Architecture professor relates issues in Indian, American cities

Forrest Milburn

Rahul Mehrotra, architect and Harvard professor, kicked off the School of Architecture’s fall 2015 Lectures and Exhibitions Series by discussing how the problems he observed in Indian cities can relate to and help solve issues affecting American cities.

“Essentially, we have to find a way of engaging in the broader context with how we practice architecture,” Mehrotra said Monday at a lecture in Homer Rainey Hall. “We can’t become site-specific, because it diminishes our role in society. So, the more we can broaden our engagement with the context we work in, then we will find ways to solve some of these problems and engaging other people.”

Moving from problems of a post-colonial India to a modern one rife with sanitary issues and health concerns, Mehrotra discussed Mumbai’s societal “thresholds,” including universal access to toilets and running water.

“I think what he was saying about ‘softening thresholds’ between the rich and the poor is an important question on how we value diversity,” said Donesh Ferdowsi, a second-year graduate student in the School of Architecture. “We love the idea, we love the word, but are we actually willing to live in each other’s lives?”

Mehrotra discussed how the issues facing Mumbai differ compared to cities such as Austin because of the different densities of the two — with Austin having a low-density population and Mumbai’s being higher.

“I think the point I was making was we shouldn’t start with the premise that low density is bad,” Mehrotra said. “Because I think that the low density in Austin offers a way in which the paradigm can be shifted productively. So, low density allows a condition where you can grow your own food, you can install solar panels, which is something you can’t do in a high-density situation.”

While Mehrotra was the opening act in this semester’s series, he will be followed by another ten lectures and exhibitions, including one with New York architect Matthias Hollwich on Sept. 16.

“I think that [Mehrotra] embodies what we, as a school, hope to instill in our students, and his work touches many different typologies, many different issues,” Juan Miro, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the School of Architecture, said. “He’s a global citizen, working with many different clients, and he does it with the belief that design can make a difference, and I think that is very inspirational to see for our students.”