An observation made by INTACH convener Arti Kirloskar during a meeting set me thinking. She was lamenting about how in Maharashtra we are very sensitive to music (and sound in general) and can sense even the slightest discord in a tone; but when it comes to visual sensitivity, we are quite ‘blind’. We were talking about the way Pune’s rampant signage, hoardings, branding, painting of the city, street art/installations and even some of the newer buildings have not really been thought of in terms of design and context, adding to a visual clutter rather than an aesthetic delight.
And this discussion made me realise that this is a problem that most of us have, irrespective of where we are. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that sound is what we associate with first, whilst in the womb. Then smell and touch. The visual connect comes only later.
As we grow, we do not realise how much we see, and not look. Because we don’t really look, it does not matter much. And we literally turn a blind eye to what can be termed as eyesores within our living environment.
Change is inevitable. And our cities are changing rapidly. However, the way building/infrastructure projects are conceived, built and evaluated are factors that are also affecting the appearance of our cities. In turn, the general public pays the brunt of the poor visual qualities a city has; because the perceived quality of a physical environment is understood and experienced closely only by the user.
Visual aesthetics do not only depend on the form, colour, scale and other elements or principles of design. Keeping a neighbourhood clean adds to the visual appeal of a place. Visual quality of a space also depends on how good, safe, pleasant and comfortable a human is in this space; and how high is the quality of human activity and interaction. Good public places, green areas, cultural variety, reliable and adequate infrastructure facilities, being inclusive and designing for people with disabilities, greater public responsibility… all this and more add to the entire visual identity and appeal of an urban fabric.
Design is integral to making a city more livable. Design influences our everyday life, and the larger mass of people are not even aware of it. To make a city a great urban living space, we need to integrate good design at every stage of our lives, until it becomes second nature and we cannot accept anything less.
It’s never too late to begin now.