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Indian cities should merge the old and new: German urban designer

Monday October 22, 2012 04:58:19 PM, Madhusree Chaterjee, IANS

New Delhi: The landscape of Indian cities presents countless possibilities that make it rife for design-related experiments by combining the old and the new for sustainable development, says leading German installation artist and urban designer Markus Heinsdorff.

Heinsdorff has designed the pavilions for the Oct 27-Nov4 Indo-German Urban Mela in the capital under a bilateral initiative, "Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities".

The exposition, dedicated to city spaces, will try to address the challenges posed by the pace of change in German and Indian cities over nine days in the Indraprastha Park.

Analysing the landscape of Indian cities, the artist said: "Many of the solutions lie in the architecture of urban India quite naturally."

"For instance, in the green areas in Delhi the trees lined up on streets cast shadows. They help to keep the air clean and cool. The design solutions in Delhi have to be specific to the needs of the city," Heinsdorff told IANS in an interview.

"In a sense, Delhi has its own unique architectural face and this face needs to be preserved and not lost or replaced. Delhi has so much going for it already in its layouts and planning that there is no need to imbibe too much from other parts of the world. It is the uniqueness that works for the space in Delhi," he said.

"Underground trains, subways, trams and electronic buses help reduce the volume of traffic to a great extent. In India, there is the great legacy of bicycles and cycle rickshaws which are not only energy-efficient, they do not add to the pollution, but save a lot of unwanted traffic. This is something that even Europeans are adopting now," he said.

Citing an instance of an intelligent climate solution, the artist said when there was no electricity in India, natural cooling systems were used.

"All in all, merging the old and the new is possible by paying attention to the uniqueness of space and design methods of the city," he said.

Heinsdorff said the pavilions he has designed for the Urban Mela, which is the highlight of the Year of Germany in India, form a little village within cities inspired by Indian gemstones - shimmering with light, space and the grandeur of Indian wedding venues.

"It will be like a mirror to reflect on Indian architecture as it exists. I want to retain the traditional aspects of Indian design and mould them into sustainable architectural solutions," Heinsdorff said.

Steel and textile membrane are the physical components of Heinsdorff's work, while "sculptural motifs are part of the guiding principles". "Technology is not limited to machines. The intricacy and rigour that go into weaving fabric, as I see it in India, is also in that sense high technology and this is part of my architectural construct as well in India," he said.

"In theory, Germany and India can be ideal partners for each other in urbanisation and city-planning areas and find common solutions for future challenges. . Thus, there can be more of a discourse between the two cultures, than a mixture. It is a mutually beneficial platform for both the countries, learning from each other," Heinsdorff said.

He said all new methods and practices draw from tradition. "In keeping with the intelligent use of traditional space and resources, we must now look at intelligent housing that uses energy in an efficient way, combining old methods with current energy supplies".

"India is known as a country of rich textiles and lightweight materials and using them for modern architecture, which is also low-cost, is something I will be researching extensively in Indian and German universities," he said.

"Energy and spaces will combine to minimise pollution levels," Heinsdorff observed, summing up the cityscape of the future.

(Madhusree Chaterjee can be contacted at





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