Type, City, Ecology: Hydro-types and Knowledge Environments for a New Township in India

The Harvard GSD project on Palava City is a two-year sponsored research and design project focused on the challenges posed by the construction of a new township in the outskirts of Mumbai.

Palava City, a 336 Ha new town built form tabula rasa, will house a lived-in population of 483,000 by 2025. Like any developmental city aligned with the global economy, Palava City’s positioning and spatialization strategies are both tied locally to its proximity to Mumbai, and globally to other cities like Songdo and Masdar. In part Palava City is the manifestation of India's 'bypass' approach to urbanization: a strategy to decongest its post-colonial metropolises by building new towns to support knowledge-based economies at their peripheries.

The challenges that Palava City faces at present are the tendency for such developments to become bed-towns tied to their established metropolises for its urban resources. This is caused by its homogeneous real estate driven development, which lacks the appropriate spatial strategies and typological framework able to seed the diverse urban offerings that are crucial to sustain any knowledge environment. The decisions to seed any economic drivers for the city are predicated on the desirability of Palava City, first and foremost as a place to live. It must appeal to local norms and desires as much as to the expectations of multi-national corporation executives. As such, the question of whether its current and planned housing types are sufficiently excellent is as important as defining sustainable productive spaces for the future growth of the city. The second challenge concerns the water security of the region itself. As a rapidly constructed new town utilising the sheer repetition of an ecologically indifferent elemental housing block, the current masterplan fails to harness the potential of using water sensitive building blocks –hydro-types – to create a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship between its architecture and surrounding natural resources.

Our design task is to conceive an accommodative and pliant urban plan articulated by a typological framework. This will include the design of a research environment, anchored by a university and associated incubator space in Palava City’s Phase 2 masterplan. We will draw lessons from Mumbai's cultural and social history and its incremental, additive and accommodative urbanity. Our proposition for a typological framework is guided by the need to rethink the elemental blocks of a new town to accommodate mix uses – housing, workspaces, incubators, knowledge spaces and their associated amenities. They must promote a programmatically diverse ground plane, whilst addressing required density. It must also utilise effective water and natural resource management – integrating the design of block types with the hydrological systems in Palava to address water scarcity and floods.

On a meta-critical level, the studio is premised upon two fundamental ambitions, the recuperation of an idea of the city as a project and the pursuit of alternative forms of urbanization in response to the challenges posed by the developmental city. The former treats the project of the city as a cultural, political and aesthetic act; the latter as a strategic project for urbanization, articulated through its architecture, landscape and infrastructure.

Open to students of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape

The studio will tentatively travel to Mumbai, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad in February 2017. The historical and theoretical underpinnings of this studio will be offered by Course DES-03352: Type and the Idea of the City. The outcome of the option studio will potentially be subject to a publication.

This studio meets on an irregular schedule. Professor Lee  will lead studio sessions on the following Thursdays and Fridays from 2-6pm: January 20 (first official studio meeting), January 26, 27, February 2, 3, 23, 24, March 9, 10, 23, 24, and April 6, 7, 20, 21. Professor Lee and his Teaching Associate, Simon Whittle, will be available at additional times for desk crits and skype.