Domus - - CONFETTI - Text Rahul Mehro­tra, Vi­neet Di­wad­kar, José May­oral Mo­ratilla, Mark Mul­li­gan, Sally Young and An­drew Howard Pho­to­graphs Di­nesh Me­hta and Dipti Me­hta

A city which served as the cap­i­tal of the Mughal Empire for 150 years, Agra is home to sev­eral mon­u­ments of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance. A re­cent project by the World Mon­u­ments Fund in part­ner­ship with the Har­vard Uni­ver­sity re­sulted in a plan­ning stu­dio in Agra, fo­cus­ing on var­i­ous as­pects of the river­front city, in­clud­ing the nat­u­ral and land­scaped ge­og­ra­phy within which lie some of the old mon­u­men­tal build­ings, and high­light­ing an im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship be­tween preser­va­tion and plan­ning

LOOK­ING AT AGRA Rahul Mehro­tra, Vi­neet Di­wad­kar, José May­oral Mo­ratilla

This vol­ume presents the re­search and spec­u­la­tions pro­duced through the Ex­treme Ur­ban­ism III: Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion op­tions stu­dio con­ducted dur­ing the Spring 2015 se­mes­ter by stu­dents at the Har­vard Uni­ver­sity Grad­u­ate School of De­sign. This stu­dio, build­ing upon the work from the Fall 2014 Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion: Ur­ban South Asia Re­search Sem­i­nar, ex­plores pos­si­bil­i­ties for the city of Agra in In­dia and the agency of de­sign be­tween Ar­chi­tec­ture, Crit­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion, Ur­ban Plan­ning & De­sign, and Land­scape Ar­chi­tec­ture.

The city of Agra is a medium-sized South Asian city that ex­em­pli­fies con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges in plan­ning, de­sign­ing, con­struct­ing, and gov­ern­ing the built en­vi­ron­ment with high pop­u­la­tion growth, over-stressed and poorly man­aged ecosys­tems, splin­tered fi­nan­cial and in­fras­truc­tural in­vest­ment, dense bu­reau­cra­cies, and lay­ered cul­tural his­to­ries. Ad­di­tion­ally, sev­eral char­ac­ter­is­tics of Agra make it a par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing case for study through the Ex­treme Ur­ban­ism III Stu­dio. Agra’s lim­ited plan­ning ca­pac­i­ties have re­sulted from over­lap­ping and com­pet­ing in­ter­ests be­tween mu­nic­i­pal, state, and cen­tral govern­ment agen­cies. The su­per­im­po­si­tion of his­tor­i­cal lay­ers have trans­formed Agra into its cur­rent so­cial and eco­nomic re­al­ity, in which its rich phys­i­cal her­itage as­sets and the intangible cul­tural her­itage within res­i­dent com­mu­ni­ties strug­gle to co­ex­ist. Lastly, the highly ma­nip­u­lated Ya­muna River in Agra has been trans­formed from a multi-func­tional land­scape that or­gan­ises ac­tiv­ity and land use along the river into Agra’s back­yard, filled with mu­nic­i­pal sewage and eu­trophic wa­ter.

Agra’s plan­ning ca­pac­i­ties are ex­plored through­out the stu­dio as one of the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of this par­tic­u­lar case. Mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ing en­ti­ties are housed in Agra at cen­tral, state, district, and mu­nic­i­pal

lev­els, along­side non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, com­mu­nity-based or­gan­i­sa­tions, and in­ter­na­tional fund­ing agen­cies. En­ti­ties such as the Agra De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia, and the Taj Trapez­ium Zone Au­thor­ity op­er­ate within close prox­im­ity. How­ever, there is an ab­sence of a holis­tic ap­proach or gov­ern­ing body to over­see in­clu­sive ur­ban and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment fo­cused on her­itage as­sets lo­cated along the Ya­muna River in Agra.

The su­per­im­po­si­tion of his­tor­i­cal lay­ers il­lus­trates an ad­di­tional char­ac­ter­is­tic of Agra, prov­ing the city as a com­pelling case of ur­ban­ism. Mul­ti­ple forces and con­tin­gen­cies have trans­formed Agra as a Mughal, Bri­tish Colo­nial, and In­dian city. The six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­turies wit­nessed the city’s rise as a for­ti­fied Mughal cap­i­tal and the sub­se­quent de­vel­op­ment of Agra’s river­front into a land­scape with fu­ner­ary com­pounds and gar­dens of Mughal no­bil­ity. Un­der Bri­tish rule, Agra tran­si­tioned into an in­dus­trial hub along the Ya­muna River, with leather, chem­i­cal, glass, and other clus­ters that re­lied upon the flow of fresh wa­ter. The stu­dio ex­plored these his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tions with an em­pha­sis on the cur­rent con­di­tion and the im­print of the Taj Ma­hal on Agra’s econ­omy on ac­count of the city’s loss of in­dus­trial ac­tiv­ity.

Agra’s peo­ple and its her­itage are its great­est as­sets. The 45 mon­u­ments and gar­dens built by the Mughals con­cen­trated their cul­tural land­scape along the Ya­muna River. Many of these sites have tran­si­tioned to other land uses with only a few in­tact build­ings and rem­nants per­sist­ing such as the Taj Ma­hal, Agra Fort and I’timad-Ud-Daulah. This en­dur­ing phys­i­cal her­itage has proven an as­set and a curse to the city, bring­ing mil­lions of vis­i­tors ev­ery year to these spe­cific sites, but with­out sig­nif­i­cant phys­i­cal im­prove­ments to the city’s in­fra­struc­ture or trans­for­ma­tive eco­nomic ben­e­fits to those liv­ing in the city. While the Taj Ma­hal is the most vis­ited mon­u­ment in In­dia, the in­come gen­er­ated through tourism does not ben­e­fit the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. Many tourists take ad­van­tage of the 165km-long Ya­muna Ex­press­way, con­structed to con­nect Agra and Delhi, and spend less than one day in Agra to visit the most well-known and prom­i­nent mon­u­ment. Thus, tourists leave the city with a lim­ited view of the re­al­ity of Agra and lo­cals are left with lit­tle eco­nomic gain. The Ya­muna River, as the con­nec­tor of the mon­u­ments and an in­flu­en­tial ge­o­graph­i­cal el­e­ment within the city, is an­other defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of Agra. In or­der to un­der­stand the role of the Ya­muna within the re­al­ity of Agra, it is es­sen­tial to an­a­lyse the river’s transna­tional na­ture. The Ya­muna River orig­i­nates with glacial melt in the lower Hi­malayas in Ut­tarak­hand and trav­els south­east, cre­at­ing a com­plex and di­verse eco­log­i­cal sys­tem along its basin un­til it merges with the Ganges at Al­la­habad. Along its length of 1,376km it is dammed and di­verted to sup­ply drink­ing wa­ter and agri­cul­tural ir­ri­ga­tion for Ut­tarak­hand, Haryana and Ut­tar Pradesh be­fore it reaches Agra as a highly pol­luted and low wa­ter sup­ply river.

Within his­to­ries of empire and state, fantasy and myth, liveli­hoods and

crafts pro­duc­tion, per­form­ing arts and wa­ter ex­pe­ri­ences, the Ya­muna River has been both a site and an ac­tor. Sites along Agra’s river­front and the Ya­muna River it­self have served func­tional, cul­tural and re­li­gious needs for peo­ple liv­ing within its ter­ri­tory and its imag­i­nary. How­ever, degradation of the river, its in­creas­ingly re­duced ca­pac­ity and the ob­structed flow of wa­ter that reaches the city of Agra have se­vere im­pli­ca­tions on both the cul­tural imag­i­na­tion of the river as well as its daily use by lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Nu­mer­ous un­sus­tain­able prac­tices in the area con­trib­ute to the pol­lu­tion of the Ya­muna river in­clud­ing the flush­ing of waste­water from Delhi, Mathura, Vrin­da­van, Etawah and Agra, as well as bar­rages that dis­rupt the river flow and fa­cil­i­tate the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of pol­luted ma­te­rial. As D.K. Joshi, mem­ber of the Supreme Court Mon­i­tor­ing Com­mit­tee said in 2013, “The top of­fi­cials of var­i­ous de­part­ments have col­lec­tively played a crude joke on Agra. We nei­ther have wa­ter, nor power; the sewage sys­tem does not work, com­mu­nity ponds have dis­ap­peared; trees have been chopped up; and the Ya­muna river con­tin­ues to wail and scream. Noth­ing has changed, con­di­tions have wors­ened.” Par­tic­i­pants in the Ex­treme Ur­ban­ism III stu­dio in­ves­ti­gated the re­al­i­ties and chal­lenges of the city of Agra, re­search­ing the Ya­muna river­front as well as the 45 Mughal gar­dens and mon­u­ments strung along a six-kilo­me­ter stretch of the river’s eco­nomic, cul­tural, and hy­dro­logic field. Build­ing upon the work of the Fall 2014 Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion: Ur­ban South Asia Re­search Sem­i­nar, this stu­dio in­ves­ti­gated the po­ten­tial for more sus­tain­able mod­els of her­itage con­ser­va­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, not only of the Taj Ma­hal but sev­eral other mon­u­ments lin­ing the Ya­muna River. Stu­dents’ analy­ses tele­scoped out­wards from each of the 45 mon­u­ments to the six-kilo­me­tre length of the Ya­muna in Agra and the metropoli­tan area, and into larger scales of the river land­scape and re­gion. They iden­ti­fied pat­terns of in­ter­de­pen­dence be­tween these her­itage sites and the intangible cul­tural her­itage of the com­mu­ni­ties that have lived be­tween and around them for gen­er­a­tions. Stu­dents be­gan with the fol­low­ing ques­tions, and de­vel­oped de­sign propo­si­tions and strate­gies, in­ter­ven­tions and sites for plan­ning for con­ser­va­tion in Agra, In­dia: How might the Ya­muna River be imag­ined as a his­toric land­scape of net­worked mon­u­ments, of which the Taj Ma­hal is only one of many mon­u­ments? How might spa­tial, in­fras­truc­tural, nar­ra­tive in­ter­ven­tions en­cour­age and re­in­force these con­nec­tions? How might poli­cies, pro­grams, and or­gan­i­sa­tions re-con­nect the liveli­hoods of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties of farm­ers, crafts­peo­ple and the ur­ban poor with the Ya­muna river and

her­itage mon­u­ments? Given Agra’s cur­rent wa­ter cri­sis, and ex­ist­ing leg­isla­tive and po­lit­i­cal con­straints, how might eco­logic restora­tion of the Ya­muna River be achieved through pro­duc­tive or mit­iga­tive land­scapes, tem­po­ral op­er­a­tions, and the man­age­ment of hy­dro­logic in­fra­struc­tures be­tween lo­cal and re­gional scales?

IM­PRES­SIONS Rahul Mehro­tra, Vi­neet Di­wad­kar, José May­oral Mo­ratilla

Stu­dents an­a­lysed Agra dur­ing an in­ten­sive four-week long pe­riod through a frame­work em­pha­sis­ing a mul­ti­tude of scales and per­spec­tives with a fo­cus on the metropoli­tan area of Agra, the Ya­muna River, the 45 in­di­vid­ual mon­u­ments and gar­dens within a six-kilo­me­tre stretch and the com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing and work­ing at their in­ter­sec­tions. This ini­tial phase of re­search pro­vided an un­der­stand­ing of the his­toric and present-day chal­lenges fac­ing the city and served as prepa­ra­tion for stu­dents to test their de­sign hy­pothe­ses dur­ing an eight-day field visit in Agra.

Field visit par­tic­i­pants in­cluded 12 stu­dents in the De­part­ments of Ur­ban Plan­ning & De­sign, Ar­chi­tec­ture, and Land­scape Ar­chi­tec­ture and six post-pro­fes­sional stu­dents in the Mas­ter in De­sign Stud­ies Crit­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion con­cen­tra­tion. In ad­di­tion, ten mid-ca­reer Loeb Fel­lows, five teach­ing fac­ulty and staff, and two pho­tog­ra­phers par­tic­i­pated in the visit. The first part of the field visit pre­sented op­por­tu­ni­ties for the stu­dents and Loeb Fel­lows to in­ves­ti­gate sites and meet with com­mu­ni­ties within the con­text of the group, with guid­ance both from the in­struc­tors, World Mon­u­ments Fund (WMF) staff ex­perts, and their site con­sul­tants. WMF con­ser­va­tion and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment pro­fes­sion­als and their con­tacts within lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties guided the team through mon­u­ments and gar­dens sites and sur­round­ing set­tle­ments. A full-day work­shop, or­gan­ised by the Har­vard Uni­ver­sity team with the World Mon­u­ments

Fund and Arche­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia, sup­ported all three par­ties in learn­ing from one an­other and in dis­cussing strate­gies to ad­dress con­ser­va­tion and in meet­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals in the city.

Meet­ings with com­mu­nity mem­bers il­lu­mi­nated res­i­dents’ con­cerns and their con­flicted re­la­tion­ships with the agen­cies gov­ern­ing ad­ja­cent her­itage mon­u­ments and gar­dens. The imag­i­nary of the Taj Ma­hal and Mughal-era mon­u­ments is one of shim­mer­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and sym­bols of roy­alty. On the ground, her­itage nar­ra­tives are de­tached from the pre­car­ity and poverty of the com­mu­ni­ties that brought the mon­u­ments into be­ing or who now live in their shad­ows. Through an ex­plo­ration of the city and the dis­cus­sions with lo­cals, the stark di­chotomy be­tween the pre­served mon­u­ments and the ne­glected com­mu­ni­ties was un­veiled, re­veal­ing a di­vided present con­di­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, a spec­trum of key ac­tors shared vary­ing per­spec­tives from the World Mon­u­ments Fund and Arche­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia fa­cil­i­tated a deeper un­der­stand­ing of or­gan­i­sa­tional ca­pac­i­ties in work­ing in the city. The spe­cific role, par­tic­u­lar scope of work and re­spon­si­bil­ity of each one of the key agen­cies was iden­ti­fied through­out these in­ter­ac­tions. Fur­ther­more, the need be­came ev­i­dent for a sin­gle gov­ern­ing body to act as a uni­fy­ing plat­form and fa­cil­i­ta­tor be­tween these en­ti­ties. Fol­low­ing the work­shop, the Har­vard team con­vened to de­lin­eate and fo­cus in­di­vid­ual de­sign spec­u­la­tions within a Spe­cial Plan­ning Zone span­ning all 45 mon­u­ments and gar­dens along the six-kilo­me­tre stretch of the Ya­muna River within Agra. Ma­jor mon­u­ments on the Ya­muna river, namely the Taj Ma­hal, Agra Fort, and Me­htab Bagh, were in­ves­ti­gated through­out the trip along with lesser-known mon­u­ments, such as Chini ka Rauza and Ram Bagh, and the sur­round­ing re­gions were also ex­plored, demon­strat­ing the un­tapped po­ten­tial of Agra’s of­ten for­got­ten her­itage. While tourists visit Agra to see the glossy im­age of the Taj Ma­hal fea­tured in travel guides come to life, they leave with­out hav­ing ex­plored any of the other his­tor­i­cal rem­nants that com­pose a fuller im­age of the Mughal Empire and the city be­yond.

Granted the chance to fo­cus on par­tic­u­lar as­pects of the city with the po­ten­tial to ad­vance con­ser­va­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals, the stu­dents in­ves­ti­gated their in­di­vid­ual projects in­de­pen­dently through­out the fi­nal days of the field visit. Sur­vey­ing wa­ter in­fra­struc­tures and travers­ing open drainage chan­nels il­lu­mi­nated the chal­lenges of ac­cess to mu­nic­i­pal san­i­ta­tion net­works. Un­cov­er­ing in­ter­sti­tial spa­ces within the city and en­gag­ing with in­di­vid­u­als from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties fur­thered an un­der­stand­ing of the dis­tance be­tween in­vest­ments in mon­u­ment con­ser­va­tion and in up­grad­ing set­tle­ments and economies of the larger pop­u­la­tion. Analysing the Ya­muna River’s flow pro­voked an aware­ness of the frag­men­ta­tion of the river edge, ne­glected sta­tus of the river it­self, and the lack of or­der­ing rules for how the river edge meets ad­ja­cent set­tle­ments. Once the spine of the Mughal Empire’s sites for con­cen­trat­ing power and leisure, the highly pol­luted Ya­muna River is to­day left as the back­yard for the city, with­out co­or­di­nated man­age­ment and with­out sup­port for res­i­dents to ste­ward its land­scape.


Mark Mul­li­gan, Sally Young By most ac­counts, In­dia’s 1996 Supreme Court de­ci­sion estab­lish­ing the Taj Trapez­ium Zone (TTZ) cre­ated clear win­ners and losers. Win­ners in­cluded all par­ties con­cerned with pre­serv­ing and en­hanc­ing In­dia’s cul­tural pat­ri­mony – that is, the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia (ASI), the World Mon­u­ment Fund (WMF), In­dia’s tourism in­dus­try, do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional tourists. Losers in­cluded nearly ev­ery­one who was em­ployed by, or in any way eco­nom­i­cally de­pen­dent on, the coal-based in­dus­tries shut down by the court

or­der – that is, most of the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion and busi­ness in­ter­ests. Nearly twenty years af­ter the shut­ter­ing of its tra­di­tional in­dus­tries, Agra ranks as In­dia’s poor­est ma­jor city, and lo­cal re­sent­ment to­wards the TTZ de­ci­sion is well known. The no­tion that the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion has “lost” while non-lo­cal (na­tional/global) in­ter­ests have “won” is per­va­sive and ex­ac­er­bates pre-ex­ist­ing ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ships be­tween na­tional and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, be­tween dif­fer­ent seg­ments of In­dian so­ci­ety, and be­tween in­sid­ers and out­siders. In re­al­ity, there are no clear win­ners in Agra’s sit­u­a­tion to­day. Air pol­lu­tion is only one of the many chal­lenges fac­ing the ASI and the WMF in pre­serv­ing the city’s his­tor­i­cal trea­sures, and it was never the most dif­fi­cult to ad­dress. More prob­lem­atic are the firmly rooted con­tentious re­la­tion­ships be­tween na­tional agen­cies, state and lo­cal bod­ies (in­clud­ing the Agra De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity), busi­ness in­ter­ests, and res­i­dents, which have cre­ated im­ped­i­ments to progress on all fronts eco­nomic, so­cial, and cul­tural. In­suf­fi­cient re­sources, turf wars, and po­lit­i­cal in­er­tia com­bine to pre­vent these bod­ies from tack­ling more in­tractable prob­lems sur­round­ing Agra’s mon­u­ment sites and af­fect­ing its most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. To an out­side ob­server, the lack of di­a­logue, trust, and good­will be­tween par­ties whose in­ter­ests should be aligned

de­fies un­der­stand­ing. Who would dis­agree with the goal of cre­at­ing a pros­per­ous city here, based on good health and liv­ing stan­dards, mod­ern in­fra­struc­ture, pride in lo­cal his­tory, eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, and ap­peal for do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional tourists? Yet with­out con­sen­sus and col­lab­o­ra­tion among all par­ties wield­ing in­flu­ence here, could any of these goals really be achieved? The idea of find­ing “win-win” strate­gies for Agra’s di­verse con­stituen­cies is im­plicit in the de­sign chal­lenges that Pro­fes­sor Rahul Mehro­tra framed for a group of Har­vard stu­dents and Loeb Fel­lows in the spring of 2015. Im­mers­ing us in the city’s com­plex re­al­i­ties, he chal­lenged each of us to imag­ine fresh so­lu­tions not only to the preser­va­tion of stressed mon­u­ments, but also to econ­omy and em­ploy­ment, ac­cess to clean wa­ter, san­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture, green space, health care, and more. Each of us re­sponded with ideas that might, with all due hu­mil­ity, be called mi­nor pieces of a grand puz­zle.

I ar­rived in In­dia on my own a day later than the rest of the group, and a med­i­ta­tive four-hour taxi ride from Delhi to Agra may have shaped my im­pres­sions as sig­nif­i­cantly as what I later wit­nessed in the city. Speed­ing down the new su­per­high­way con­nect­ing the cur­rent and an­cient cap­i­tals, I stud­ied a flat, hazy beige land­scape dot­ted with smoke­spew­ing brick chim­neys ex­tend­ing to the hori­zon – con­trib­u­tors to the truly aw­ful air qual­ity I had ex­pe­ri­enced since land­ing in Delhi in the wee morn­ing hours. Lit­tle more than half­way through the ride, al­most un­de­tectably at first, I found my­self breath­ing more freely. Fewer chim­neys ap­peared in the fields, none of them smok­ing; the var­ied greens of planted fields be­came more pro­nounced. We had en­tered and were feel­ing the ef­fects of the much ma­ligned TTZ; the rest of my ex­pe­ri­ence in Agra was tem­pered by this very vis­ceral mem­ory.

It was this re­gion’s be­nign cli­mate, af­ter all, that brought the first Mughal em­peror here from the steppes of cen­tral Asia by way of moun­tain­ous Kabul. Babur es­tab­lished his im­pe­rial cap­i­tal at Agra in con­sid­er­a­tion of the site’s mod­er­ate weather, fer­tile land­scape, and abun­dant clean (in those days) wa­ter. Com­pared to the sever­ity of the Mughal an­ces­tral lands, Agra must have seemed par­adise on earth. In­deed, the fa­mous gar­dens cre­ated by later em­per­ors and nobles – those very mon­u­ments whose preser­va­tion con­cerns us to­day – were, with their ge­o­met­ri­cally or­dered plant­ings, canals, pools, ter­races, and pav­il­ions, noth­ing less than par­a­disi­a­cal mi­cro­cosms of na­ture. For their cre­ators, in­vis­i­ble sen­sa­tions (the sound of run­ning wa­ter, the air-cool­ing ef­fect of foun­tains, the scent of jas­mine and

fruit trees) were as es­sen­tial as the gar­dens’ vis­ual de­lights in cre­at­ing an ide­alised hu­man en­vi­ron­ment.

The con­di­tions of Agra’s ur­ban core to­day – par­tic­u­larly the filth and odor as­so­ci­ated with wa­ter and waste in­fra­struc­ture stressed far be­yond ca­pac­ity by un­con­trolled ur­ban­i­sa­tion and pop­u­la­tion growth – stand in stark con­trast to the sen­sual plea­sures we as­cribe to the gar­dens of Agra’s leg­endary past. But if one is to find a pos­i­tive mes­sage in the Supreme Court’s dec­i­ma­tion of the city’s in­dus­trial base, it is the re­minder that clean air, clean wa­ter, and a clean en­vi­ron­ment are, and al­ways have been, es­sen­tial for all hu­man life. Years from now, we may see the re­gion’s eco­nomic de­cline in the early 21st cen­tury as a tem­po­rary set­back; at the same time, the cur­rent cri­sis pro­vides Agra a chance to re­con­nect with its foun­da­tional val­ues (healthy liv­ing with na­ture) that could breathe new life into the city. With the TTZ firmly in place, Agra should seize the op­por­tu­nity to es­tab­lish (and be­lieve in) a new iden­tity as a health-ori­ented city; a par­al­lel com­mit­ment to strict emis­sions con­trol within the city and rad­i­cal im­prove­ments to wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture* would com­plete the city’s trans­for­ma­tion into one of the most de­sir­able places to live in In­dia, at­tract­ing pro­fes­sion­als and mid­dle-class fam­i­lies, and form­ing the ba­sis of a new post-in­dus­trial econ­omy. Build­ing the city’s mid­dle class and en­vi­sion­ing a larger role for it in ur­ban life will cre­ate the de­mand for more di­ver­si­fied com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, cul­tural of­fer­ings, and artis­tic pro­duc­tion, and al­low cit­i­zens to di­rect their gaze for­ward as well as back on the Mughal past. To achieve any of the steps out­lined here would re­quire break­ing down bar­ri­ers and estab­lish­ing the kind of in­clu­sive, col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to prob­lem­solv­ing that so far has eluded the ri­val in­ter­ests de­ter­min­ing Agra’s fu­ture; yet this is prob­a­bly the city’s best hope for im­prove­ment.

* We saw hope­ful glimpses of such in­fras­truc­tural im­prove­ments tak­ing place at a grass­roots level in the ur­ban vil­lage of Kachh­pura dur­ing our visit.


In­dian Ur­ban Vil­lages in Agra and Delhi are unique mix­tures of ur­ban and ru­ral hav­ing the po­ten­tial to be mod­els for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. Nar­row streets pro­vide hous­ing for both farm­ers and city dwellers within close walk­a­ble prox­im­ity to fields, schools, mar­kets, places of wor­ship and home based in­dus­try. They pro­vide respite from the city’s au­tos and other mo­torised trans­port. Kachh­pura, ad­ja­cent to the Me­htab Bagh is an ex­am­ple of an Ur­ban Vil­lage tak­ing mea­sures to­ward sus­tain­abil­ity.

Most no­table is the DEWAT nat­u­ral waste wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­ity that the vil­lage is pro­to­typ­ing to clean a small per­cent­age of black wa­ter be­fore it reaches the Ya­muna River. This has in­creased the liv­abil­ity of the Vil­lage and de­mand for hous­ing there. Many other tech­nol­ogy leaps also ex­ist there, such as methane gen­er­a­tors for cow ma­nure, rooftop so­lar pan­els, grey­wa­ter ir­ri­ga­tion and con­ser­va­tion of agri­cul­ture land. Main­tain­ing cul­tural tra­di­tions, such as car­ing for cows or pro­duc­ing cow patties, is im­por­tant for moderni­sa­tion. The in­tro­duc­tion of methane di­gesters could re­tain cul­tural her­itage and im­prove air qual­ity, cook­ing safety and ef­fi­ciency, and pro­vide street light­ing. Ur­ban Vil­lages are not on the radar screens of In­dian politi­cians and ad­min­is­tra­tors, yet they rep­re­sent ideal lo­ca­tions for tech­no­log­i­cal in­vest­ments for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for res­i­dents, clean­ing river­ine en­vi­ron­ments, sta­bil­is­ing agri­cul­ture pro­duc­tion, and in­creas­ing the num­ber of World Her­itage Sites in Agra. The best way to in­cite in­ter­est in these ur­ban vil­lages is to tie them to Agra’s tourist ex­pe­ri­ence. A three-month sea­sonal walk­way could con­nect Agra Fort to the Taj Ma­hal, Me­htab Bagh, and to Kachh­pura. The river’s edge could be ac­ti­vated like the set­tle­ments of the Kumbh Mela, and the vil­lage could trans­form tem­po­rar­ily with pop-up shops to high­light lo­cal crafts, art, and cul­ture. Vil­lages are sus­tain­able; they have been since be­gin­ning of civil­i­sa­tion. Bring­ing them into the 21st cen­tury can start with shed­ding light on them with tem­po­rary in­stal­la­tions and events to bring new vis­i­tors and thus in­vest­ment into them. In­vest­ments in fur­ther tech­no­log­i­cal sus­tain­abil­ity and con­ser­va­tion of vil­lage life will be more ac­cepted if lead­ers and vis­i­tors are ex­posed to them. Hope for a sus­tain­able In­dia that has clean rivers, breath­able air, healthy food and con­tin­ued cul­tural pride be­gins in its Vil­lages.

PLAN­NING FOR CON­SER­VA­TION Rahul Mehro­tra, Vi­neet Di­wad­kar, José May­oral Mo­ratilla

Within the South Asian con­text, Con­ser­va­tion prac­tices are of­ten em­ployed to pre­serve her­itage as­sets within a sin­gle, of­ten nos­tal­gic nar­ra­tive of how con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety might in­ter­pret and en­gage with these sites. Such at­ti­tudes to­wards her­itage aim to slow down the pro­gram­matic ap­pro­pri­a­tion and weath­er­ing of sites and to limit in­ter­ven­tions to phys­i­cal restora­tions rather than deal­ing with their chang­ing sig­nif­i­cance in a dy­namic con­text of in­cred­i­ble flux. In­stead ‘Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion’ as an ap­proach, ad­dress the need to ma­nip­u­late and man­age the rate of change over time within the built en­vi­ron­ment, while yet fa­cil­i­tat­ing richer di­a­logues be­tween cit­i­zens, what re­mains of their col­lec­tive mem­ory, and their as­pi­ra­tions. The case of Agra fur­ther ex­em­pli­fies the idea that of­ten this her­itage is some­thing unique yet alien­ated from the rhythms of ev­ery­day life. Preser­va­tion­ists con­sider the Taj Ma­hal, iso­lated its ur­ban re­al­ity, as a place with a static iden­tity. How­ever, the iden­tity of a place is never static but ex­pres­sive of a con­tin­u­ous state of change. It be­came clear in Agra that de­sign and ur­ban plan­ning must be rein­jected into the imag­i­na­tion of what Agra might be in or­der to bring about eco­nomic growth through con­ser­va­tion of the city’s phys­i­cal and intangible cul­tural her­itage. Par­tic­i­pants in the 2014-2015 Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion Re­search Sem­i­nar and Ex­treme Ur­ban­ism III Op­tions Stu­dio in­ves­ti­gated Agra be­tween these two con­di­tions.

And the re­sults of the Stu­dio work, brings to­gether var­i­ous ap­proaches for spec­u­lat­ing about roles for the past in build­ing Agra’s fu­ture. These projects con­tain ideas to con­serve and to pro­pose as well as doc­u­ment and spec­u­late si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Stu­dents ex­plored ques­tions of man­ag­ing the rate of change, the po­ten­tial in­te­gra­tion of in­fras­truc­tural up gra­da­tion, and eco­nomic ben­e­fits for com­mu­ni­ties from ad­ja­cent her­itage as­sets. Stu­dents de­vel­oped a va­ri­ety of itin­er­ar­ies to lengthen tourism vis­its and to in­te­grate fa­cil­i­ties for tourism within schematic proposals for much-needed fa­cil­i­ties to be used by the Agra’s work­ing poor. In short the stu­dents all en­gaged with con­ser­va­tion strate­gies that squarely dealt with re­si­t­u­at­ing the her­itage as­sets of Agra in the con­text of Agra’s re­al­ity.

Plat­forms for In­te­grated Plan­ning

Sev­eral projects pro­posed plat­forms for in­te­grated plan­ning. They utilised larger-scaled imag­i­nar­ies to sub­sume and in­te­grate site-level con­ser­va­tion and up gra­da­tion ac­tiv­i­ties along the river. Projects en­cour­aged mul­ti­level en­gage­ment so cen­tral, state, district, mu­nic­i­pal, and com­mu­nity in­ter­ests might to­gether de­lib­er­ate on shared goals and in­ter­ests within the Ya­muna River Plan­ning & Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity. ‘Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion’ as an ap­proach also in­te­grated site-level goals with other strate­gic goals in city, such as de­cen­tralised eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for mul­ti­ple so­cial classes, es­pe­cially the poor; the eq­ui­table sup­ply of net­worked in­fra­struc­tures; and the stew­ard­ship of the Ya­muna River as a per­cep­tual and or­gan­is­ing mech­a­nism for the ad­ja­cent 45 Mughal-era mon­u­ments and gar­dens.

Re­claim­ing and Up­grad­ing In­fra­struc­ture

Agra’s net­worked in­fra­struc­tures, in­clud­ing mu­nic­i­pal roads, wa­ter sup­ply, san­i­ta­tion, drainage and elec­tric­ity are vis­i­bly lack­ing in their ca­pac­ity to serve the needs of the city’s res­i­dents and vis­i­tors. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Ya­muna’s in­ter­rupted and heav­ily pol­luted flow se­verely in­hibits the cul­ti­va­tion of de­sir­able ex­pe­ri­ences along the river as it or­gan­ises the city’s col­lec­tion of 45 Mughal mon­u­ments and gar­dens. Stu­dent projects in the Stu­dio re­think the Ya­muna River cor­ri­dor as a land­scape in­fra­struc­ture for cleans­ing solid waste and sewage from the riverbed while si­mul­ta­ne­ously lay­er­ing sen­si­tive land­scape fea­tures and views for vis­i­tor and res­i­dent use. One pro­posal re­claims Agra’s nalas or open drains as civic in­fra­struc­tures for treat­ing drainage as it flows to­wards the Ya­muna. And an­other project, in the same vein, pro­poses ideas for the restora­tion of ground­wa­ter recharge zones for re­plen­ish­ing the Ya­muna’s flow and imag­in­ing the river as a con­nec­tive veg­e­tated land­scape for pedes­tri­ans mov­ing be­tween mon­u­ments on both banks.

Struc­tur­ing Growth: Ur­ban Form Guide­lines and Cul­ti­vat­ing Edges

At the mu­nic­i­pal scale, sev­eral projects pro­pose con­nec­tions be­tween the mon­u­ments, the Ya­muna, and the set­tle­ments and economies of ad­ja­cent com­mu­ni­ties. These con­nec­tions are at times phys­i­cal in na­ture — to up­grade fa­cil­i­ties within set­tle­ments while de­mar­cat­ing en­clo­sure for the banks and sea­sonal flood­ing of the river. Other con­nec­tions are cul­tural, reg­is­ter­ing re­li­gious rit­u­als and mys­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ences with the river by evok­ing the rem­nant ge­ome­tries of gar­den and frag­ments of mon­u­ments. And yet other projects sug­gest sta­bil­is­ing and in­te­grat­ing gar­dens now used as com­mer­cial nurs­eries, through the, seem­ingly-in­vis­i­ble, graft­ing of pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions along­side or­chards and com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties.

Com­mu­nity Ben­e­fits with Her­itage En­gage­ments

Not sur­pris­ingly, some projects en­gaged the intangible cul­tural her­itage and in­for­mal economies of ex­ist­ing com­mu­ni­ties to pro­pose the up gra­da­tion of com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties, san­i­ta­tion in­fra­struc­tures, hous­ing, and pub­lic spa­ces. These projects cou­pled these self-help in­ter­ests with tourist in­fra­struc­tures to ex­tend pub­lic ben­e­fits. Such sites pro­vide lim­it­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for the trans­mis­sion of intangible cul­tural her­itage nar­ra­tives in ad­di­tion to the more for­mal Mughal empire nar­ra­tives con­veyed through mon­u­ment sites.

Length­en­ing Vis­i­tor Itin­er­ar­ies

Spend­ing more time in Agra equals spend­ing more money in Agra. Length­en­ing Agra’s tourist itin­er­ar­ies from an av­er­age 0.8 days per visit to mul­ti­ple full days will pos­i­tively im­pact pri­mary tick­et­ing, trans­port and lodg­ing economies, and also the se­condary and ter­tiary economies of crafts­peo­ple, agri­cul­tural and ma­sonry la­bor­ers, and their sto­ry­tellers. To­day, tourist itin­er­ar­ies move vis­i­tors be­tween Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur with hardly enough

time for bath­room breaks, meals, or ex­tended site vis­its. Sig­nif­i­cant de­sign, plan­ning and me­dia in­ter­ven­tions favour­ing the in­ter­ests of the small trader, small lo­cal tourism op­er­a­tor, and mu­nic­i­pal tourism bod­ies would be crit­i­cal to break the hege­mony of ‘Golden Tri­an­gle’ tour op­er­a­tors and of­fer a dif­fer­ent, more tex­tured and nu­anced for­mat to ex­pe­ri­ence the rich her­itage of Agra. These sup­ple­men­tary tourism prac­tices would need a rein­ven­tion not only of tourism in­fra­struc­ture and its dis­ag­gre­ga­tion in the fab­ric of Agra, but also new in­sti­tu­tional mech­a­nisms for its im­ple­men­ta­tion. The Stu­dio is a first move in this di­rec­tion — to reimag­ine Agra and es­pe­cially the Ya­muna River as a cul­tural land­scape with the in­cred­i­ble po­ten­tial to be re­stored for the city and its econ­omy. This imag­i­na­tion recog­nises the city and its well­be­ing as be­ing crit­i­cal to the in­ter­pre­ta­tion as well as con­ser­va­tion of its rich Mughal her­itage and many mon­u­ments. And fi­nally, the fu­ture of the her­itage of Agra de­pends on the ro­bust­ness of Agra as a sus­tain­able ur­ban sys­tem.

The book Ex­treme Ur­ban­ism 3 — Plan­ning for Con­ser­va­tion: Look­ing at Agra edited by Rahul Mehro­tra, Vi­neet Di­wad­kar and José May­oral Mo­ratilla is pub­lished by the World Mon­u­ments Fund (2016). The vol­ume fea­tures the re­search and spec­u­la­tions pro­duced by Loeb Fel­lows and grad­u­ate stu­dents at the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of De­sign. All ex­cerpts, texts, pho­to­graphs, and draw­ings fea­tured here are used with the per­mis­sion of the ed­i­tors and pub­lish­ers.

This page, top: The sprawl­ing struc­ture of the Agra Fort; above: Ram Bagh

This page, clock­wise from top-left: an aerial view of the Iti­mad ud Daulah; a plan in­di­cat­ing the con­ser­va­tion sta­tus of the 45 mon­u­ments and their sur­round­ing gar­dens in Agra; an im­age of the cover of the book; the Mosque of Babur in Agra

This page, clock­wise from top: Me­htab Bagh, Kac­ch­pura, and a view of the Taj Ma­hal across the Ya­muna River; set­tle­ments be­low the Ambed­kar Bridge are in­dica­tive of changes in land use pat­terns; dry­ing laun­dry be­low the Ambed­kar Bridge Op­po­site page,...

Left: Rem­nants of the Gar­den of Wazir Khan, Agra Op­po­site page: spreads from the book. From top: a study of the ge­og­ra­phy of the Ya­muna River Basin; an anal­y­sis of the ar­chi­tec­ture of the dif­fer­ent mon­u­ments; the Tourism Em­ploy­ment Pyra­mid of Agra —...

Ganga Ya­muna Basin Wa­ter in the Ganga Ya­muna Basin orig­i­nates from melt­ing glaciers and mon­soon rain­fall. The river changes its course from the West­ern Ya­muna Canal through a drain to sup­ply the raw wa­ter de­mand in Delhi. The river is rel­a­tively clean...

Left: a spread from the book shows the frac­tured and dis­trib­uted gover­nance struc­ture of the Ya­muna River as it flows through the dif­fer­ent states of In­dia

Left: a spread from the book in­di­cat­ing the site plan of the edges of the ur­ban vil­lage of Za­hara Bagh in Agra. The project aims to re­de­fine and sta­bilise the area via min­i­mal ar­chi­tec­tural in­ter­ven­tions, with the am­bi­tion of main­tain­ing the his­tor­i­cal...

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