Tuesday, September 20, 2011

of news and other things.

Boulevard du Temple by Daguerre
The oldest photograph of a person, 1838.

From wiki:

Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 3rd arrondissement, Daguerreotype. The purportedly first picture of a living person. The image shows a busy street, but due to exposure time of more than ten minutes, the traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is the man at the bottom left, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show. Look closely and you will also see another man sitting on a bench to the right reading a newspaper. Also in the upper left hand side you can also see another man standing under the awning of the 3rd building from the left. What looks to be a woman standing under the street lantern at 10 o'clock from the man getting his shoes shined and another one in the big white building,1st row 3rd window down. Notice the child in the top floor window of the white building in front. Note that the image is a mirror image.

10 minute exposure time is so crazy. I mean, none of the carriages (cars?) are visible, and it's not like they're super fast either.

Got this from the 1000memories blog post How many photos have ever been taken? which has some other crazy stuff. Sample this:

I just don't understand why it's all so PINK.
Not really a surprise, but still, I DID NOT imagine that Facebook would have so many more photographs than other libraries.

This post is via Charles Apples' blog on newspaper/ magazine design. Also discovered via him: the Nueseum website's Today's Front Pages webpage which, well, showcases the frontpages of newspapers from around the world (but mostly within the USA). The Nueseum also displays newspaper frontpages outside its building along the public sidewalk.The Nueseum's in Washington, and while we didn't visit it, I remember clearly its very dramatic (and impressive) facade:

Excuse the random composition. Taken when on the move.
I wonder: is this mannerism, as defined by Robert Venturi? An example of the decorated shed and not the duck. Fits in well with the WordWeb definition of mannerism: A deliberate pretence or exaggerated display. In any case, I think it works really, really well.

Some other interesting links:
sans serif: on the latest behind-the-scenes happenings in Indian news and media. Offers pretty much what the tagline offers: the news. the views. the juice.
Information is Beautiful: on infographics- simply put, graphics which covey information. Some really-fucking-brilliantly-amazing work. (via Rachit)
History of Graphic Design: Just how beautiful is this site? Sigh.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Development and Dignity

Warning: long, long rant ahead.

In the fourth year of architectural training, you do only one design project: housing, which is, frankly, large and detailed enough to occupy the entire semester. Every year the faculty decides on a common theme and students try and attempt their own version of it. Last year (or was it the year before last?) the theme was futuristic housing. So everyone tried to make funky forms and what not.

This year we have to design inclusive housing, the meaning of inclusive being not exclusive, but the real debate arises when you try to define it further: inclusive to what extent? What do we want to achieve: social inclusivity -different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, disabilities- or economic inclusivity -different classes- or maybe even both?

As part of the class's preliminary research, me and my housing partner, Varun (it’s done in teams of two) were told to present on this very issue (before we found out it was to be our theme). I don't want to get into the inclusive debate, because I am frankly sick of talking about this, needless to say Varun and I spent many, many hours thrashing it out. Not surprisingly -especially considering the government policy of 'forcing' private developers to provide for a minimum amount of EWS (economically weaker sections) and LIG (low income groups) dwelling units in any housing project- we started talking economics and capitalism and socialism and the whole brouhaha. 

Varun is staunchly on the capitalist side. He sometimes wonders whether a completely liberal economy with little or no government regulation might not be the way forward. As for me, while I felt sorry when I saw the living conditions of the poor, a part of me also felt that they couldn't afford the things they needed because they didn't have money, and that was OK, because we live in a fair economic system where only the purchasing power maters. I did economics in school, and it seemed pretty basic to me- the market forces of demand and supply govern everything.

As secondary research for my dissertation, my guide asked me to watch Story of Stuff and The Economics of Happiness. She also asked me to read economist Amit Bhaduri's work: The Face You Were Afraid to See and Development with Dignity, and both make compelling (if slightly repetitive) reads. I also recently finished reading Introducing Capitalism: a graphic guide. This blog post is, in essence, my understanding of and thoughts on these books.

I just love the cover design of The Face You Were Afraid to See. 
How awesome are the photograph, the font, and
the yellow against the stark black and white, all put together?
Bhaduri in particular makes very convincing arguments against liberalization and globalization. In a globalized economy and in a free trade system, producers from a still developing country are required to compete in the world market. The only way they can succeed is if they reduce the price of the commodity they are trying to sell (less price as compared to alternatives, more demand and thus profit). This is generally done by reducing the costs incurred in producing that commodity: labour, raw material, land, etc.

To reduce labour costs, most industries opt for mechanization and try to increase the productivity of each individual worker, thus minimizing the total number of workers. This works perfectly well on a micro level, for one firm. The problem arises when all (or most) of the producers start doing the same, especially in a labour intensive country like India.

When so many employers reduce jobs, the demand becomes much greater than the supply, and workers are happy to work in worse conditions than prescribed by the law just to make a living. Also, every worker becomes immediately replaceable, promoting the hire-and-fire system and casualization of labour. This is a lot like the informal construction labourer market- there assembles a huge crowd of such labourers near Kotla Mubarakpur who are looking for work on a day-by-day basis. Because there are so many competing for so few jobs, they willingly work for less than the daily wage prescribed by the government. This whole time, neither the builder nor the industry owner is doing anything wrong because they are just accommodating the market forces- higher the supply, lower the price. They would have to be seemingly stupid to pay more for the labour.

Our traditional economy was based on labour-intensive agriculture and other allied fields. With industrialization came the shift to the secondary and tertiary sector. In recent years, in order to ‘stay on the good side’ of international financial organizations such as IMF and the World Bank (the same reason for the move to free trade, which most benefits the first world members) the government has decided to promote private-public partnerships, wherein the government acts as a facilitator for the corporations. In fact, the relationship between political powers and big corporations has a long mutually beneficial history. The government has often used the Land Acquisition Act, for example, to take land away from people who had been living on it for generations (with little to no compensation) for ‘public purpose’ and give it to industrial giants at rock bottom prices- subsidising for them the initial cost of land, and in the case of the mineral rich Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, the raw material. No doubt there is substantial exchange of money on the side. This, I think, is where the corporations are at fault: they are willing to pay bribes to facilitate this transaction, instead of relying on the basics of economics and capitalism- the logic that they could have bought out the original owners simply by appealing to their self-interest. The government should also stay out of it; there are other ways of encouraging industry.

This also means that these people have no options but to look for jobs in other sectors. In essence, this means that there are many -the majority, in fact- who are unemployed or marginally employed in the country and who thus have very low purchasing power. They are unable to contribute significantly as buyers. But, yet, our economy is experiencing very high growth, even though the majority is pitiably poor. This is because money is increasingly getting concentrated in the hands of a privileged few: the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poor, at least relatively if not absolutely. The rich demand more and more products, and the industry responds by producing for them. This is what is driving our economy. 

Thus, the major demand in the market is for products for the rich- products which by virtue of their character require specialized, often large scale, production techniques and technologies, not to mention marketing and management. Bhaduri's oft stated example is of bottled water- we have many expensive variants of in the market even while a significant portion of our population has no access to potable water. This is almost like the Great Famine (1845-50) when the Irish were too poor to buy food, and the population reduced by 20-25%. But, at the same time, Ireland was a net exporter of food- for example, corn was shipped to Britain where it could fetch a better price in the market. 

Small scale producers are unable to compete with the big businesses and corporations, not just in terms of technologies but also the economies of production and scale. This results in a sort-of poverty trap, with the added result that the rich are becomingly increasingly indifferent to the poor, who are unable to contribute either as buyers or sellers. The only way out of this cycle would be better education, health and other public service, but under the new economic policies the investment in these sectors has fallen considerably.

Going by how the markets operate, under no regulation, producers would logically only produce those commodities for which they could get the most demand and best price. In today’s inequitable conditions, this would mean that even while the poor can barely make a living and thus going without roti, kapda and makaan, the rich are driving our economy forward to never before seen heights.

Obviously, then, high economic growth does not necessarily mean economic development. The growth is powered by the increase in purchasing of the power, and, against conventional knowledge, this growth is not trickling down to the poor. All those clich├ęd sayings that ‘there are two Indias’ is actually true.
This inequity is only rising. Bhaduri thinks that it’s only a little while before the economy will crash and burn. Like what happened during the Great Depression (1930s). Right before, in 1929, 0.1% of America’s population controlled 34% of the wealth, owning as much money as the bottom 42%.

America was able stand on its feet again with the help of Keynes’ and Roosevelt’s ‘The New Deal,’ which focused on increasing public expenditure and greater regulation of financial institutions and trading. The policies focused on always ensuring that there was money flowing in the economic system. After the Second World War, America’s plans to help the impoverished European and East Asian countries –the Marshall Plan- also hinged on this. They provided a significant amount in aid, but with the proviso that 90% of it be matched by the receiving government (the rest 10% being a repayable loan with interest), and also that the recipients co-operated in an open market. Thus, most of this money was spent on American good and the policy meant that more money flowed back into the American economy.

Anyways, my point is that even America imposed stringent controls on its economy in the early stages, at least until the 80s when Milton Friedman started questioning the importance of government intervention -Monetarism. Of course, both Monetarism and Keynesianism hinge on ever-increasing consumption -disparaged quite famously in the Story of Stuff- with its associated negative cultural effects.
So, maybe, like Bhaduri advocates, the Indian government should also impose more regulations and dramatically increase public expenditure on basic rights like education and health, and also on shared infrastructure, thereby creating employment.

Take the example of South Korea -a rich and developed country- which got there by following a form of “State Capitalism” which included protectionist tariffs and government expenditure in infrastructure. On the other hand, many African countries who got aid from the World Bank and IMF -providing they opened their markets- are still struggling.

I’m not against free trade and liberalization and globalization, I just think that maybe the Indian economy is not yet ready for a completely open market. Maybe we should encourage free trade in some sectors while still protecting the others.

Argh, this is such a confusing issue where every turn means a new minefield. It seems that these days Varun and I are always arguing about this, and our opinions are never fixed, nor our ideas clear, because we are never able to completely defend our reasoning to each other. Bleh.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Love and Type

Great Google Chrome app which identifies (most of) the fonts used on a web page.

Free (and easy) online tool to create fonts. There is also amazingly awesome amateur work up for download. 

Meet Your Type
Brilliant, hilarious type guide by FontShop. More of their education resources here.

Why do all these typography websites have two word names with no spacing? 


On the Daryaganj Walk, March 2011, organized by students of Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Gurgaon.
Check out more photos here.
Does Daryaganj get its name by virtue of its (earlier) location along the river?

Hauz Rani

As experienced on the walk back home from the Metro station

I’ve lived in my present home for 17 years. The Hauz Rani urban village has always been right next door, but I didn’t really become aware of it until my brother discovered Avon Video Selection, where we could rent movie DVDs for as little as 50 rupees. Suddenly we were going to Hauz Rani every other day, at least until that guy started home delivery/ pickup.

Then the metro started. The Malviya Nagar station is actually on the edge of Hauz Rani and Saket, and the closest to home, about 15 minutes away. For some time I took the long way home, along Press Enclave road. I don’t even remember how I discover the shortcut –I think I saw some people going along it and decided to follow- but I now go via the village.

There is a steep stairway (going up) which open out onto a very large piece of undeveloped land where weeds and shrubs and urinating men reign supreme, though there are some trees. On the right is a high wall, behind which, on a slightly higher level, I assume, are houses. In the past month a couple of food and paan shops have cropped up here, and they very conveniently use the wall top as their sill.  

The path bends right and the wall continues, though the paving does not. Suddenly you have to battle through mud, kitchad and water logged holes. A little further away, and due to the benign grace of some enterprising fellow (or a cow gone crazy, because the villagers do keep cattle) there appears, literally, a hole in the wall, portal to the Hauz Rani I know. The wall is now on my left, and on the right are bright turquoise and pink painted 2-3 storey narrow houses. This lane, about 2 metres wide, is literally their front yard, and since many keep their doors open, I’ve often caught glimpses of old men reclining on charpais and of women doing pochcha, squatting with their sarees hiked up. Most houses also have their toilets opening onto the streets, small 1m square compartment-like rooms with only enough space for a Indian style WC. I always feel compelled to look the other way whenever I see anyone entering or exiting, as if I’m invading their privacy.

This is something I very often wonder: do the villagers mind the sudden influx of passersby through their previously anonymous galli? Or are they happy, seeing opportunity for enterprise? I’ve already mentioned the new khana-peena-paan shops, and there also a couple of small grocery shops on the galli, though I don’t know if they came up only after the Metro did.

I also never feel awkward when passing through, however short my shorts are, unlike on the latter leg of my journey when I have to go via a part of Malviya Nagar I like to call the Sardar Colony (no offence intended), since the whole neighbourhood seems to be populated by Sikhs (and I’m not joking, houses have quaint names like Pahalwan Niwas and the colony gates have very prominent shield-and-kirpan embellishments).

I think it’s because the Hauz Rani villagers are so busy working or cleaning or playing (in the case of children), and there are always youth in Malviya Nagar who seemingly have nothing to do, or are at least busy taking a break whenever I pass through. As a result -and I’m not saying that they misbehave, because they don’t, but they are obviously people-watching- suddenly I feel as if all eyes are on me, walking alone on a very quiet (especially after the hustle-bustle of the Hauz Rani lane) and wide 5 metre road (this short-cut is not as busy, but I see new people discovering it every day –yahan se bhi gol chakkar aayega kya?).

The part of Hauz Rani that I’ve just described, the face of the galli, is all I associate with Hauz Rani. So whenever I find out something new, I’m always very surprised. For example, recently a small group of us decided to design an intervention in the area for a competition, and I discovered that the village is actually much larger, going all the way up to Khirki and the Saket malls, and that is has a over-700-year long history. I found it so very disconcerting- I felt as if I would now have to alter the image I had rendered in my head. In fact, when I say Hauz Rani I still mean this area, even though this is almost definitely an extension of the original village.

(I also found out why there’s a Hauz in the name, even though there’s no evidence of a lake or water body nearby, which I had previously wondered about.  Click here to go to a very interesting essay -'Perceiving ‘your’ land: neighbourhood settlements and the Hauz-i Rani'- by historian Sunil Kumar on the hitherto lake and the changing relationship between the village and affluent Saket.)

Below is my mental map of Hauz Rani and the Google Earth image of the same area. I've also marked out the route I take on another Google Earth image.

Monday, September 12, 2011


can be dangerous and deadly and everything in between.
-Professor I.M. Chisti on 17th August, 2011. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The phool mandis of Delhi are gone.

From this...
to this.
Here is the only online news post on it I've found till now. How superficial can you get? I mean, Teachers' Day? Doesn't this shift deserve an article on its own?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


The shading devices used in the SRCC building.

It's an absolutely gorgeous building which me and Rohan visited back in the summer holidays- so we saw it when classes were off and the Delhi heat was at its worst. The climatic response is very cool (pun not intended): basic orientation and different designs for different facades, colonnades, deep recesses, projections, ventilators, sun shades -the picture above being only one of many types used here.

Any idea who designed this? Preliminary online research just yields this very introductory article on SRCC's architectural style, with no mention of the architect himself.

By the way, Rohan, Varun and me have expanded on our Delhi Dallying seminar and have started The Delhi Blog. Check it out!