A Tangent on the Saddening Effects of Grim Architecture
About fifteen years ago I was riding in the backseat of my parents car in a part of a city that had these massive, solid and yet completely bleak and somewhat sinister-looking residential buildings that at once prompted my father to point out to them and shout to no one in particular, “That is Hell!”. My mother simply took a look and agreed in the manner that pensive wives usually do, and then went back to reading her book. Yet I could see that my father was still looking at the buildings with caution long after anyone in the car had stopped caring about them. He stared as if not wanting to get too close to that which he considered to be a monstrosity in par with eternal damnation.
My father is an architect, hence his particular disdain towards that particular group of buildings. Myself, on the other hand, was not an architect when I was eleven years old, and so I couldn’t entirely understand why someone would harbor such hatred towards what seemed to me to be nothing more than concrete and metal raised to ridiculous heights.
Yet, over the years, it started to become clear why he would recoil with such horror when observing one of these structures. It may have started with actually entering a building similar to these a few years later, and smelling—and being suddenly horribly conscious of—the absolutely overwhelming stench of humanity. That didn’t deter me from leaving the place, though, since I still was somewhat unperturbed by the idea that many, many people were living in these conditions on a day to day basis.
Fast-forward to my late teens, when I began to move around the city and travel on my own, and you’ll find a young man looking, again, from the backseat of a car at those very same buildings that my father had compared to Hell—the utterly somber Christian version of Hell, not the I’m-stuck-in-a-waiting-room-with-Chevy-Chase-and-no-magazines kind of “Hell”—shouting to no one in particular, “That just has to be Hell!”
This time, though, there was not a polite agreement from my mother and the gentle silence of my brothers sitting next to me to tone down the sudden influx of repulsiveness that was oozing from my every pore in the exact same manner as my father that day. No, in record time, me and my friends were locked in a heated discussion as to what constitutes a “living space”, and if I was, or was not, being insensitive to the millions of people, “who cannot afford to live they way you do, Andrés!”.
In spite of all the heart-warming arguments about the noble plight of the poor, I could not help but to completely agree with my father on this particular issue. What man in his right mind would find it acceptable to design and build a place that stacks people, human beings, ten, twenty, thirty stories high in horrendously cramped apartments? How can anyone expect for a city to remain clean and orderly when the vast majority of its inhabitants have to reside inside a building that literally sucks the ever vibrant and colorful life out of you, and replaces it with a stagnant cup of coffee and a plate of broken dreams?
The people who live inside these buildings deserve better than the promise of an elevator, an A/C unit to go along with whatever else you can manage to arrange inside one of these apartments, and the prospect of having a lowly demon come to collect the rent money every month.
And if they can’t get something better in this earthly realm, then maybe they should be told that the rent in that other supposed version of Hell is, at the very least, free.
If one wishes to be less cynical and harsh, take a cue from His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, who over the years has strongly challenged the post-war trends in town planning not only in the United Kingdom, but now in other areas around the world, such as India.
Through one of his charities, The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project, he has actively pursued for the development and construction of a town in the outskirts of Calcutta, or Bangalore, that harbors many of the green features previously implemented in Poundbury, Dorest—another town built according to his principles—such as sustainable building materials, rainwater harvesting and recycling, as well as improved sanitation and waste facilities.
This project is said to be only the beginning of several sustainable, high-density communities planned for India.
India—a country that boasts a population of 1,210,193,422 people, and counting, and which could be considered as one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. If it is possible to build places for thousands of people to live there, in a manner is not only aesthetically pleasing but also sustainable, then it is possible to say, “It can be done anywhere then.”
I highly encourage for everyone to take a look at this project, and others similar like it.
There are ways to house people without forcing them to live inside a monstrosity. All it takes is for people to—alas—think different.