Breaking new ground in Geneva

Announcing the Breaking Ground Workshop in Geneva involved some interesting comparisons with density levels in Mumbai. Learnings from one space were strong inputs in discussions at another

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Geneva, Switzerland 

From the point of view of urban authorities, all cities are in crisis mode of some kind or the other. In some parts of the world, basic issues like water and sewage have not been worked out for large sections of the population. In other cities, the quality of life is extremely attractive. So attractive in fact, that the coming of more people and the task of accommodating them, creates its own note of urgency and alarm.

Our experience over the years has taught us not to be in crisis mode at the best of times. We have worked substantially in neighbourhoods officially considered to be vulnerable and unstable or in cities that are seen to be at perpetual war with their own people over resources.

Such narratives add their own dynamics to the problems at hand rather than deal with them in an effective way.

Our offices in Mumbai have been located – at different points of time – in Dharavi and Shivaji Nagar, both neighbourhoods officially called, and treated as, slums. From there we have understood the dynamics that make these places organized, well-functioning settlements with a logic that works for the local economies that constitute it.

How density operates in such contexts has been an important concern for us – making us factor in cultural, economic and local civic elements before drawing conclusions.

Right from the start, we have maintained that non-slum habitats and Mumbai’s slums share a lot in common and all related nomenclature needs to be critically interrogated.

From the other side of the same argument, we have audaciously compared streets of Dharavi with those in Tokyo – underlining the common elements of typology and form that help extract the essence of these places across such diverse habitats.

It is with this lack of prejudice that we recently entered into dialogue with a completely different set of parameters regarding urban planning.

In a context far away from our offices in Mumbai – we found ourselves dealing with densification of a different sort – in a neighbourhood in Geneva, in Switzerland.  Even in a city of plenty – land can be scarce for housing that needs to be accessible and affordable. The way ahead seems to be to densify existing residential neighbourhoods, which have only slowly developed in the past decades. But what shape would such densification take is a point of debate.

For urbz it is an exciting mandate and marks the setting up of our second office in Geneva. Lack of prejudice about what constitutes urban histories is what makes it possible for us to operate offices in both these divergent contexts and deal with the agendas placed in front of us in as effective a way as possible.

And what we remain loyal to in terms of methodology in both places – is complete faith in the ability of the users of space (residents and inhabitants working in tandem with urban practitioners and authorities) to be able to provide us with the best templates and concepts to work with.

For this reason – our office in Geneva makes its first move with a workshop.

Breaking Ground is going to be held in September (21-25) – in a month from now and addresses issues, processes and structures of densification in a specific neighbourhood in Geneva, Switzerland.

It invites, as all our workshops always do, students, practitioners, residents and authorities to be the prime agents of thinking through the theme.

With this, we build on the seven years of work in Mumbai (and other cities) and start our operations in Europe.

We do hope many of you can be part of it!

Visit the workshop’s web page here: http://fbl.me/bgw

and download the brief here: http://urbz.ch/Geneva-Workshop-URBZ-Sept2015.pdf

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