Rahul Mehrotra and the idea of “Softening thresholds” (Updated)

Harvard Magazine’s May-June 2012 issue, features a great piece highlighting the work of architect Rahul Mehrotra. I know of him mainly through his written and spoken word not through built projects and it was a treat to see the range of his work.

I would note the form, material choices, an aesthetic of contemporary vernacular(ism). Similar in some sense to the work of 2012 Pritzker Prize winner Wang Shu. Between rough, and worked, being historically yet practically contextual.

A key goal for Mehotra is “Softening thresholds” between different sectors of society a point clarified by the firm’s “crazy mix” of historic conservation, new construction, and projects with social motives.

The Hathigaon (a low cost social housing project for mahouts in Rajasthan) seems to share something in spirit with Alejandro Aravena’s Quinta Monroy project, as well. Witness, just visually.

Quinta Monroy by Elemental/Alejandro Aravena

Back at Hathigaon, an elephant and its mahout enter their dwelling. Photograph by Peter Pereira

Plus, later in the piece we read “Though most of the homes still had their original exterior finish of rough local stone, Mehrotra hopes for more customization—with plaster, whitewash, or brightly colored paint—as time passes: ‘We are hoping that in 10 years, you won’t be able to recognize them at all.’ In his years as an architect, he has become less concerned with controlling all details; instead, he is fascinated by the way the residents’ contributions become part of the final product.

In a late update the NYT blog India Ink posted A Conversation With : Urban Planner Rahul Mehrotra in which the professor laid out his personal agenda; of nuance, a non binary or formulaic positioning “more with how do you shift the planning debate to area-wise planning and away from the blanket planning attitudes that have engulfed the decision-making process in our cities…For the sake of the future of our cities and for safeguarding the kind of pluralism that exists…we need to nuance our planning by having different approaches for different parts of the urban landscape.

Fang Lizhi reviews Ezra F. Vogel on Deng Xiaoping

I believe I came across this old(ish) piece in the New York Review of Books on The Real Deng while learning as much as I could about The Bo Xilai scandal. Perhaps, from a link via James Fallows?….

In it, back in November 2011 Fang Lizhi reviewed Ezra F. Vogel’s book on Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Therein, Fang Lizhi takes Vogel’s general boosterism to task. To wit…

The policies on economic growth and on “reform and opening,” which reversed the Mao-era policies of “class struggle,” were seen as progressive and were welcomed by people both inside and outside China. The rub was in Deng’s insistence on the “Four Basic Principles,” namely (1) the socialist road, (2) the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) the leadership of the Communist Party, and (4) Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Zedong-Thought. Of these, only the third really mattered; Deng’s “transformation” (Vogel’s term) had already left the others obsolete.*Basic Principle Three was the key to understanding what kind of “rich and powerful China” Deng had in mind. It also put limits on what could be meant by “reform” and “opening.”

Lizhi then goes on explaining for any apologists.

Western observers have found it incongruous that Deng was so active in pushing economic reform but so stubborn in preventing political reform—as if these were in some way contradictory policies. But there was no contradiction: one policy was aimed to bring wealth to the Party-connected elite and the other was aimed to preserve its power. To use the Party’s army to suppress student protesters who threatened Party wealth and power was entirely consistent with his basic principles.