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Shekhawati Region Rajasthan IndiaHow big can you imagine an open air gallery to be? Well, here you are… 13, 785 sq. km [5130 sq. miles] of painted walls, havelis, palaces and forts in the vast expanse of the desert of Rajasthan in India. Town after town, street after street, home after home has been painted with frescoes depicting characters and stories from Indian mythology, history, vernacular culture and life, erotica, and even imaginary and hilarious depictions of science fiction!

This is the Shekhawati region of state of Rajasthan in India. Established and ruled by the Shekhawat rajputs for centuries till independence of India in 1947, it was the largest Nizamat of Jaipur State. With more than 120 villages, 50 forts and palaces, it was definitely the most happening place for architecture and art development. Few of these have been restored or remodeled to be reused as heritage hotels or museum or schools. Others have become obscure or peeled off.Rao Shekha

Why paint the walls of the towns? Neighboring Marwar region influenced the Shekhawati region a lot. The marwar community was rich, and prosperous. This was the ‘business class’! For over a century between 1830 and 1930, marwaris or the business community made Shekhawati their home, before they started migrating to other parts of India. Family names that are now associated with some of India’s big business houses, originated here. As the ultimate symbol of their opulence, the Marwaris commissioned artists to paint those buildings. Hundreds of these courtyard houses cropped up in the desert landscape, each of them covered inside out with colorful frescoes. This art was kept alive for almost 300 years. Eventually it started falling apart as more and more families from this community started settling elsewhere, and these houses were locked up to ruins.

Fresco from ShekhawatiHow? In Shekhawati, the fresco painter or the chiteras belonged to the social class of potters or kumhaars. The technique employed for the Shekhawati frescoes was elaborate, and comparable to the Italian frescoes of the 14th century. The colors were mixed in lime water or lime plaster and were then made to sink into the plaster physically through processes of beating, burnishing, and polishing. All the pigments used were prepared with natural and primarily household ingredients like kohl, lime, indigo, red stone powder, and saffron. Cow’s urine was dried up to get the bright yellow!Amusing Fresco from Shekhawati

There are instances where these frescoes were complimented with gach [mirror] work and intricately carved wood work. Some merchants and ministers even got the havelis painted in gold and silver. There are havelis which have frescoes which amuse everyone- showing King George and Queen Victoria of England in an Indian landscape! Some even illustrate modern machinery of the times such as airplanes, cars, telephones et al!


Read more:
Painted Walls of Shekhavati by Francis Wacziarg, Aman Nath
Photo credits in slide show: Pavan Gupta of Destination India.

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Nanocity- the idea of a sustainable city ‘with world class infrastructure and to create an ecosystem for innovation leading to economy, ecology and social cohesion’ is taking place near another architecture paradise- Chandigarh, which was commissioned by first prime minister of independent India to reflect new nation’s modern and progressive outlook. Nehru famously proclaimed Chandigarh to be ‘unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation’s faith in the future.’

In 1966 French architect Le Corbusier and his team produced a plan for Chandigarh that conformed to the modernist city planning principles of CIAM, in terms of division of urban functions, an anthropomorphic plan form, and a hierarchy of road and pedestrian networks. Chandigarh, for a very long time, was perceived to be an experimental city!

Today after forty some years, Sabeer Bhatia [of Hotmail fame] has embarked upon another multi-billion dollar Nanocity idea in collaboration with Government of Haryana [India] and the faculty and students of UC Berkeley, California [USA]. Nanocity will replicate if not surpass the standards of the Silicon Valley of US.

Nanocity

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AREAS CONSIDERED FOR ECOTOWNS IN UKJuly 2007- Britian had announced that it will initiate ‘zero carbon’ architecture and town planning by building 5 ‘Ecotowns’ to meet their demand for 2 million new homes by 2016.

‘The towns, each with a minimum of 5,000 to 10,000 houses, will be built to meet zero carbon standards and will each showcase a specific project promoting energy preservation or green technology. Projects to be showcased could include use of communal heat pump systems or car pool schemes,’ the Communities and Local government office said.

UK government even launched a Architecture Design Competition and invited entries for design and layouts of Ecotowns.

You can view the Ecotown prospectus here.

 

NO ECOTOWN HERE

While the government offices move ahead with their plans, people have opposed the plans. People of Warwickshire threaten to march in protest. OPPOSITION to a proposed 6,000-home eco-town at Long Marston also intensified this week as a second Conservative MP came out against the scheme and a petition appealing directly to Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeared on the website of 10 Downing Street. You can read more here: Risible Claims for Ecotown and Protest over plans for Ecotown


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This week while China was in the limelight with its ‘blue box beating with a green heart’- the Water Cube ‘National Aquatics Centre in Beijing’, Korea’s one-hundred-and-five-story Ryugyong Hotel got a severe blow in the architecture world. It was declared the ‘worst building ever’. Esquire says ‘Picture doesn’t lie.

Aerial View from Google‘the one-hundred-and-five-story Ryugyong Hotel is hideous, dominating the Pyongyang skyline like some twisted North Korean version of Cinderella’s castle. Not that you would be able to tell from the official government photos of the North Korean capital — the hotel is such an eyesore, the Communist regime routinely covers it up, airbrushing it to make it look like it’s open — or Photoshopping or cropping it out of pictures completely’

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Bridges are spaces. Bridges are places, where people meet other people, enjoy their surroundings, and experience being part of a community. Though a mode of transit, bridges can be magnets for public activity and fun. Bridges not only connect land to land, but also have an impact on adjacent parks, industries and residential communities, and interact with the city’s transportation infrastructure. Andrea Palladio, the great 16th century Italian architect and engineer, hit on the essence of bridge building when he said “…bridges should befit the spirit of the community by exhibiting commodiousness, firmness, and delight.”

Bridge: n. a structure carrying a road, path or railway across a river, road, etc.
Origin: OE Brycg, of G
mc origin.
National Bridge Inspection Standard (NBIS) defines a bridge as a structure of length 20 feet or grea
ter

Bridges have played an important role in the history of human settlement. The first bridges were natural, such as the huge rock arch that spans the Ardèche in France, or Natural Bridge in Virginia (USA). The first man-made bridges were tree trunks laid across streams in girder fashion, flat stones, such as the clapper bridges of Dartmoor in Devon (UK), or festoons of vegetation, twisted or braided and hung in suspension found in India, Africa and South America. As the time passed, horses became plentiful; wagons and carriages were available; roads were built. Then it was that the rivers became barriers to transportation. Ferries were established and did very well for a while, but eventually it became evident that bridges must be built.


Man has come a long way from tree trunk bridges.

While artists and engineers, cities and countries compete to build technological masterpieces spanning across rivers, oceans or connecting cities and countries; people come up with innovative ways of using them. Though designed and built by the Department of Transportation, bridges are a peoples’ domain.

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img_17634.jpgAmong the admirable and enjoyable sights to be found along the sidewalks of big cities, the ingenious adaptations of old buildings for new uses is the most enduring one. A glance on the patina of the old walls of these buildings evokes nostalgia. For a moment, the stone whispers the stories of the days long gone, the life stories of the generations of people who have lived in and around it. These buildings give a character to the neighborhood, visually pleasing and cohesive. It is in this context, the old buildings play an irreplaceable role in creating an image of the city: a sense of place, a sense of belonging.

How would it be to wake up one morning to find that your neighborhood has been replaced by the ‘modern’ buildings? The familiar old building that you walked past everyday and got accustomed with, is no longer there to offer solace. You feel you have lost a friend; you feel you have been alienated in your own home. What surrounds you now are the new ‘high-tech’ buildings, which are like babies- charming but nothing to tell.

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