Wake Up Clean Up Bengaluru: Designing inclusive urban structures

[Interview] The Alternative caught up with Bhavana in a conversation about the connection between waste and the civic awareness of urban spaces.

When addressing the issue of waste management in the city, the conversation inevitably steers towards construction and usage of space. The common understanding is that development brings with it the bane of modern and functional structures that encroach into inches of extra space which we had the luxury of only until a while back. Architects Bhavana Kumar and Nicola La Noce of Kumar La Noce, however, are thinking through and designing urban spaces with a concern towards surroundings and with the belief that architecture can effect change in the city.


Bhavana Kumar with the iCommit pavilion

In just a few months of opening store, they have successfully set up installations at Bangalore Literature Festival 2012 and created the ‘I Commit’ pavilion at Wake Up Clean Up Bengaluru, which encouraged many visitors to ‘commit’ to following responsible practices around reducing, re-using, re-cycling and segregating waste.

The Alternative caught up with Bhavana in a conversation about the connection between waste and the civic awareness of urban spaces.

What is the concept of architecture in urbanism?

We believe that architecture is very intricately connected to the city. Architecture is not isolated boxes or buildings. We try to make sure that whatever we design or build isn’t just a standalone kind of symbol but something that works with the immediate surroundings.

And that goes functionally and aesthetically?

Definitely. I think that when you do take care of the organizational and functional aspect, the aesthetic part isn’t far behind. We don’t believe in these kinds of bizarre aesthetic manifestations only just to put an icon in that place. We do believe that when a building is part of a context, it needs to fit in all possible ways.

Does that involve a lot of attempts to work with the Government? What kind of stakeholders are you working with at this point?

We would like to work with the Government. Considering we are starting off and just a few months old, we’re working on a few private projects. The iCommit Pavilion and the other installation we designed for the Bangalore Literature Festival have been in public contexts. Somewhere we’re trying to connect to the city in whatever small way possible. When it comes to  spaces with civic qualities, we should stop looking at the Government or the state for providing us the space every time. We believe that as individuals, designers, architects, clients, builders – we need to start contributing to making quality spaces for the city. So it isn’t just that if you’re building a park then the Government does it and if you’re building a mall, you eat all the space that you’ve been given and even more and have no responsibility towards creating quality space.

When you were starting out, were you trying to fill a huge gap that was there left by private builders who are not looking at any sustainability aspect of a structure or a building or any kind of urban planning? How do you position yourself differently from other architects?

We’re working on this concept called the ‘architecture of civic-ness’ where we say that we want to build in qualities of civic spaces into our architecture, be it private be it public. So this is an ongoing research in our studio where we’re trying to see the little tangible elements that go into making a space inclusive. Our condominiums have so much land and resources is locked into their walls. Are there ways that we can open them up so that it’s both profitable to both investors and the city?

Coming back to the civic issue of urban planning, what do you feel is the greatest challenge at this point? You mentioned that places have become less inclusive, especially if you look at urban spaces where buildings are jostling for spaces and encroaching into space more than anything else. Is dearth of space really the reason for this status quo?

The problem is definitely not a lack of space because that’s subjective. So it’s about how you proportion your space and what your priorities are. I think that we as architects and designers need to start realizing the value of engaging with surroundings. If you start being extremely exclusive about your space, you lose out on a lot of delight the surrounding has had to offer you in a way people interact with the space, in a way that you relate to things.

There’s a lot of collective knowledge already in our architecture and our design sensibility but somewhere we are starting to lose that in a quest for architectural expression. And this architectural expression itself is starting to become quite globalized so it’s losing all its local identity. I don’t mean aesthetically but in the core of the design and sensibilities – something much deeper than just how it looks and feels. So I think as designers we need to be more responsive to the surroundings and realize the potential of actually being inclusive. A lot of organizations and cities around the world are realizing now that there’s value in opening up to people rather than closing down. So we need to start understanding that when you create a certain civic landscape in a certain area or city, then stakeholders start coming in and people start appreciating that space more. So we can start a cycle where we actually regenerate that area.

Are people opening up to civic awareness in architecture and willing to pay money for it given change in thinking about space will take time and the average consumer might look at this as a risk?

It’s difficult given that it’s a risk with your life’s savings but it need not be mutually exclusive to create quality spaces to bring in more vibrancy to our neighborhood. So this is the main challenge in convincing people that it will happen because designing and building cities is not over a short time of span. You will probably see results of some intervention say in 5 or 10 years from when you actually start. We need patrons – people who have the money and the power to start investing in these kinds of ideas.

Is this a niche market then at this point?

I don’t know if you can call it a niche market. I mean what we’re talking about is a sensibility and we are saying that our work is based on this kind of sensibility but I think this applies equally to all of us.

Visitors picked up strips of waste material, old news-papers, food wrappers and plastic provided at the pavilion and looped them in the form of Mobius strips, as an affirmation of their pledge.

What is the idea behind the iCommit pavilion?

We decided to use materials from construction sites. You find this everywhere. We’ve used corrugated sheets, which have been reused from discarded construction material. We’re trying to show that designing a space that is quite intimate can actually happen with very simple material that is reusable and also that it can be quite intuitive. Our inspiration is informal bits of architecture all around the city. We don’t always need to look at formal or established design ideas. So what we’re saying is that walk around the city and you’ll find little bits or architecture everywhere and more often than not, when you go to informal settlements, market areas or the tiny nooks like little temples under trees – we see ingenious ways in which people have actually appropriated spaces. This is something that we actually like to document and bring back to our design process simply because we believe that these are ingenious, indigenous and they are often very conducive to the immediate context. So that’s where the starting point for this structure comes from. And we also wanted to make a very primitive space – it could be a room that just came out of the ground from a ritual, faith, which is un-programmed; a space that can be appropriated for conversation, rest or play by individuals or groups. It is a clearing in the woods or a childhood make-shift ‘house’, an ‘adda’ or remnants of a gathering.

How much do you stress on using waste when designing and building new structures?

A lot of our original building material, for e.g., Casuarina poles are rented and re-used as scaffolds in construction sites. These poles are extremely strong and are basically used to hold up the formwork and we also used them for the installation at the Bangalore literature festival and they’ve taken on a different avatar now. Often materials that are just immediately around us can be quite useful in creating these kinds of spaces. In fact we’ve been documenting the scaffolding structures that come up around the city and you see some very fantastic installations, often more interesting than the building itself.

Beyond scaffolding structures, do you also design and build green homes using waste?

In principle, we believe that every house must be a green house in the sense that it’s something that should be a part of the common sense that you design. It isn’t something that is imposed or it’s not something that after you’ve designed, you put a cap on it saying it’s a green home. We try to make it part of our design in terms of efficiency and in terms of climate control – they’re very simple ways you can make a house suited to a certain climate. So once that is taken care of, you might not need air conditioning etc. we believe that it’s something that should be part of the process, right from the scaffolding structure.

The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. more


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The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. more

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  • resha

    This Bhavana Kumar & Nicholus are totally fake & fraud,They were involved in fake review & mal practices in marking system initiative by MS Anitha Suseelan, of RV M.Arch urban design course. I did complaint to university & COA to take action against all involved. They would have blacklisted but HOD Dr. Anantha Krishna protected them.

    It is shameful & disgusting people can go at any level to get job, they try to spoil student’s future. RV architecture dep’s mission is to spoil the carrier of non bramhin people & these people were involved in that. shame on them. & such people are highlighted by media like they are doing some great work…all drama & fake. I have all proofs also