In a globalized world, chains rule. Much loved brands across the board from McDonalds to Zara look the same, offer the same fare and take great pride in perfect replications across the globe. There are detailed manuals which make sure that even if natives of all descriptions join forces they will not be able to hijack a single image, let alone a product and leave their stamp on it. A truly global offering is so standardized that the geography, culture and context of its existence are negated. In fact, you will never remember the place where you saw it. It is much like airports; they all look the same, have similar signage and you can navigate it with your eyes closed. Sameness is the hallmark of globalization. It is grown in a lab under controlled conditions.
Control over the natural course of things is the undisputed way of all modernity. Modern cities are clean, organized and orderly. Their citizens follow rules. Sadly, it doesn’t look like India will make it in this race. Singapore is an ideal that is invoked in every conversation where we vociferously chide the administration that somehow even the newest suburb of Gurgaon, which was our most hopeful contestant in the modernity league, hasn’t ended up looking quite like that.
The truth is that we cannot bear to be controlled and we are very comfortable with the natural course of things. Left to themselves things become disorderly, messy and people will give into basic human instincts. That is the truth of life and we are very comfortable with every sign of life. Death, decay, and emotions are up in full public view; as are the by products of life such as garbage, sewage and other such ugly sights. Everything that makes up life lies exposed. The wire that carries electricity, the pipe that carries water, telephone wires and internet cables that carry our conversations and Whatsapp pictures, lie demystified and their technology exposed. That is life and that is real and you can’t help having a relationship with it, no matter how troubled.
What does rule is the right to express yourself. On the face of it, this is what wreaks havoc with the orderliness. The uniform façade of an apartment block is rapidly destroyed as each apartment owner will paint it their own favourite color, carefully leaving off where the neighbour’s turf begins. Homes are rarely perfectly arranged. That is what gives it character and differentiates it from a hotel. That is the difference between the markets and the malls which are part of a chain where a certain brand is given the same location across the chain. Disorienting déjà vu does not make for memorability. The markets and the bazaars maybe a mess but there is always something to discover and a new disruption or a new irritant to talk about. Mood swings of the local market elicit the kind of emotional engagement that the sophisticated composure of a mall never can.
Orderliness, control and therefore predictability does not make for an interesting design. If every element was placed exactly where it was expected, the eyes just glaze over. A break, a marker or an expression of individuality which cause the eyes to trip over, even if it is ugly and disorderly, just makes it real and so full of life. It is something you will always have feelings for.