Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

ATCH at AHRA 2018

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Dr Anuradha Chatterjee (The University of Queensland, ATCH) and Prof Anubha Kakroo (Indian Institute of Art and Design) chaired the conference panel, Smart Vagueness: Alternative Urbanities of the Global South at Smartness? Between Discourse and Practice, 15th Architectural Humanities Research Association International conference held at TU Eindhoven.

The panel looked at the intersection between the problems inherent to smartness, such as threats to democracy due to the emphasis on technology and over governance; and the speed of urbanization that the phenomenon entails, which is likely to create interstitial spaces, or gaps in the urban landscape that exceed the constraints of use and economy, and the boundaries of the plan. It was suggested that these gaps may be the way to complexify the debates on smartness beyond the paradigms of technology, control, and efficiency. The panel therefore invited participants to look at the discursive, digital, physical, and programmatic terrain vagues as spaces of great potentiality and agency that might have the power to suggest new forms of urban experience.

Divya Chand’s paper discussed Delhi’s construction sites as interim urbanism, consisting of “complex micro-urbanities,” and the need to make these spaces safe and legible through interim design. Nubras Samayeen brings focus to the use of mobile phones in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the existence of “subaltern cellular urbanism,” which provides a third city in between the hard and the soft city.  Nicola Balch presented McGregor Coxall’s premise of enabling the “engaged city” over a smart city, where their projects are driven not just by the Internet of Things but also giving users greater ownership of data to create bottom up changes. Ian Woodcock’s examination of the discourses around the SkyRail project (and the underplace) in Melbourne is a cutting commentary on the Australian fears and anxieties of encountering difference and the possibility of contested occupation(s) of public space, even though, as Woodcock says, “public space is by definition a form of terrain vague.”

The key takeaway from these presentations and discussions (which also included substantial contributions from keynote speakers Prof Geeta Mehta and Prof Antoine Picon) was that smartness without democracy, humanity, and understanding of economy of other/parallel urbanities/public spaces is not smart after all. It is important to recognize the Global South (and the Global South in the Global North) inflections without which the discourse runs the risk of advocating an elitist and irrelevant ‘techno-utopia.’

The book of abstracts is available here.