Urban Design: Habit Design Studio with India's Vastu Shilpa Foundation

Master of Architecture and Urban Design students spent two weeks in Ahmedabad, India, during the 2019 Winter Semester as guests of the Vastu Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design. As part of the collaboration, Rajeev Kathpalia — one of India’s leading architects and an executive with the Vastu Shilpa Foundation — visited Taubman College in mid-April to discuss the students’ project development.

The students were participants in the International Habitat Design Workshop, part of Taubman College’s efforts to advance global academic innovation through experiential and multicultural learning opportunities. A component of the interdisciplinary graduate course ARCH 562/UD722, this studio section worked under the guidance of the Vastu Shilpa Foundation to investigate the complexities of urban water rights and the contested relationship of the Sabarmati River and the city of Ahmedabad.   

Through lectures, site visits, dance, music, yoga workshops, and conversations with scholars and practitioners, India’s rich cultural landscape gave students opportunities to explore the integration of landscape and environmental design conditions with contemporary needs, traditions, and sociocultural identities. While in India, students were inspired by the workshop’s location in Ahmedabad’s Mill Owner’s Association Building, an iconic Le Corbusier design that expresses the integration of architecture and landscape in a complex urban realm. 

Students studied the nature of the Sabarmati River (a seasonal river) and its relationship to the city of Ahmedabad, a relationship that has been transformed by the recent Sabarmati Waterfront Development Project.  The project builds control into what was a highly dynamic landscape that served as ground for religious festivals, economic activities, and civic rallies, and was home to vulnerable citizens. Students explored the role of public space in Indian culture, heritage conservation, and urban strategies to manage change. As the city starts to reclaim the waterfront spaces created through this recent transformation, Taubman College students devised multiple scenarios, projects, frameworks, fragments, and visual narratives imaging a more inclusive urban water commons.

The Vastu Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design is the research institute affiliated with Vastu Shilpa Consultants, which is led by 2018 Pritzker Prize winner Balkrishna Vithaldas (B.V.) Doshi.

The studio was led by María Arquero de Alarcón, Master of Urban Design program director and associate professor of architecture and urbanism.