Louvre Abu Dhabi – Utopia realized

A couple of weeks back, one of the most anticipated architectural projects in recent times – the Louvre Abu Dhabi (LAD)- opened to much fanfare after a 10-year-long journey. Designed by Pritzker prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum’s design is almost the literal translation of the idea of Utopia and the ideal Museum as imagined during the Renaissance period of European history.

During the Renaissance, both utopia and museum(s) were imagined as circular, set apart, and ordered: utopia was an ideally governed island, the ideal museum was a domed rotunda on a mountaintop.”*

The LAD is an almost actual realisation of the above description; it is designed as an archipelago set just off the main body of Saadiyat island; which in itself is unique, in that it is set to host some of the most ambitious cultural buildings in the world. The most notable element in it’s design is a theatrical dome that hovers over the galleries and other facilities; filtering the harsh Arabian sun into a dance of light and shadow. Here the eight layered dome behaves quite similarly to the geometrically-patterned screen facade that was used in the Aga Khan Award winning Institu du Monde Arab in Paris also designed by Nouvel.

The main gallery spaces of the complex are laid out as a set of low-lying blocks almost like a middle eastern medina (a slightly ambitious reference as these kind of white minimalist buildings are more common along the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East and not in the Gulf region); partly under and partly beyond the dome floating above the sea. This strategy creates many interesting spaces, courtyards and terraces in between the museum elements both below and outside the dome.

Beyond the brilliant design the museum houses an enviable collection of around 600 works of art – 300 of which are on loan from 13 French museums, including the Louvre in Paris – curated in an unusual manner as ‘chapters’ to explain how art simultaneously developed across civilizations rather than the conventional galleries dedicated to each civilization or art movement making this collection and it’s presentation truly a bridge between the east and west.

Going by the enthusiasm leading up to its opening and the response so far, this facility is poised to become the main cultural attraction in a country that is increasingly looking towards tourism as a key economic driver.

If you are planning to visit this iconic museum here’s a few practical tips: 

  •  The museum has an amazing collection of artworks/artifacts and some really interesting architectural experiences so do plan to spend as many hours as possible.
  • Book your tickets online at least a few days before the trip to avoid lines and to be able to park in the car park that’s closer to the museum.
  • Try to avoid visiting during weekends (i.e. Fridays & Saturdays) or bank holidays and the museum is closed on all Mondays.
  • There are free tours every half an hour or so from the main entrance of the permanent galleries where they explain the highlights of the collection: these 45 min long tours can be crowded but are a good introduction to the extensive collection. They also have a dedicated architecture tour of the complex (but that’s additionally chargeable).
  • If you start the day with the tour do go through all the galleries again on your own as there are many small rooms (with some real gems) attached to the bigger galleries that are not included in the highlights tour. 
  • Also at the end of the tour, if it seems to be particularly busy day, you probably shouldn’t exit the museum building into the domed common plaza (if you exit the building you may have to wait in queue to get back in as they have a restriction on the number of people inside). But once you’re inside they won’t ask you to leave till it’s closing time, so you can work your way back to the start from within the galleries itself. 
  • The LAD is a large complex and if you want to cover everything be prepared to walk a lot!
  • The internal spaces of the museum can get really cold to help preserve most of the delicate artwork, especially if you happen to get some galleries relatively empty, so don’t forget a cardigan or a light sweater. 
  • There is a sea-facing cafe below the dome (which unfortunately doesn’t have much veg options) and proper meals are a bit expensive and take a lot of preparation time (30 to 45 mins), but there are slightly more reasonably priced ready made sandwiches available. The restaurant is not yet open! 
  • If you’re looking for something lighter – there are a few small mobile kiosks selling water, drinks and chips below the dome that moves around the central plaza space. 
  • There are many interesting spaces, courtyards and terraces outside the museum – it’s easy to miss them if you don’t go looking for them, check on the museum map for areas you may have missed. 
  • The toilets (at least the ones in the basement) are worth visiting from a design perspective even if you don’t want to use them. 
  • The museum periodically hosts interesting performances and light shows (late in the evening), if there’s one happening on the day you’re visiting – it’s probably worth staying back for it!

Some drawings of the LAD © Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

* – Marcin Fabianksi, “Iconography of the Architecture of the Ideal Musea in the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries,” Journal of the History of Collections 2, no. 2 (1990): 95-134.

All photos © Sahil Latheef  | A shorter version of this write up by Sahil Latheef was published in the travel section of the DNA newspaper (Mumbai edition) on 29th Nov 2017

Advertisements

Tripping through Indore – A Photoblog

A recent weekend trip to Madhya Pradesh included taking in the sights of Indore, a city whose history is intrinsically linked to the Holkar dynasty & whose stamp is still evident in the ancient structures of the city. Here’s a photoblog that journeys through some of these buildings & one still- very relevant district: foodies’ paradise Chhappan Dukkan.

IMG_4353
Rajwaada, the royal residence, with its imposing seven storey facade.

DSC_7427

FullSizeRender_1
The interior courtyard of the Rajwaada is at a much more human scale, bearing a similarity to the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur in that aspect.
FullSizeRender_2
Chhatris such as this dot the riverside of Indore city, which were Cenotaphs from the late 1800s memorializing Holkar rulers.

IMG_4429

IMG_4413
Each column of the Chhatri structures have various human & animal figures carved at their base & capital.
IMG_4434
Steps leading upto the Chhatri supported by roughly piled stones.
IMG_4433
A bull’s head sculptural gargoyle on the exterior of one of the Chhatris
IMG_4436
The exterior of the royal Lal Bagh Palace. The interiors are done up in a rich combination of baroque, rococo & neoclassical styles, but unfortunately photography is not permitted.
IMG_20170915_172011
The wrought iron gates of the Lal Bagh palace, guarded by the two lions.
IMG_20170915_205506
The very popular ‘khau galli’ of Indore, Chhappan Dukkan (originally there were 56 shops on this street).

Photos, other than those taken by the writer, courtesy Sahil Latheef & Ajay Nayak.

 

 

Flanerie at the library, Seattle.

098

As an architect my reading of cities is embedded into the artefact of architectural production or what we mundanely call buildings. However buildings aren’t simply brick and mortar enclosures that hold space and control your environment, they have cultural resonance beyond just their use. To understand the essence of a city one need not look beyond some of the publicly commissioned works of architecture. For buildings, such as museums, libraries, concert halls and other public spaces have the power to reinvent the city. Popularly known as the ‘Bilbao Effect’; seen in the complete rejuvenation of Bilbao, Spain by the building  of the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank O Gehry. Another project on the anvil is the new Louvre by French architect Jean Novel set to open in Abu Dhabi. Whether every building can have the Bilbao effect or not we cannot definitively say but it is necessary that every building should address the metropolitan context in which it is situated. In a previous post we covered the High Line park by DSRNY, which had a similar catalytic effect on Chelsea and the Meat packing District in New York. In this post I do a deep dive into examining the Seattle Public Library,  designed by OMA with LMN architects,  that I visited on a trip to Seattle.

Seattle_Central_Library,_Seattle,_Washington_-_20060418
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

While by no means as iconic for Seattle as the Space needle, the Public Library which was completed in 2004, examines the very necessity of such an institution in the era of ubiquitous access to information. Prior to winning the design competition for Seattle OMA had participated in other competitions for libraries, namely the Tres Grande Bibliotheque in Paris and the Jussieu Library. In both proto proposals,  the designs had investigated the intersection of the public space with the traditional book-stacks. In the first project the public space is created by scooping out voids from the thickness of the book-stacks; and in Jussieu the diagram is of two meandering helical paths that intersect the science library and the humanities library. Seattle embodies both its intellectual predecessors as well as addressing the metropolitan space of the city by opening up the insides of an institutional building to the public and allowing the city inside it.

img_20171107_131907.jpg
Images of the OMA Two Libraries at Jussieu, Paris from their book SMLXL

The thing that strikes one the most on encountering the building is its large size. Situated in the midst of a busy urban setting,  it appears as a faceted gem,  emerging from the ground,  and reflecting the bustle of the world around it. Because of the large panels of reflective glass it would appear that the building is made of the city that it reflects. One moves off the urban street into the main space of the building without realizing that the outside is left behind because there is no significant grade change. The sidewalk moves alongside the glass and you can reach a hand out and touch the face of the building, lean on it, sit against it…. Once inside you feel like you are in a large covered city square. It is a completely transparent building and so the boundaries between the inside and outside of the city are completely blurred. At every instance inside the building you are always acutely aware of the city happening outside. It refrains from framing views like conventional glass buildings do. In fact the faceted nature of the steel and glass envelope avoids any kind of deliberate framing. At points you view the city and the sky outside simultaneously almost as if you had lifted your head up on the street to look at the sky.

 

usa ma&dinx 110
The entrance to the library, right off the street
usa ma&dinx 130
Reading spaces that connect you to the views of the city
usa ma&dinx 122
The city and the sky visible through the glass envelope
usa ma&dinx 111
An external Living room

A large floral printed carpet of the waiting space mimics not only the urban park directly across the street but also gives one the feeling of having arrived in a large communal living room or porch. The high tables arranged along the glass,  had several office goers sitting with their laptops and working or waiting for their next meeting, not unlike what one would see at any urban coffee shop. Imagine sitting there and engaging a stranger in conversation, making a friend or a possible contact. As you moved up through the building you encountered other spaces where people of different demographics were invited to interact. Self learning stations designed as if they were gaming kiosks inside an arcade,  had young kids lounging and browsing digital content. But the part that I was most excited about, was encountering the “continuous circuit” book ramp winding through the library,  that resembled an urban street. Had I had a pair of them handy, I would have been tempted to skate down the winding book ramp.

usa ma&dinx 118

usa-madinx-135.jpg

The building invites the user to behave completely unlike one would in a traditional library. With no attendant to shush you if you talk loudly, it in fact engages you to have that chance encounter with another citizen. Browsing the shelves feels like you are in a bookshop versus a traditional library. The use of vibrant colour within the spaces and on the escalators and the media room calls forth the playfulness and ease of access that is emblematic of information in the digital age. Maybe the building didn’t create the Bilbao effect for Seattle. But in my opinion it provides a communal space for the city-dwellers of Seattle where they can come together and witness each other and the city. The building and specifically its interiors has had a continuing impact on how architects have engaged with public buildings. The impact of the interior space can be seen in how lounges, coffee shops, co-working spaces and even the offices of corporations like Google and Facebook have come to be designed.

Having passed the hallowed neoclassical central library in New York several times and felt it’s gravitas, the central library in Seattle invited me to engage with it in a whole different way. The building regarded me as a flaneur, to be “seduced” by books and information and I was more than happy to give in. As I had to leave it, I wished I had longer to spend in the building. I wished I could have visited it over and over to have many more chance encounters. And while I had that thought it occurred to me that, that’s what it meant to live in a city and Seattle’s Central Library had captured that in its essence.

…..

Other architecture projects to visit in Seattle are the Chapel of St Ignatius in the Seattle University campus by Steven Holl, Frank Gehry’s Experience Music project, the Seattle Space Needle and the art museum by Venturi Scott Brown.

All images courtesy the author unless otherwise mentioned.

Baku – At the threshold of empires

I vaguely remember almost 10 years ago watching a short clip about an ancient fire temple in Baku as part of a travel documentary and thinking to myself – ‘It would be so cool to visit this place one day!’. Over the years I found many more reasons to want to visit Azerbaijan but it always seemed too difficult to get to.
Click on the images in this post to enlarge them & read their captions.
Last month I found the right set of opportunities to take my long awaited trip to Azerbaijan and I was finally able to tick off the World Heritage Site designated Ateshgah (fire temple) and the city of Baku off my bucket list!
As I prepared for my trip I had one strong preconceived idea that since Baku was on one of the historic Silk Routes and due its geographic proximity to Central Asia, these two factors would have the maximum impact on the culture and architecture of the city. However, while reading up and delving a bit more into the history of the city I noticed something different that was confirmed on my visit.
Map over years
This gif of maps illustrate how Baku was constantly at the threshold of empires.
The interesting coincidence that I noticed is probably crucial to really understanding this city – over the ages different empires (ranging from the ancient Persians & Roman to the early Christians & Muslims and finally the Ottomans & Soviets) have all left their imprint on these lands, but Baku/Azerbaijan was never at the heart of any of these empires; it was almost always on the fringe: a constant threshold. A threshold not only between empires (and their cultures) but also for ideas, religions and geographies.
This unique edge condition has made Baku into an interesting collage of utopias overlapped onto each other. The culture & architecture of this city represent not just different historic narratives but sometimes also interesting contradictions that have emerged due to this overlap.
Lastly, if all this history wasn’t enough, the fact that Azerbaijan is now a young independent oil rich nation adds yet another layer of interesting urban fabric! Today in Baku, one is not only able to traverse centuries-old built heritage but it is also possible to see some of unique examples of contemporary avant-garde architecture.
All in all Baku was so much more than I had previously conceived. It is a very interesting short holiday option that packs: a historic city with a lot of character; lovely cuisine (especially great place for meat lovers); legendary local hospitality; and an extremely cosmopolitan atmosphere. Furthermore the city is set amongst a landscape filled with some very unique geological phenomenons (including an eternal burning mountain & lots of active mud volcanoes).

Travel tips: If you had only three days in Baku here’s my quick itinerary recommendation: Day 01| Full day exploring the World Heritage sites of Old City Baku – the historic heart of the city; Day 02| The day can be spend seeing the city outside the old walls, you can easily cover some exemplary contemporary buildings including the iconic Baku Flame Towers, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum and Heydar Aliyev Center (designed by Zaha Hadid Architects) ; & Day 03| Day trip to see some unique sights around Baku including Mud Volcanos, ancient petroglyphs at Gobustan National Park, Ateshgah Fire temple and the Burning Mountain.

When you plan a trip to Azerbaijan I would also recommend you to try and club it with neighboring Georgia (it’s easy to do them together as they are well connected by road, train and budget flights). Interestingly, even though both these small nations are part of the same Caucasus region of Western Asia because of their varying historic backgrounds and influences they offer very different kind of sights and cultures. Furthermore for Indian travelers they both currently offer easy e-visa or visa-on-arrival options.

 …
All photos © Sahil Latheef  | The writer recently gave an elaborate talk based on the theme of this post at Amity University Dubai to the students from the Architecture and Interior Design departments. 

Save

A ‘Fantastic’ Trip through Turkey

Last weekend in Mumbai, I visited the exhibition ‘Celebrating Mimar Sinan’, displaying the architectural works of the Turkish Master, Sinan. While I was earlier not very familiar with his designs, I recently read & thoroughly enjoyed Elif Safak’s book ‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ which chronicles the fictional journey of the protagonist Jahan, who apprentices under the great Master.  This made me curious to visit this exhibition which covered his portfolio of mosques, bridges & aqueducts through models, drawings as well as sumptuous interior & exterior photographs. Another outstanding feature of the exhibition was the superb calligraphy panels, artistically drawn by a local Turkish architect, which highlighted quotes by Sinan himself.

sehzade-mosque2.jpg
Sehzade Mosque

The comparison between Sinan’s works as well as with other Turkish buildings helped the viewer well understand the scale & detailing of his projects. This collaboration between Ranchana Sansad’s Academy of Architecture and the Turkish Consulate General in Mumbai is an attempt to familiarise Indian architectural students & professionals alike, with the range of this Master Architect, as our architectural education mostly tends to lean heavily towards the West. His attention to details, ability to showcase structure without compromising on the aesthetics, & fascination with materiality & geometry are some aspects which the exhibits successfully bring forth.

The venue of the exhibition was the ground floor of the Rajabhai Clock Tower & Library Building, which in itself lend an added level of charm to the exhibits, thanks to the University’s Colonial architectural features. One wishes that such a similar exhibition could be curated with ancient Indian Master Architects as its focus, as they remain mostly unknown entities, even among practicing professionals today. The Turkish exhibition, though not very large, was well- mounted & simple to grasp, which also helps attract a non-core design audience, but at the same time evoked the sense of place, space, setting & time when these structures were constructed.

A visit to an exhibition such as this has definitely whetted in me an appetite to visit Turkey sometime soon & experience these buildings in person.

Istanbul skyline from Bosphorus

All images of the Mumbai exhibition (c) Ajay Nayak. All images of the Turkish buildings & skyline (c) Sahil Latheef, a fellow Flaneur of this site, taken during his recent trip to Sinan’s land.

Collecting space

London… a thriving, bustling metropolis, with endless opportunities for recreation for its denizens. Besides open air attractions, like Hyde Park, there is a plethora of museums that are vibrant, activated and above all, free.

It was not always like this though; by the end of the 20th century, the same-old exhibits and the tired info-graphics had ensured that at least for locals, museum hopping would not be their first choice when it came to whiling away a few hours of their free time. The been-there, done-that feeling was what needed to be gotten rid of, and the much needed impetus for growth/ regeneration came from an unlikely source – the National Lottery. From the late 1990s, funds raised from lottery ticket buyers were pumped into the Arts sector. The moneys collected and injected into the system were unprecedented. The Millennium Fund supported two major Arts projects in London: t he ‘Great Court’ at the British Museum (by Norman Foster) and the Tate Modern at Bankside (by Herzog & de Meuron)

The Great Court was essentially a project whose aim was to cover the courtyard of the British Museum with a glass & steel roof, while maximizing the space freed up when the British Library’s collection shifted to a dedicated new building at St. Pancras.

This covering of an open air space enabled the possibilities of programmes that enlivened and energized the public space. The Tate Modern also did this, not only at a building level, but also at an urban level. The number of visitors to the entire South Bank area of London experienced an exponential increase post- the Millennium.

Inside the Turbine Hall, interactive exhibitions (such as the ones photographed above), made the contemporary art displays more approachable to the general viewer.

In 2000, both these buildings opened to the public, and it was not just the building or the interior that was noticeable, but the well-thought out circulation routes and the fresh graphics and signage. The renewed public interest in these museums was sustained through programmatic innovations – temporary exhibitions, evening/ night events (Late Fridays or Nights at the Museum).

On the other hand, the V&A is unique in that there are few paintings on display – it is largely a museum of objects. So from the 5m tall David in the Cast Courts to the designer contemporary everyday items such as scooters and kettles to architectural models of renowned buildings, everything falls under its umbrella.

It managed to sustain itself and grow in popularity purely on the basis of these non-design based interventions, successfully attracting large groups of students, professionals and tourists.

But the process started a few years earlier, when in 1991 the hallowed National Gallery opened the new adjoining Sainsbury Wing, designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. This playful post-modernist take on one of the most ‘British’ of institutions, situated bang on Trafalgar Square, evoked many polarizing reactions.

But it ensured that the building remained firmly in the public eye and visitors came in droves. The new building, while evoking the memory of the main wing, pared down its elements and created fuss-free spaces whose scale was suited to the smaller scale of paintings displayed there.

While infrastructure projects such as the Millennium Bridge, the Millennium Dome and the London Eye helped invigorate London at an urban level, these institutions got down to the brass tacks and made a difference at a human scale and humane level. As a student, I have fond memories of spending many a pleasant weekend afternoon, aimlessly wandering through the numerous ‘rooms’ of the National Gallery or the V&A, happily drinking in the atmosphere and gazing admiringly at the endless Classics, which one had hereto only seen in books. Personally, these visits help cement a lifelong love of Impressionism, and though it was unknown to me at that time, helped in providing an inspiration for many a future project. When the weather outside is cold, the pocket is light and the mind curious, there’s little more a young person can ask for from life,  than a few hours spent at one of these wonderful repositories of Art.

All photos © Sahil Latheef | excluding the ones from Creative Commons

On a high!

A few years back on a half day transit stop in New York city I calculated that I have just about enough time to visit one place in the city before I had to dash back to the airport in time for my onward journey. Although I had been to NYC a few times before there was one project that I really had to revisit – so I headed west to the meat-packing district to see a landscape project, a kind of newly evolved species among urban gardens.

 

Like with any other cultural product (art, literature, architecture etc.), landscape too is a constantly changing field and with time it is possible to identify one exemplary example which best expresses the aspirations of an era.

 

In a lot of ways the High Line park, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSRNY), together with landscape architect James Corner and garden designer Piet Oudolf, is ‘the perfect garden’ of our times! The design was the winner of an open design competition that contemplated how the abandoned elevated railway line running through the meat packing district could be reused to benefit NYC. DSRNY designed the entire length of the High line as a series of simple landscapes strips that bring back the joy of walking through wild meadows to the heart of Manhattan.

 

The garden weaves it’s way between, through and above a series of buildings creating pockets for different programmes but above all creates an opportunity for New Yorkers to de-congest. In an interview a few years back Liz Diller, one of the key designers behind this project, explained beautiful “The high line, if it’s about anything, it’s about nothing, about doing nothing.” The high line offers a very different experience of New York City from plus 30 feet and is an amazing place to while away time watching people doing all sorts of things – walking, snacking, reading, exercising, relaxing and also doing nothing. 🙂

 

This is one of those amazing and rare projects which is meticulously detailed, yet it doesn’t lose focus of the larger picture. The success of the High Line, it is today one of most visited sights in Manhattan, has spawned countless similar regeneration efforts that mix infrastructure and landscape in innovative ways across the world (a few of the interesting ones being – the Hofbogen in Rotterdam designed by Doepel Strijkers, the Garden Bridge in London designed by Heatherwick Studio, Lines of Life in Singapore designed by Nikken Sekkei Architects, the 11th Street Bridge in Washington DC designed by OMA and the recently opened Skygarden in Seoul designed by MVRDV).

While I stroll on the High Line pondering about all this a rude alarm on my phone reminds me of my waiting flight! On the flight home, I wondered why every urban walkway couldn’t be like this? Imagine if the monstrous sky walks being built around the world (like the ones in our large cities – Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru) were treated with this sort of passion, overgrown with greenery waiting for garden lizards and butterflies to recapture their cities. Wouldn’t that be amazing!?!

 

P.S. I would recommend combining a trip to the High Line with at least half a day exploring it’s immediate context – Chelsea (with some great Art Galleries, the Chelsea market and lots of interesting eateries), seeing some of the great architecture that has come along the graden (including projects by Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel) and a visit to the new Whitney Museum of American Art.

All photos © Sahil Latheef

A Tale of Two Oceans

This summer, I grabbed the opportunity to go snorkeling off the coast of Phi Phi Islands, Thailand. It brought back many memories of my first snorkeling experience as a teenager, in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, amid the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

This time around we were onboard a large cruise ship on board which we prepared ourselves for the snorkeling part of our trip. Changing into the gear provided and listening to the instructions only served to heighten the sense of anticipation that literally anything was possible once we took the plunge.

DSCN8127

Once our ship docked, a few hundred metres from a beach, the ocean was ours to explore. Along with the common spottings like the clown anemone fish (popularly called Nemo) and sharks we were also fortunate to see some giant clams and starfish as well. Luckily we had been forewarned to stay away from the spiky sea urchins in shallow waters since contact with them can cause serious injury. Being a writer, putting down my thoughts is not something I usually struggle with, but both my undersea experiences have left me short of words. I can only highlight some words that flash: Colours. Movement. Surfaces.

One can only come away from such an experience with a feeling of wonder; of being gently reminded of how tiny a part you play in the workings of this great Universe and also a sense of regret that somewhere the human race has contributed greatly to the degradation of the Earth’s natural resources. It has been widely acknowledged that in the last 20 years, constant proximity to humans due to unchecked tourism, has discoloured large sections of these natural wonders all over the Asia Pacific region.

While it is an often said that that the emotions of the first time can never be replicated, I found that was not true in my case. This dip into the Andaman Sea carried with it the same sensation of silently, weightlessly floating and the sheer joy of being surrounded by nature in its glory. The thrill of having a whole school of fish swim past my face, unconsciously reminded me of something so similar happening many years previously. The vivid corals form an entire universe that exists below the water’s surface, and being engulfed by the expanse of it all adds up to an exciting experience, the memories of which are not dulled by distance, by space or by time.

DSCN8135

PS: While on both occasions, I have wished that I owned an underwater camera, I hope that the absence of one will goad my mind to keep these images alive.

All photos (c)  Sangeetha Solanki

From the trenches of the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015

04 Indigenous communities from Nagaland at the conference
A delegation from Nagaland in their indigenous attire

Love makes the world go round, as the saying goes. But Food is what sustains us. And a meal cooked with love is like the proverbial cherry on the cake – nourishment of not merely the stomach but of the soul. In November 2015, Shillong in Meghalaya, North East India, hosted a mega-event that recognized and celebrated the traditional food ways of the global indigenous peoples.
The Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 (ITM) consisted of various programmes revolving around food to bring people from varied backgrounds together: to knowledge-share, to taste; most of all to rejoice. The global and the local, the village cook and the restaurant chef, the rural and the urban rubbed shoulders, experienced one another’s foods & flavours, learned, exchanged and emerged richer from it.
On the first three days, a closed door World Indigenous Conclave saw various experts on agro-biodiversity, farming, ecology and traditional food ways discuss the issues of the day. On the sidelines, Taste workshops exposed the audience to various food groups indigenous to the Northeast and beyond. These included Honey, Wild Edibles, Fermented Foods and Insects which some of the gathered delegates sampled with trepidation but found them to be rather palatable.

03 Northeastern communities putting up a cultural performance at the opening ceremony
Northeastern communities perform at the opening ceremony
01 Shillong Chamber Choir performance at the opening ceremony
Shillong Chamber Choir performing at the opening ceremony
02 Shillong Chamber Choir performing with dancer Astad Deboo at the opening ceremony
Shillong Chamber Choir performs with dancer Astad Deboo
13 Variety of honeys served at the Taste Workshop
Taste workshop- honeys
08 Insects platter at the taste workshop
Taste workshop- insect platter
06 Panel discussion
Snapshot from one of the many panel discussions
09 Red ant chutney with millet pancake served at the Insects Taste Workshop
Taste workshop- red ant chutney
05 Indigenous communities from the Phillipines at the conference
The delegation from Philippines is all smiles
10 Silkworm platter
Taste workshop- silkworms
12 Selection of wild edibles at the taste workshop
Taste workshop- wild edibles
11 Silkworm preparation with millet pancake served at the Taste Workshop
Taste workshop- silkworm paste with millet pancake

In fact, the spirit of the event lay in the knowledge sharing between the delegates coming from 50+ countries and the 40+ local host villages. On the fourth day of the event, the delegates travelled into rural Meghalaya for a day trip to experience firsthand the food ways, culture and heritage of the host communities. The villagers enthusiastically prepared traditional menus and performed cultural programmes for delegates from all over the world.
The closing day was marked by a Food Festival, open to the public, which over 70,000 people attended. Without a doubt, the centerpiece of the festival were the 40+ Mei-Ramew (Mother Earth) Food stalls, a celebration of local foods, that served as platforms for agro-biodiversity and cultural representation. These stalls not only served food but gave voice to the expression of traditional food and agriculture and brought conviviality and multiculturalism into play by bringing people together to discuss, exchange ideas and highlight issues related to the challenges that indigenous people face hence rendering a sense of ownership. These food stalls glamorized indigenous food preparations through innovative, creative and attractive presentations.

15 Food being enjoyed at the Mei Ramew food festival
Visitors enjoying the fare at the Food Festival
14 Array of stalls at the food festival
Array of food stalls at the festival

The cultural exchange, transcending the barriers of language and backgrounds between these disparate worlds, is what the heartbeat of such an event is – proving that when communities that are closely bound to Mother Earth, they can never be too far from each other.

IMG_3204
Northeastern musicians in the spotlight
IMG_3203
Impromptu performance by musicians from different nationalities

All photos © Amrita Ravimohan, Ajay Nayak & NESFAS

Milan World Expo 2015-Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life

In continuation to the previous post on the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, here’s a photo-story on some of the interesting pavilion designs from the latest World Expo that took place in Milan, Italy in 2015.
As Milan is a well-known global design hub it was no surprise that here too as in previous editions of this global event architecture took center stage, with some really interesting pavilion designs. However, unlike in Shanghai, a majority of pavilions seemed to embody the spirit of the overall theme of the Expo (which was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life“) more closely, leading to many modest projects with strong connections to the landscaped areas and outdoor spaces with many of them structured around tiny enclosed gardens.
Click on the images to read captions on each of the pavilions.
See you guys at the next World Expo in Dubai in 2020 🙂
All photos © Sahil Latheef