February 22, 2011
by Gregory Haley AIA AICP LEED AP

Exhibition: “Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities”
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.10-05.21.11
Exhibition Curator: Kanu Argawal
Exhibition Design & Graphics: Popular Architecture; Omnivore
Organizers: AIA New York Chapter; Center for Architecture Foundation; India China Institute at The New School; Indo-American Arts Council; Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects
Sponsors: Grants: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; Underwriter: Duggal Visual Solutions; Lead Sponsors: Hitachi; Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Sponsors: Grapevine Merchants; Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects; Supporters: Bittersweet NYC; CetraRuddy; Kingfisher LGER; Friends: Arup; Benjamin Moore; IBEX Construction; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Perkins Eastman; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Jugaad Urbanism in the Center for Architecture’s Hines Gallery.

Courtesy Center for Architecture

“Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities,” the first U.S. exhibition of Indian urbanism, presents strategies for incremental improvement within an existing framework. Along the way, it tells a story about the dynamics of life in the India’s mega-cities. Perhaps it is a result of what curator Kanu Argawal calls the “sheer impossibility” of Indian urbanization, this strategy of insertion may be partly a matter of pragmatics, but it also presents an argument for the role of planning in a democracy.

Organized by resource categories (water, energy, land, and transportation), each project featured in the exhibition is a result of dialogue between the everyday efforts of urban residents to deal with resource scarcity and design interventions by architects, planners, artists, and activists. Going beyond the provision of service, each proposal demonstrates how resources are woven into the social and symbolic fabric of its community.

For example, the “Sustainable Community Toilets for Shahpur Jat Village” improves sanitation and environmental quality by both preventing ground water contamination and separating solid from liquid waste for reuse in irrigation and fertilization. Within the category of energy, a solar powered street lamp integrates LED lights in a traditional Kalasha form. Benches at the base of the lamp pole feature a knife-sharpening wheel that is used to further charge the lamp. The “e-Charka” project harvests energy from yarn spinning to power a lamp and a transistor radio, providing both a means of income and public information. Under the category of land, projects such as the “Incremental Housing” strategies conceived by the Swedish architects Urban Nouveau and the NGO SPARC (Society for the Promotion of Area Resouce Centres) aim to “preserve and incrementally upgrade” informal settlements, rather than start from scratch.

The spirit of jugaad, defined by Argawal as a “resourceful and innovative bringing together of disparate parts,” is expressed throughout the exhibition. The projects on display clearly go beyond “making do” and improve and reveal new possibilities within the existing realities of urban life. Each project “thinks beyond the object,” stated Argawal. They engage with the surrounding “urban milieu” to harness the energy of the street, which is perhaps the most critical resource of all.

Gregory Haley, AIA, LEED AP, is an architect, planner, and educator based in NYC.