Monday, September 27, 2010


Got a Jury Commendation for our (group project with Varun Bajaj) entry to the IGBC Green Design Competition 2010!

It's a national level competition, open to all architecture students. This year you had to redesign or retrofit your department of architecture building. If you're really interested, you can get the brief here.

Other winners from our college include Anuj and Kabilan who won first (w00t!), and Ammani and Amri, and Aditya Wallabh (who partnered with his sister at MANIT, Bhopal), who also got a commendation.

If you can't see the above, you can also see our entry here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Noun; em-blum
1. Special design or visual object representing a quality, type, group, etc.
2. A visible symbol representing an abstract idea


Travellers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper's cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash. Actually many of the blind men who tap their canes on Zirma's cobblestones are black; in every skyscraper there is someone going mad; all lunatics spend hours on cornices; there is no puma that some girl does not raise, as a whim. The city is redundant: it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind.

I too am returning from Zirma: my memory includes dirigibles flying in all directions, at window level; streets of shops where tattoos are drawn on sailors' skin; underground trains crammed with obese women suffering from the humidity. My travelling companions, on the other hand, swear they saw only one dirigible hovering among the city's spires, only one tattoo artist arranging needles and inks and pierced patterns on his bench, only one fat woman fanning herself on a train's platform. Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.


From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it. but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again.

This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city's streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten. New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain, no avenue of escape.

The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.


After a seven days' march through woodland, the traveller directed towards Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.

There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downwards they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence.


There are two ways of describing the city of Dorothea: you can say that four aluminium towers rise from its walls flanking seven gates with spring-operated drawbridges that span the moat whose water feeds four green canals which cross the city, dividing it into nine quarters, each with three hundred houses and seven hundred chimneys. And bearing in mind that the nubile girls of each quarter marry youths of other quarters and their parents exchange the goods that each family holds in monopoly--bergamot, sturgeon roe, astrolabes, amethysts--you can then work from these facts until you learn everything you wish about the city in the past, present, and future. Or else you can say, like the camel-driver who took me there: 'I arrived here in my first youth, one morning, many people were hurrying along the streets towards the market, the women had fine teeth and looked you straight in the eye, three soldiers on a platform played the trumpet, and all around wheels turned and coloured banners fluttered in the wind. Before then I had known only the desert and the caravan routes. In the years that followed, my eyes returned to contemplate the desert expanses and the caravan routes; but now I know this path is only one of the many that opened before me on that morning in Dorothea.'


When he enters the territory of which Eutropia is the capital, the traveller sees
not one city but many, of equal size and not unlike one another, scattered over a
vast, rolling plateau. Eutropia is not one, but all these cities together; only
one is inhabited at a time, the others are empty; and this process is carried out
in rotation. Now I shall tell you how. On the day when Eutropia's inhabitants feel
the grip of weariness and no one can bear any longer his job, his relatives, his
house and his life, debts, the people he must greet or who greet him, then the
whole citizenry decides to move to the next city, which is there waiting for them,
empty and good as new; there each will take up a new job, a different wife, will
see another landscape on opening his window, and will spend his time with
different pastimes, friends, gossip. So their life is renewed from move to move,
among cities whose exposure or declivity or streams or winds make each site
somehow different from the others. Since their society is ordered without great
distinctions of wealth or authority, the passage from one function to another
takes place almost without jolts; variety is guaranteed by the multiple
assignments, so that in the span of a lifetime a man rarely returns to a job that
has already been his.

Thus the city repeats its life, identical, shifting up and down on its empty
chessboard. The inhabitants repeat the same scenes, with the actors changed; they
repeat the same speeches with variously combined accents; they open alternate
mouths in identical yawns. Alone, among all the cities of the empire, Eutropia
remains always the same. Mercury, god of the fickle, to whom the city is sacred,
worked this ambiguous miracle.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino, 1972) is not a book about cities. It's a book about people: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan,

and the residents of the imagined cities, the kings and the prostitutes and the adolescent and the anile, the strangers who meet everyday, the traders moving to and fro between the cities. But most of all, it's about the traveller- it's about his (or her, if you want to be politically correct) perceptions and dreams and desires and emotions, his past (which influences his present and future), his inferences, his expectations and his understanding of the city.

Calvino recognized the feel of the city- not the physical, but the emotional aspect of it. In fact, he is entirely brilliant at recognizing and naming and writing down emotions- this book really makes you feel. And so, when you remember the cities, you remember the metaphysical- the blend of fantasy and reality described. Sure, they might be supplemented by some physical aspects- like a clock tower here or a dome there, but these are also just ultimately symbols of the people who lived there and what the traveller was feeling at that point of time, visible symbols of an abstract idea. It's all about perception, and that is different even for fellow travellers.

The author imagined so many different cities, each with its own character and people and emotions, and Marco Polo appreciated them all differently. He talked of the beauty of the whole and of the beauty of the part. Often he looked at the cities from two different viewpoints, both his own; like the two sides of a coin. Other times one side was just a lie, a facade, and the real city was on the opposite face. Sometimes his descriptions were easy to understand, and sometimes you had to reread them to grasp the full meaning, the subtext. You then had to fill in the blanks, think about what you inferred from the thoughts and images and visuals.

Nothing can exist in isolation- or, at least, it can have no purpose in isolation. Here too, the cities are connected, yes, but we are always looking at the micro level of the city, and so are, I think, fooled into thinking of it as independent entity on its own. And so when Calvino does zoom out, it seems a revelation. He does this often, in fact; during the course of the book you suddenly realize a lot of things you always knew in the back of your head, but which you had forgotten while reading about these individual cities. But, also, when you look only at the macro scale, and forget these singular parts, you again lose sight of the plot.

Because there are so many short descriptions of so many cities, by the end of it they start running together and thus lose their differences. From the reader you become the jaded traveller, and Marco Polo and Kublai Khan’s analysis of the rise and fall of cities, why they are what they are, how they’re different from, and yet the same as, one another, really becomes the focal point. I don’t know whether this was intentional or not, and of course, in a way they were always the focal point, but what I’m saying is that whatever role the cities played before is lost by the end, at least for me.

The short chapters, if you can call them that, are very disjoint, but remain connected, I think, because of the writing style. It’s very, very descriptive, long sentences, generally simple language, but lots of new words -I learnt quite a few: ephebe, lavabo, auguries, sirocco, odalisques. Like most good books, the writing stays with you a while; even now, while I'm writing this, I know that my sentence structure and wording are somewhat inspired from the book.

I enjoyed this book, and though I probably won't ever reread it, right now I feel as if it'll stay with me for a long time. In a way, it's answered a question I've often thought about: can a traveller, an outsider and a foreigner, ever truly understand another city? When he visits this other city, how does he perceive it? What is different, if not different from his own?


Remembered this quote from Travel and Living, and along the way, found two more, which I think describe perfectly what this book is about:

“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller


the opportunist and the privileged