Bombay to Mumbai: The Unhomely City and the Space of the Everyday
If Mumbai points to the future of urban civilization on the planet, Suketu Mehta writes, “God help us.” He is not alone in his foreboding about the implications of urban growth, of Bombay becoming “Slumbay.” Mike Davis offers a bleak account of what this means for the Global South in his contemporary classic, Planet of Slums. Powerful as his critique is, it is worth remembering that the cities of poor regions have long served as sources of dystopic fantasies. In this talk, I examine the transition of Bombay to Mumbai at the level of the everyday. I focus on everyday life because it is there that large historical changes and power relations make their presence felt; it is this space that powerful political and economic forces seek to control and change. However, it is for the same reason that it is in this quotidian space that you find lived experiences and imaginations that cope with these powerful forces. It is also there that you encounter the “soft city” of urban desires and dreams; it is there that you find the politics of survival and aspirations. My talk will focus on this politics of survival as Bombay becomes Mumbai.
Gyan Prakash is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University. He specialises in the history of modern India. His general field of research and teaching interests concerns urban modernity, the colonial genealogies of modernity, and problems of postcolonial thought and politics. He is the author of Bonded Histories: Genealogies of Labor Servitude in Colonial India (1990), and Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India (1999), and has co-authored a book on world history, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart (2002). He has also written several articles on South Asian colonial history and on the relationship between colonialism and history writing, and edited several volumes of essays, including After Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacements (1995) and The Spaces of the Modern City (2008). In addition to writing for scholarly journals, his reviews and essays also appear in general publications such as Times of India, Hindustan Times, Asian Age, Hindu, India Today, Timeout Mumbai, American Scholar, and The Nation.
Housing as Method: Rethinking the Culture of Contemporary Architecture
This talk offers critical reflections on architectural modernism by looking into the choice and development of technical, cultural and intellectual methods in housing design in China in the early 1960s. Facing tremendous difficulties to provide inexpensive urban and rural housing in the context of the scarcity of design talents, architects and design institutes responded by adopting a collaborative, open-source and regionalised approach to housing design and production. This is a sharp contrast to the mainstream culture of architecture today, which celebrates signature architecture as infrastructure for the economy of signs and normalises building on a one-off basis following the rationality of capitalist competition. The talk sets out to reveal and unsettle the social and epistemological unconscious embedded in the contemporary discourse and operation of the profession by situating the discussion in the context of architectural production today. It unpacks two key problems of modernism and their consequences. The first prominent problem, it argues, is that although the rise of modernist architecture was a reaction to the industrial revolution, its subsequent development and operation were curiously centred on craft production. Buildings are generally one-of-a-kind products, and the professional service and design products provided by the sector remain expensive. The second key problem is that modernist architectural discourse and educational system have effectively cut off the links with regional knowledge of construction, dwelling and urbanity. This has led to ubiquitous placelessness and unattractive urbanism, on the one hand, and destructive environmental effects, on the other.
The talk proposes regionalised mass customisation as a new paradigm of architectural production to tackle these problems and to achieve the democratisation of architecture. It calls for new ways of thinking and operation that will use design talents in best ways, develop open-source regional architectural knowledge and prototypes collaboratively, and allow good design to benefit a wider spectrum of the population.
Duanfang Lu is Professor of Architecture and Urbanism in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Tsinghua University, Beijing and PhD in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. She has published widely on modern architectural and planning history, and been awarded prestigious research grants from Australian Research Council, Getty Foundation, the US Social Science Research Council, and the Best Article Prize from Planning Perspectives and the International Planning History Society (2006–7). Lu’s book Remaking Chinese Urban Form (Routledge, 2006, 2011) provides a significant new perspective on the development of the work unit (danwei) – the socialist enterprise or institute which integrated work and living spaces – as a primary urban form under Maoist socialism. Her edited book Third World Modernism (Routledge, 2010) opens up whole new perspectives on the development of modernist architecture in developing countries in the 1950s and 1960s. The conceptual framework on entangled modernities she develops through a series of articles has been used by scholars and students across the world to investigate non-Western built environments. Her edited book The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Architectural History will be published in 2018. She is currently working on a monograph New Book of Changes: The Way of China and Its Urbanization, which links Chinese urbanization with larger debates on governance, capital and urban processes. Lu has been an Australian Research Council Future Fellow (2012–16) and served as Board Director of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and its Chair of International Committee (2012–15).
Britain Couldn't Make It - From Empire to Island, The Collapse of British Industry.