"The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This action does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns one state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. As a collective action -- a verb more than a noun -- the metropolis destabilizes our concepts of time and place. With the dissolution of the city into the forever- emerging metropolis, our existence slides into permanent mobility." - L. Lerup, in After the City


nine. Architecture & the ‘promenade’ a la Ahmedabad
buying train tickets here is an ordeal for my tourist self: ‘enquiries’ usually receive the mysterious head-bobble, butting at the ticket window is the norm, and here in Gujarat everything is written in…Gujarati, the numbers of which I am crash-course learning. at first it was is easy to feel as if I had no right to impose my own sense of order, but I have found that if I make like a local man and push back, the crowd recedes. simultaneously, a disturbing taste of being non-local: today when I was waitlisted on the train to Delhi I was told to appeal to the regional station manager to file for ‘VIP quota status,’ which I did, now wondering where my mysterious hand-written request is being sent such that a seat on an already over-booked train should appear in my name. the ‘unofficial’ official is always at work, and as a foreign solo woman I get the brunt of both the worst hassling, and the most precious coddling.

I am here in one of Corbusier’s enclaves, where walking down the street yesterday I happened to look across the way and see: ‘Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owner’s Association,’ the modern building I have been most holding my breath to see in India. from behind thick shrubbery and a non-descript, humbly-guarded gate the brise-soleil and ramp were immediately recognizable. what can one say about a sublime building, except that it is more than you hope for and leaves you agape, and that precipice-stairs somehow pull you through space like a ribbon. the god IS in the details (although that was someone else): a reveal between a half-hung stair and a wall, a perfectly square veneered opening in a wall which is wrapped inside its outer counterpoint, creating a cradled entrance. it’s truly a dynamic space -- the boundaries of the body take nothing for granted because a wall and an entrance and a stair are always questioned and held in careful tension with their surroundings…the brise-soleil as sometimes catwalk, sometimes passage; the bathrooms as two hands cupped around each other; the mezzanine as breezeway and vantage point – spaces multi-task without losing the integrity of their functions (although sorry FF and MP, the blinds were drawn…). and the intimate humor of seeing old branner’ites handwritten comments in the visitors book…

Ahmedabad: loud, proud, friendly, dusty-aired but clean-streeted, (nb: in order to clean street debris small garbage fires are alight here and there…) somehow ‘cozier’ and more maddening. the difference in the way people drive is discernible. cars come even closer, the flow even more incessant, the many roundabouts dizzying. when pedestrians cross it is by force, holding out a hand that sometimes comes in gentle contact with a metal hood. here I must often piggyback-cross with a local, trusting someone’s intuitive traffic judgment with my bodily safety. so far, so good. the climate change is noticeable too : as I head further north the non-paved ground is sand, not dirt, and dust dances, instead of hanging heavily in the air. water has always been sacred here, and Gujarat is known for its stepwells, which descend for several stories deep below ground level. the Adelaj stepwell, which I visited today, is a negative 5-tiered vertical hallway of stairs, columns, landings and ledges which all end, so dramatically and without a sound, at a deep vat of cool water. I walked up and down, up and down, clinging to the side, above the lip, several hours, going from glaring sun to shadowy cool again and again, joining the monkeys that call this place home.

the city’s relationship with design goes deeper than Corb or Kahn. centuries-old gated neighborhoods (pols), in an effort to control climate and preserve water, find echo in the ATMA or the Sarabhai house. courtyards, heat stack ventilation, overhangs, maze-like paths that bounce wind, underground domestic wells, buried sewage trenches, a sensitivity to incline/decline and water flow…these old neighborhoods are treated with great care and remind me of the non-infrastructural effects of communal infrastructures. there is also a sense of evolution here; Doshi’s hulking auditorium, now in dusty gloom, is the backdrop for a lively market which encroaches upon its entrance. the city is trying to market itself as a nexus for ‘medical tourism.’ the autorickshaws have gone CNG, as have a handful of public buses. and the oddest non-sequiter – many places sport a generic digital wall clock that glares red numbers, like a bomb. it’s unsettling, and shows up in the most unlikely of places, such as the old stone mosques. it gives the impression that the whole city is counting time. . . .

because I am now without powersource in a pepto-hued delhi hotel room, I write directly from my sketchbook chicken scratch about the architectural candy of my last two days in Ahmedabad:

the Sarabhai in trees: peacocks and memories – a child now a quiet man for whom the monolithic slide dips into blue-green water. simplicity gives way to the serpentine, the rear servants’ maze cloistered behind the channel-gallery for living/showing.

Sangath (Doshi’s office), CEPT (Center for Environment Planning Technology, aka architecture school) + NID (National Institute of Design): these design niches are the most globalizing forums I have yet encountered…although NID an elegant combination of contemporaneity with an acknowledgment of rich vernacular legacy.

the IIM in sun: Kahn wanted a monastery, Patel inspired by the salk? a regal enclave of selective light and afternoon chai patio breaks for worldly students. infinite perspectives recall a higher purpose, as does non-idiosyncratic regularity. Kahn cajoles with light, LC ignites with form; LC breaks the expanse, Kahn opens it up, sometimes through the smallest slit in a wall. a simple gesture: cushions in the round of both the Kahn and patel campuses. I think LC might have suggested ‘seat’ more heavy-handedly. Kahn’s hand, at least cursorily, seems more monumental, but oddly, with a lighter touch.

Shodhan in the dark: fatigued search for the punctured cube – modular windows aglow, mass of 4-storey ‘bungalow’ eerie and exaggeratedly vertical – a private, shrouded compositional masterpiece of gray voids against a black sky. though ‘imperfectly’ approached and less than studied, somehow I feel as if I saw this one fittingly….

Ahmedabad has been an architectural luxury but I am, for now, temporarily satiated with Buildings, which sometimes stand like museum pieces when i cannot inhabit them without guides, closing hours, or photography restrictions…

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