Kinetic Urbanism In India – The Approach Of Architect Rahul Mehrotra


The transition of societies around us has created a paradoxical situation in which unique realities exist in the modern world,  each of them being simultaneously valid. This pluralism is visible in many south Asian cities which have a rich traditional core and a growing modernistic approach. The conventional characteristic deployed in city planning deepen these binaries, polarizing society and breeding inequities.Indian cities have a unique pattern followed which is dissimilar from its counterparts.Emerging Urbanism in India has led to the emergence of Kinetic Space, space where meanings are ever shifting and blur, spaces are redefined with time and purpose.

The root cause of this according to many researchers is the massive waves of rural migration to urban centers during the latter half of the 1900s. This triggered the convergence of these worlds into a singular but multifaceted entity.The failure to create new urban centers, coupled with an inadequate supply of urban land, resulted in extremely high population densities. Furthermore, in the early 1990s, the emergence of post-industrial and open market service-based economy came in into the country.The coevality of these worlds within the same space became even more intense. The co-existence of two different worlds in a singular time frame creates a distinctive canvas where spaces were redefined with time.


As Architect and urban designer Rahul Mehrotra rightly said,

“Indian cities are not cohesive urban designs rather a kinetic bazaar city.  Spaces which hold associated value in a supportive of lines, patterns of occupation determine its form and perception. It’s an indigenous urbanism that has its particular logic, temporal  articulation.”

The fragmentation of services in modern India has resulted in a new bazaar-like urbanism stretching itself throughout the entire urban landscape. Today, Indian cities comprise of two components occupying the same physical space: the static city and the Kinetic City. The Kinetic City is temporary in nature and often built with recycled materials such as plastic sheets, scrap metal, canvas, and waste wood. It constantly modifies and reinvents itself.The static city is built of more permanent materials such as concrete, steel, and brick whereas the other is perceived as a city in motion.

Citing an example from the essay on, “KINETIC CITY -Emerging Urbanism in India” by Rahul Mehrotra  where he highlights that the  bazaars in Victorian arcades in the old Fort Area of Mumbai’s Historic District which he said was a symbol of this potential negotiation between the static and Kinetic Cities were originally used to provide a spatial mediation between the building and the street by protecting pedestrians from both the harsh sun and the lashing rains. Today, the original intent of the informal bazaar occupying the arcade is challenged. The bazaars in the arcades characterizing the Fort Area are thriving businesses. This emergent relationship of the arcade and bazaar not only forces a confrontation of users and interest groups but also demands new preservation approaches.

The vision of a Kinetic City helps us to better understand the notions of contemporary urbanism and the ever changing scenario of the growing cities. The concept of kinetic urbanism is more prevalent in India due to its socio-economic structure where the dissimilarities are clearly visible in the landscape.The kinetic city, bazaar-like in form, can be seen as a symbolic image of the emerging urban Indian condition.  The processions, weddings, festivals, hawkers, street vendors, and slum dwellers all create an ever-transforming streetscape–a city in constant motion, where the very physical fabric is characterized by the kinetic.


Designing for such an environment also calls for a different mode of thinking and working likes of that can be seen in the works of Rahul Mehrotra where he challenges the ideas about the nature of architecture that results from what he calls ‘impatient capital’ or capital that demands immediate returns. The approach to a solution can lead to better outcomes like doing conservation projects which allow intelligent reuse of existing spaces, or by designing the building in such a way that capital flows back independent of the total construction process. His firm approach of  ‘localizing of global programs and the globalizing of local programs where the design is not aligned to a Western model but to a localized model that merges seamlessly into the context is the need of the modern society.With sprawling mega cities, the rise of small towns and tier two centers, the need of proficient personalities is in grave demand to tackle these challenges, for there is a lot of optimism in the kinetic approach to urbanism. The latter can be seen in his projects that are uniquely Indian but can no longer be addressed traditionally. The housing project for elephants and their mahouts, and the design of a campus for slum children, i.e. ‘Magic Bus’ box demonstrate this approach.

In the project -Magic Bus, The palette of materials used was restricted to those found in the settlements of these children – corrugated aluminum sheets, rubble stone masonry, wooden planks – and then reconfigured. The idea of making something unique yet familiar to the kids and then show them the possibilities of using the materials.



The KMC Corporate Office is another example of a unique approach which deals with a kinetic façade. The outer skin of the building was a custom-built metal trellis with trays to hold plants. The variety of species, and the varying times at which they bloomed helped in creating a kinetic façade that reminds the inhabitants  of a larger world outside.

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