Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Secret City

In 1958 a government official employed by the Public Works Department as a roads inspector, began construction on what is now known as the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Over the course of fourteen years Nek Chand Saini (b. 1924) gathered stones, scrap metal, bicycle parts, tires, tissue, glass, ceramic and wire, to realise a small kingdom populated by pottery elephants, horses, monkeys, gods, goddesses and thousands of human figures. Located in a publically owned forest reserve and structured around a series of bridges, gorges, passageways, courtyards, streams and waterfalls, the vast garden remained undiscovered until 1972. 
 Figures in Nek Chand's Rock Garden. Image: Carol Mitchell
The Rock Garden was constructed in the shadow of and in tandem with Le Corbusier’s modernist new town: Chand collected recyclables and discarded material from villages demolished to make way for the city, he chose a site designated a land conservatory for the new capital and even convinced government employed workers to labour on his parallel building site. Designated a ‘garden’, it is arguably also a differently imagined city. Constructed from the detritus of former habitations, labyrinthine in form and crammed with brightly coloured constructions, Chand’s hidden world exists in stark and seemingly diametric opposition to the aesthetic ideals explicit in the architecture of Chandigarh.
More illuminating perhaps is to consider the possible contact points between these two architectural projects: one carried out the public eye and marking an attempt to realise a particular vision of India’s future, the other undertaken in secret but similarly guided by a desire to in some way reflect the identity of a newly-partitioned nation. 
Elsa Richardson
Further reading: 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Front of a Department Store

Warenhaus Tietz 1905

Warenhaus Tietz 1933

Kaufhaus Hertie 1934

Kaufhaus Hertie 1941

Kaufhaus Hertie 1945

HO Centrum-Warenhaus 1970

HO Centrum-Warenhaus 1989

Galeria Kaufhof 1990
Galeria Kaufhof 2005
Galeria Kaufhof 2007

Dreams of Presidents: 1. The Atlantic Dubai

Take the R30 road west from Kébémer, Senegal, and some 25 miles of scrub and desert later you reach the atlantic coast and the tiny village of Lampoul. In 2007 the President, Abdoulaye Wade, born in the area when it was still part of colonial French Sudan, announced his vision of a new capital to be placed in this wild spot - a "Dubai on the Atlantic".

By 2010 the Government was to be transferred to the new city - by 2015 the population would be 2 million. Minister Ahmed Niasse spoke proudly that "We think this new Dubai can be more attractive than the Dubai in the Gulf," basing his hopes on a Paul Romer style tax free model.

The idea had some rationale to it. The existing capital, Dakar, has its growth strangled due to its position on a peninsular, and there are other recent West African precedents. The city had a price tag of $30 billion and memorandums of understanding were signed with Dubai World, the state owned Emirati company that grew a city from nothing once before. Wade was notorious for spending huge sums on "prestige projects". Work began making a hill for Wade's conception of an "African Renaissance Monument" in 2006. To be built by a North Korean construction company, when completed it would be the tallest statue in Africa.

After that the internet goes silent, as remain the dunes of Lampoul. There's no word of what scuppered the deal. In 2008, of course, the global economic crisis struck - a year later Dubai World asked creditors for a six-month ‘standstill’ on its debt repayments, which has since extended to 9 years. Add to that the fact that Sudan never had the oil capital that the Emirati's expansion was based upon and it hardly seems surprising the plan came to nothing.

Wade lost power in March 2012. He was praised by Hilary Clinton for accepting the result magnanimously. The new President's birthplace is to the south of Dakar, far from the small fishing village that was to become a global city. However, at least Wade got his statue.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yodaville: The Fake City In The Arizona Desert

Yodaville is a fake city in the Arizona desert used for bombing runs by the U.S. Air Force. Writing for Air & Space Magazine back in 2009, Ed Darack wrote that, while tagging along on a training mission, he noticed "a small town in the distance—which, as we got closer, proved to have some pretty big buildings, some of them four stories high."
As towns go, this one is relatively new, having sprung up in 1999. But nobody lives there. And the buildings are all made of stacked shipping containers. Formally known as Urban Target Complex (R-2301-West), the Marines know it as “Yodaville” (named after the call sign of Major Floyd Usry, who first envisioned the complex).
As one instructor tells Darack, "The urban layout is actually very similar to the terrain in many villages in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Read more: BLDBLG

I found one!

Nikolaus Hirsch, Shveta Sarda (Eds.)Cybermohalla Hub

Contributions by Can Altay, Cybermohalla Ensemble, Rana Dasgupta, Hu Fang, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jacques Rancière, Raqs Media Collective, Superflex, et al.

The Cybermohalla project takes on the meaning of the Hindi word mohalla (neighborhood) in its sense of alleys and corners, relatedness and concreteness, as a means for talking about one’s “place” in the city. Initiated by the Delhi-based research institute Sarai/CSDS and Ankur, Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller developed a project that involves approximately seventy young practitioners, the Cybermohalla Ensemble, who engage with their urban contexts through various media. Cybermohalla Hub, a hybrid of studio, school, archive, community center, library, and gallery is a structure that moves between Delhi and diverse art contexts including Manifesta 7 and, most recently, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

The Cybermohalla experiment has been engaged in rethinking urban life, and reimagining and reanimating the infrastructure of cultural and intellectual life in contemporary cities. The book not only documents the architecture of the project, which functions as an attempt to “build knowledge,” but also publishes insights that have emerged from the project as a whole.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Open Hand

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