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Harvard GSD M.Arch.I (Lian)

Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around the GSD and beyond.

  • Live Blog - Rahul Mehrotra, KUMBH MELA: Mapping the Ephemeral City

    Hi Archinect!

    Tonight's event is one that I've been (peripherally) involved in, as this project is one that we've been discussing in the context of an urban planning and design seminar that I'm taking led by Rahul Mehrotra, called "Kinetic City." (Full video available at here.) From the website:

    The GSD Urban India project invites the community to participate of the event “KUMBH MELA: Mapping the Ephemeral City. Presentation of a work in progress"...The presentation will include the many schools and teams from Harvard University that participated in the interdisciplinary mapping project at the Kumbh Mela 2013. Diana L. Eck (HDS), Gregg Greenough (HSPH), Satchit Balsari (HSPH), Tarun Khanna (HBS) and the GSD Urban India team led by Rahul Mehrotra (GSD)...

    The research analyzes this ephemeral city from different perspectives. Being the biggest public gathering in the world , the Kumbh Mela deploys a pop-up city comprising of roads, pontoon bridges, tents of different sizes and an array of social infrastructure like clinics, hospitals, and social centers – all replicating the functioning of an actual city. The disposition of the city seamlessly articulates various layers of infrastructure and urban flows, serving apron 3 million people who gather for fifty five days and an additional  10 to 20 million people who come for cycles of twenty four hours on the main bathing dates. From the Kumbh we can learn about planning and design, reflect on flow management and infrastructural deployment but also about cultural identity and adjustment or elasticity in an urban condition of flux.

    6:09: A short video introducing the Kumh, then Rahul Mehrotra welcomes everyone. He shouts out to the members of the project from Harvard's various schools--Divinity, Public Health, Business, among others--as well as the GSD students and others who have been leading out much of the work. There was a visit of ~50 Harvard faculty members and students to the Kumbh earlier this year to study the event first hand.

    6:13: RM: This session is to share the progress. In August, the South Asian Institute will hold another event, with more formed research; and organizers from the Kumbh will be present then.

    Since its inception, the Kumbh Mela has become the largest public gathering in the world. It provides a forum for individual and collective expression of faith, as people converge there from (around India and the world).

    "Kumbh" means "pot" and refers to the myth that the festival is based on.

    The Kumbh "has been celebrated for its mass appeal," though others have questions whether the event truly bridges between class divisions or whether safety can even be assured. (There was a stampede at the 1954 Kumbh where hundreds were killed.)

    The Kumbh used to be an informal event, but in the 1980s, it started to be organized formally. It nonetheless touches the ground lightly, because people come with a minimum of belongings--what they can carry--and the infrastructure is generally light.

    The pilgrimage culminates in bathing in the Ganges--a highly important event for Hindus.

    Every tent has electricity and plumbing.

    The land around the Kumbh is used for a variety of agricultural purposes between Kumbh years. The extent of the ephemeral city is different for each iteration of the Kumbh, as it depends on the geography that is created as the waters recede. "They can't even have a standard plan, because the river recedes differently each time," so this is one of the advantages of a grid that can be deployed regardless of the shape of the terrain.

    Most of the documentation of the Kumbh dwells on the spectacle of the religious groups who attend the Kumbh; the Harvard project in contrast is interested in governance, cooperation, health, ephemeral urbanism, etc.

    For the event 12 years ago in 2001, there was only one map that existed to plan the event. Rahul comments that it's amazing how an event of this magnitude, with all of its infrastructure, is created from such "minimal documents."

    A roster of questions that guided the research; because the project was so "out of the box," the disciplinary distinctions dissolved quickly, as people felt comfortable to impinge on each others' disciplinary territories to ask and answer these questions.

    6:28: Rahul notes that over the years, the urban plans for the Kumbh have reflected different trends and currents in urban design.

    Various technologies were used in the mapping: photographs were geo-tagged, a photographer friend mounted a camera on a kite to take the aerial shots (the camera rotates 360 degrees every 5 seconds to capture a panorama). These images were captured over time to create a series of "before" and "after" images to show how the settlement was created.

    The river only recedes in October, so the organizers have a short period of time (60 days) to set up the city. Roads are created out of metal plates that are fastened together. Pontoon bridges are low-tech but highly effective.

    Above, an NGO operates there called "lost and abandoned," and they continuously announce the names of people who have been lost. Old women in particular are, sadly, often abandoned.

    The event is a public-private partnership; the sectors and overall infrastructure are laid out by the government, then the occupants of each sector set up their tents and other structures within their sector.

     

     

    6:45: Rahul cedes the floor to Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies.

    DE: "I've studied pilgrimage in India for years, but never in the company of such an [indisciplinary] team."

    The spot of the Kumbh is a place of pilgrimage at all times, just as India 

     

    DE describes a "somewhat smaller Kumbh Mela at Haridwar," which was about 10 million people in 2010. "Pilgrim traffic has increased, far from fading with the onrush of new technology."

    DE: There is no temple at the Kumbh; the destination is the confluence of the rivers, which is the holy site and subject of prayers. It's a festival. "Young men who are there, devout, but also having a really grand time.'

    DE describes a series of conversations they had with a Sadhu (known as a "renouncer" because they renounce worldly things; and are often naked), who was born in Beverly Hills and therefore could serve as a good translator and interlocutor. The spectacle of the Sadhus invites and inspires others to reconsider their lives and their own spirituality. The Sadhus have nothing to offer but their blessings.

    There are many tents where there are performances that reenact various stories; Brenna McDuffie, a student who was studying these performances, found that the notion of performance was not limited to these theaters but permeated the entire event.

    Some of the groups have a political purpose; there's one which has a green mission and the leader of that group met with mayors from up and down the Ganges to discuss pollution and cleaning the river.

    7:10: Rahul introduces the students who will present some topics in greater detail: Oscar Malaspina, Felipe Vera, James Whitten, Vineet Diwadkar, and Alykhan Mohamed.

    FV: "Once a year, the Ganga (Ganges) retreats, and lets you sit on her lap."

    AM: "Like any city, the Kumh is subject to" national, regional, and local politics. Alykhan is describing the complex layers of government that are involved in setting up the infrastructure for the Kumbh, together with the Mela Adhikari, a role that evoled since 1870 when a police officer was hired to help ensure order.

    "One of the aspects that surprised us the most was how few stalls and street vendors we encountered. How does this temporal city provide sustenance for millions of residents and visitors?"

    Each Akhara (sector) has its own organization, largely of volunteers, to purchase vegetables to local farms, to aggregate the small amounts of food that individual pilgrims bring, and prepare food in a communal kitchen.

    JW: The Kumbh's grid is a tool for oragnizing space and rationalising infrastrucutre...on shifting and unstable ground. What is unique about the Kumbh's grid is its ability to balance the government's needs as well as those of the millions of residents and visitors. It is elastic rather than formal; as an abstract tool, the grid allows for the organization of the Kumbh to begin before the form and quantity of land to be revealed by the retreating Ganges is known. The grid is connected across the river by many small bridges, a more flexible strategy than relying on fewer, larger ones.

    VD: A more permanent infrastructure for the Kumbh would "would devastate the perceived sanctity and tactility of a landscape that is so fundamental to religious immersion rituals." The pontoons are 2.5m in diameter and create a resilient road surface that traverses the challenging (and shifting) sections across the river and through the mud. The pontoons were welded in November, rolled into place in December, and covered over by wood and metal plates. "Throughout the Kumbh, laborers were constantly and economically replenishing infrastructural capacity ad hoc: re-surfacing rutted-out sand roads with layers of bundled grass, replacing sagging sand bags along bathing ghats, compacting filled toilet pits with matrices of bamboo and grass screens."

    OM: For us, the Kumbh "is not about the spectacle of the architecture...but the ability to manage a city in an elastic manner. It's also an example of urbanism driven not by the needs of capital but by other (human) needs. The aim is to understand the Kumbh "as a collaborative anticipatory practice...we are currently looking at other models, such as refugee camps, festivals," and other ephemeral urban phenomena.

    7:50: Rahul introduces Gregg Greenough from the School of Public Health.

     

    GG: The Kumbh Mela compared with the Burning man, in spatial extent and population. The Kumbh is a few times' the spatial extent of the Burning Man, but 1000 times its extent in numbers of people.

    GG notes that some pilgrims take the holy water of the Ganges into their mouths, which had implications for their thinking on public health...

    GG: The British, by using raiway receipts, were able to determine the numbers of people who had come and gone to the Kumbh."How do you plan something like numbers of toilets for a number of people that you're not sure of--between 30 and 80 million people?"

    There were communal, gender-separate pit latrines at the Kumbh; about 30 000 of them. The pilgrims are largely rural and poor, and often don't have the use of a latrine at home. The Kumbh has 165km of roads, as well as 165 km of water supply. Standing water is also a concern.

    In terms of public health, the issues include the fact that people are coming from all different regions, with diseases that are endemic to those areas; and the area is cold and in a valley, with people being exposed to fires and a substantial amount of smoke. DDT is used to try to prevent malaria. There are public employees who hold a "pooer scooper" in one hand, and a basket of lime in the other; they scoop the results of open defecation off the street and scatter some lime on the spot, which helps to disinfect and cover the smell.

    The public health researchers sampled water from a number of sites and grew the samples (in an egg incubator) to determine E. coli counts in the water. E. coli counts were highest around bathing days (when the temporary population at the Kumbh is highest as pilgrims converge), and rates of diarrhea cases at the Kumbh hospitals was also highest during those periods.

    Satchit Balsari: The aim was to determine if disease was breaking out. "Easier said than done." The original plan was to sit at the hospitals and count the rates of diseases that were coming in. But the physicians were seeing a thousand patients each shift, so hardly had time to fill out their registers. One simple innovation was to create columns (vertical ruled lines drawn in pen) in the paper registers, so that the physicans would fill in all of the kinds of data (i.e. every column in their form) for each patient.

    What they found was that there was an extreme disparity in patients--around 3/4 of the patients were male--and a disparity in the numbers of cases at each clinic. They also found that the vast majority of complaints were extremely simple--upper respiratory problems, for example--that could have been treated without a physician.

    "These are the widest roads you'll see in India," and this is part of the efforts to mitigate and prevent stampedes. There were two stampedes at the same time, for example, and an ambulance took 7 hours to get to the scene. SB is showing images and videos of the crowds that make it clear why stampedes take place: enormous crowds, shoudler to shoulder.

    There's a final presentation from Tarun Khanna from the Business School.

    8:22: TK: There were three types of studies that were launched. One was a discussion of how order comes out of what we might expect to be disorder. Another had to do with the emergence of markets, and how information flows to facilitate markets. So we had people taking down the prices of various goods at locations throughout the Kumbh. The third kind of project--Big Data--is in process with negotiations underway to have data transferred from one of the major cellphone providors. 50 to 60% of participants at the Kumbh have cell phones, so they are essentially carrying sensors with a range of data. There are a range of legal, political, and social issues involved in transferring this data outside of India, which would be unprecedneted; as well as technological challenges involved in maintaining privacy once the data is aggregated, and in even being able to manipulate such large data sets. Google, Cisco, and others are interested in this project for the technical challenges and opportunities it presents.

    End. Whew!

    Thanks for reading!

    Lian


  • PETITION: Recognize Denise Scott Brown for her work in Robert Venturi's 1991 Prize

    Hi Archinect, You might have seen that Denise Scott Brown has asked to be recognized by the Pritzker committee. As Dezeen reports, "At the time the prize was awarded, Scott Brown had been a partner at the couple's practice Venturi Scott Brown and Associates for 22 years and had co-authored with...


  • Me-moji.com: an online photobooth and gallery to share your emoji (emoticon) faces!

    Hi Archinect, I love emoji faces. I love to send them, I love to receive them, and I love to make little scenes with them. So does my boyfriend, Drew Harry. So much so that we've been working on a little side project called me-moji.com. It's a website where you can browse people's attempts at...


  • Co-Host 'ARCHITECT Live' with Stephen Chung, AIA

    Hi Archinect, Did you see this? Until March 29, you can submit a 2-minute video audition for a chance to be a co-host of "ARCHITECT Live" at the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver at the end of June. The AIA flies you to Denver, puts you up, and pays you $75 a day (hey, it's still...


  • Live Blog - Zaha Hadid

    Hi Archinect, You can watch the full video of this event at the GSD's YouTube Channel. 6:29: Zaha's in the house tonight. There was a huge line in the lobby--she's obviously one of the few architects who attracts such large non-architect audiences. The lecture is apparently untitled. It's already...


  • Live Blog - GSD Alternative Careers Panel

    Hi Archinect! 6:35 pm. Judy Sue Fulton and Lauren Kim, two M.Arch.I students in my class, are hosting a panel on alternative design careers. There will be short introductions and then some conversation with individual panelists around tables. Bryan Boyer: says he's a "confused" professional. "I'm...


  • Defending Your Life--and other stuff

    Hello Archinect! So...I finished my thesis but still have a few classes to wrap up this semester. I'm taking a statistics class with Michael Hooper, an independent study research project with Jay Wickersham (as a professional practice elective), and a seminar with Rahul Mehrotra on the "Kinetic...


  • Thesis FINISHED! (Drawn out: performances of mundane inhabitation)

    Hi Archinect, Well, I'm very happy to say that I presented my thesis just over a week ago, and it went well. I gave the following very short preamble: And here was what I said: There’s a termite in the southern hemisphere that lives in a colony, that builds a mound, that acts as an external...

    Drawn out: performances of mundane inhabitation



  • Thesis: Drawn out: performances of mundane inhabitation

    Hi Archinect, My thesis project has been keeping me from live blogging lately, but I wanted to share some clips of my thesis work in progress. I'm calling the project "Drawn out: performances of mundane inhabitation." It's not a design project, but an essay in the form of a video, exploring the...

    Wake up - attention and the senses


    Cooking - habits and memory


    Going outdoors - environmental stimuli


    Library - movement, activity, quiet, and immersion



  • Comment: I know that Steve Jobs wasn’t God: That’s the whole point

    Hi Archinect, [Note: A year ago, after Steve Jobs died and a public debate played out over whether or not he deserved to be mourned--a fine designer and astute businessman, but surely no saint--I wrote this essay. It argues that there are different ways to give back to the world, and that most of...


  • Video - GSD Conference on Design I: Liminal Objects - Design and the Museum

    Hi Archinect, If you're in areas affected by the storm, or have loved ones who are, all the best to you. To everyone else: back to work! Storm day is over. It has been said within our school that furniture, interiors, and design thinking--and dealing with these issues in a serious intellectual...

    GSD: Liminal Objects - Introduction, Design - in - Practice


    GSD: Liminal Objects - Design and the Museum


    GSD: Liminal Objects - Round Table



  • Live Blog - Iñaki Ábalos, 'Thermodynamism and Architecture'

    Hi Archinect! I'm in Stubbins (a smaller room) tonight for a lecture by GSD Professor in Residence Iñaki Ábalos, widely rumored among students to be our next chair of Architecture. The lecture, entitled "Thermodynamics of mixed use high rise prototypes: theory and practice" will be...


  • Live Blog - Toyo Ito, "What Was Metabolism? Reflections on the Life of Kiyonori Kikutake"

    Hi Archinect, We're in full, full Piper tonight for Toyo Ito's lecture. (You can watch the full video at the GSD's YouTube Channel.) From the GSD website: The Metabolist Movement in the 1960s established the foundation from which contemporary architecture in Japan has emerged up to the present...


  • Live Blog - Aggregate and Ed Eigen

    Hi Archinect, I haven't normally attended the GSD's "PhD Talks" as I'm not a PhD student here, but today the researchers collectively known as "Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative" are having a conversation wtih Ed Eigen, about a book that I admire very much called Governing by Design...


  • Live Blog - Kengo Kuma, "After March 11th"

    Hi Archinect, Kengo Kuma in full Piper tonight! You can view the video at the GSD's YouTube channel. I came in a little late, unfortunately, but just in time to see KK show a picture of a recent project in which "nothing happens"--there was no evidence of the project in this image of a hill...


  • Live Blog - Günther Vogt, "City as Territory as Landscape"

    Hi Archinect! I'm in Piper for Zürich-based landscape architect Günther Vogt's lecture. From the GSD website: Günther Vogt will present a talk on the nature of outdoor spaces, making reference to his projects, which approach landscape in the context of the city and urbanization...


  • Thesis: is performance in architecture like the performance of a machine, or a theater?

    Hi Archinect! This post goes along with this one where I shared two videos that started my work on thesis this semester. Here, I wanted to explain a bit about what I mean by "unaccomplished performances," which is the working title for the project: I’m starting with the question: what do we...


  • Thesis: unaccomplished performances (video)

    Hi Archinect! I’m in thesis this semester in the M.Arch.I program, and am being advised by my studio critic from first (!) semester, Danielle Etzler, as well as K. Michael Hays. We kicked off the semester with a pin-up in the first week of September, and a desk crit this past Monday. The...

    unaccomplished performance - time lapse


    unaccomplished performance - charcoal dawn



  • Live Blog - George Lakoff, "The Brain's Politics"

    Hi Archinect! I'm at MIT for George Lakoff's talk,"The Brain's Politics: How Campaigns Are Framed and Why." The talk's blurb says: Everything we learn, know and understand is physical — a matter of brain circuitry. This basic fact has deep implications for how politics is understood, how...


  • Live Blog - Jürgen Mayer H., "pre.text / vor.wand"

    Hi Archinect! It looks like a cat sat on my keyboard, but "pre.text / vor.wand" is the title of Jürgen Mayer H.'s lecture tonight in Piper. This has been the first week of classes. (I'm in my thesis semester and second last semester of my M.Arch.I.--more on thesis soon.) 6:36pm: Scott Cohen...


  • Economic Considerations Regarding the Future of the Architecture Profession

    Hi Archinect, Here's the excellent slide deck from a presentation by Kermit Baker, Chief Economist at the American Institute of Architects, in a "collateral discussion" (whatever that is) held on March 4, 2012 (as posted online at aia.org). The main theme, as I see it: baby boomers holding on to...


  • ContemPLAY: Adventures in full-scale digital fabrication (interview with Sophie Wilkin from McGill)

    Hi Archinect! M.Arch. students from my alma mater, McGill School of Architecture, have designed and built a steel and wood pavilion that they’re calling ContemPLAY, and I recently sat down with team member Sophie Wilkin (via text chat) to find out more. Here’s an edited version of our...



  • A Single Surface, Multiple Players: Design and Construction of the Stair for the BSA Space

    Hi Archinect! It's been a while--I've been enjoying summer! But I did find time to chat with Eric Höweler (Höweler + Yoon Architecture), Patrick McCafferty (Arup Boston), Jason Smith (Commodore Builders), and Tom Couturier (Couturier Iron Craft) about their collaboration on the stair...

    Patrick McCafferty: “Arup’s in-house finite element software was used to analyze the dynamic response of the stair in order to fine-tune the structural design and detailing requirements.” This video, courtesy Arup Boston, shows the stress contours as load is applied to the stair.



  • Live Blog: Marikka Trotter and K. Michael Hays

    Hi Archinect! I’m at the very beautiful Cambridge Public Library (by William Rawn Associates) for a conversation between Marikka Trotter (co-editor with Esther Choi of Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else) and K. Michael Hays, who was co-author together with Trotter of...


  • Live Blog: Scott Cohen and Nader Tehrani, "my house is better than your house"

    Hi Archinect! This one is for the lols. The GSD's Scott Cohen and Nader Tehrani, Head of the Department of Architecture at MIT, are having a friendly lunchtime debate--as illustrated by the hot air rising from each house in the poster. 12:10: Scott opens things, describing his close and collegial...


  • Live Blog: Margaret Livingstone, "What Art can tell us about the Brain"

    Hi Archinect! I'm at MIT today for Margaret Livingstone's lecture on visual perception. She'll be talking about how works of visual art can inform us about how we see. (Her excellent book with many visual games and informative optical illusions is called Vision and Art: the biology of seeing.)...


  • note to incoming GSD and Career Discovery students about housing

    Hello, Sorry to abuse my blog in this way, but this is just to reach out to incoming GSD (and MIT) students, as well as GSD Career Discovery summer students, who are looking for apartments. We have a Facebook group with almost 300 members called 'Harvard GSD Housing' where you can post ads...


  • video: Marc Simmons, you talk pretty

    Hi Archinect! I wasn't able to live blog last night's lecture by Marc Simmons from Front, but it's just as well, as he talks so articulately that it's better to watch the video yourself, at the GSD's YouTube channel. It was a great presentation of Front's façade consultation and...


  • Live Blog: One Harvard: Lectures that Last

    Hi Archinect! I'm at the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square for the Harvard Graduate Council's 'One Harvard: Lectures that Last.' Top professors from each of Harvard's twelve schools have been rounded up to to give a talk:     Roland Baron | Harvard School of Dental Medicine...


  • maps

    Hi Archinect! By now, you've probably seen Google's April 1 release of its 8-bit map for NES. But have you seen this real-time animated map of wind in the United States? And this Metro Distortion Map that shows the travel time to stations in Washington DC? And Mapnificent, which shows what places...

    Google Maps 8-bit for NES



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About this Blog

Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around Cambridge...and once in a while, some studio and course work. Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in most cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts. If you have concerns about how you are quoted, please contact me via Archinect's email.

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  • Lian Chikako Chang

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