Architect Rahul Mehrotra draws attention to new ways of reading a city.
Your Munich show, “Does Permanence Matter”, questions long-term planning. What was the prompt for this exhibition?
The exhibition, which began in September, is based partly on a new book, Ephemeral Urbanism — Does Permanence Matter? This research is a follow-up on the work we did on the Kumbh Mela between 2011 and 2013, where we developed a taxonomy for ephemeral landscapes. The prompt for the exhibition was manifold. Firstly, it was a good way to communicate this research to the public, and the curator of the Munich Architecture Museum, Andres Lepik, was interested in it. It was also perfect timing to have such an exhibition in Europe since Germany is grappling with the question of refugees. The idea was to present this imagination of the urban — a landscape that is ephemeral and yet productive, both in an economic as well as a cultural sense.
Your extensive research on the Kumbh Mela, and the book, points to the possibility of a different community experience. But as inequities get sharper, are such ephemeral settlements the privilege of the rich, because most of the country lives in unorganised colonies anyway?
This question already draws its own conclusions but I will try to answer it from a different perspective. The research we did at the Kumbh Mela and for the subsequent book, and then this second volume, is intended to broaden the discussion on urbanism and urban design. For too long we have taken permanence as a default condition, and architecture has been the central instrument to organise the city. With the flux that we are experiencing in today’s world, this assumption needs to be questioned, because the design of transitions, and transitory environments, is going to be a bigger challenge. It is useful to look at temporal or ephemeral landscapes more carefully — not as a way to suggest this as an alternative but as something that needs to be simultaneously situated in this debate about urbanism.