Architecture and cultural heritage between the Ganges and Gibraltar

Settled Topographies: From Gibraltar to the Ganges

ArCHIAM Centre Conference

July 11 – 12, 2016

10:00 – 17:00

 

School of the Arts Library

19 Abercromby Square

Liverpool

Last week the ArCHIAM Centre at Liverpool School of Architecture hosted a two day symposium, ‘Settled Topographies: From Gibraltar to the Ganges’, exploring how culture and spatiality have comingled across this trans-continental region in contemporary and historical settings. As Professor Souymen Bandyopadhyay (Director ArCHIAM) introductory remarks stated, ‘there is a need to reflect on the area’s global interactions to help inform contributions to the present world’.

The opening sessions including papers by Dr Iain Jackson (University of Liverpool), ‘State Building and Nation Creation: British Mandate Architecture and Planning in Iraq’, and Cleo Roberts, ‘The River Ganges: Colonial Calcutta’s Sub-City’, provided a rich insight into how British colonial relationships had sought to harness inherited environments through a combination of infrastructural, and prestige projects, and the ecological riverine environment respectively.

Jackson’s discussion looked at the legacy of British architecture in Iraq, and argued that flamboyant structures such as J.M.Wilson’s University of Al Il Beit, 1922-27, created to resonate with local aesthetics and indebted to New Delhi design, served as conduits for governance. Roberts drew on this analogy and discussed how the river Ganges, popularly framed as a commercial conduit to colonial Calcutta, was, as her catalogue of visual sources was beginning to show, a lived space which challenged concepts of spatial governance, and in doing so held the city together, and allowed it to function. The notion of spatial politics was further drawn out by Dr Jyoti Atwal (Jawaharlal Nehru University_ whose work, ‘Mapping Widowhood: Observations from Colonial North India’, used a method of gender geography to understand how state administration and caste enmeshed, and affected trends in widowhood.

Dr Sharon Smith (Aga Khan Documentation Centre at MIT) provided valuable insight into how visual methodologies, similar to those adopted by Jackson and Roberts, are supported and promoted by the active online documentation programme at the Aga Khan Documentation Centre. She encouraged researchers to access the diverse range of visual and material archives of the Islamic world, and to collaborate with their ongoing work and drive to digitise their resources. As Dr Michael Toler’s (Aga Khan Documentation Centre at MIT) paper ‘Visually Documenting Early 20th Century Tangier: A Study of Glass Negatives’, showed items from the collection, and showed how the archive’s development, through the open source resource, ArchNet, is enriching historic perspectives, and being used to shape current infrastructural projects.

The series of papers presented by Dr Martin Goffriller (University of Liverpool), ‘The Death of Place: An Archaeology of Oman’s Super-Modernity’, and Dr Harriet Nash (ArCHIAM affiliate researcher) continued to show how historic research in Oman, and an understanding of past settlement, is informing contemporary methods of heritage and infrastructural management. Goffriller’s archaeological work in Bahla Oasis, and Nash’s studies of the Aflāj Irrigation Systems of Oman explained how contemporary practices hinge upon historic forms of knowledge, such as the practice of star and sun watching to time, and allocate water resources described by Nash. As a subsequent paper ‘A Short Walk in the Himalaya: Vernacular Architecture on the 30th Parallel’, presented by architect John Harrison (ArCHIAM affiliate researcher) showed through detailed and continual survey, how water supplies, and drainage facilities shaped architecture and the social relationships.

SundialinQaryaBeniSubh

Sundial in Qarya Beni Subh. Photography courtesy of Harriet N

 

The influences of water, and travel facilitated by oceanic regions was emphasised in research presented by Professor Soumyen Bandyopadhyay (University of Liverpool), and Professor Nicholas Temple’s keynote, ‘Migratio/Pelegrinatio, Traversing the Mare Nostrum and the Levant’. Both noted how global connections and varied routes through the Indian ocean and Mediterranean Sea respectively, had impacted on social and architectural geographies from time immemorial. Bandyopadhyay described his survey work in the Omani hubs, Muscat and Muttrah, and showed through specific architectural detailing and motifs found in a series of mosques how routes through the Indian ocean had influenced design.

A rich series of papers focused on North Africa concluded the symposium. (Abdullah Gül University) and (University of Liverpool) provided architectural insight into vernacular architecture. Polimeni’s paper presented a series of Ibadi settlements, and showed how topological analysis needed to integrate the importance of cultural identity. Quattrone’s research conducted in the oasis town of Nefta, Tunisia analysed how social and cultural requirements were reactivating the regions architecture and creating hybrid constructions, and new vocational training programmes.

A rich series of papers focused on North Africa concluded the symposium. Dr Beniamino Polimeni (Abdullah Gül University) and Dr Giamila Quattrone (University of Liverpool) provided architectural insight into vernacular architecture. Polimeni’s paper presented a series of Ibadi settlements, and showed how topological analysis needed to integrate the importance of cultural identity. Quattrone’s research conducted in the oasis town of Nefta, Tunisia analysed how social and cultural requirements were reactivating the regions architecture and creating hybrid constructions, and new vocational training programmes.

The ability to activate the landscape through practical outputs and public dissemination was shown by (University of Sheffield) and Carmen Moreno. The papers showed how researchers were creating on-site projects and workshops in the North Africa, such as the creation of for hammams, and social housing across the region described by Dr Magda Sibley, which were changing perceptions and encouraging re-use and new engagement with heritage sites. As Carmen Moreno from explained, architectural and restoration workshops informed by traditional knowledge had helped regenerate M’Hamid Oasis in South Morocco, and pass on new skills to young architects in the area. Future projects planned with Indus University in Gujarat were intending to achieve similar.

The ability to activate the landscape through practical outputs and public dissemination was shown by Dr Magda Sibley (University of Sheffield) and Carmen Moreno. The papers showed how researchers were creating on-site projects and workshops in the North Africa, such as the creation of LED solar lights for hammams, and social housing across the region described by Dr Magda Sibley, which were changing perceptions and encouraging re-use and new engagement with heritage sites. As Carmen Moreno from Terrachidia NGO explained, architectural and restoration workshops informed by traditional knowledge had helped regenerate M’Hamid Oasis in South Morocco, and pass on new skills to young architects in the area. Future projects planned with Indus University in Gujarat were intending to achieve similar.

TerrachidiaNGOdetail

Structural detail from M’Hamad Oasis, South Morocco

The plenary session held in Beech Gallery amongst the exhibition, ‘Yesterday’s Rooms’ by photographer Clive Gracey, synthesised the discussions, and suggested a series of new directions. There was emphasis placed on creating sustainable projects, which were aware of the on-going past, and appreciated that histories, and spaces were multiplicities, which needed to be explored in collaboration with contemporary users.

Bahla_Interior

Bahla Interior, Dakhiliya Region. Sultantate of Oman. Courtesy Clive Gracey

 

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