Battleground Gota (TU Delft - Global Housing Studio / Vastu-Shilpa Foundation, Ahmedabad )

Team Gunday - Hemant Pawar, Francesca Agresti, Zhen Zhang, Hugo Corbett, Thomas Ponds

Team Gunday seeks to explore the changing role of the architect in Ahmedabad as the city expands, rejecting nostalgia for the traditional Indian village, embracing the contradictions of contemporary Indian culture and acknowledging a new urban paradigm characterised by strange adjacencies, rapid expansion, form following finance, a paradigm which is unreflecting, contested, flexible and irrational.

On the edge of Ahmedabad, one of Asia’s fastest growing cities in one of India’s wealthiest states, Modi and friends welcome large housing developers at the ex- pense of local democratic processes, informal settlements, ecologies and ‘Architecture’ (in the city of Kahn, Corbusier, Correa and Doshi).

Within this context, the Battleground Gota project proposes other modes of engagement for architects within participatory community organisations which can disrupt, deflect and exploit ‘bigger’ forces

For the past sixteen years, Professor BV Doshi and the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation have organised an International Habitat design workshop in Ahmedabad, one of Asia’s fastest growing cities, inviting students from universities around the world to spend eight weeks exploring various challenges around housing in the city alongside an extensive lecture series.

In this sixteenth edition, students from TU Delft in the Netherlands, RWTH Aachen in Germany and from several Indian uni- versities were presented with a site at the edge of the city in Gota, plot of land be- tween Gota Village, Gota Lav (lake), and those tower blocks within gated communi- ties which characterise the expanding city.

Team Gunday identified this site as symbolic of many of the challenges of contemporary urban India, a battleground point between cultures, economies, industries, landowners and settlers. Within this (contested) context, normal rules do not apply and architects must cannot resort to typical (top-down) masterplans. The project does not exclude large developments or high rise architecture but sees them as part of a more complex and diverse system.

Instead of starting with streets and typologies, Team Gunday first developed a manifesto on how to approach the project and achieve goals necessary within this piece of the city, relating to density, ecology and phasing, centrality, community, phas- ing and commerce. Like all good manifestos, it was frequently changed, open to interpretation and to manipulation.

Working with projections and developer scenarios, Team Gunday looked at ‘worst-case’ (albeit realistic) scenarios where local industry is displaced, Gota village is ignored, poor architecture is built and the developers are laughing all the way to the bank.

Considering this, the first input was to introduce some benevolent developers (e.g. linked to NGOs), private (small-scale) developers and large developers interested in (more) affordable housing, for which their is a surplus of demand. For each developer a different typology was developed (low- rise, highrise, urban villa). Put together, they begin to create some of the startling adjacencies which give the city is richness.

The second input was to invent pressure groups who lobbied for their particular interest and who gain leverage through organisation, strength in numbers and shared goals. The architect is one member of these organisations – sometimes next to the slum dweller or next to the developer, sometimes as expert professional or sometimes a concerned local.

Whilst recognising the need (and inevitability) of large developers, these groups made small gains and demands which might preserve, protect local interests and create better public space. These include rules imposed on street frontages and program designations, on mixing apartment sizes, and support networks for informal communities. These create a multitude of design opportunities and at every scale – from the bench to the perimeter block.

For instance, several groups represent ecological concern for Gota. The lake at Gota has been earmarked for redevelopment in the manner of other lakes around the city, with its edge rendered as concrete and designated as ‘leisure’ space. The concerned organisations push for local ownership alongside major governmental investment in infrastructure. The lakeside becomes a community managed (regional) resource, whilst the ecological program extends into to a series of very small, small, medium and large, green spaces through the site.

The result is a project which resembles the strangeness of the contemporary Indian city and is conceived as a palimpsest rather than a clear vision. Closer inspection reveals small gains and improvements, calibrations led by the Gota’s participatory society.

Team Gunday is enthusiastic and optimistic about community engagement, local responsibility, big developers, the market economy, confrontation and participation as means to maintain the growth and fine balance of the Indian city. Architectural expression & aesthetic coherence are a secondary concern... or tertiary... or quartenary....

In what way does your proposal contribute to the open society?
Within a context of big business – big economy – big developers - the project proposes other modes of engagement for architects within participatory community organisations which can disrupt, deflect and exploit larger forces

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