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Settlement Patterns, Public Places and Architecture

By Pratyush Shankar

Hardcover. Illustrated.  216pp.

 Niyogi Books, 2014

₹2995 / £50 / $90

Reviewed by Anita Yadav

Himalayan Cities - Settlement Patterns, Public Places and Architecture by Pratyush Shankar fulfils a much awaited requirement of such a book. Scholars of various hues have brought out beautifully illustrated and researched books on architecture in the Himalayan communities, sustainable development, natural beauty and tourism. Pratyush Shankar has brought together all these perspectives to study settlement patterns in Himalayan cities. Scholars have often highlighted the need of research in this field. . Dr Julia .B. Hegewald, Professor of Oriental Art History at the University of Bonn has written the Foreword to this book. She has aptly written, ”This seminal monograph presents a radically new and distinct approach to studying the built environment of the Himalaya. In comparison to other studies, Himalayan Cities, Settlement Patterns, Public Places and Architecture by Pratyush Shankar takes a much broader approach on a number of levels.

At a panel discussion on Himalayan Studies at Yale University in March 2013 it was concluded that the Himalaya have been invoked as an analytical category by various researchers from scientific, social scientific, humanities and applied backgrounds. Himalayan framing has long served as a valuable tool for understanding the sweep of histories, societies and environment that connect the region. The danger with this is that regional specificities may suffer under such a broad reference framework. Pratyush strikes a fine balance between a trans Himalayan study and local specificities.

In this book Pratyush studies cities as architectural, spatial settlements, cultural expressions, economic zones, nodal centres of change and ecological impact against the backdrop of the Himalayan landscape. Pratyush devotes an entire chapter to the landscape and its mythological, cultural, economic and socio-political dynamics. He draws an interesting parallel with the Greek City States .He then takes this comparative approach to a higher level to highlight nature-city interaction, nature - city relation and their outcomes. Pratyush attempts a very interesting broad comparative bandwidth by juxtaposing Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Judaeo-Christian, Hindu and Buddhist cultures. While attempting this sweeping bird’s eye view Pratyush ensures that local specificities do not get submerged.

For Pratyush, Himalayan cities are not exotic Shangri Las but dynamic entities. As an architect he discusses how the Himalayan cities with their immense historical legacy of built environment transform to accommodate changed realities so that new architectural and urban symbols will get created in the process. He stresses “the real challenge to urban planners is how to integrate these cities into modern flow of things and thereby create something of enduring value correctly fitting and consistent with aspirations of the people.”

The chapter titled “Appropriate Landscape” is the longest. Here Pratyush extensively discusses expression of human interaction with the landscape in various forms from public and private courtyards, castle-temples, monasteries, modern housing clusters of Kathmandu to the colonial grandeur of Shimla.

Pratyush Shankar draws an interesting and important  connection between movement of water and the form of the city and describes ”not only the city centre alone but spaces of everyday living such as small shrines, steps around a water body, water fountains, and temples.”

Pratyush Shankar’s book is an outcome of extensive field research, reference to a wide body of writings on various aspects of the Himalayas, and years of work done by him as a practising architect and as an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Architecture at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. Pratyush’s scholarship and his love for the Himalaya, as evident in the writing style and presentation of the book, saves it from becoming another scholarly tome. It is a book which is truly enjoyable.


Read the entire article in the print edition of The South Asian Life & Times



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