An exhibition on the unrealised planning work of Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes and Indian town-planner Mohammed Fayazuddin
A recent exhibition held in Hyderabad traces the unrealised planning work of Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes and Indian town-planner Mohammed Fayazuddin during the first half of the 20th Century through archival material, photographs, maps and blueprints
Hyderabad Biophilia is an exploration of man’s affinity towards the natural world, through the unrealised planning work of Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes and Indian town-planner Mohammed Fayazuddin. Although from diverse backgrounds and different generations, both visionaries shared an inherent understanding of the value of the natural world and its importance in contemporary urban life. Interwoven with the proposed Eutopias is a running narrative by the American scientist Edward O. Wilson, from his 1984 publication “Biophilia.” In many ways, the scientific discoveries in late 20th Century that Wilson expounds upon were proposed in spatial forms by both Geddes and Fayazuddin half a century earlier. Structured as a series of imaginary historical explorations, the contemporary reader is encouraged to fully engage one’s imagination — envisioning the biophilic city that might have been.
On Christmas Day, 1922, Patrick Geddes arrived in Hyderabad to commence the exploratory process of site selection for the Nizam’s proposed Urdu University. Eleven sites were surveyed in total, and a 1200-acre parcel of land (eventually increased to 2000 acres through acquisition) at Amberpet was finalised in what the polymath described as “a first rate one [site] unsurpassed in my experience.” Further describing the site selected in his 1923 Osmania University Report, he continues, “Probably no other University site presents such a variety of ups and downs, of contours and levels; at any rate among the travels and collections of many years. I can find no other area so full of difficulties; and of course thus opportunities accordingly. Only the hillsite of Jerusalem University can compare with this one; but there is only one single complex hill-top to be occupied, while here
we have three main hills; and of minor heights inviting buildings, a dozen and more.” Geddes’ greatest (and forgotten) contribution to Hyderabad — a dynamic site selection for Osmania University — would have been fascinating historical case study material for evolutionary biologists Edward O. Wilson and Gordon Orians who asked the question: “What was Man’s natural environment?” Their proposition, backed by methodical scientific research, was detailed in Wilson’s 1984 publication “Biophilia”, in which he writes: “According to Gordon Orians, the ancestral environment contained three key features. First, the savanna by itself, with nothing more added, offered an abundance of animal and plant food to which the omnivorous hominids were well adapted, as well as the clear view needed to detect animals and rival bands at long distances. Second, some topographic relief was desirable. Cliffs, hillocks, and ridges were the vantage points from which to make a still more distant surveillance, while their overhangs and caves served as natural shelters at night. During longer marches, the scattered clumps of trees provided auxiliary retreats sheltering bodies of drinking water. Finally, lakes and rivers offered fish, mollusks, and new kinds of edible plants. Because few natural enemies of man can cross deep water, the shorelines became natural perimeters of defence. Put these three elements together: it seems that whenever people are given a free choice, they move to open tree-studded land on prominences overlooking water.” Geddes, the botanist/sociologist turned university/urban planner with a deep understanding of the organic world, supported Wilson and Orians ancestral environment hypothesis sixty-one years before it was proposed.
Just over a decade after Patrick Geddes was roaming the hill-sites of Hyderabad, an architect and town-planner inspired by the polymath, Mohammed Fayazuddin, returned
to the city of his birth to take up a position as Chief Town Planner in the newly created Nizam Government’s Town Planning Department. Having studied under Claude Batley at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay, and subsequently at the Architectural Association in London, the young Fayazuddin briskly set to work planning cities, town and villages throughout Hyderabad State — with a substantial amount of success through realiSed projects — almost all of which are unknown today. Fayazuddin’s vision for the capital, illustrated in his “Greater Hyderabad Masterplan of 1944,” built upon the the improvement plans of the early 20th Century by renowned civil engineer Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya — who visited the city in a “urban fire-fighting” mode after the devastating floods of 1908. The biophilic master-stroke was Fayazuddin’s proposition of an Ebenezer Howard-inspired mile wide green belt wrapping around the city like a green insulation. Supplementing the verdant perimeter were twenty-six new public parks along with a detailed zoning to direct growth for the next century. Writing on the balancing act of expansive growth and organic stewardship, Edward O. Wilson writes in Biophilia: “Natural philosophy has brought into clear relief the following paradox of human existence. The drive toward perpetual expansion — or personal freedom — is basic to the human spirit. But to sustain it we need the most delicate, knowing stewardship of the living world that can be devised. Expansion and stewardship may appear at first to be conflicting goals, but they are not. The depth of the conservation ethic will be measured by the extent to which each of the two approaches to nature is used to reshape and reinforce the other.” Although Mohammed Fayazuddin’s Masterplan for Hyderabad was approved by the Nizam in 1944, it would flounder for decades following the integration of Hyderabad State with India. Through the 1960s Fayazuddin would continue to advocate for the Masterplan’s implementation, and in 1963
an article in The Times of India records “City Fathers Show Little Interest In Scheme.” The Masterplan would eventually be shelved, and the accompanying Report is currently untraceable. Like an urban prophet, Wilson ends his 1984 publication with a highly reflective piece, as if speaking directly into the Outer Ring Road Growth Corridor, asking: “Where are we? If the ultimate act of cruelty is to promise everything and withhold just the essentials, the locality is a department of hell. It is a tomb built on a lunar landscape with air and elaborate contrivances added. This is a world where people would find their sanity at risk. Without beauty and mystery beyond itself, the mind by definition is deprived of its bearings and will drift to simpler and cruder configurations.”
Curator: Robert Stephens Aerial Photography: Robert Stephens Exhibition Design Assistant: Rutu Patel Archival Material: Archives and Special Collections at the University of Strathclyde Library Urbs Indis Library National Library of Australia National Museum, New Delhi Collection Research Support: Mr. Riazuddin Ahmed (the eldest son of Mohammed Fayazuddin), Mr. A.B. Reddy, Ms. Anuradha Reddy, Sneha Parthsarathy, Jabili Sirineni, Arshiya Syed Administration Support: Priscilla Fernandes, Kuriakose Paulose, Shabana Sheikh Stop-Motion Film: Tina Nandi, Kairav Stephens Infrastructure Support: RMA Architects Exhibition Installation: Rutu Patel Partners: Krishnakriti Foundation, Architecture Foundation Fayazuddin Mural: Yuva Naga Srilekha, Sibghat Khan, Harika Sharma, Vivek S, Vishnu Bandela, Shravya Pendyala, Nitya Sridhara, Sai Bharath, Spandana Joshi, Bairi Ruchitha, Suhasini M, Surya Vardhan .P, Tanmai Pandrangi, Abhigya Gayatri, Sophiya Nabeela, Praveen Pingali
The exhibition Hyderabad Biophilia was on display from 4 – 17 January 2019 at the Krishnakriti Festival, State Art Gallery, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad.