PRESERVATION AS A PHILOSOPHY TOWARDS PLANNING
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.
AGRA AT THE CROSSROADS
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.
CONSERVATION OF URBAN INDIAN VILLAGES Andrew Howard
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...