Urbanism in Pandemic:
MONU Magazine Review

by: Kshitij Dhyani

Illustration by Fieni Aprilia
www.fiensh.com and Instagram: @Fiensh

Introductory Note: MONU (http://www.monu-magazine.com) is a biannual international magazine on Urbanism, published from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The current issue of the publication, titled- “Pandemic Urbanism”, was sent to me for a review. This is a personal piece, and the publishers have no control or say over what and how I write.

Preface When I think of COVID-19, the first thing that comes to my mind is the lockdown, bunking inside my house (which turned into a temporary sanitoriums as well as my working and recreational space), as well as the human and economic loss, on both personal and national level. But the time of crisis is also the time for the persuasion of theory. This is the spirit with which I received the current, thirty third edition of the MONU magazine.

The Pandemic is still an ongoing shared experience, and hence, this edition of the magazine seemed too close to be purely objective about. Firstly, according to some estimates, despite the new vaccines, any emergent health or financial distresses may last, at least till 2022. Secondly, the scientists are still trying to understand the long-term mental and physical health effects of the. In contrast, the Urban Design and Planning are slow moving fields, in which observation, theorization, and then execution often takes decades. Hence, any current analysis of the situation from an urbanist perspective, is bold if not hasty.

In the first lockdown of India, during the migration of the labour from the cities, the things were planned catastrophically poor. In one of the reports, a pregnant woman who was forced to walk miles to her home-town, gave birth on the road and then continued walking. When our infrastructure and cities offer such inhuman experience to the people, it is hard to read a poetically written piece on urban-scapes, which ignoring the hostility of the lived human experience of it.

The Magazine The magazines set the tone at the get go, with Beatriz Colomina’s interview by Bernd Upmeyer. The interviewee’s knowledge of not just the history of architecture, but also the architects, made this a perfect opener. Beatriz also presented us with an understanding of various human struggles of our times, and how they relate to the space around us.

While, In the Lockdown London: Tale of the Tape, the photographer Peter Dench brought us a haunting, cold, and dystopian view of London during the lockdown, Nadia Shira Cohen’s view of Rome in Eternal Silence is more endearing, heart-warming, and gives us hope in the strength and survival of humanity during the times of crisis.

On micro issues,On Constructing a Semana Santa (Anna Morcillo Pallares), Balco(n)vid-19: How the Pandemic can be hacked (Michaela Litsardaki), New Top City (Eventually Made), gave us an interesting insight into how, during the lockdown, in various cities, our pre-existing spaces were used in unconventional ways. The nature of intrinsic human creativity while interacting with spaces was further explained in Augmented Domesticities- The rise of non-Typological Architecture (Pedro Pitarch), and discussed as a catalyst for a new post-Covid mix-typological space design. In Here not there Urbanism (Jessica Bridger), explained how contemporary technology helps us create a sense of global space over the local space, and how it frees us to create a rather fluid lifestyle based on physical mobility while being connected globally.
Dalia Munenzon and Yair Tielboim explained the historical relationship between indoor air-treatment and public health in their article.  This idea was further explored at city level in the article by Ian Nazareth, Conrad Hamann, and Rosemary Heyworth, where they explained how the cities have always been associated with sickness and epidemics. A practical confirmation of the theory from this can be seen in the research piece by Carmelo Ignaccolo and Ayan Meer on tourism in Italy, where one sees how the pandemic pushed the tourists and people outside of the main tourist spots, and the city. And even though the tourism affects the local housing market adversely for the residents, the empty rooms of a Pandemic hit cities could not be filled with the locals, who are still shifting out.

The interview with Richard Sennett was one of my favourite pieces from the edition, where the deep knowledge of the interviewee in the field of public health and its impact on the cities, historically, can be read in the most pragmatic way. However, the most realistic and practical piece was Drivers of Change for the “New” in the “Normal”: by Alexander Jachnow, where the author presents us with a much needed and healthy scepticism of many ideas presented in the magazine itself, while summing the major Covid related urban issues well. Kuba Snopek’s eye opening piece of urban art was another honest and practical look at the condition of people and art.

I found some pieces to be too poetic, wordy, impractical, and focussing on the wrong issues while the fascist states and bourgeoise forces are ruthlessly viewing the current crisis as an opportunity to reap the last bits of benefit out of the people through oppression and corporate brute. When the people are torn apart between health and financial crisis, it is unforgivable for the theoreticians to engage in intellectual gymnastics. On the other hand, some authors presented us with mundane, run of the mill, and predictable pieces, and they may not count themselves as any superior than the former for the sake of their virtue signalling.

Conclusion Overall, the publication is well curated with a mix of both basic and applied research pieces, interviews with experts, and discussions of art and photography. The publication is informative and many articles give in-depth history and current-analysis of how the people and cities interact during the time of crisis, and how they change each other. Visually, the graphics were pleasing and adventurous, and went with the theme of Covid-19. The magazine focussed on many micro-issues of how we should expect our cities to evolve and change in the coming years, and how some of those ideas have been floating around since a while.

In my opinion, the magazine needs to bring it focus on the people, as the cities don’t exist without people. The empty, alienated, concrete cities might look poetic and stunning, but their physical implications are intense and, in some cases, lethal. In countries like India, cities are battleground of economic and political power to the extent that a live massacre of one class, caste, or religion can go on while the other can live in peace and ignorance of the underbelly that sustains them.

Today the urbanists need to focus on not only sustaining what we have, but also heal what we have done. And with this thought, I persuade people to pick up the latest edition of MONU, and engage with some of the most interesting takes and insight on contemporary social-urban issues, and a visual treat of graphics and photography.

About the author Kshitij Dhyani is a Delhi based Architect, and Researcher. He did his under-graduation from SPA, Delhi, and studied architectural research at Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai. He runs his independent firm and has previously taught in various architecture and Design Colleges.


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