree in Urban Design with distinction from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard (1987). Apart from his engagement with the design of buildings, Mehrotra has been actively involved in civic and urban affairs in Mumbai, having served on commissions for historic preservation and environmental issues, with various neighborhood groups. He was the Executive Director (1994–2004) of the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), where he is now a Trustee and has taught at the University of Michigan (2003–2007) and at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at MIT (2007–2010). See Affiliations
Mehrotra has written and lectured extensively on issues to do with architecture, conservation and urban planning in Mumbai and India. His writings include coauthoring Bombay—The Cities Within, which covers the city’s urban history from the 1600s to the present; Conserving an Image Center—The Fort Precinct in Bombay, which was a seminal study, and based on this study and its recommendations the historic Fort area in Mumbai was declared a conservation precinct in 1995—the first such designation in India. In 2000, he edited a book for the UIA that earmarks the end of the century and is titled The Architecture of the 20th Century in the South Asian Region. Mehrotra has also edited the first of the three books that document the 2004 Michigan Debates on Urbanism, and in 2011 wrote Architecture in India – Since 1990, which is a reading of contemporary Indian architecture. See Books / See Catalogs
Neelkanth Chhaya has been an academic and practicing architect for nearly forty years.
He has taught at the University of Nairobi, the Institute of Environmental Design at Vallabh Vidyanagar, and was a faculty member at CEPT University for over twenty-five years. He retired as Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at CEPT University in 2013. Subsequently he has been an Adjunct Faculty at Srishti School of Design, and also holds the position of Academic Chair at the Goa College of Architecture. His professional practice, spanning over 30 years, has dealt with institutional and residential projects across India. His practice has won many Architectural Design Competitions, and has also won National Awards for completed projects. The practice is focused on culturally and environmentally appropriate design, and has emphasized innovative application of local skills and materials.
He has been invited to be a member of several committees connected to the built environment and is coordinator of the Architectural Documentation work of the Gandhi Heritage Sites Mission.
He is a regular speaker at conferences in India and abroad. He is a member of the Boards of Hunnarshala and Khamir Craft Resource Centre, both of which are involved in empowering traditional knowledge and sustainable practices.
Prem is a practicing architect in Bangalore, India, who also writes, lectures and blogs on architecture, urbanism, art, cultural studies, politics, philosophy & education.