ĎA city is not a paintingí
Architect Vikramaditya Prakash, in an exclusive interview, offers solutions to woes that plague urban planning
Nonika Singh

Distinguished alumnus of the Chandigarh College of Architecture, son of renowned architect late Aditya Prakash and currently Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Washington College of Built Environments, Seattle, Washington, Dr Vikramaditya Prakash is more than an academician. A master of modernism, an author of half a dozen books, he was recently in Chandigarh to release his book on architect Shivdatt Sharma. He shares his vision for City Beautiful and urbanisation in general and offers solutions that are as incisive as they are workable. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

Urban planning is paramount If in last 200 years, three billion people have come to occupy urban spaces, in the next 40 years another three billion will move to urban areas. What is interesting is that out of 800 million Indians that will be urbanised, a large majority of them will move to small and mid-town cities like Chandigarh and Jaipur. Indian planners are aware of the magnitude of the problem, only precious little is being done to address it.

India can respond to the challenge. Provided we make our cities productive engines of growth. The solution lies in the multimodal transit system. Cities like Ahmedabad have successfully followed the system. So can Chandigarh.

Chandigarh metro is an expensive toy. It will not solve the problem. What can work better is Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) or light rail systems. Call it trams if you wish.

Corbusier bashing is easy For he was a great man. Itís fallacious to say he did not envision the future growth of Chandigarh. In fact, he had imagined it as a bustling metropolis. Only his vision of huge towers with ample parking space was seen as far too futuristic in the 1950s. In those years, the most common refrain against his planning was that roads were too broad.

Straight roads for which he is being criticised now are used the world over. Only we donít have a driving culture, donít know lane driving. But donít worry, we will soon learn to drive our BMWs and Mercedes on these roads.

Chandigarh Urban Lab is 
an experiment between University of Washington College of Built Environments and Chandigarh College of Architecture CollCollege College

Gurgaon is a role model for nothing. Place it next to Chandigarh, and you will automatically know where it stands. Panchkula has developed well and Mohali isnít bad either. Of course, in the imagination of architects around the world, Chandigarh is without a doubt the Taj Mahal of architecture. After all, Corbusier was the most important architect of the 20th century and Chandigarh his most important project.

Seattle, where I live is the world's most beautiful, sustainable and people and neighbourhood friendly city in the world. Despite a population of two and a half million it's a place where you can ride a bicycle, go boating, admire mountains and revel in the lush green nature. Soon I plan to start a sister city relationship between Seattle and Chandigarh for there is much that these two places can learn from each other.

Chandigarh has to follow the middle path. It canít go the Brasilia way. Brazilís capital has been declared world heritage city, and even a bulb canít be changed without the UNís permission. A city is not a painting that you can hang in a museum. It has to grow. Chandigarh has to upgrade and be in sync with 21st century without losing its character or ethos. I have prepared a lecture on Chandigarh called Chandigarh 2.0 that talks about just that.

Chandigarh Urban Lab is an experiment between University of Washington College of Built Environments and Chandigarh College of Architecture. We study the city on the basis of six parameters. Among our many projects one is about Leisure Valley and we have proposed the idea of setting up of apni mandis and urban agriculture in its vast space without compromising on its beauty. Let all of us not forget that the city is the example of modernism.

Corbusier is not the only god for me. I am a Hindu and I worship many gods. So there are many Hanumans, Saraswatis like Maya Lynn and Elizabeth Diller too. Of course, Corbusier as I know him through my father figures high among the pantheon, almost a colossus Shiva-like figure. But obviously my father influenced me immensely and he is the reason I chose architecture as a vocation.

A sonís critique of his father can only be laudatory. My next book is about my father Aditya Prakash, whose contribution to the city is tremendous. Like all men of his kind, he was ahead of his times and talked of energy efficiency, multi-modal transport system at a time when Chandigarh roads were empty.

Sustainable growth is not a slogan but an inevitable reality of future, without which we are doomed. With this belief, Dr Vikramaditya continues his work and despite Indiaís diffident stance, he remains hopeful of its urban future. He has the blueprint of urban development ready, in case the planners are interested.