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Harvard Graduate School of Design Studio > EXTREME URBANISM 3: Planning for Conservation Visits Mughal Gardens Project

World Monuments Fund recently supported Harvard Graduate School of Design's studio "EXTREME URBANISM 3: Planning for Conservation" led by Rahul Mehrotra, Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design and Professor of Urban Design and Planning. Students from three academic programs spent a week in Agra identifying possible solutions to the urban challenges faced by the city as it grapples with balancing the needs of the local population, tourism management, and development pressures. WMF is engaged in a comprehensive research project to document and develop conservation plans for historic Mughal gardens on the Yamuna riverfront in Agra.

Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, is today an exemplar of a city burdened by extreme urbanism—high population growth, traffic congestion, poor infrastructure, and a complete lack of amenities are just some of its many problems. The Yamuna riverfront that once featuring 44 picturesque Mughal gardens, is today merely a conduit for industrial and domestic waste. The communities around the surviving Mughal monuments lack even basic amenities like drinking water and clean toilets. Extremely high pollution levels had led the highest court in the country to ban all polluting industries from the city. The resultant loss of livelihoods when the polluting industries were shifted out of Agra has caused the local communities to view the heritage of the city as more of a bane than a boon.

The focus of the studio is to study and analyze the forces and exigencies that have led to the transformation of the city, understand the physical environment the communities are living in, and identify sustainable strategies and possible design and planning solutions that could provide a better environment for the city and its people.

The consultants engaged by World Monuments Fund on the Mughal gardens project, a collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India, interacted with the Harvard students to provide the larger context of the project. The consultants explained the proposed interventions that will bring the gardens to life in new ways: honoring the past but also being relevant to today’s residents and tourists. A walk through the settlements located just outside the heritage sites reiterated the multilayered cultural history of the city and the imperatives that need to drive possible solutions, both for the city’s residents and its heritage. The field study ended with a workshop on day five, where the students were able to engage with the officials from the Archaeological Survey of India and the local city administration officials.