ISSUE 01, 2013


Featured EXPERT: kt ravindran

Interviewed by SHIVANI GOVIND

About the Expert:

Mr. K.T. Ravindran, is the Professor and Head of Urban Design at the School of Planning and Architecture of New Delhi. His work focuses on the development of cities. Founder and president of the Institute of Urban Designers, he teaches classes such as “Urban Morphology” and “Humanizing Cities”. Under these baroque terms, there is a necessary architectural, geographical and sociological assessment of the explosion of urban landscapes that he is an expert at.

KT Ravindran is also significantly involved in the public decision-making sphere, as he was the Vice Chairman of the Environmental Impact Assessment Committee of the Government of India – where he oversaw the scrutiny of the environmental sustainability of national-scale architectural projects – and an advisor to the Secretary of the United Nations on their projects in New York City. As a member of the Delhi Urban Art Commission, KT Ravindran finds himself at the intersection of the aesthetical, environmental and sociological ends of architectural endeavours.


Future Ideas (FI): What according to you are the values upon which a city is built?

KT: There is never a conscious attempt to build or design a city on certain values. The values are more often than not derived from the inhabitants of the city themselves. A cities value system is one that is embedded in society and of the communities that build this society.

FI: Are there Indian codes of design that can celebrate yet manage chaos that is the Indian city?

KT: I would disagree that Indian cities are chaotic in the first place. They appear chaotic to one who does not comprehend the complex kind of order that a city is composed of. It is one of intricate weaving, mapping and negotiating of the city’s stakeholders, all functioning simultaneously yet adhering to an inherent and independent order of their own. A city space is essentially the existence of multiple equilibriums that are active in a dynamic space – some are permanent and some temporary. Chaos hence is an incorrect notion since it is merely one system of order, interacting with the other, operating at different paces with purposes that are at odds. Understanding the systems complex workings leads us to appreciate it, scrutinize its faults and remedy it without blaming it on its ‘chaos’.

FI: As an urban designer, how can we better humanize Indian cities to ensure safety of its women, a topic which is gaining greater precedence in the current city debates?

KT: The question of safety as a quality that can be ensured in a city is one of effective governance to begin with. As a designer, the issue can be assuaged to a great degree by ‘calming the city’, providing floor to the cities and improving upon its public spaces. One sees that crime and violence manifests in public spaces – those that are poorly lit, poorly monitored and poorly designed indicating that the custodian of public spaces is clearly failing to do its job.

FI: How, in your opinion, can cities plan for its ever-expanding citizen base? Can you give examples of cities that have successfully done that?

KT: There is no city in India that has been able to deal with volume migration, which is their one singular failure in my opinion – the inability to provide for migration between regions that occurs due to uneven distribution of facilities and opportunities. Yet, there can’t be one prescriptive model either since each city is different with multiple layers and multiple trajectories. The failure to respond effectively to this ever-expanding citizen-base is what leads to ghettoisation, which is a problem all cities of the world face. However, regularization of slums is where other cities do better than India. In India, delivery mechanisms are poor and the public environment is markedly different. Brazil, for instance is far ahead of us in this regard.