Extreme Urbanism III

Jose Mayoral Mortilla will serve as Teaching Associate for this studio.

The South Asian city exemplifies contemporary challenges in planning, designing, and constructing the built environment with high population growth, over-stressed and poorly-managed ecosystems, splintered financial and infrastructural investment, dense bureaucracies, and layered cultural histories. Extreme Urbanism III explores possibilities for Agra, India at the intersection between critical conservation, and Urban Planning and Design.

The studio examines connections between the forces and contingencies that have transformed Agra as a Mughal, British colonial, and now Indian city and the imprint of the Taj Mahal on Agra’s economy on account of the city’s loss of industrial activity. The Yamuna River landscape within Agra has been a site and actor within histories of empire and state, fantasy and myth, livelihoods and crafts production, the performing arts, and experiences with water. The Yamuna River, and sites along Agra’s riverfront, have served functional, cultural and religious needs for people living within its territory and its imaginary. We will investigate the city’s Yamuna riverfront and the 45 Mughal gardens and monuments strung along a six-kilometer stretch of the river’s economic, cultural and hydrologic field. By partnering with local, state and central government departments, non-governmental and academic communities, we will develop possibilities for productive economic and administrative synergies.

This studio investigates the potentials for more sustainable models for conservation of not only the Taj Mahal but several other monuments lining the Yamuna River by telescoping outwards from Agra’s monuments and into larger scales of the river landscape and region. Students will investigate these questions and develop design propositions with strategies, interventions and sites for planning for conservation in Agra, India.

How might the Yamuna River be imagined as a historic landscape of networked monuments, of which the Taj Mahal is only one of many monuments? How might spatial, infrastructural, narrative interventions encourage and reinforce these connections? How might policies, programs and organizations re-connect the livelihoods of local communities of farmers, craftspeople and the urban poor with the Yamuna river and heritage monuments? Given Agra’s current water crisis, and existing legislative and political constraints, how might ecologic restoration of the Yamuna River be achieved through productive or mitigative landscapes, temporal operations, and the management of hydrologic infrastructures between local and regional scales? And how might architecture and Urban Design intervention rejuvenate the city, its heritage core and life in Agra more generally.

Partners include: Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Harvard University, Harvard University’s South Asia Institute, World Monuments Fund, Agra Development Authority and Archaeological Survey of India, Agra Circle
Eligible Students include candidates from Department of Urban Design + Urban Planning, Department of Landscape Architecture, Department of Architecture. Master in Design Studies Critical Conservation students will participate for the field visit in Spring 2015.