VERTICALS; AN ESSAY WRITTEN BY INDIAN-AMERICAN WRITER, APOORVA TADEPALLI
WHO I MET DURING MY TRIP TO DHARAVI, MUMBAI, TOGETHER WITH DANISH JOURNALIST BUREAU, TANK
De Certeau underscored very clearly the significance to modern society, not just architecturally but psychologically, of vertical growth. To have the power to see an entire urban text being written, and to also be removed from it, is a basic, primitive voyeuristic instinct.
The allure of the power of being able to escape the earth’s pull is as real and as old as the slightly contradictory, perhaps self-reactionary need to conpensate for this loss of earth, by releasing horizontal space in which society could, among other things, submit itself to the elements of Nature again. The “divine” power of being able to retreat from nature is inseparable from the power and need to “save” it, placing into physical locations where its experience can be contained and understood.
The ideas of the Vertical City and urban growth boundaries as strategies for densification are variants of the idea that the “core” of the urban fabric should be contained to prevent sprawl and create affordable semi-suburban housing solutions – both of which require free horizontal space and which also overlook the fact that vertical growth comes with horizontal expansion. Particularly as neighbourhoods become less low-income friendly, residential and commercial units call for wider roads or expand to accommodate more facilities.
Live with Nature, says the only copy of a full front page advertisement in Delhi Times for luxury apartments in Gurgaon, which are surrounded by greenery on the ground as well as from their balconies and roofs. We want to be in contact with nature, to feel protected from the cancerous growth of the city on our own terms while continuing sky-high climbs to dominate, protect, and escape. Our distance from nature is not physical as much as psychological.
Edward Glaeser’s essay “Temperate and Bounded” in Ecological Urbanism says that Henry David Thoreau’s lesson for modern urbanists was that “being good to the environment often means staying away from it…when we use less space, we do less environmental harm”. It rings with a fearful, uncertain ego that distantly echoes Frank Lloyd Wright’s suffocated feeling in the urban fabric, his almost Wordsworthian longing for a “natural order”. Wright wanted to both iconicize the city and escape it, piling it high so that pushing oneself out of and away from itwas easier.
Ours is a crisis of lifestyle; our sense of removal from the earth is more psychological than physical. We are no more able than Wright, today, after living in messy, awkward, non-utopian, intensely human cities for hundreds of years, to absorb the built environment and elements of human-nature interaction, into the realm of our understanding of Nature. We are unable to recognise a “natural order” in ourselves, in thework that we do.
This is why “live with nature” is said of Gurgaon’s foresty luxury skyscrapers or the Vertical City’s endless hollow parkland, and not of South Bombay’s dense, mixed-income heritage buildings, both high and low rise and made of natural materials, where recognition of the right touse property as a legitimate relationship to the land, as opposed to merely the right by ownership, make it a uniquely diverse downtown. This is why “live with nature” is not said in reference to Dharavi Koliwada’s groundwater wells and spacious courtyards under huge banyan trees, all in the heart of one of the densest, most horizontal parts of Mumbai, where people who are far less subconsciously apologetic about their home and their influence on nature, have been living in harmony with their landscape since before the city had a name.
The more powerful our cities dream, the more confidence they exude, the more work they put into conjuring a skyline that our filmmakers and artists can boast of and fall in love with – the more uncertain they seem to become about the earth and their dizzying distance from it. The Vertical City is in its own way a utopia, the product of a society trying to protect both itself and the earth, but has separated these two so distinctly in its consciousness that it has become too anxious to do either. “Staying away from” the environment is neither desirable nor possible, and it belongs entirely to the narrative of power attached to vertical expansion. In this way, perhaps Walter Benjamin’s narrative of instability, in depicting a fascination with skyscrapers, is actually the most honest way modern society can talk about the need for, and process of, verticalism in densification.
Benjamin’s citizen of modern society, the urban ascender, is like the construction worker; he moves “rung by rung, according as chance would offer a narrow foothold, and always like someone who scales dangerous heights and never allows himself a moment to look around, for fear of becoming dizzy (but also because he would save for the end the full force of the panorama opening out for him).” This, as one critique notes, “imagines a perilously contingent ascent by a vulnerable and explicitly embodied observer, one in whom the fear and the anticipation of high altitude comingle.”
Space is a practiced place, said de Certeau in his distinction between spaces and places. Places create designated function; in a “place”, no two elements can be in the same location. Spaces, almost humble in their ambiguity, are created by a different, more directionally organic movement, embodying functions outside of their individual elements. Spaces are created when typologies superimpose on each other and elements of the landscape can belong to both nature and civilisation.
The true, non-utopian city is the centre of “human nature”, in the literal sense perhaps an oxymoron – it is where this contradiction is embodied, where new relationships between humans and the earth are constantly forming and old ones are maintained. Interesting urban forms in Mumbai are often created by people working with natural elements, like the artisans of Dharavi – those whose work calls on them to access not a vantage point but the street, the earth. The only way to build the Vertical City, then, is to recognise the need for this continuity, in our minds as well as our streetscape, between the the pull we feel from both the sky and the earth – to perhaps be dizzy, frightened, and very humble, to grope our way up tentatively and single-mindedly, in a combination of ambition and exhileration.
Apoorva Tadepalli, Mumbai
So long as the mind is in motion there are always new, unfamiliar glades of expression that can be drawn out through the invention of new processes. Each style of line yields expressions from a different territory of the mind. Cultivate a LINE – that is to say, spend time practicing and understanding it - and this practice becomes more familiar, more comfortable and can therefore be executed more confidently. One is able to exercise this practice to the point where there is little or no FRICTION between thinking and drawing. The practice becomes ASSIMILATED. What appears on the PAPER before you occurs at the same rate of the (un)conscious thoughts that produce the image. And so, drawing and thinking become assimilated. The image you are both creating and looking at informs what you think; while at the same time what you are thinking informs what it is that you are drawing.
"Tokyo". Original English-short published in Danish broadsheet newspaper, Politiken, along with drawing as part of the "Postcards from Other Cities" series. 2015
Between sky and crust the ground flashes and alternates colour with the same speed of the neon sparkled skyline; your vision permanently plugged into to new combinations of swatches of colour, arrow road markings and swirling red lights; firmly placed into the tarmac that serve to mechanise moving pedestrians.
From green painted rooftops pruned, rose-coloured scaffolding-like structures germinate and grow. The flying vehicles above enjoy the sight of them. During rain fall, transparent, black-stemmed petals reflect the pastel-toned lighting around them back into the eyes of passer’s by.
Photosynthesis occurs also. During the daytime the dimmed neon lighting absorbs energy from above to spend throughout the night. The sun sets. Buildings breathe. And like entering a maternity ward, new buildings are born and treated with sensitivity and tenderness. The land is too attended too with care. A surgical white steel curtain (on wheels) is pulled across to allow the building privacy from the thousands of public eyes throughout the labour. A light festival ensues at the gate to the ward, to make people both aware and joyful of the new-born. A careful selection of lights, mostly red, illuminate the pathway, and a host of stewards dressed in flashing vests holding neon candles man the area (one of whom is chosen, notably, to create a mural from light cable across the partition).
Save for a difference in decibels, the affectionate bleeps of street vacuums are easy to confuse with that of a smooth-moving police car; this combined with high-decibel J-Pop beaming from tower-sized amplifiers accompanying video commercials provides evidence of the existence of humans, while the silent, focused many surge through the labyrinth below.
"OSAKA". Original English-short published in Danish broadsheet newspaper, Politiken, along with drawing as part of the "Postcards from Other Cities" series. 2015
There is no green. Vegetable shopping is endured under 10000 watts of neon tubing mazing across the supermarket walls. Enter under a fluorescent rainbow. Tamade. An isle that encourages you to gamble your red plum tomato under illuminated italic violet script reading ‘fruits’. Outside and 3 meters above is a web of electrical wiring; matted enough to capture a bird were it to attempt passage.
Advertisements remembered in lights and (sometimes acrylic). Colour combinations, imagery and compositions could mean a baker’s or a sex cinema. Some hang like medals of past glamours, products and wares. Pulling life from within these towers, the surface is its epicenter. Inside full of behavior windows shouldn’t see. Flashing by night, a shopping mall by day.
Karaoke parlours keep the land alive. The occasional moped arrives. Rules bend for the elderly. ¥100 (5,05kr) to sing.
"AMSTERDAM". Original English-short published in Danish broadsheet newspaper, Politiken, along with drawing as part of the "Postcards from Other Cities" series. 2015
High-heeled Catherine wheels churn, flowing in straight lines down wavy pathways. Unconsciously turning your body to adapt to the slant of jammed buildings poking into the corner of your vision; we’re all sinking. The land is soft, and there’s clay on my shoes. Brick-shaped narrow leaves lean out onto the walkway, and the gargle of Dutch emanates from the waterway below. Orange bunting retains the British tourists above.
Your perception slants. Mothers and fathers are dropping their kids off at school in red racing buggies - parked haphazardly outside, a seated infant faces an open red window where the fuschia-haired woman strokes her thigh. Emilie lives just opposite in a converted church.