A GESTALT SHIFT- Communal Harmony Interpretation Center at Ayodhya City, Uttar Pradesh.

There is a constant dialogue that happens between events, architecture and the city as an entity. A city’s past and it’s fabric is always linked with one another. In general, people identify with a certain community. Political parties and extremist groups have been evoking the concept of collective memory to further their own agendas and have therefore brought about hostilities between communities. Just as the idea of collective memory has been used in a manner that incites violence, can architecture be used as a tool to use the same concept of collective memory in the opposite manner in order to portray and reiterate communal harmony?

The site chosen is located in the city of Ayodhya – a city that is known to be an epicenter of communal violence since the late 1800s. Up until the British Raj, Ayodhya was an extremely prominent city. The city’s prominence was credited to the Northern and Southern highways which were used for trade and commerce. The Northern highway ran from the North-West of the sub-continent to the North-East while the Southern Highway ran from South to North. Apart from the fact that the city of Ayodhya lay in the region where both the highways met, the city was also built on the banks of the river Sarayu. These factors helped the city evolve into a trade hub and a cosmopolitan city.

Over the years, the region developed its own unique culture which was a fusion of different cultures. Ayodhya has been a hot bed for communal violence since the early 1800s. Repercussions of the violence that emanates from this region is always felt throughout the country. The demolition of Babri Masjid which resulted in communal riots throughout the country in 1992 retarded the pace of change in the city. In light of the verdict passed by The Supreme Court of India, the winds of change seem to be blowing into the city, and along with it, hope fills the hearts of the residents, who wish to put the past behind them, and want to step into a bright and promising future.

This project aims at using the concept of collective memory to form a narrative through built inserts in Ayodhya’s pilgrimage route. The site chosen is located between two monuments that played a major part in the first communal riot that took place in this city. These built inserts will aim at portraying how communal harmony has existed in the region throughout different eras. Since social frameworks are used as a benchmark to recall an event, spaces were designed to showcase aspects of communal harmony both - literally as well as metaphorically.

The design is a collection of individual buildings tied together by a narrative, it was done with sensitivity to its context - both socially as well literally so that it fits into the fabric of the town and at the same time allows the residents of the town to also benefit from the design. By designing a street which also acts as the shortest path from one landmark to another, it will enable a large number of tourists and pilgrims to visit the individual inserts and at the same time help to improve the local economy This design proposal not only uses locally available materials and contextually appropriate methods of construction but also experiments with newer methods of construction techniques that respond to the harsh climate of the region.

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