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Landscape Architects play a vital role in shaping contemporary cities: Michael Grove, USA

Hyderabad Design Forum (HDF) submitted a list of 100 step wells in Hyderabad to the department of Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) for restoration.

Landscape Architects play a vital role in shaping contemporary cities, observed Michael Grove, Principal Landscape Architect from SASAKI, USA. He was a prominent speaker at the ongoing 3-day virtual conference of Landscape Architects, 14th ISOLA National Conference on the theme of"Unbuilt Landscapes". It is being organized by the Hyderabad Chapter of the Indian Society of Landscape Architects.

Michael is the Chair of Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Ecology and sits on Sasaki’s Board of Directors. Sasaki is an interdisciplinary architecture, planning, landscape, and design firm from the USA with offices all over. It has handled some of the prestigious projects in China. Some of them include Jiading Central Park, Chengdu Panda Reserve and others. Sasaki Designed a Panda Reserve in Chengdu in China to Aid Wildlife Preservation. They also worked on Jiading Park, a 70-hectare urban park in Shanghai. The park is one of the largest urban open spaces in Shanghai’s burgeoning Jiading district and serves as a social and recreational hub for the community.

Michael offered a unique insight into the various projects he worked on and the unprecedented transformation and urbanization of the region. Michael is a fierce advocate for the vital role that landscape architects play in shaping contemporary cities. He believes that the role of the designer is to make cities livable, equitable & resilient

Speaking about Jiading Park, he said, it’s a combination of poetic form, cultural expression, public programming, and ecological restoration that creates a multi-dimensional experience and served as a catalyst for surrounding development.

Speaking to 750 plus virtual audience, mostly comprised of Landscape Architects, he said, the landscape architects have to be collaborators. When asked about how to make government bodies and agencies realize the importance of landscape architecture, he said you need to invest time and effort. You need to be a good storyteller, he added.

Israel Alba, an Architect and Designer from Madrid spoke about the Valdemingomez landfill Forest Park in Madrid that brings together four basic actions: sealing the surface of the landfill, extracting the biogas accumulated within it for use in generating electricity, while transforming the surface of the landfill into a public park of enormous biological value. Israel Alba lectured conferences in Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Mexico and Spain, and has been invited to be jury member on architectural competitions. His work has been exhibited and published in national and international specialist media.

The talks were later followed by a Workshop "Source of Water in Absence of Water". The workshop was curated by the leading Architect of Hyderabad Sri Yeshwant Ramamurthy, Ms. Arunima Shankar, Urban Designer, and Mr. Gopal Vilas Bajaj, a Landscape Architect.

Sri Yeshwant Ramamurthy is a chairperson in the Hyderabad Design Forum (HDF) who had submitted a list of 100 stepped wells in Hyderabad to the department of Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD). Arunima Shankar’s works include the restoration of Bapu Ghat, a stepwell in Hyderabad.

Mr. Yashwanth Ramamurthy and his team is working on the "Forgotten Stepwells" project. It is a research project, which will be documented in the form of a book.

The Telangana state has well over 150 step wells. There are close to 50 step wells in the Greater Hyderabad region alone and HDF traced 150 across the state. Most of these are heritage step wells. Step wells play a very important role in the ecology of the place.

Stepwells were fundamental to life in the driest parts of India. For centuries, step-wells that incorporated a cylindrical well that extended down to the water table provided water for drinking, washing, bathing, and irrigation of crops. Unique to the region, step-wells are often architecturally complex and they vary widely in size and shape. These step wells not only served as the interaction spaces but also were mainly used for water harvesting.

The workshop focused on the processes involved in the revival of stepwells to understand hydrological & geological constructs in place with their relation to the confined & unconfined aquifers. The speakers gave a brief of each of the Stepwells.

The speakers gave an introduction to Step-wells, gave insights on where and how to find Step-wells. They also presented historical evidence over the past 60 years. Among other things, they highlighted include the Evolution of Step-wells, their Cultural importance, fascinating stories, stories behind baghs and bovlis. They presented a case study of Bapughat Stepwell and its restoration.

From their study, they observed that water has become an agent for unifying people. The technology was so superior that one stepwell could hold 44 lakh liters of water.

Nearly 27 street names of Hyderabad and Secunderabad have ‘bagh’ means garden as their suffix. This indicates that it was the city of the garden. Also, a good number of localities names contain a suffix Bowli or Baavis, ex: Putlibowli, Retibowli etc. This again explains the importance given to water in ancient days, the three speakers of the workshop observed.

Research in India is rigorous on urban renewal and balancing development with nature. This was presented through five Papers at the Conference on the second day of the ISOLA Conference, Hyderabad.

The Papers commenced with Mrinalini Hambarde’s paper is on the theme ‘Balance’- City in Nature. Her paper presents the analysis of the effectiveness of the restorative action of ecological landscape planning strategies in the Greenfield development in the Lavasa Hill-City, India. This paper is an excellent example of emerging research in India in the landscape field. The other four are on the theme ‘Renewal’.

750 plus leading Landscape Architects from India and many other countries are attending the conference informed Dr. Sridevi Rao, Honorary President of ISOLA


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