The brief explored gender-sensitive placemaking. The challenge was to redesign public spaces known to incite aggression against women, like transportation hubs, parks and wholesale markets, and generate ideas and interventions for making them more women-friendly.
The context in India is poised between an old world that no longer works, and the new one which is evolving rapidly, almost at breakneck speed, into a scenario which is increasingly difficult to subscribe to. In most places, the State/Market/Crime nexus works symbiotically to exclude common people from the planning process. Ironically, the very planning is actually supposed to equitably benefit all. Concerned people all around are searching for alternatives to wrench society free from this stranglehold. Meanwhile, most of us live in comfort bubbles which deaden us to the maladies of the outside world, and society at large is preferably ignored.
One of the most neglected areas of today’s complex lifestyle is the lack of sensitivity towards usage of space by girls/women. This occurs mostly by default because designers are unaware of the need to focus attention towards the special needs of women. Such sexist behaviour originates since one takes for granted the traditional stereotypes of gender roles embedded in our society. The question of gender equity therefore never comes up within one’s thought space.
The urgent need of the hour is to recognize these overpowering concerns and address the issues with empathy, pro-active discourse and action. As architects, we can surely TRANSFORM the equation by dealing with such inequitable environments and try to engage with the situation in an effort to provide a healing touch through design.
A) GENDER-SENSITIVITY – Safety for women in Public Spaces
It is a well-known fact that women don't feel safe in public. For example, surveys have been conducted by various agencies and researchers to conclusively ascertain as to the percentage of women who feel "safe" or "very safe" in New Delhi's public spaces. This shows that both fear and actual experience of aggression in the public realm have a profound impact on women and girls' daily routines, lifestyle and their emotional and physical health.1
B) Healing Environments — Design for the Body & Mind in an effort towards total transformation. Towards a new ECOLOGY.
As we all know, life operates on the cyclic process of cause and effect. It seems like a continuous set of spirals, spinning off in multidimensional realms, superimposing upon each other, and manifesting as incomprehensible patterns. Today one is literally plagued by virtual lifestyles which lead to a continuous engagement with mobile phones. Whether it is apps or chats, in the notion of being connected, one actually gets physically disconnected from the reality of adverse conditions creeping up in our midst. The gradual build-up of such conditions leads to a “sick society syndrome” according to some, caused either due to excessive use of technology, or the lack of access to it. This severe imbalance in resources created due to the great rift between societal classes acts out and manifests itself in the public spaces of the Indian cities.2
Is there a way of transforming this bane to boon by interweaving the virtual with the physical through design?
THE IDEA OF THE COMMONS – a value system
The ways communities get built today in Indian cities are due to state-driven initiatives largely dependent on insufficient data and practically no surveys. Little thought is given to the public spaces generated and eventually, these degenerate into areas belonging to no owners and therefore no value, spawning unhygienic & criminal environments.
The idea of the commons, on the other hand, embraces the following:3
- The commons cannot be commodified – if they are, they cease to be commons.
- Unlike private property, the commons are inclusive rather than exclusive — their nature is to share ownership as widely, rather than as narrowly, as possible.
- The assets in commons are meant to be preserved regardless of their return of capital. Just as we receive them as shared gifts, so we have a duty to pass them on to future generations in at least the same condition as we received them. If we can add to their value, so much the better, but at a minimum, we must not degrade them, and we certainly have no right to destroy them. (Cited from Wikipedia)
- Any transformation will require intense community participation and whole new categories of the commons will automatically emerge on their own, simply by sincere engagement.
B) PLACEMAKING has the potential to be one of the most transformative ideas of this century.
What is PLACEMAKING?4
Public space is described as the geographical space between home and any other place. Placemaking is a way of shaping spaces by understanding the needs of the communities & using that space by evolving strategies to meet the social, cultural, and ecological demands. The process emphasizes how one can collectively and intentionally shape our present world, thereby consciously shaping our future as well. So, instead of enforcing models from the industrialized world, one thinks holistically and proceeds to plan interventions in a participatory manner. Placemaking is how we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Most importantly it also involves ideas which focus on how one can sustain those very ideas that define a place and support its ongoing evolution.5
It is about collectively trying to cultivate knowledge and share it in a way that seems meaningful and compelling. Is it possible to direct this interventional effort towards building EQUITABLE societies?
What kind of ideas can one generate such that transformative mechanisms are put into action by means of thoughtful women-friendly design?
Use GENDER SENSITIVITY as a LENS to LOOK through, to SEARCH for, to ENGAGE with, to IDEATE about, and to RESOLVE by Design. Use Evidence-Based design as a tool.
To understand the relationship between the individual (for both men and women) and the city, it would be imperative to study examples of public spaces within your city, which evidence a zone ranging from psychological discomfort to physical aggression towards women.
THIS CONSIDERATION IS THE ESSENCE OF THIS DESIGN COMPETITION.
Evidence-based design, or EBD, is a field of study emphasizing collection of credible evidence to influence design. In short, EBD is when decisions about physical space are based on extensive research and data.
Architecture is continuously in the process of reflecting, creating and altering human experience. It operates at multiple scales (from an object to room, to building and site, to city) and impacts individual & community experience and behaviour, organizational functioning, and cultural patterns. EBD is a growing multidisciplinary area which functions by applying rigorous quantitative and qualitative research methods to the understanding of these relationships, teaching and applying results to design in order to solve important social problems.
The expected response to the PLACEMAKING competition is in two parts:
1. LOCAL - PRIMARY - EXPERIENCE BASED
Participants are expected to involve themselves in experiential Placemaking scenarios on a smaller scale in local public spaces. Community parks, Local shopping centres, Bus-stops, local road-side eateries etc. will qualify as relevant spaces. Especially notorious spaces known to entice aggression against women or even discomfort, should be particularly isolated and targeted for experimentation. By drawing on the natural setting, the history of events, and personal experiences, students are encouraged to engage with the selected space. It may be a good idea to study the existing condition of the space, find out the history and what has been the transformation to the present state during the last 30 years.
EXPERIENCE-25 days - Evidence-based documented research, for a period of 30 days (min.) continuously, is expected to be presented in charts, in date-wise numbers, photographs, interviews of users, videos etc. Students are encouraged to extensively use interactive media like twitter, facebook, etc. and device innovative methods for data collection. Intuitive use of social media is known to provide excellent avenues for surveys. Personal engagement in primary surveys is however of great importance and social media be used as extension tools.6
TRANSFORM-25 days - The next 25 days (min.) must be utilized in designing interventions based on the earlier engagement with the site and very importantly, checking if these interventions succeed in resolving the issues faced. Presentations should be prepared to communicate effectively,
- the process,
- the innovative methods used, and,
- the success rate of the methods and interventions used.
2. REGIONAL - SECONDARY - IMAGINE
The balance 50 days (min.) should be spent in the following:
- Select large and complex public spaces in any of the megacities of India, especially having a nasty reputation for aggression towards women. Transportation hubs, Wholesale marketplaces, large parks and grounds etc. will qualify as a "Place".
- Based on your local experience scale up the interventions and find an informed application. Upon scaling up, the nature of the interventions might change, so imagine the methodology for such "upscaling" and design interventions which could range from a variety of smaller types to full-fledged urban design plans for regeneration.
- The presentation is expected in the form of design ideas which address the particular areas. These could be in the form of installations, built-up structures, traffic reorganizations, time-planning activities, architectural enhancements, conservation methodology and public participation platforms, space & opportunity for people interaction, etc. road networks, traffic islands and poorly utilized residual spaces.
It could also be a mix of any or all of these, plus other innovative design directions with concrete achievable goals.
PART - I
- Challenge of the selected space with respect to Gender sensitivity,
- Method, process and nature of the documentation and presentation using EBD,
- An innovation of the Design interventions especially aimed at Gender equity,
- Success attributed to the design interventions.
- Potential for SUSTAINANCE until the goal of transformation is achieved.
PART - II
- Scale & Potential of the selected space with respect to Gender sensitivity,
- Public participation opportunities the "Place" invites especially aimed at Gender equity,
- Accessibility for women of all classes,
- Need assessment,
- Quality of innovative thinking used in traversing the complex layers of social & cultural diversity aiming to develop into a new healthful social ecology.
- Overall presentation techniques used to communicate the efficacy of the design system.7
- 1. For more information:
- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-degnan-kambou/are-indias-cities-any mor_b_5474459.html
- 2. For more information:
- http://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/texts-or-toilets-more-people-in-india-have-access-to-cell-phones-than- bathrooms.html
- 3. For more information:
- http://wealthofthecommons. org/
- 4. For more information: www. pps.org
- 5. For more information:
- 6. For more information: http://exotel.in/blog/survey-market-research-data-collection-tools-for-india-online-offline/
- 7. For more information: http://www.nasaindia.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/G-Sen-Trophy-Brief-2014-15.pdf