Lab | Log

Last Week at the Lab

Alas, at long last, folks, this is the last Last Week at the Lab post for the Lab’s run in Mumbai. It was great fun while it . . . lasted.

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the Lab wrapped up its final week of full-time programming here in Mumbai last week, ending many program series on very local, personal and, I’d say, powerful notes. The Lab’s off-site location itself was a perfect place to end. Situated on Mahim Beach overlooking the Bandra-Worli Sealink on one side, with Dharavi, and the Landlink pipeline just a stone’s throw away on the other, it was a natural spot to reflect on the weeks past, and consider what the future holds for this city.

A group of young girls from Dharavi have been considering this as well over the past few weeks. As part of the Lab’s Unwrapping series, the eight-to-fourteen-year-olds worked with a professional theater director to put together a play of their vision for a more equitable future for themselves and their fellow women in the city. At Mahim Beach, they performed the play, displaying their dream of a life in the city where women are free from abuse at home and in public spaces, and where they, and the men in their lives, expect their futures to hold more than just the role of housewife. Considering that everyone in Mumbai seems to have an idea for what Dharavi’s future should hold, but the city rarely asks what Dharavi’s residents wish for Mumbai’s future, it was a poignant and refreshing perspective to hear and see for a change. I hope this point of view will be solicited and listened to more often in the future.

Lab visitors also got to see Dharavi from a new perspective . . . by not seeing it at all! During the Lab’s first week running here, visitors experienced a blindfolded tour of South Mumbai. The tour was so popular and enlightening that a second edition ran this week, this time taking visitors through Dharavi and the chawls of Mahim. The biggest lesson for a group of architects that came for the tour? Our sense of openness or claustrophobia is influenced by many of our senses—not just sight.

Blind Guided Tour

The blindfolded tour in the Dharavi recycling district

Blind Guided Tour

The Koli fishing community—the original inhabitants of Mumbai who still inhabit the city and fish its shores—also cooked up some important discussion, while literally cooking up delicious seafood. As part of the Food for Thought series, they engaged in a discussion with Vinay Deshmukh, principal scientist of the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute here about the environmental issues threatening their livelihood today, namely water pollution from the city’s untreated sewage and chemical effluents, and overfishing by larger industries.

It wasn’t all so serious over at Mahim, though. I’m beginning to firmly believe that all meaty (or fishy?) conversation should be coupled with Bollywood painting, and raucous and wonderful dance workshops that devolve into even more raucous and wonderful dance parties (see the video below and the one at the top of this post).

And those mega Meet in the Middle sessions? Judging by the last session on Sunday evening, they will continue to move forward in the city through a team of committed people who will work to see that multilevel engagement will begin to genuinely influence planning in the city—especially the city’s twenty-year development plan that is set to be finalized within the next six months. Stay tuned for more details on their drive for a truly inclusive plan for the city’s short-, medium-, and long-term development, and for tangible prototypes that demonstrate the power of small-scale interventions that can be elevated to have large-scale impact.

Meet in the Middle

Attendees at the last Meet in the Middle session

I’m far from signing off here in Mumbai. There is still much to dig into here in order to understand the impacts and next steps for projects like the Kala Nagar traffic junction redesign competition (check out the winning entries, and stay tuned to hear how they will actually be implemented in the city), the incredibly illuminating PUKAR privacy study and KRVIA Design Cell’s privacy mapping, Testing, Testing!, and more. But first, I think I (and many others over here on the incredible Mumbai team), need a nap. To everyone who was a part of the Lab in any capacity (visitors with such incredible energy and passion—that means you too!), congratulations and thank you for an amazing and unparalleled six weeks of education and inspiration.

Sealink from Mahim Beach

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Photos: Christine McLaren; Blind-Guided Tour photos: Madhuri Jadav