Forum 2016 - Infrastructure Space - Detroit (Ruby Press)
105 104 rial that is used to construct the city. The paraphernalia that are not reused are usually made out of reabsorbable material, such as thatch or bamboo, which get incorporated into the site or merged with the natural terrain through organic decomposition. Once the festival is over, the whole city is disassembled as quick as it was deployed, reversing the constructive operation and disaggregating the city into its basic components. By March everything is dismantled and taken back to storage, or sold to construc- tion sites in the region. Finally, in July the river floods over the traces of the city, until October, when the river again reaches its lowest levels, and the site is exposed again to be used for agri- culture. It will be a productive site for twelve years, until a new version of the ephemeral megacity will be built again to sit lightly on the sandy banks of the Ganges for a few weeks. At the Kumbh Mela there is a sense of openness that manifests at different scales and stages, from the scale of the construction detail to the scale of the master plan, as well as from the scale of its macro-planning to its later deconstruction. However, perhaps the most powerful aspect of the Kumbh Mela city is that its robust- ness and resilience are first concei- ved of as an open work, as a text written in dialogue with its users. The pragmatism of the officials who plan the festival is complemented by the use and appropriation of the site and materials by devotees and saints. The fluid openness that defines the urban fabric of the Kumbh Mela is based on an implicit contract of confidence and a common religious purpose. Again, the ephemeral city of the Kumbh, un- like the closed city, is resilient exactly because, in Sennett’s words, it “is a bottom-up place; it belongs to the people.” Challenging current trends, as an extreme case of design and planning with uncertainty, the Kumbh Mela shows us how improvisation and incompleteness can become funda- mental in the construction of strength and unity. In the camps, highly heterogeneous structures are organized around com- binatory systems that rely on very few building strategies. Each of the few building techniques implemented at the Kumbh are based on the repetition and recombination of a basic module with a simple connection, generating a wide range of enclosures, from small tents to complex structures that give expression to diverse social institutions such as theaters, monuments, temples, and hospitals. All of them are cons- tructed out of the same elements— Fig. 8: The flood plain in the evening, with the pontoon bridges visible in the background. bamboo used as a framework and connected to laminar materials such as corrugated metal and fabric. The process of construction and re- construction, as well as formation and reabsorption into the various ecologies and geographies of the region, serves the Kumbh Mela, as well as the whole regional economy. This open conditi- on of planning, urban design, space occupation, and constructability could also be applied to other non-perma- nent settlements such as refugee camps or disaster relief efforts, as well as to future urban design and redesign projects. While recently there have been ef- forts to incorporate the unspecific into architectonic projects, a willingness to embrace randomness, incompletion, and incrementality in design at the urban scale could be quite beneficial. The aspiration of almost absolute con- trol, brought on by the empowerment of new technologies, has started to be challenged by some practical and conceptual efforts to accept incomple- tion and incrementality as more effec- tive strategies than the certainties and entropy of digital modeling—which is a form of the absolute! Therefore, in the same way that urban designers have learned from the experiences of in- cremental social housing, we can also extract lessons with respect to how openness and adaptability could be introduced into the metropolitan scale from the city of the Kumbh Mela. Perhaps design can anticipate diverse temporalities into its images for the future. In single buildings, as in master plans, embracing change as an active dimension in spatial pro- duction is something that architects and planners need to consider more fully. Change is everywhere. Whether perceptibly or imperceptibly, diffe- rent materials fade at different paces and geographies change at different speeds. The modulation of change through design processes allows for the production of flexible, elastic, and weak structures at all scales—where the transitory is privileged, if not dealt with on equal terms as the absolute! Moving forward, we can learn from the city of the Kumbh Mela to deal bet- ter with the ephemeral nature of the built environment; developing a more intelligent management of change is an essential element in the imagination of the urban. 1 . Rahul Mehrotra, “Negotiating the Static and Kinetic Cities: The Emergent Urba- nism of Mumbai,” in Other Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a Globali- zing Age , ed. Andreas Huyssen (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008). 2. Peter Bishop and Lesley Williams, The Temporary City (New York: Routledge, 2010), 10. 3. Richard Sennett, “The Open City,” working paper, accessed February 9, 2016, http:// www.richardsennett.com/site/senn/Uploa- dedResources/The%20Open%20City. pdf.