Thursday, January 27, 2011

"The Urban Mess: Where do we go from here?" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Since my return from Bhutan a week ago, I have been reading in the press a collage of views, nostalgia for better times, criticisms of individuals, wild accusations, hopes and fears for the future. Several themes emerge like corruption, lack of top leadership and gross incompetence. The answers are in all of these and in none of them. When it rains we curse the PMC, when it’s hot the MSEB and when it’s cold we forget all we’ve learned during the past eight months! We curse public servants, but neglect that our cell phones and broadband services don’t work either!

I myself cannot help but compare the little town of Thimphu where electricity is 7/24, where phones are dependable, where there is an adequate airport, where storm drainage works and the roads are reasonably level and functional. The town has even gone wi-fi! Like Pune, Thimphu has inadequate technical staff, over-stretched budgets, and no clear lean on appropriate technology. Like Punaries, they are good people, but not angles! What Thimphu does have is a STRUCTURE PLAN with participatory Local Area Plans integrated into it! What it does have is an over-ridding authority providing technical and financial planning support! The Bhutanese resisted urban planning, land pooling and reservations until they realized that GOOD PLANNING IS GOOD BUSINESS. They looked at Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong and found the key difference between these centers of capitalism and Indian cities was the utilization of urban planning! They also found a good balance between the top-down structure planning of major drainage networks, roads systems and sanitary infrastructure, and bottom-up local area planning where all the private land is pooled, banked and redistributed into rectangular plots on a logical road grid, after removing about thirty percent of land for amenities, open areas and roads! We must learn from them!

Pune amazingly has no plan! The cantonments have no plans! The boroughs and villages have no plans. How can the Pimpri-Chinchwad Development Plan work alone with such chaotic neighbors? Patchwork and piecemeal planning and development will not hold this metropolis together and bring it into the coming Century! Like every other city in India, worth the name, we need an Urban Development Authority, and one which works.

What is clearly needed in Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, the boroughs, cantonments and numerous villages which make up this urban conglomerate is an Urban Development Authority!

Look at cities where tangible progress has been made and what do you find…an Urban Development Authority. Such an authority has planning powers, eminent domain powers to acquire land for the public good; resource mobilization powers to take loans from development finance bodies, powers to buy, sell, lease-in and to lease-out various forms of property; professional cells of environmentalists, of heritage conservationists, of social infrastructure planners, of city and regional planners/urban designers, of design engineers and project managers, of financial analysts and investment planners, of joint venture managers, and a strong public relations wing. Successful urban development authorities can buy and bank land; work over the entire metropolitan region; have penultimate rights over all other boards, authorities and state owned corporations operating within their jurisdictions. Therefore the MIDC, CIDCO, MHADA, MSRDA, MSEB, PMC, PCMC, or any other state development agency that wants to function within the metro area, must do so in accordance with the UDA vision, mission, plans and strategies.

Preparing a Plan of Action will be the first job of the UDA. In tandem with the preparation of land suitability studies, drainage studies, ecological analysis and heritage documentation, a Fire Fighting Plan would swing into action focusing on existing half-built projects, transport bottlenecks, critical gaps in sanitary and preventive health systems (sewerage and water supply), lacunae in user-end services in slums and high density areas. The authority would take over all major infrastructure projects in the metro area, master planning, structure planning and local area plans. It would have built-in participatory and micro-level planning tools that involve the effected local residents. It would look at the weaknesses of existing authorities, and their strengths. It would out-source project management, design and implementation to professional consultancy firms, with dire consequences for cheating. It could sell bonds; enter joint-ventures with private companies and state corporations. The authority would have in-house expertise cells; consultative citizens committees and private sector alliances. The UDA would prepare a long term Structure Plan, initiate joint-sector ventures like a private electric corporation (facilitating it by provision of land), a regional sewerage management corporation and major infrastructure JV’s. It could revive the forgotten plan to create a world-class international airport. Simultaneously, the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act must be amended to enhance the use of the Town Planning Scheme and to give UDA’s needed authority to mobilize funds and to carry out major works. Perhaps it is a personal tussle between Pune’s two favorite sons, and their feudal fiefdom of the two local municipal corporations, that make this essential step a dream. Gentlemen, May I request you both to drop your cudgels and put Pune first?

This would put the ball back into the private sector in Pune, which still is unable to provide dependable broadband services, cell phones, competent construction capabilities and other basic services. Is anyone calling them corrupt?

Most important to this great city are the people who inhabit it. If they are not assured safe and comfortable roads, storm drainage, comfortable and safe neighborhoods with sidewalks, cycle paths, public gardens and potable water, they will simply look elsewhere for their dreams on this earth! This goes equally well for the intellectual talent which has flocked to the region both as corporates and small consultancies. They can quit Pune as fast as industries abandoned Calcutta in the 1970’s! This is a critical juncture for the metropolis: growth or decline: enrichment or deterioration?

The writer is a master architect who after studying city planning at MIT and architecture at Harvard set up the School of Urban Planning at Ahmedabad as a Ford Foundation Advisor; worked with the World Bank on the development of Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai; advised the UNCHS (Habitat); and carried out research for the HUDCO, Planning Commission, various central ministries. He prepared the well known action plan for Thane’s development, and the Structure Plan of Thimphu. He has worked with the ADB preparing numerous plans for Malaysia and Indonesia.

Monday, January 24, 2011

TAIN Evenings presents...

Bruce Dunn is a Pune-based graffiti artist. While studying in school, Bruce began to draw on his shoes, marking the beginning of his life today. At the age of 20, Bruce has been a professional graffiti artist for the past two years. What began as something he did in his free time today is a source of his income.

With no formal training in art, Bruce began working with his natural talent and instinct. Today a student of FAD International, he is studying Fine Arts. And he’s continued with his graffiti work, ranging from shoes to caps to walls. Inspired largely from his surroundings, Bruce’s art also depends on the message that he wishes to convey.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Open Spaces" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Journalists often mistake me as a soothsayer, when I am a mere architect! They ask me what Pune, or some other city, will be like in ten or twenty years. I have no answer except to lament that, “If you choose the ten things you like best in the city, they will not be there in ten years!” The wide sidewalks are being thrown out to make parking spaces, the foundations get in the way of traffic and the hill slopes are up for grabs

While the urban population of India is swelling, the open space accessible to people is shrinking. In 1968, when I first came to India, there were a mere ten cities that could boast a population of a million or more. Today there are fifty-five and each of them are four times the size they were four decades ago!.

Unlike the West, a great deal of India’s social life and recreation takes place out-of-doors! We are a nation of street side stalls; hang out places and informal encounters. This is what makes India a vibrant social environment and what dulls the senses in the West. I use the word conviviality to characterize this very positive quality of Indian urban fabric. Conviviality depends on the existence of accessible public domains; places where there is unrestricted access, where there is a minimum comfort level in terms of safety, cleanliness and room for gathering. Our personal standards are not high, a pan shop will do! But we must have our places to gather, chat and meet strangers. Conviviality is India’s ancient answer to cold hearted, pay-as-you-go, canned entertainment. It is encounters with old friends and serendipity brushes with strangers that make the Indian street socially dynamic and emotionally exciting.

Like water and air, open spaces were once believed to be free! But more and more open spaces are shrinking and being privatized. The quality of a “public domain” is being robbed from us as we ape the west in building privately owned malls and amusement parks. This forces more and more people onto the roads, as even footpaths are being curtailed to provide movement channels for more vehicles and places for them to park. Like water and air, open spaces have become commodities to be packaged, conditioned and sold to those who can afford them. Air conditioning, bottled water and pay-to-enter public domains are animals of the past decade. They were largely unknown in one’s recent memory.

Given the reality of rapidly expanding population, rising land values, densification of cities and the resulting enclosing and packaging of everything, there is a new role for designers to enter the fray and to design “public domains.” I would like to note that while the transformation of open spaces into private domains is rampant, there are excellent examples in the Sub-continent where designers and public authorities have reversed this process, often using traditional Indian precedents as a basis to move forward. Let me cite a few good examples:

Weekly street markets have always been places of gathering, meeting and bargaining. The Delhi Haat is an example where an abandoned sewerage drain was filled over and reincarnated into a vibrant public domain. In his design Pradeep Sachadev integrated modern hygiene and space standards with footpath vending, window shopping, browsing, traditional fast foods, and places to just hang out. “Meet you at Delhi Haat,” is the common response in Delhi to where shall we get together! In the planning of New Delhi, numerous pocket parks, green areas around ancient monuments and formal gardens were planned. Nehru Park, Lodi Gardens, the Raj Path and Central Park are but a few to name. Walking in Connaught Place has been a must for every visitor since the day it opened. These designed open spaces have given back to the city what formal planning took away. The lessons for India lie in our own traditions and recent history. Marine Drive is another example of a vibrant open space to which all can flock, regardless of one’s income or social status!

In Ahmedabad where the population has grown four fold in as many decades play fields, un-built plots, road set-backs and a number of informal no man’s lands were places for meeting and recreation. They have largely been walled in! Gated housing societies and exclusive malls have isolated the well to do from the average citizen. But here the Municipal corporation has taken creative action to refurbish old gardens and parks, fill in stagnant drains and transform them into convivial public domains and most exciting of all, is the grand Sabramati River Front Development Project designed by the Architect Bimal Patel, gifting to the people of that great city an amazing series of recreational options. In a similar manner the ancient Mogul tank, Kankaria Lake is being totally reinvented by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation as a people’s pleasure zone, with a refurbished zoo, water sports, promenades, gardens and a new indoor, air-conditioned stadium where thousands of citizens can witness spectacles, sporting and cultural events. The city of Hyderabad offers many lessons for the future in the manner that Hussain Sagar has been transformed into a wonderful open space for all walks of life to gather and relax in the evenings. Other examples are the revitalization by Landscape Designer Ravi Bhan of the Ayodya river front and the historic structures which interface with the water body.

Side by side function specific public areas are slowly transforming. The new domestic airport in Mumbai, designed by Hafez Contractor, establishes new standards of public convenience and functionality. So also, the new metro stations in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai are trend setting in their comfort levels and modernity. The Millennium Park in Kolkata created by the Metropolitan Development Authority, offers a cool riverside garden, with piped music emanating from greenery and soft lighting. In our new capital plan for Thimphu, the Wang Chhu River and its finger tributary streams are the structure over which an open space system has been created. The green blanket of forest which dips down from the mountains is demarcated by a cycle-foot path several hundred feet over the city, dotted with grottos, archery ranges, picnic spots and view points.

In all of the above examples it is the public agencies which have played an essential role in generating positive change. We need to highlight these new starts and positive initiatives so that governments know that quality open spaces for the masses are achievable. In all of the cases I have noted, well known designers have played a critical role. Government has used its own strengths and those of private consultants and developers to create things of lasting beauty for their people.

Professor Benninger studied Urban Planning at MIT and Architecture at Harvard University where he later was a professor of design. As a Ford Foundation Expert he founded the School of Planning at Ahmedabad in 1971 and the Centre for Development Studies at Pune in 1976. He has prepared urban plans in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and in many of India’s cities. He presently over sees his architectural design studios in India and Bhutan, where he is designing the new Capitol complex and has prepared the capital city plan.

(Published in Sunday Economic Times)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Changing Signs

We’ve done a post of horoscopes last year. The debate of whether a person’s disposition is a result of their sun signs or the external environment they are exposed to, is an almost never ending. And like that wasn’t inconclusive enough, they decided to change them completely.

We now know that the shift is only applicable to people born in and after 2009. But before this was clarified, the entire population of the world was in frenzy. Noone was sure about themselves anymore, and the thought of being a sun sign other than the one they were accustomed to disturbed everyone. Which brings us to the original debate again – is a person’s disposition the result of their sun signs or the external environment they are exposed to? Every person who I have spoken to about this, has said they couldn’t bare to be another sun sign.

“I’m a Virgo. I can’t be a Leo! I fit the Virgo profile so perfectly, I have nothing Leo in me!”

The question now is this: Do these people really fit the profile of their sun sign or have they MADE themselves fit the profile? For years they have known what sun sign they come under. They might have developed the characteristic without really meaning to. Who knows? And who is to say otherwise? Just something to ponder about.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Urban Icons" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

When I was a child an image of the Taj Mahal became my image of India! It seemed that the Eiffel Tower was also France; and the Great Wall of China was indeed that vast land. As I grew up and traveled I hung new facts, ideas, and concepts onto these images, in the same manner that children decorate Christmas trees making them more meaningful and complex. Looking back, I realize that these iconic representations never faded, nor were they replaced. These emblems became intellectual skeletons that held large bodies of reality, composed of many structured ideas. Thus, my icons were memorable images that anchored my awareness of reality and allowed me to expand my knowledge system within a structure that could be sourced when needed. One icon can lead me to more sub-icons, and so forth, providing me with a pantheon of information, all hung on one symbol that carries along with it the meaning of an entire cluster.

To some extent these icons melted into the complicated mosaic of my perceived truth, giving me a sense of reality. Yet these icons persisted in my memory as the symbols of something much larger. The human mind is an interesting contraption that works on a hierarchy of labels which identity things, in a simplified and stereotyped form. This results in over-simplifying matters and creating implicit biases about “the way things are.” But it also allows us to deal with masses of otherwise unrelated data and facts. Icons, symbols, emblems and simulacra work as a theory of knowledge that is founded on signifiers, labels and images. Like a tree trunk, with branches and then little twigs from which leaves flourish, the mind uses an incredible network of inter-linked icons, which freely relate to form a far more complex matrix of concepts.

In his book, The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch proposed that the human mind uses “landmarks” within urban areas, or “districts,” that have visible “edges” to create a mental knowledge system of the city. This mental map includes “paths” and “nodes”. Urban Icons play the same roles for cities that landmarks play in urban districts, or that mega-icons play for nations and cultures. National capitol complexes like Lutyen’s Raj Path in New Delhi; the Mall in Washington, D.C.; or on a smaller scale, the new Capitol Complex in Thimphu, all use iconography to compose a pattern. They use an iconic language to symbolize the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. The language implies a system of checks and balances in democracy, or, as in Versailles, the all pervasive power of a monarchy.

All languages are generically symbolic, and any system of symbols can compose a language. Written words signify both the phonetic sound and the cognitive idea which it represents. Identifying and labeling “differences” is an important process in the cognitive system of representation. In the same way urban icons signify both the object itself and various cognitive ideas the building represents.

Our cities are formed by a myriad of building types with every function needed by the human race to carry on their existence. Some structures transcend beyond the mundane tasks of daily life, and become cultural, religious, psychological or business icons. As small groups of people organize into larger societies, they require iconic monuments to signify their organization and structure as a unique civilized people. This becomes more pronounced as cultures and societies evolve into nation states, and these political structures require symbolic identity in order to sustain themselves and grow. Thus, urban icons are conscientiously created, explicit statements, about the nature of cultures, societies, nations or political systems. Sagara Familia is an explicit statement about the rising nationalism of Catalonia, though we may see it merely as an unusual and creative experiment. The Pyramids were conscientious statements about the eternal order of the Pharos. The symbolic nature of these structures far surpasses any functional requirement they may nominally fulfill.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud considered symbols as capacities within the mind to lodge and store any fact, idea or concept. Within the cognitive mental system any symbol can find free association with any other symbol. These associations and relationships build ideas out of facts, and through free association, build concepts out of ideas. Thus, our mental constructs of cities, that are as complex as New Delhi, are in fact clusters of iconic memories that interact and generate multiple layers of knowledge, interpretation and meanings. The vast majority of urban fabric has no symbolic or iconic content! It is just a texture upon which life continues. This mundane urban fabric however forms a backdrop, or canvas, upon which a vast and highly complex urban landscape can emerge.

Landmarks create “familiar” objects to which we all develop affection. We like these because they give us the sense of peace that comes with knowing where we are! As Kevin Lynch noted:

“Way-finding is the original function of the environmental image, and the basis on which its emotional associations may have been founded. But the image is valuable not only in this immediate sense in which it acts as a map for the direction of movement; in a broader sense it can serve a general frame of reference within which the individual can act, or to which he can attach his knowledge. In this way it is like a body of belief, or a set of social customs: it is an organizer of facts and possibilities”.

Sociology can be seen as the science of analyzing the structure of relations between groups of people. These relations may be economic ones between classes or productive entities. Thus, the iconic Bank of China by I.M. Pei is more than just a place where clerks carry out financial activities. It is the symbol of China’s economic dominance. Likewise, Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome signifies the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. As such its very scale and explicit monumentality create a clear statement, a symbolic statement, of the world grasp and power of the Roman Catholic Church. In the same manner New York City is a collection of icons which mingle in our memories and give us a conglomerate image of the city. An endless list of skyscrapers ranging from the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Centre, the United Nations, and the new Hurst Building all work together to make a network of multiple and interacting icons, images and memories. That is what makes New York City such an exciting and vibrant metropolis.

Just as New York City is full of economic icons, Paris is full of cultural icons. The churches, palaces, gardens, museums, squares, “passages”, quays, arcades, and monuments all create a language in the mind about the city. While the core idea of New York City is business dominance, and the city’s global economy, the core idea in Paris is cultural dominance projected through images of its history, religious past, art and haut culture! London’s core interest is governance and global reach. This interest is not “governance” in the sense of administering towns and cities, but the concept of ruling through law, justice, policing and a range of British institutions which make it a world power. Civility, “good British taste”, due process and manners are what the city is all about. Rather than making “business” the central focus of the society, business seems a vehicle for the diffusion of the British idea of the civil society. In a similar manner New Delhi is a collection of imperial, “ruling” and governing icons, while Mumbai flaunts its economic icons: the Air India Building, the Stock Exchange and so on. Urban icons are indeed not just the image of the city, but the language of the city. No doubt all cities contain a variety of icons which represent the economic, political and cultural essence of the city.

The mind stores a limited number of iconic images creating an operational representation of the city. It may store mental images of urban districts like Connaught Place; urban edges like Marine Drive in Mumbai; or urban landmarks like the Qutub Minar, but all of these are iconic and their symbolic meaning far outweighs any functional use one may attempt to construe. The mind may store a cluster of icons like the White House, the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, all clustered together in one complex. It may lodge images of zones defined by landmarks and edges, each having vibrant specialized activities and unique characters generating a remembered ambiance. The resulting “mental map” of the city is different for each person! Thus, our feelings about various cities are very different than the feelings of our friends about particular cities.

What is clear is that architecture plays the pivotal role in the creation of urban icons, and thus the making of the cities of our minds. It is this system of urban icons that weds us to memories giving structure and content to each city we visit, or potentially experience. A city guide is little more than an attempt to document an encyclopedia of urban icons, and in a sense to “pre-load” the basic data on the city into our mental hard discs! Thus, we enter a new city with a pre-loaded template of patterns, urban form and structure making it easier for us to navigate in a new ambiance.

It is important that every structure in a city does not scream out like an anal retentive infant demanding attention. This “screaming” by nuevo riche builders and clever architects is creating a cacophony of visual chaos. Urban design, which should give order to street facades, and structure the “skin of cities”, is non-existent. In our administrators’ minds there are only two dimensional city plans and three dimensional buildings. Instead of utilizing them for the city good, they are only controlled, contorting the city like Chinese feet tied to grow in an odd, dysfunctional form. The idea of urban fabric: the notion of arcades supporting rather dull, yet dignified street fronts; the idea of “passages” leading to pocket plazas and open gardens; the idea of boulevards terminating with monuments; the idea of vistas being created by building alignments and axis; the idea of sea fronts and river edges being urban events which structure the city . . . . . none of these are part of our mental map of how to make cities.

Our present design culture lacks any knowledge of the city image as a total field of the interactions of elements, patterns and sequences. Urban cognizance is basically a time phenomena oriented about an object of immense complexity. A beginning step in gaining a holistic understanding of our cities will be to grasp the elemental parts. But a much bigger step will be to understand the role of components, structured relations between them, and the systems of knowledge and meaning that emerge. In this sense, urban icons are a starting point from which one can explore the urban fabric, analyze its weaknesses and begin to set a “design problem” for enhancing and facilitating better urban experiences and life styles.

Urban icons not only have a putative value as pieces of art; or as the best representatives of entire typologies of buildings; or as cultural symbols and signifiers, but they are the generic material from which great cities emerge. The structures presented here in this journal are a clue to a meaningful science of imagineering more beautiful, more vibrant and more livable urban settings.


Benninger, Christopher C., “Imagineering and the Design of Cities”, Proceedings of the European Biennale at Graz, Biennale Secretariat, 2001.

Boulding, Kenneth E., The Image, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1956.

Kepes, Gyorgy, The New Landscape, Chicago, P. Theobald, 1956.

Langer, Susan, Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art, New York, Scribner, 1953.

Lynch, Kevin, Image of the City, New York, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1959:

Thiel-Siling, Sabine, Editor, Icons of Architecture in the 20th Century, New York, Prestel, 2004.

Trowbridge, C.C., “On Fundamental Methods of Orientation and Imaginary Maps,” Science, , Vol. 38, No. 990, Dec. 9, 1913, pp.888-897.

Whitehead, Alfred North, Symbolism and Its Meaning, New York, Macmillan, 1958.

Wohl, R. Richard and Strauss, Anselm L., “Symbolic Representation and the Urban Milieu,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. LXIII, No. 5, March 1958, pp. 523-532.

*Christopher Benninger practices architecture from “INDIA HOUSE,” his studios in Pune, and from his studios in Thimphu, Bhutan, where he is designing the National Capitol Complex. He studied Urban Planning at MIT and Architecture at Harvard University where he later taught. He founded the School of Planning at Ahmedabad and the Center for Development Studies and Activities at Pune. He is a Distinguished Professor at CEPT and on the Board of Governors of the School of Planning and Architecture at New Delhi. In 2007 he received the Golden Architect Award for Lifetime Achievement.

TAIN Evenings presents...

TAIN is hosting photographer Giresh Baraya on the 21st and 22nd of January, 2011 in Pune. Other than being a car enthusiast, a passion which was inherent since a very young age, Giresh discovered his creative disposition in photography three years ago. Since then, going out anywhere, his camera has been his closest acquaintance.

Giresh believes that there is a special way in which we adapt to our surroundings. “We acclimatize ourselves with the stimuli in order to find ourselves in a place where we have always hoped to be.” And this belief has helped him absorb the various facets of design that his surroundings have to offer.

Should you wish to receive an exclusive invite for this event, please register on our website:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My space, your space.

In everyone’s home, there is one space that they can call their own. A space where they can sit in peace and quiet and think, a space where they can achieve inspiration of some sort. It could be a separate room, or just a corner of a room. It varies with different people, and various houses. Some people draw inspirations in their bathrooms, while some have more acceptable places like a study to be inspired in.

Nowadays, houses are spacious enough to accommodate more than one “space” and people can even afford to assign one entire room for their space. But in earlier times, they’d have to make do with a window ledge or a desk in the corner. Of course, no one has ever complained about that. There is a certain charm in snuggling against a window sill at the end of the day, and thinking or reading and just BEING. It could easily win against an entire room, any day.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Home away from home, hotel away from home.

There are many hotels and resorts that advertise themselves as “a home away from home” and attempt to make their rooms and services as home-like as possible. While many people may like the pitch, and be glad for something that reminds them of home there are many people who want to know WHY.

Travel, ideally is for two reasons. For business or for pleasure. When traveling for business, being in a place that reminds someone of the comfort of their own home is something that works for someone. But while traveling for pleasure, one doesn’t necessarily want to be reminded of their home. They may want to be in the lap of luxury, without the warmth of home. They may want impersonality to dominate their vacation, rather than be reminded of the personal spaces they have at home. I mean, why would someone want to think of home on a getaway?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"ARCHITECTONICS : The Technology of Poetry" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Architecture throughout the ages has been driven by a three tired agenda. High architecture from the Renaissance to the “Chicago School” was driven by similar agenda. There has been a continual battle against false styles that impale a fashion from the past upon modern technology in a manner that hides the true technology under stylized decoration. What you see is not what you get! This commercial, false style is known as effetism. Over history there has been a concern with new materials and technologies and there has been a concern with contemporary problems and issues. These three concerns have been the agenda of modern architecture.

Reform and Activism:
First, there has been the continual battle against false “styles” and fashions that employ motifs, details and pseudo technologies derived from previous eras and promoted commercially using the profession as a mere mercantile vehicle. Whether it was Frank Lloyd Wright in America, or Le Corbusier and Gropius in Europe, or Michelangelo in the Renaissance, this battle against effete practices has marked the sustenance of architecture. The armies of the mercantile architects, supported by academic theory, have been a formidable challenge in every age. This battle has given modern architects a mission, an identity and a cause. [Image One: India House front Facade]

Social Issues and Problems:
Second, Architecture with a capital “A” finds its relevance by addressing the contemporary societal problems of its time. City planning has been at the forefront for millennia, along with fortifications for defense. With urbanization mass housing in congenial neighborhoods became a focus. The creation of open spaces and public domains, relevant to the creative association and interaction of social groups, has been a contemporary focus. In the Sixteenth Century Italian architects were looking for “the ideal” whether it was in the form of the human body, a country garden estate or a city design. This often led to the generation of prototypical people, perfect templates for urban designs and idealistic gardens (Leonardo da Vinci’s Ideal Man and Ideal City). In Persia it resulted in a search for the perfect world which is an analogue of paradise expressed in carpets and gardens (Persian Gardens; Mogul Char Baghs, etc). In our own era, the search for solutions for the masses of people crowding into cities and living in hovels, without any public open spaces has been the focal point. Architects like Jose Lluis Sert, who initiated the first urban design course at Harvard; Kevin Lynch who sought the mind’s orientation within large urban complexes, or the Team Ten group who called for “the humane” in the form of urban spaces and places all herald this cause. Green or sustainable architecture has emerged as a Twenty-first Century issue. A range of new, urban building types have been addressed in the past century ranging from railway stations, airports, factories, stadium, towers for housing and offices, schools and corporate buildings. New building types in urban settings often demanded and exploited new technologies.

Third, architecture has always sought out the most relevant technology. This has been true from the Gothic era where “flying buttresses” of stone were exploited to their maximum; to the Nineteenth Century Expositions where steel and glass were exploited aesthetically; to present day steel frame towers and post-tensioned flat slabs. Whether it was James Watt building spinning mills in the early Nineteenth Century or Eiffel creating long span exhibition halls or Paxton exploiting glass and steel or Roebling exploiting tension structures or the “Chicago School” of architects reaching for the skies with their steel frames, architects have always used technology to push their cause forward. Spanning the longest distance with the least structural mass seems to be a feat for an architect that carries a tinge of Olympic success. Maillart’s bridge over the river Arve challenges one’s spirit. Carrying the heaviest loads with the lightest structure is another arena of unspoken competition. From this competition evolved stone columns and beams, domes that became ever larger, vaults, arches, buttresses, steel frames, shells, geodesic domes and tents! All of these employed a range of “new” materials and techniques to attach them together. Technology is where architects merge with engineers into one indistinguishable profession. Together they faced challenges of “buildability” and efficient processes to bring new technologies into mass production. Discoveries and improvements in stone cutting; mortar; water proofing; cement formulas; steel; glass; plate glass; sealants, paint, cladding, tensile steel and ferroconcrete have all been answered with new expressions, one more poetic than the next. [Image Two: View of Maillart’s Bridge over River Arve]

These three agenda operate hand in glove! They are not searches one embarks on as three separate paths which will miraculously rejoin together. A holism in resolving urban conundrums through integrated technological solutions is the journey. But it is a journey and a search for beauty, for lyricism and for poetry. Workings through the medium of “things” architects seek the immaterial! It is a step outside of materiality where architects create the transcendental!

Technology drives architectural forms and character. Walter Gropius and his community of artists and industrialists through the medium of the Bauhaus saw materials, and the technologies that shape form and join them, as the key to design for to modern living. The nature of wood, must guide the search for what wood wants to be. Chicago architects studied the behavior of steel frames in composing their towers. The structure qualities of steel tell us what steel can do for us. Antonio Gaudi studied the flow of forces within a possible structure by hanging string networks upside down and seeing the shapes they would take on their own and used these natural configurations to pattern his large works. Frank Lloyd Wright exploited the “cantilever” to achieve a sense of freedom and flowing space. Pier Luigi Nervi exploited buttresses and shells to create poetic grand spaces. [Image Three: Nervi’s Palazzetto dello Sport]

The marriage between poetry and technology sets architecture aside form plain old engineering! Architects like Calatrava in our time; Pier Luigi Nervi; Ove Arup; Frie Otto; Paxton; Eiffel; Watts; etc., traveling back into history blurs the distinction between architect and engineer who were artificially separated through “specialization” and “professionalization” in the French polytechnics and the Ecol des Beaux Arts in France.

Today engineers and architects are struggling to work in an integrated manner with one another. New systems and materials have emerged which are bringing about a fusion. In my own work we are evolving a language from flat slabs; roofing systems and enclosure envelopes that create a relevant, expressive architecture. Many architects, working closely with engineers and high-tech vendors, are doing this. Three materials systems come to my minds which are shaping my work:

The workshop at the Samundra Institute of Maritime Studies is an example of close cooperation between an architect and an engineer. In this structure I first prepared an intuitive design of how I wanted the structural members to be placed. Then my engineer, Bal Kulkarni, worked with me on the gauges and diameters of the steel tubes and the kinds and sizes of welding and bolts based on my designs of fastenings. We played back and forth and finally settled upon a solution. Then we put it for vetting with the Client’s structural engineers and added cross bars for side wind loads and we stabilized the joint between the columns and the floor connections. We created a ninety meter long by eight meters high photovoltaic wall to the south that both generates electricity and filters light through the jaali-like wall cutting the cost of lighting drastically. Our design for the new indoor air-conditioned stadium at Ahmedabad is another tour de force in the exploitation of steel and tensile structures in the roof canopy. Image: [Image Four: View of the Workshop at SIMS]

The Flat Stab:
At the multi-storied Tain Square we explored the flat slab where previously only concrete frame structures had been used. The idea is to allow each home owner within a labyrinth of apartments to move and layout their own room plans. At the Suzlon World Headquarters we worked on an 8.4 by 8.4 grid with 1200 diameter concrete columns. This resolved both the parking grid in the basement and allowed the use of open-landscape modular office systems within the main halls. [Image Five: View of Tain Square]

At the Kochi Refineries Limited we introduced the idea of aluminum louvers to shield a glass wall office building from the blazing sun. We were inspired by the traditional wood louvers in Kerala temples and palaces. The system keeps the hot sun away form the building envelops and results in a savings of energy used for cooling. It also reflects sunlight up to the interior ceilings, saving on the lighting costs. [Image Six: View of Koichi Refineries Limited]

Glass is a complex material that can be used with films, by laminating two pieces and by providing an air gap between two sheets that reduces heat gain and glare. Low E glass cuts heat gain in one sheet. We have exploited glass by facing the vast areas to the North and North-east; by shading them from sun with louvers and through the application of films, laminating and toughening. [Image Seven: Interior View of SIMS Workshop]

Roofing Systems:
Steel roofs are becoming more common in our vocabulary. In areas of heavy rain fall, like Bhutan and in the Western Ghats we have found a new solution for water proofing. New laminated aluminum sheets with insulation are changing the way we address elementary shelter problems. It is impacting on the way we express ourselves. [Image Eight: Aerial View of Ahmedabad Stadium]

Exposed Concrete:
I have always tried to use exposed reinforced concrete as a pure aesthetic material in my buildings. But the construction profession finds it difficult to produce the kinds of finishes we get in Japan or Europe. It is simply a matter of discipline. The vibration must be right, the additives correct and the shuttering and formwork must be clean and well supported to prevent sagging. [Image Nine: View of MUWCI Administration]

Cladding Systems:
ACP sheets are an easy, relatively inexpensive and fast way to complete a building. [Image Ten: View of Stair Silos at SIMS]

The Challenges:
All of these materials offer exciting solutions and creative potentials. Yet the vendors are slow to come on board our journey. When one bends glass there often are small bubbles; plate glass bulges out from the frame creating wavy surfaces and one still finds marks on toughened glass where clamps were used. Many suppliers can not give the colors one wants in the LEED rating one needs. Roofing suppliers are ignorant of LEED ratings of their materials, have ugly ridge joints and employ a very limited vocabulary of sheets, ridges and sofits. Sanitary fittings are difficult for our plumbers to fit and even the toilet seats are complicated to attach and expensive to replace. Suppliers of structural steel tubes and sections are limited and what is specified, though in the catalogue, may not be available. Foreign suppliers are not dependable in their lead times and a few totally fail in delivery.

Integrating our Industry
What we lack is backward and forward integration within the industry. Our vendors are still “dalals” or traders! They are just picking something up in China, and selling it, “as it is” in India. They should be working out how the material joins with itself in different corners and shapes! They should be exploring how it is actually applied on sites and how it attaches to other building components. They should be working on the water-proofing problems where their materials join others. They should be interested in how their systems behave in the Indian sun and chilly nights, and how it connects to the main structure allowing it to expand and contract! But they are not interested. They can not meet their demands. They are just trading and selling items picked up there and sold here. There must be a dialogue between our traditional materials and our new materials and methods. Sandstone cladding can be fixed to a wall in a number of ways. Dry or wet? Stainless steel or brass? A wet-dry combination? Who knows the truth? It can be integrated with aluminum louvers and wood fenestration. [Image Eleven: India House Louvers]

One Stop Shop
In Latin America an architect is a designer, an engineer, and a contractor! The clients come to one place and the product is delivered to the users according to performance criteria. We have to learn from that system where all of the “buildability”, performance, economic and aesthetic considerations are rolled into one. [Image Twelve: Interior of Ahmedabd Stadium]

*Christopher Benninger studied Urban Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Architecture at Harvard, where he later taught. He founded the School of Planning at Ahmedabad in 1971 and the Centre for Development Studies and Activities in Pune in 1976. He has prepared the Capital City Plan for Bhutan and is now building the Capitol Complex there. The Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta; the Suzlon World Headquarters; the International School Aamby and the Samundra Institute of Maritime Studies are recent works. Benninger has won the Architect of the Year Award 1999; American Institute of Architects’ Award 2000; Golden Architect Award 2006 and Great Master’s Award 2007.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"The Sustainable City" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Cities are the engines that pull the economic development train. They are centers of social change, innovation, employment and economic expansion. They sponsor diversity, tolerance and are a refuge from oppression. They are growing faster than planned for and are yielding benefits to their hinterlands and nations. But unplanned, rapid urban growth brings a multitude of stresses on the people and upon the environment.

The Urban Crises of Sustainability
The environment suffers in multiple dimensions as the ground water is exhausted and replenished with polluted waste, poisoning the subterranean strata upon which city rests. Paving over and closing natural earth filters denies even normal recharge into the city’s aquifer systems. The water run-off flushes streams and rivers and carries silt into the their beds, raising water levels and accordingly widening channels, causing erosion on the edges and flooding in storms. Hillsides are encroached upon resulting in the felling of trees, more soil erosion and more silting. Blocking natural drainage networks causes flooding and the destruction of natural habitats. The general biomass is depleted as roads, buildings, parking lots and paved grounds replace biomass carpeted areas. Natural migration corridors of fauna are destroyed, breeding and gathering places of birds disappear and the ecological balance is lost. Waste water is not filtered, or re-charged, into the eco-system and is dumped untreated within rivers, ponds, lakes and streams. Along with toxic sewerage dumping, chemical wastes from industry destroy natural life in water bodies turning them into stagnant, toxic breeding cultures for a myriad of micro-organisms whose impact is life threatening. This is all compounded by building on river edges, making roads within riverbeds, felling trees indiscriminately and is exasperated by air pollution. The toxic air pollutants emitted by building construction sites, building operations, vehicles and machines cover our human settlements with a haze of poisonous gasses. Respiratory diseases and chemically catalyzed cancers are some of the tragedies breed by our new city ecology.

Green City Design
If the human race is to survive and flourish it must address this crisis at the individual level, household level, community level and the city level. Herein comes the issue of urban planning and urban design. The Principles of Intelligent Urbanism is a set of ten axioms for urban planning, around which issues can be debated. It provides an integrated method of addressing all urban issues as a factor of the others. Balance with Nature is an axiom of the PIU that specifically lays out areas where city building connects with environmental degradation. PIU principles Balance with Tradition and Balance with Efficiency bring heritage assets and infrastructure onto the same page as urban environment. Without a charter of principles to begin with, talking about sustainable urban design will lead nowhere.

The Essential Planning and Design Actions:
Urban design must employ several essential strategies to turn the tide of the dying city. Green cities are achievable! Buildings, vehicles, waste and drainage systems, energy consumption, paved areas and machines are culprits that must be addressed simultaneously.

Protecting water bodies is essential. First all dumping sewerage and industrial waste disposal into water bodies must be stopped and alternative waste methods employed. Many of these waste processing technologies generate composts and valuable organic fertilizers. Second building within, or next to, water bodies must be stopped in its tracts! This means no roads in rivers! This means a “no build” set-back from all water bodies and restrictions on all paved and built-over activity. A ninety-nine year notice must be issued to all buildings located within water front ecologically fragile set-backs. Such encroachments must be phased out and demolished. The land owners must be compensated within land pooling and TDR schemes. They can be given a tax holiday on municipal taxes to defray their losses.

Protecting hill slopes is essential : As building on the slopes increases the percentage of areas covered by paving and buildings increases. There must be a proportional reduction in building and paving pressure as the slopes increase. This would be reflected in FSI’s allowed and in percentages of roads and other paved areas allowed over land on slopes, which would both reduce as the slopes increase.

Mass public transport is essential: Countering the mechanized vehicle is essential. It is both a source of fatal accidents and air and noise pollution. There are multiple alternatives to driving privately owned vehicles between origins and destinations. Public mass transport must happen through a variety of modes, such as underground rail, raised rail, rapid buss networks, midi-bus loops, rickshaw zones and pedestrian corridors. Mass transit that moves large numbers of people safely along high density corridors is the only solution. There must be a hierarchical network of mass transport systems, each over-laying the other and meeting at nodes of modal split. These modal split nodes are where different types of transport share termini and stations. An express bus loop may over-lap a raised metro train; or a midi-bus network may overlap a RBT loop. Cycle and pedestrian pathways may over-lap midi-bus bus networks! These templates and tiers must be shifted and adjusted to fit each human settlement’s potentials and constraints.

Creating integrated open space systems is essential : The planning of inter-locked open space networks balances nature and allows pedestrian and cycle movement within the confines and safety of the enclosed corridors. Open spaces will straddle water bodies and reach up hills along the natural drainage streams. The open space network of a city will mirror the natural drainage system, and include larger recreational and environmental reserves. As the hill slopes surrounding cities increase in slope the densities allowed reduce to zero and the hill tops become urban nature reserves. Even relatively level cities in South India have ancient, inter-locked terraced ponds and channels wherein the slightly higher ones feed the successively lower ones.

Creating the pedestrian realm is essential : Walkable towns and cities is a very “do-able” goal. The number of European examples is endless and the joy of visiting them is immeasurable. Pedestrian corridors can link into points of modal split and synchronize with the mass transport network. These links are the life arteries that tie together open spaces and heritage areas. Parking decals must be sold to citizens who park in the dense, narrow lane precincts of the city core. The price of decals must represent an annual rent for the market value of the space covered by the vehicle. Stricter regulations regarding vehicular entry within center city, high density areas must be created, including the sale of annual entry passes. Paris has recently introduced a bicycle system wherein users have swipe cards to unlock and ride cycles. The first hour is free, and nominal charges are applied to longer usage. Each bicycle is “tracked” in the computer system telling from where it was picked and where dropped and when racks approach being full a van collects and redistributes bicycles. Bicycles and walking corridors can be inter-meshed and integrated with open space and water-front systems.

Greening cities is essential : “Greening Cities” is an excellent strategy for reducing ambient temperatures, cutting air pollution and recharging air. Road- side; river- side; pond-side; stream-side; boundary-side and park planting are all measures to increase the sustainability of cities at very little cost. Urban forests and roof top gardens and agriculture are feasible components of an ecologically sound city. Simple technology exists to transform roof surfaces into gardens that also provide significant insulation from heat gain, reducing the energy consumed for air cooling.

Micro-Energy Systems are essential: Energy generation within cities can be sustainable. Each building site can generate significant savings through solar water heating. Three to five percent of the buildings’ energy requirements can be generated on site through photovoltaic or small wind powered generators. Another twenty percent of a city’s energy needs can be generated within the city limits via wind energy. By the use of sun light reflectors bringing light deep within the building envelopes another two percent of energy can be saved. Just the use of low energy luminaries can save three percent of a city’s energy requirements. Reflective paints on the roof tops of existing structures can save ten percent of the cooling costs of the floor beneath the roof!

Linking a green tax to the sustainable performance of buildings is essential: Buildings alone account for more than fifty percent of energy requirements and pollution in cities. The India Green Cities Movement is promoting green buildings along the lines of the American LEED ratings system. The Tata Energy Research Institute has promoted TERI standards for sustainable architecture. These approaches result in the recycling of water, on-site sewerage processing, cutting power consumption for water heating, lighting and air-conditioning, reducing heat gain in buildings and employing low energy technologies. Any structure on a plot admeasuring 2,000 square meters, or more must be a TERI accredited Green Building, or equivalent. A scaled system of municipal taxes must be applied to compensate the city for environmental offenders, applying higher taxes as the structure gets less green points.

Recycling water is essential: Recycling all types of water used, whether within a house, a building, a neighborhood or a city is a feasible manner of saving water. Numerous technologies for water recharging exist and many cities require new buildings to recharge their individual sites. Cities are composed of micro-watersheds just as rural areas are, and the principles of watershed management must be applied to cities and villages alike. Water management begins from the highest areas with contour bunding, planting along bunded contours, stream bunding, small catchment peculation tanks and lift irrigation. It moves on to water storage cisterns in private plots and neighborhood recharging systems.

Sustaining a diverse animal population in cities is essential: Attracting fauna back to cities can be done through the promotion of all of the measures noted above. Roof top bee hives, protected bird mating and nesting areas, restoring river-side habitats and making water clean enough for fish and water life is essential to create a balanced ecology in cities.

Creating Green Citizens is essential: Green Education is essential for creating good citizens. At all levels of education, knowledge of ecology, sustainability, conservation of non-renewable resources, environment and green measures must be a part of the educational curriculum. Every school child must be sensitive to the issues, the problems and the range of possible solutions, if some day we are to have truly green cities. Each company and public institution must have a green vision statement promoting a “green corporate culture.” The management of wastes and energy and the recycling of water can easily be improved through participation.

About one hundred years ago the Garden Cities Movement was initiated by Ebenezer Howard. No doubt it was naive, elitist and conceptual. But it sparked imaginations about the future of green cities. Patrick Geddes, a micro-biologist and community sociologist made plans for greening and cleaning towns such as Thane. Howard’s idea was to make cities into gardens and parks where people just happened to live. Geddes’s concept was to involve people in the cleaning of ponds and streams, by linking them to religious festivals and community celebrations. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacres City was a utopian model based on America’s vast open areas and city based agriculture. Le Corbusier’s Radiant City envisioned the employment of high-rise construction to free vast tracts of ground areas for recreation, parks and forests and he either lowered mass transport arteries below eyesight into the landscape with pedestrian over-bridges, or raised the roads up so that pedestrians and cyclists could freely move about under them in vast parks.

The new capital city of Bhutan plan for Thimphu, designed on the Principles of Intelligent Urbanism, strives to protect nature, and the people who live within the city. More than fifty percent of land is protected as orchard, stream and river side, open space, ecological conservation and hill slope lands. In the late nineteenth century great public urban parks and gardens were created.

Cities are people. Cities can be no better than the people who live in them! The Thimphu plan is an experiment and there are many that object to it and put their personal fortunes above that of society. We have ample models and information upon which to build a Green City model and apply that model as relevant to our growing, contemporary cities.

*Professor Christopher Charles Benninger has taught at the Graduate School of Design [Harvard University], is a Distinguished Professor at CEPT [Ahmedabad] and on the Governing Council of the School of Planning and Architecture [New Delhi]. He studied urban planning at MIT and has advised the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, the Planning Commission, HUDCO, the National Housing Bank and numerous urban development authorities. His new capital plan for Thimphu, Bhutan presented him an opportunity to employ his Principles of Intelligent Urbanism, which have been evolved from his work in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is on the board of editors of CITIES [UK] and his articles on urbanism appear in Ekistics [Greece], Habitat International and numerous other journals. Note: all rights are reserved by the author. 1425 words. 23-11-08

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Symbolism and Geometry of the National Capitol Complex of Bhutan" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

We are presently engaged in the preparation of the urban design of the Trashi Chhoe Dzong Capitol Complex covering about one and a half square kilometers. This design is a necessary precursor to the design of the various components of the capitol complex. In this activity we have to keep in front of us that we are not merely accommodating functional needs for space; we are creating the future symbol of the nation.


Each culture, its society and the nation which governs it, has a unique identity! It is this identity which distinguishes one country from another, evokes national pride and empowers individual citizens with the courage to protect their culture and way of life from being over-run and dominated by alien cultures. Cultural identity inspires people to create lyrical gifts to their nation in the form of literature, the arts, music, dance, architecture and design. In an era of globalization, of cultural imperialism and of regional hegemonies, national identity is paramount to national survival. It is culture which gives legitimacy to the idea of nationhood.

We cannot assume that Bhutanese culture will just somehow survive and that through benign neglect that it will continue to grow and flourish independently, as it has done for centuries. Mass communication, education and urges to be part of the larger world all can act against the survival of a culture and therefore its people as an independent society. Mainstream culture, as evidenced in North American, Europe, India and China, is essential for polyglot, heterogeneous societies of large nations, but can spell the end of smaller and more unique communities. One may shrug their shoulders and say, “So what?” This is a casual and irresponsible response. The mainstream, global culture is imperfect. As it evolves, it exaggerates its embedded features, which may be long term weaknesses. As it grows in strength and assimilates smaller cultures, it becomes less introspective, less self-critical of its own assumptions and actions. This is an historical cycle evidenced from the times of the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Germans, British, Russians and now America. The expanding imperial wave finally implodes into its own centre, and new values, mores and habits are required to resuscitate the world order. Just as isolated rain forests hide the cures to future diseases, so do the smaller, more unique cultures hold within them lessons for the world as larger societies grapple for answers to chaos. Thus, cultural regionalism is not a matter of fanatical nationalism, which wrecked havoc over the world in the Twentieth Century. Rather it is a necessary condition for national survival and for gifting to the world aspects of this uniqueness, as homogenized, mass cultures loose their potency and relevance. From Ladakh, to Mustang, to Sikkim and to Tibet, the great Himalayan Civilization is threatened with extinction by films, television, music, fashion, architecture and transportation, cultural diffusion and political hegemony.

Vernacular contents are the local practices, mores, and codes of behavior, language, dress, music, art forms, habits, signs, symbols and motifs, which are particular to a culture and therefore become the abiding images of that culture. Invading, imperial forces have always attacked the main icons, or symbols, of a culture first. Occupying Delhi was always the objective of contenders to rule the sub-continent! The Red Fort was the symbol of governance. In the War of 1812 the British Navy lobbed a bomb into the American Capitol Building Dome, bringing it to the ground!

Thus, the key symbols of a culture are drawn from the emotive expressions of the people themselves and deposited in monuments, which then symbolize the entire complex culture. Cultural diffusion, a most implicit process, and cultural imperialism, a very explicit process, continue as a part of economic and political competition. While opening doors to the outside world, let us not do so innocently! Let there be a concomitant strategy to protect the identity, culture and uniqueness of Bhutan.

In Bhutan there is a cultural continuum between a small chorten, a mani wall, a cottage, a village lakhang, a large manor house, a monastery, and the great dzongs. Elements of the small chorten can be found in the largest dzongs, and in fact in all of the architectural expressions of the land! Yet, there is a huge variety of components even within the dzong prototype. The Trongsa Dzong is organic, the Jakar Dzong has prominent round turrets; the Paro Dzong is geometrical and the Trashi Chhoe Dzong is a grand, horizontal monument. Thus, the identity of the Bhutanese citizen, of the community of Bhutanese people, is largely drawn from the architectural imagery, which contains diversity within unity. While food habits, dress, painting, language, dance and music also play their role, the aspect of governance is largely communicated through architecture. A unique feature of Bhutanese architecture is that it draws its essence from the vernacular, rather than alien, foreign or historical imperial references as do American, Indian and European symbols. Perhaps Bhutan’s greatest strength is the continuum of its national symbolism, rooted in the vernacular iconography and spreading through to national icons!

Like Russian dolls, which fit one with in the other, the artifacts and iconography that make up the architecture of Bhutan, fit in all together. Yet, unlike Russian dolls, the inter-fitting parts are not merely scaled down replicas of one another. They are diverse expressions, yet with the same traits!


His late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, understood this phenomenon in great depth. He understood that for centuries the various dzongs of Bhutan were the very image of law and order; of spiritualism and sanctuary. He understood that unifying Bhutan around his new vision of modernization would only be successful if the transformation took place within the cultural context. On his vast palate of agenda were the freeing of the serfs, creating a national assembly, codifying laws, rationalizing an oppressive revenue system, professionalizing the administration, entering into relations with other countries and the UNO, building the first roads, telegraph system and electric facilities, creating a modern education system, health care system and army; and imitating various industries. He initiated the process of defining distinct branches of governance separating out judicial and legislative functions! On his vast canvas he laid out a huge landscape, and like a Mandela it required a centerpiece to anchor all of the parts together. Thus, he embarked on the project to rebuild the ancient Trashi Chhoe Dzong, as the actual and symbolic headquarters of his new state and nation. Using all of the elements and components of the vernacular, he emphasized horizontal lines, simple geometric forms, and in an approach very similar to the American modernist, Frank Lloyd Wright, created a contemporary icon symbolizing the new Bhutan. To some at the time the Herculean task of rebuilding the Trashi Chhoe Dzong appeared a wasteful expenditure on a grand scale. Yet, through this one effort His Majesty gathered into one monument all the ideas, imagery and meaning held in the country’s numerous dzongs. While earlier dzongs were associated with the penlops and ruling families of particular valley regions, the Trashi Chhoe Dzong symbolized the entire nation. Herein lies a lesson of great wisdom about the symbolism and the state!


Shapes, their scale, their compositional relationships to one another carry meanings! Within geometry are set the relationships between the parts. Not just the physical parts, but the roles, powers, hierarchies, functions and most of all the authority of the parts. By placing a royal palace in the centre of a capitol complex, one is ceding to the monarch total control over the other wings and branches of governance. Historically Karlsruhe, Versailles and the Rashtrapati Bhavan expressed, through geometry, the singular authority of the rulers. They were the focal point from which all lines radiated out in a single direction.

The American capitol complex focuses everything on the people’s representatives, the national legislature. Chandigarh places the judiciary, the legislature and the secretariat in an equitable composition, including the governor’s house representing the state. It is a most democratic symbol, incorporating the idea of checks and balances.

Thus, the geometric composition of a national capitol is of critical importance for generations to come. Such compositions are mirrors of the political system and precursors of the future success of the nation. It is now the vision of His Majesty to transform Bhutan into a democratic nation, where no one branch of government can overpower any other branch; where the ethos and value system of the state are enshrined into a constitution, which in turn embodies the state!


A system of division of powers gradually emerged in the governance of nations. This was a long process beginning with unicentric rulers, expanding into bipartite systems where the interests of powerful land lords were represented in the early assemblies, which later expanded into more democratic bicameral legislatures, with empowered judiciaries wielding the power of “judicial review!”

Unipartite Symbols

Throughout history rulers have attempted to bring decisions inward, toward a unitary, centralized command. Right from the Pharos to European Kings, this unipartite system of governance characterized all nations. Versailles is the perfect symbol of this with power virtually radiating out from the King’s palace. On the city side the streets virtually fan out like fingers from a hand, and the same symbolic structure is used to lay out the vast gardens on the park side. The symbolic geometry of the Vice Regal Palace in the New Delhi imperial capitol layout, was devised to emphasize the central power of Her Majesty’s representative in Imperial India; another example of a unipartite symbol. In a unipartite system of governance all branches of governance are integrated into the state mechanism.

Bipartite Symbols

Many countries like Great Britain, and the countries of Northern Europe, underwent gradual transformations into constitutional monarchies and then representative democracies, with the monarchy remaining as the head of state, often including the judiciary. There were long historic periods where the monarchies held the executive and judicial powers, and an elected body created the laws of the land. A bicameral, or upper and lower house configuration protected the interests of land and property, while also checking popularist frenzy. In Britain this bicameral system evolved with a bipartite structure separating the monarchy and parliament with the symbolic division between Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Each symbolized a center of power and the two were unconnected. The Parliament and the Monarchy even acted independently and at odds with of one another, creating conflicting situations.

Bipartite systems usually lead to landed families and wealthy traders controlling the legislative branch, opposing the centralized interests of the royal families, or even the elected presidents, as is seen in Latin America. In oligarchies, it is usually the wealthy commercial lobbies, whose interests differ from the national popularist interests, which creates a schism. Economic interests are monopolized and civil liberties are thrown to the wind. As such oligarchies are not elected democratically, but through an indirect system of representation. They are motivated by what may be called “hidden agendas,” usually of a monopolistic commercial and exploitative nature. Under such circumstances these governments are not seeking symbolic expressions, but rather prefer to conceal the operations of governance. In such systems the essential judiciary branch is suppressed, or non-existent, or just a decorative hand-maiden of the system.

The early American system of representative democracy was in fact this kind of arrangement! Though checks and balances were built into the nature of the constitution, the right to vote was highly restricted to an educated, male, elite gentry, until the early part of the Twentieth Century. Thus, Capitol Hill dominates over a large Mall, expressing the power of the elite representatives, who were not democratically elected through general franchise, but who ruled over the new nation. It took more than two hundred years for the judiciary to mature and to stake its rightful claim to power. While judicial review is not written into the United States Constitution, it is implied that it is the role of the judiciary to protect the Constitution. As recently as the 1950’s and 1960’s, where for the first time the judiciary became proactive in guaranteeing the civil rights of minorities; personal rights took precedents over economic rights. Thus, the Washington Mall represents the bipartite spirit of the ruling gentry and the indirectly elected president in the White House. Here the PEOPLE were given symbolic representation in the open lawns of the Mall itself, where there are parks, monuments and various attractions commemorating major historic figures and events. This vast open space links the bicameral legislative houses to the executive, and later with the judiciary attached. It is an imperfect symbol of what exists today in practice. Rather it traces symbolically the growth of a mature democratic system.

Rule, Misrule and Unruly!

It is important to note that very few new capitols symbolize democracy with a capital “D”! The new capitol complex in Dhaka was built under Pakistani Rule, as an attempt to keep East Bengal within its dictatorial fold and only symbolizes a limited regional autonomy. In New Delhi (a symbol of imperial colonial power), as elsewhere, there are very dated symbolic meaning systems. Interestingly, the Soviet Union remained ensconced within the walls of the feudal Czarist Kremlin, symbolizing the continuance of central, dictatorial rule. Perhaps the new capital of the state of the Punjab, and that of Brazil, are the only two modern, democratic symbols available as precedents to study. Others are really historical fragments, relics of past experiments and adventures, representing rule and misrule, which met with various degrees of success and failure.

Checks and Balances: Emergence of the Tripartite Concept

In the Twentieth Century the realization that the judiciary has a key role to play as guardians of the Constitution, and therefore indirectly the state, gave rise to the concept of checks and balances and the tripartite nature of good governance. The judiciary has to see things from a distance, dispassionately and with a rational, long term view on the implications of new laws, administrative orders and interpretations affecting the lives of the citizenry. Clearly, from a symbolic point of view, the judiciary has a key role in the iconography of the national capitol complex. It must be within the capitol complex, have a key axis mediating in the interest of the state and constitution between the executive and the legislative branches of government! Thus, in the thematic layout of the capitol complex the judiciary must fall in its own sacred space, at some distance from the other branches of government, yet within the composition!

Therefore we come back to the importance of the concept of the state, its fundamental values, and the Constitution as an incarnation of the state!


The concept of a state is an ethereal one, emanating from history and from culture. Whatever values, human rights, and limitations on authority that are written into a constitution are but mere fragments of the national value system, cultural wisdom and spiritual system. The laws of a country can be no more just than the values inherent in the people of that country. These values emanate from the ethos of history, from predominant spiritual systems, from the customs and mores which guide everyday life and from the symbols of these threads, such as the monarchy, the Buddhists Path and the iconography of the nation. At present these values are held in Trusteeship by His Majesty and the Je Khenpo. Under a constitutional democracy, His Majesty, as Head of the State, will have the role of preserving and safeguarding the values of the State and the Constitution which are reflections of the people. It is essential that the symbol of the State, the Trashi Chhoe Dzong, remains the centerpiece of the Capitol Complex. All of the other branches gain their authority from the State and the Constitution, which lays down their powers, roles, functions and limitations too!

Some of the ancient values enshrined in the State are:

*. The Drukpa Spiritual Path;
*. The Monarchy: Duty, Loyalty, Judgment, Courage and Truth;
*. Common Wisdom of the Bhutanese People;
*. Tolerance of Diversity within Unity;
*. Catalyst of Modulated Change; and
*. Respect for the people and an ear to their views!

Under the new Constitutional powers, authority will be further disseminated and decentralized into branches. Authority will be given conditionally, in trusteeship, and can be withdrawn if used unconstitutionally!


The Judiciary’s role vastly expands under the Constitution. While previously the Judiciary played an impartial role in deciding on innocence or guilt; judging on the legality of various actions by individuals and agencies under the laws; and as a point of appeal regarding executive decisions: it is now to protect the State and the Constitution through its review and veto powers over laws enacted by the Legislature and over orders passed by the Executive. It shall have powers to declare laws unconstitutional and to interpret laws within the context of the Constitution. It will have judiciary review powers over acts and decisions of the executive branch. Thus, it is essential that the judiciary have a prominent geometrical position within the National Capitol Complex. By aligning with the Trashi Chhoe Dzong, its reflection of the State becomes real. By sitting intermediary between the Legislature and the Executive its considered interpretation of the Constitution in judging on their actions is compositionally established. The Judiciary also has the difficult task of insulating itself from popular frenzy, unjust beliefs and momentary emotions of the people. It always has to keep the State and the protection of the Constitution, and its values in front of it and not be swayed by popular sentiments. The judiciary must be shielded from the Plaza of the People by the symbol of the state! This too must be found in the composition of the National Capitol Complex.


Elected Governments form policy and promote legislation required to implement policies. Governments are composed of Ministers, Councils of Ministers and their Prime Minister. But the actual implementation of policies through programmes and projects is an executive function of the administration. While it is the mission of the Executive to carry out the Governments’ policies, the Executive is professionally bound by the laws of the land to act within their own system of ethics, expressed in a Civil Code of conduct. They can not do something unconstitutional or illegal just because they are told to do so. They have both regulatory and facilitative roles and these powers must be applied in an unprejudiced and disinterested manner. They take national policy and turn it into programmes and projects. They take political goals and turn them into objections and even targets! They prepare budgets and monitor expenditure. They are responsible to the people to deliver services and order, yet they must act within the law of the land and in the shadow of the State! While their policy directives emanate from the elected leaders, out of the Legislature, they are also responsible to the Head of State for their ethical and professional behavior. Thus, the Executive Branch of Governance sits between the Judiciary and the Plaza of the People. It is shielded from the Legislative branch by the State.


As a participatory and representative system, the new constitutional government will be guided by elected representatives, with both a lower house and an upper house. This bicameral Legislature will debate policy, create laws, monitor expenditure, analyze government actions, form commissions to expedite enquires and to monitor the Executive. Most important it will form Governments, elect Ministers and create committees. The upper house must confirm treaties, declarations of war and review the appointment of senior officials. Committees will have the critical role of legislative reviews, and even investigations into executive propriety in the conduct of governance. The Legislative Branch of government must sense the pulse of the people and transform desires and requirements into rational policy frameworks. In theory the legislative branch can create amendments to the Constitution to check and balance the vetoes and interpretations of the judiciary! The Legislature must have its own geometry in the National Capitol Complex too. Fortunately, the present National Assembly will be more than adequate to house the People’s Representatives. An Upper House will also be required, which can be accommodated near by.


Just as the Washington Mall represents the people, so a People’s Plaza will symbolize the people of Bhutan, their common wisdom, their needs and their desires. It will remind all of the other branches for whom they serve! It will be placed between the Town Core of Thimphu and the Trashi Chhoe Dzong. It will include a statue, paved areas, landscaped sitting and contemplation areas. It will give every citizen of the country a place to come and to be a part of the National Capitol Complex in the same manner that the Central Vista in the New Delhi Capitol Complex arrangement works for the people of India and the Washington Mall works for the people of America.


The new Bhutanese Constitution enshrines Bhutanese values, guarantees rights of citizens and lays out procedures for enacting laws and the governance of the nation. It envisions various “branches” of governance, which moderate and modulate each other. It provides measures for any two of the three branches to curtail the other branches should they behave in an unconstitutional manner.
This is a system of “checks and balances,” and for this system to work each “branch” of governance must have its own strength, identity and symbolic PLACE in the geometry of the National Capitol Complex. It should be an obvious, transparent, overtly expressed aspect of the system of governance. Thus, the actual laying out the National Capitol Complex is not just a functional fitting of things into limited space; it is an emblematic expression of the nation of Bhutan, with deep seated meanings and ramifications. Just as a mandala is an emblematic diagram of the cosmos, of the order of the universe, so the organization of the capitol is an emblematic diagram of Bhutanese Governance.

A unique emblem would emerge, as Bhutan has a unique history and culture. It has never been ruled over by a foreign power! It has a State which has evolved through history in a modulated, continuous manner. Though labeled as an isolationist nation, it has in fact drawn judiciously and consciously from a variety of cultures, societies and nations. Yet, never in haste or under pressure! It has had a benevolent monarchy at the helm of progress and peaceful transformation. The culture itself sets out rules of conduct between family members, neighbors, village communities and all fellow citizens. All of these values are enshrined in the culture’s iconography.


Hints vs. tested and replicated/ test of time/ overt vs covert/ embedded vs extroverted


(markers/energypaths/spaces/places/landmarks/boundaries/zones/sequences/connectors/barriers/views/alignments/monuments/landscape/barrowed landscape)


*. Regionalism (human scale/nature/movement/ground/
*. Context as Generator
*. What Time is this Place
*. Critical Analysis
*. Appropriate Technology and Relevant Forms
*. The Role of Motifs

TAIN Evenings presents...

TAIN is hosting artist Kumari Martha Meagher on the 14th and 15th of January, 2011 in Pune.

Kumari has trained academically as an artist at U.California Santa Cruz, SanJose State University, and under the painting masters Hiroshi Tagami, Diane Pieri, and Taoist masters in Taiwan. She has lived and pursued her art in Europe, China, West Africa and India. As well as outer travel , she has pursued the inner world; diving deep into meditation and dance. Her paintings are experiments of life itself. For her, the art of painting is one of deep listening, it is receptive, loving and aware of nuances, impulses and space.

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