Urban transmog rification. Necessity for mutation of spaces.

Over millennia the human race has evolved to an extent that habits have diversified to a great extent associated with factors such as culture, climate, topography, ecology and economy. In the Indian context this diversification can be observed in every few kilometers of travel. However, one thing which unifies us is certainly the enthusiasm of the people, the vibrancy they portray in terms of physical aspects such as art, architecture, attire; or non-physical aspects like events, rituals, gatherings. This reflects in the organically evolved vigorous spaces which one often finds in the old towns and city centers. Although these spaces, in most cases, are relatively in a bad state and lack maintenance, they have a certain atmosphere associated with them which attracts the masses — be it through the existence of ancestral business establishments, or the presence of the old market. In such a scenario generalizing the characteristics of traditional public spaces becomes a colossal task.

There is a large requirement for such vigorous urban spaces, especially from a point of view of a developing nation. These spaces help imbibe a sense of association and a sensitivity towards the evolving culture. They help in evolution of a better society.

Due to constant evolution and the nature of these urban spaces to adapt, they maintain a dynamism which adds to their intense character. Also, this phenomenon of undergoing constant modulation adds to these spaces a spatial pattern which possesses a succession; the transformation can probably be observed in a day or may be a year or perhaps even in longer span of time. While the shorter cycles highlight recurring volatility of the space, the longer duration taken to witness a change highlights their fluidity.

I categories these urban spaces into two types — the one which are repetitive in its event-cycle; the other transforms into something spatially contrasting while keeping the key physical aspects within it untouched. The commonality between these two completely different categories of spaces is that they have undergone mutation to transform into a different space.

Take an example of a market street — for instance Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad. The street which in its twenty-four hour cycle becomes a space for stray animals, spill-out area for shops, mediation point for businesses, parking space, and open dining area. Multiple activities overlap here embracing chaos, and proceed in an un-orchestrated yet humane, mundane and desirable way. In this disorganized setup exists an ancestral business establishment superimposed with a market, a mosque and an axial street connection; and this perhaps makes it a successful evolved public space which experiences repetitive alterations in a twenty-four hour cycle. The dialectic of this space is its beauty. Let us term this as a cyclic mutation of space.

The other type is what I term, a periodic mutation, with a relatively longer cycle — probably of a year. Activities like annual rituals, festivals etc. fall into this category. Take for instance the fairs or melas that take place across the nation. Varying from a day to a month long, these melas are generally placed around a festival or ritual which has a mythological/ historical precinct to it. They were cleverly timed by our ancestors around a particular event or referring to certain change -be it the harvesting season or welcoming the monsoons these melas have always existed with a sense of celebration associated with them.

The other instance is dissociative mutation. It is a physical transformation of space and form into something unexpected. For instance Freedom Park, Bangalore was transformed into a public realm from what was formerly a prison. An arts and historical precinct formed a mediator to invite people to a space by breaking the notion of its prior function — the prison. While walking through this space, one refers to the function of a prison with a sense of nostalgia, and yet the present function being detached from its prevailing form. The prevailing form becomes a piece of art in a larger context of a museum. The museum dissociates itself from the prison, yet it perfectly fits in the same urban fabric in which the prison existed.

These mutations referred, in a notional sense, exist everywhere. With reference to the sub-continental context, they however exude certain characteristics. These referred types of mutations — cyclic, periodic and dissociative — contribute to the space for something more than what it is. There are certain other examples where these speckled mutations coexist. This dynamic coexistence actually instigates in evolving and extracting hidden layers of urban to its surface; almost as if their intent is to revive and create a new culture.

Take for instance the Kala Ghoda Art Festival, Mumbai. With the inception of this art festival in 1999, the festival has evolved over a period of time and has contributed to the culture of the city. The art festival provides platform to various forms of art including film, theater, music, literature, visual arts, dance, and food.

During this cyclic event, the entire art district sitting in the middle of the business hub dissociates itself from its otherwise dominant function as a business centre, and transforms it into an exuberant and an animated space. The entire atmosphere is ecstatic. The artists are portraying their work, getting recognized; while the common man is enjoying the divinity of the space. However, in the backdrop the activity of businesses is subdued. The entire sequence of flock of people wearing formal suits, crossing the road near fountain and walking towards Bombay Stock Exchange is underplayed.

Today the festival attracts thousands of artists from around the world to participate and exhibit their art work. It is an orchestrated temporal setting that elevates the character of Fort area, and bridges the gap between intellectuals and artists with the common people who live and work in the vicinity. The influence these kinds of events create is worth appreciating as they help for the evolution of a society and the city.

Gaining recognition globally, the Kala Ghoda Art Festival seems to be a successful project, but can it be termed as a project of landscape, urban design or urban-art? It just blurs the boundary within disciplines; perhaps we can term this as spatial art.

However, the Kala Ghoda Art Festival has existed not merely because of its sentimental values. It has existed on the entangled efforts of multiple fields which apart from art promote economy, culture, character and identity of the space. It has respected the space and activities of everyone in the district, and yet humbly maintained its position.

We do require such kind of genuine interventions happening around the country which will help us revitalize and accentuate the existing culture and heritage, making us conscious and ex-posing us to this vital phenomenon of interdependencies of smaller contexts within a larger context. These types of projects will tickle the passive layers in the urban fabric and rejuvenate them for a better evolution, providing them with a sense of identity and urging each one of us to be a bit more sensitive and responsive to the space around us.

For instance, Horniman Circle, Mumbai is a space surrounded with interesting architectural and functional spaces like The Asiatic Society on one side and St. Thomas Cathedral Church on the other; banks, office blocks, press and media and art galleries are in close proximity, and all of them have a potential to instigate temporal-adaptive activities around it. Likewise, Mandi House Circle, New Delhi though lesser in density of population when compared to Horniman Circle, is a popular destination because it is a hub of many cultural places including Kamani Auditorium, Rabindra Bhawan, Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts, National

School of Drama, The Little Theatre Group, Russian Centre of Science & Culture, Triveni Kala Sangam, and FICCI. These spaces have a potential to influence the circle and to transform it into an area that has the potential to reflect back in imposing a collective culture back on these institutes.

If observed carefully, the landscape in these kinds of spaces has played a crucial role in shaping it. And, by landscape I mean the setup of constructed urban conditions to which the behavioral and spatial responses are associated. Therefore landscape, as an adaptive system, becomes a reliable aspect in the methodology to derive such spaces.

Spaces around us are constantly evolving and changing, but some of these anchor points need to develop in an exaggerated rate so as to make a motion. These are the spaces in our day to day lives which contribute in defining and redefining culture of the region. And in the present day scenario, where things rapidly change, these kinds of spaces hold on to the roots, shape them, and take a leap in creating legacy. Deriving such mutating spaces therefore becomes necessity of the day.

If we look at the previously mentioned examples some spaces like Manek Chowk appear to evolve through a complex process. These spaces can be observed in multiple scenarios. While we have many such conditions prevail-ing, mimicking these processes is almost impossible. The other categories of spaces were instigated consciously, like Kala Ghoda Art Festival, with a focused attention to transform. Complex processes are initiated in such scenarios, which in-return evolve and contribute over time to the culture of a city. Identifying and doing so consciously would help us derive a cultural scenario, with a sense of creating a base to build a legacy in this present day fast changing world.

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