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  • Writer's pictureJinay Mehta

Architecture as a Political Act

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

India-China and its ghost towns

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Architecture is very intricately tied to political power. It is mainly politics that influences architecture and urban development in a country. The development of political language that influences social and urban lifestyles should heavily involve architects. Currently we are experiencing a global rise in population which directs the construction of new urban infrastructure (Collective, n.d.). They have the power to influence the way people imagine the future. One such example of future urban development are the ghost towns of The Republic of India and People’s Republic of China.

Ghost towns are basically large unoccupied towns which might have seen illuminance and glory in its early days but have been abandoned now. Chinese ghost towns vary from others since they have never been inhabited. Currently a total 20% of housing properties in china are unoccupied (Brahambhatt, 2021). Real Estate was once a key driver in China’s growth and the communist government always supported investment in properties.

These new towns were not required, the need was for an urban sprawl but the ever increasing greed for money and business of the communist government led to the construction of these new towns. Because of investment, these cities are only transitory before being rebuilt somewhere. Frequent demolition and construction are seen as boons to consumer culture and economic activity – but their darker side involves forced evictions and conflicts over land (Ross, 2015). Ordos, a town in the inner Mongolia region, China, which only holds 2,000 residents. Now the town gives a post-apocalyptic town vibe (Brahambhatt, 2021). Due to its manufacturing-based economy and rapid and ongoing building, China also plays a significant role in environmental pollution.

Xi Jinping's ever oppressive attitude has led to a lot of issues in the country which its media is never allowed to telecast, one such issue is the dark detention camps for the Uighur Muslims and its declining population in the country. Xinjiang, a place soon to become a ghost town due to a diverging reason of its disappearing Uighur Muslim population. According to the United Nations, around 1 million people are sent to these “re-education camps” as named by the Chinese government (Franklin, 2019). The adult detention camps are very difficult to locate, whereas the kids one can be easily identified by its structure quite similar to a castle with a use of a lot of primary colours and named as kindergartens, designed keeping in mind the children but are heavily guarded and walled (Franklin, 2019). To understand the spatial context of these detention camps is that they are located in the outskirts of the city so as to be out of the public eye. In the adult camps, each cell consists of at least 20 inmates and there are cells underground as well for questioning and interrogation (Franklin, 2019). This was how business minded communists took a toll on Chinese land.

In a democratic country like India there are ghost towns too, very less addressed. Lavasa, once a hilltop paradise, a billionaire’s dream project is now a hell on earth (How the Unfinished City of Lavasa Became a Nightmare for Indian Bankss, 2018). This copy of Italy’s Portofino town is now in ruins. This private settlement has created a lot of issues, the locals have been continuously protesting as they were cheated for their land by the rich brats. Many hotels have been shut down and the property investors have been looted. The Lavasa convention centre is just a huge concrete box. This town promises no future but destroys many. Neither did the government nor did the media intervene in this project which had an inevitable failure.

According to Wang, an official of the Chinese Government, “there are far more similarities than differences between China and India.” (NDTV) Fulfilling the needs of the rich by ignoring the country’s heavy infrastructure is the way these communist and democratic governments are getting off with. Their decisions will be worrisome in the future and we as architects have a voice to stand up against these money hogging politicians.

People in this industry don't typically talk about these subjects, yet they are crucial in understanding the power an architect holds and how it can channel political thinking someday. Architects are one of several parties involved in these wrong doings. A smart place to start is by discussing these problems. Before opening up to the world, aspiring architects must learn the importance of resisting political pressure and sticking up to their principles.

Thank you for reading!

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