India Futures Project

Statues We Need: A Guide to Progressive Place-making

The first futuristic dialogue for The India Futures Project observes the statues that stand at the heart of our cities. We question why these statues need to transition from being mere structures to becoming performative models to warrant their place in the skylines of future India.

on 12 July

  • Ifp 900 X600

There is no doubt that the human act of commemoration using sculpture is as old as our civilisation. The oldest discovered figurine is the Lion-Man from a cave in Germany. It dates back to between 35,000 - 40,000 years ago, and is the oldest know Zoomorphic statuette ever found.

Over the years, sculpture and statue-making has seen refinements and artistic movements, responded to various kinds of patronage, politics and specific place-making criteria. The acceptance of statues in public imagination is a dynamic entity, with statues gaining and losing favour with changing regimes and politics, with shifting loyalties and artistic sensibilities. One of the most enduring images of regime change in public memory is the toppling of giant statues, signalling a large shift in our connections to our past. Statues enjoy immense political patronage, with various regimes creating funding mechanisms, almost always controversially, to create these icons. We believe that tomorrow’s statues will transcend ornamentation, politics and weak symbology. To justify their place in our Future cities, they will become increasingly ‘performative’.

It’s interesting to forecast our India of the Future to see what statues could respond to. Here are a few scenarios from India in 2035 where run-of-the-mill statues potentially double up as seawater desalination plants, tidal energy harvesting systems and aquatic nature parks, as visualised by The Busride Lab.

  • Gandhi Ewaste

Sorting and categorising E-waste systematically, The MK Gandhi Memorial E-Waste Urban Mine and Sorting Centre holds a hyper-efficient Urban mining system within its structure.

Scenario #1

India has emerged as the Fifth largest E-waste producer in the world (2 million tonnes in 2016). Mumbai tops the list of cities producing e-waste, while Maharashtra tops the state-list. 95% of the processing of this waste is carried out by the informal sector.

The age of cheap, abundant raw materials is over. Our urban junk contains vast quantities of usable precious and semi-precious metals and components, and represents the most accessible and low-cost resource for materials of contemporary importance. In fact, urban mining is now the only option for extracting rare metals like Europeum and Turbium. Over 40 usable elements exist inside old mobile phones, for example. Urban Mining conveniently exists outside of conflict zones, where decades of mining have created unregulated mafia-like situations. Classic mining is simply not enough anymore.

What we propose:

The MK Gandhi Memorial E-Waste Urban Mine and Sorting Centre uses a large sorting centre, where E-Waste is systematically sorted and categorised, precious metals extracted for use, and a thriving economy in hyper-efficient Urban mining is created within the Statue complex. The base of the Statue and Charkha are periodically speckled with gold dust from the tonnes of circuit boards and phones that pass through daily. The urban gold mining has made waste disposal cycles incredibly efficiently, and the statue a profit centre that contributes to the city’s economy.

  • Gandhi Energy Harvest Monument

Crowdfunded by the city's active ecology groups, The MK Gandhi Memorial Energy Harvesting Offshore helps Mumbai shift its reliance on fossil fuels to tap into renewable sources of energy

Scenario #2

India is running one of the largest and most ambitious renewable energy capacity expansion programs in the world. Newer renewable electricity sources are projected to grow massively by 2022, including a more than doubling of India's large wind power capacity and an almost 15-fold increase in solar power from April 2016. We are slowly phasing out our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

India is the fourth largest wind power producer as of the year ending 2017. India will achieve 100GW of Solar power by the year 2022. Coupled with progressive governance and a long history of closed loop economies, India is uniquely poised to create powerful new ways of engaging with renewable energy. The country boasts of a 7,517 km-long coastline, being one of the 20 places worldwide where the height of the high tide is over five metres higher than the low tide to capture the tidal power potential. But there are no tidal energy-based power plants in India yet, with the potential to generate over 8000MW of electricity through this source alone.

What we propose:

The MK Gandhi Memorial Energy Harvesting Offshore was crowdfunded by the city’s active ecology groups in an effort to cut reliance on the dwindling fossil fuel reserves. In phase 1, the Statue generated clean tidal energy for six months of the year, capitalising on the lengthy monsoon season of July-August 2035. There are plans to increase its efficiency and storage capacity so it can serve the city all year round.

  • Gandhi Desalination

The MK Gandhi Memorial Desalination plant creates a stream of fresh water supply by treating theatre from the seas that surround Mumbai

Scenario #3

India faces a dire water shortage especially of drinking water, with our surface and groundwater getting depleted rapidly. Per capita annual availability of water in the country is expected to fall from 1860 metre cube a year in 2001 to 1140 metre cube a year by 2050.

The city of the Future harnesses every resource at its disposal to create value for its residents. With conventional surface water sources drying up or disappearing over time and borewells getting deeper by the year, sourcing and supplying water have become uphill tasks for corporations across urban and rural areas. It is at such a time that seawater desalination is emerging as one of the top alternatives.

According to the International Desalination Association (IDA), there are around 18,426 desalination plants spread across 150 countries, benefiting as many as 300 million people. Nearly half of Israel’s water is manufactured and many countries, especially in the arid regions of Northern Africa and the Middle East, find desalination a cheaper option.

What we propose:

The MK Gandhi Memorial Desalination plant takes advantage of increasingly brackish water from the Mumbai seas and creates an additional stream of fresh water supply for the city. Especially after the break in in-land rainfall of 2030, where the lakes reached critically low levels, the desalination facility has already supplied the city with a viable new alternative. The new multi-stage flash desalination plant now produces over 40% of the city’s potable water supply, with plans afoot to augment this even further.

  • Gandhi Lowcosthousing

The MK Gandhi Premium Affordable Housing project was born after a crash in the Tech and IT sector that led to a swell in the demand for affordable housing

Scenario #4

Recycling land to create housing stock is one way to solve the housing crisis in Mumbai. With high prices that show no sign of dipping, recycling is all that Mumbai has.

Every square foot of the city must work to house, protect and celebrate its residents. According to the census of India 2011, out of the 90 million residential census units, 11 million units are vacant; that is about 12% of the total urban housing stock consists of vacant houses.

The total vacant housing stock may not exactly match – in terms of quantity and type – the requirements of the households crowded out of the housing market. But this paradox of vacant houses and a shortage of housing, is a symptom of the distortions in the functioning of land and housing markets.

What we propose:

To combat this inequity in affordable housing, the city built a series of high-density homes attached to offshore parks and other common amenities, amongst a perpetual school and hospital facility, to reimagine housing for the recently displaced IT Industry. Following a large crash in the Tech and IT sector, the demand for affordable housing grew to sizeable proportions, with the state responding in form of this visionary project. The MK Gandhi Memorial Premium Affordable housing scheme also benefits from the proximity of the Urban Farmers Market in the form of its spacious basement warehouses, where the city now gets in freshest products.

  • Gandhi Nature Park

The MK Gandhi Memorial Aquatic Nature Park creates a rehabilitation scaffolding and the paves the way to a flourishing new biological reserve

Scenario #5

The narrative of ecological value as opposed to the ‘development’ paradigm is a gross misunderstanding. While humans must work hard to merit their place in the cities of tomorrow, so must nature. It is our own myopia that stops us from visualising new symbiotic scenarios, where we can co-exist and thrive. Our Future cities must create a new form of symbiosis.

A quote from P K Das’s The Nature of Cities reads, “City building efforts have led to unprecedented abuse and destruction of natural assets and ecosystems. Also their relationship with built environment has been severed in most instances. As a matter of fact, development plans and programs have dealt with natural conditions with hostility.

Their exclusion from city maps or their inadequate documentation, as in the case of Mumbai, is an example of such apathy and indifference. Instead, our challenge is their integration, towards building a sustainable urban ecology.”

What we propose:

The MK Gandhi Memorial Aquatic Nature Park aims to regain some of the lost ground by creating a rehabilitation scaffolding, both above and underwater for a new Biological Reserve to be populated. In consultation with local experts, a few panthers from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park were shifted here, with encouraging results. More exciting though is the progress of the Coral reef scaffolds, which have for the first time encouraged the more adventurous of scuba divers to popularise new dive sites around the city’s newly cleaned up coastline.

What is a statue?

The history of statues and place-making is a complicated one, since it involves spending huge amounts of public money on projects that hinge on flimsy prospecting, and generally inaccurate projections of footfall, usage and expected revenue. We see an imminent collapse to this process of blind building of large infrastructure once data on guests, traffic and revenue become more transparently available. While nothing will, or must stop our endeavour of building bigger and better memorials to enduring values, we must stop to question not what a Statue is, but what it CAN be.

India Futures Project is a collaboration between The Busride Lab and Design Fabric. It will be a fortnightly editorial visualising a better India through Design & Futures Thinking. If you want to contribute or collaborate with us, please fill the form here.

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