Improvised Urbanism in The Design of India’s Unauthorized Colonies

Authored by: D. Asher Ghertner

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores three design spaces to show how mimicry operates as a mode of regulating Delhi’s booming unauthorized colonies. The first space is the planning department, where planners compelled by pressures to regularize unauthorized colonies create maps depicting those colonies in conformance with planning norms while knowing these “imaginary maps” will never be implemented. The second space is the unauthorized building, where multi-story apartments on designated agricultural lands are demolished because they are as yet unoccupied. Faking occupancy, developers install air conditioners and hang laundry on vacant buildings to avoid site demolition. Surface embellishments thus become design features central to successful project completion, showing aesthetic appearance to be as significant as calculative protocols for the adjudication of legality. The third space is the improvised water systems of unauthorized colonies, which develop through collaboration with state agents, even though such systems are illegal in unauthorized colonies. The post-regularization ability to network this private infrastructure into state water lines raises the question of when the fake becomes the real. These three spaces together show the design of unauthorized colonies to mock power as much as it creates it.

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