Mapping the ephemeral city: GSD students and faculty at the Kumbh Mela

Every 12 years for the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela, a temporary city is created at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Because of its size and complexity, it is the perfect crucible for interdisciplinary research in a number of complementary fields – urban studies and design, religious and cultural studies, environmental science and public health, technology and communications. This January after weeks of preparation 8 faculty and 20 students from the GSD and other Harvard schools are traveling to northern India for the next phase of the project “Mapping Kumbh Mela.” The initiative is co-led by Rahul Mehrotra (chair of the department of urban design and planning) and Diana Eck (affiliated professor to UPD) with the South Asia Initiative, FAS, HBS and SPH.

The largest public gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela is expected to draw as many as 70 million people, a crowd greater than New York, London, and Paris combined, for ritual bathing in the rivers. The pop-up city that accommodates them is constructed and deconstructed within a matter of weeks, entailing city planning and management, engineering and zoning, electricity, water and sanitation, food distribution, hospitals and vaccination centers, police and fire stations, and spaces for public gathering and entertainment. The teams from the different schools are focussed on different aspects of the event: health and safety, land allocation and space configuration, ritual practice, infrastructure and mobility. The Harvard research will provide greater understanding of other instances of ephemeral urbanism such as refugee camps, informal settlements and large-scale religious and leisure gatherings. It will also inform better planning for anticipated growth of urban areas and unanticipated mass migrations caused by war and natural disasters.

The GSD team includes Oscar Malaspina (MUD ‘13), James Witten (MAUD ‘13) Vineet Diwadkar (MLA & MUP ’14) Namita Dharia (Phd ’14), Alykhan Mohamed (MUP ‘13) and  Felipe Vera (MDesS ‘13, as well as Lars Müller (lecturer in architecture), Gunter Vogt (visiting professor of landscape architecture), Iwan Baan and Dinesh Mehta.
Read the first in a series on the project by the Harvard Gazette.
Read “Mapping the Kumbh Mela” in the Times of India.
More information on the project is available here.