is an architect, urbanist and educator who is the Founder Principal of RMA Architects and is Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Mehrotra has designed projects that range from recycling urban land and master planning in Mumbai to the design of art spaces, boutiques, weekend houses, factories, social institutes and office buildings across India – thereby engaging diverse issues, multiple constituencies and varying scales: from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation and planning.
For this first episode of our GIANTS! page, Dan and Kyle travel to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to speak with Rahul Mehrotra about the future of design education, the role of curation in today’s world, craft in architectural work, and the true meaning of Christmas… ok, we may have added that last one.
We highly recommend sitting back, relaxing, and absorbing the dulcet tones of Rahul’s reflections. His experience as both an accomplished practitioner and a celebrated figure of academia make Rahul the perfect person to kick off this series, where we poke and prod the brains of highly respected individuals in the fields of design. Below you will find the resources Rahul brings to our attention in the interview; all super primo stuff!
The conversation spans numerous scales and modes of thinking, so we hope you’re ready for an engaging first foray into the land of GIANTS!
#1 & #2 Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth & Aldo Van Eyck: The Shape of Relativity
by: Buckminster Fuller & Aldo Van Eyck and Francis Strauven
During the interview, Rahul brings up two very early influences for him– successive lectures by Buckminster Fuller and Aldo Van Eyck. As becomes clear in the chat, these two thinkers had a rather profound role in setting the course for some of Rahul’s larger ambitions for practice.
“It was just a piece of luck I think, that one would be introduced to design in such a broad spectrum by two such wonderful minds…”
“Here, listening to a person who could zoom out and make you imagine the Earth as spaceship hovering in the universe… two weeks later listening to Aldo Van Eyck talking about his orphanage… Suddenly the grain changes so completely, becomes so humane.”
“Clearly now to my mind, it explains everything I’m doing in my practice and in my teaching; in the way one is continuously obsessed with trying to connect scales, connect urbanism with architecture, to work with very human-centric social kinds of projects…”
“Being exposed in such intense doses… at such a formative stage in one’s career in the design school, to see the simultaneous validity and be seduced by both ends of the spectrum, I think made me always strive towards seeing why aren’t both valid simultaneously.”
- Rahul Mehrotra
#3 Architecture in India: Since 1990
by: Rahul Mehrotra
A highly relevant addition to the conversation – especially relative to Section Cut as a project of mass-curation – Rahul shares some insight about his recently completed publication, Architecture in India: Since 1990. As it comes up in discussion, Rahul reveals the advantage of having perspective and how the further one gets from certain work, the better suited one might be for the act of curating that work.
“I’ve done a book looking at architecture in India since 1990 which is exactly the year I started my practice. So that book has none of my work, but it curates the 22 years that I practiced…people I encountered first hand, buildings i experienced, buildings i reacted to… was frustrated by but couldn’t understand.
“I think time perspective on reflections is very important – it’s why history and historians can tell a story so easily which would be impossible to tell at the moment. To write about a contemporary condition is always much harder than writing about the last decade. I think the more you can stretch back into time the more revealing it actually is.”
- Rahul Mehrotra
#4 Laufen Manifesto.org
Though we were unable to cover the Laufen Manifesto in our interview, Rahul is a member of a collective of influential and active designers, urbanists, planners, journalists, and politicians who have collaborated on this document, which serves as a touchstone for inclusive, socially engaged design practices. A must-read resource when engaging communities through design.
#5 “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture”
by: Elizabeth Myer
Elizabeth Meyer’s essay, ‘The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,’ attacks the notion of binaries as a way of thinking. Instead, shw posits ‘systems thinking’ as an alternative mode of operation, which inherently deals with the simultaneity that Rahul discusses throughout the podcast. This seminal essay, and many others can be found in the ‘Theory in Landscape Architecture’ reader, included as a ‘silent partner’ in this GIANTS! post.
“One of the things I react to…[is] using binaries like formal and informal world. I hate using the word informal because binaries are non-productive… We tend to divide the world into these binaries and then we have to lay our alliances with one or the other, which means it makes you think in very limited ways.”
“I think in the world today, it’s these divides – and bridging and blurring them and making them diffuse and melt – that is the real task.”
“…If you’re confused it just means you’re thinking clearly….if you’re trying to layer and nuance your readings – accepting many things to be simultaneously valid – you’re in a perpetual state of confusion and you’re seeking to clarify it. Sometimes for the sake of clarity we sacrifice nuancing something.”
- Rahul Mehrotra
#6 University of Toronto’s George Baird Lecture
March 19, 2013
So you’ve gotten a taste, but still want more Rahul? If you’re interested in his work as an architect in Mumbai, or issues facing architecture and urbanism in dense urban centers, such as the effects of ‘impatient capital,’ this is the talk for you! Covering quite a lot of ground, it is an inspiring narrative of how architects can start being more considerate and conscious of their work’s urban and social context. There you have it, our first GIANTS! post. Any comments on the conversation? What other figures qualify as GIANTS! to you?
Author: SectionCut Team