Luminous Pockets in the Empty Capital

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 Luminous Pockets in the Empty Capital

Vardhan Mehta, Shaguni Gupta & Annette Veliz @ Pratt Institute and Syracuse University


Tradionally, architecture/construction  has been a passive process, where the problems are solved after they have existed for a while. We argue for a kind of Temporary Urbanism, producing cultural incubators that are – 1. Free of Program 2. Bottom-up 3. Flexible and Adaptable. This will help solve problems like refugee crisis in a more active mechanism, acting as interface between the Lisbon locals and refugees.

Refugees usually bring with them a host of skills, cultures, traditions and ethnic food. To properly utilize those skills we would like to offer our solution: pre-fab cultural incubators. Portugal’s Municipal already has the resources to implement this project as it has collected a sum of 2 million euros and has a vast network of collaborative partners and sponsors.


These luminous pockets around the city could be used for programs of cultural production based around food, music, visual arts etc.

—  Activities such as ethnic food workshops, live demostrations and flea markets could provide the infrastructure to make the process of resettling perform better.

—  Language and vocational training for the refugees,

—  Above all, it would be a place of interaction for the refugees, immigrants and locals.




Who influences you graphically?

I firmly believe that we have entered into this age of post-digital representation and visualization. Images from designers such as Pita & Bloom, Volkan Alkanoglu and Raumlabor are intriguing in their reinvention of drawing as a thinking tool and its physical manifestation in the built environment. I’m also equally fascinated by visual media in the works of Wolfgang Tillmans, Wes Anderson and Edward Hopper. I think in each case what I find most appealing is this devoted romanticism and exploration of an individualistic attitude that is always dynamic.

What defined the method of representation of the proposal?

The primary goal was a color and texture schematic that pertains to the locale, in our case Lisbon, Portugal. We studied the locally prevalent patterns and palates and tried to frame the representation as something that is not universal but belongs solely to the site. I think this strategy that is often used by designers creates a sense of amicable familiarity with the viewer. It was also important that we break the serious and seriously disturbing issues of the refugee crisis and dilapidation of cities, with a playful and hedonistic form of representation.


What were the main priorities and aspects of the proposal you wanted to convey through the images?

I think we tried very hard to stay away from the typical orthographic drawings and other projections  that we are so accustomed to as architects. This was because we’re arguing for a kind of bottom-up DIY urbanism, where the author is the user. So the typical masterplan, floorplan and elevation were replaced by IKEA-esque manuals, timeline storyboards and mock-up full scale models.



What is the role of the architectural silhouette? 

The silhouette when its worst reflects a uniform and generic application of architecture. But when played out well, the silhouette becomes a sort of spatial palimpsest that talks about the socio-cultural significance of a project. I also find it strange how as designers we tend to use the silhouette (in the form of a shadow, figure or absence) to populate an image, but that may very well start to discuss an alternate interpretation of it.


What is your next step? What role does and should the architect play at times of a humanitarian crisis as the current ones?

As a student, we don’t always get to see our projects materialize in the real world. But since this project strives to create real change, my team and I are actively working with refugee organizations to bring it to reality. I think while working on this scheme, we started to figure out that the role of a future architect might be less of a spatial planner but more so cultural producer/visionary who can address real time issues of socio-political nature within the premise of the built. I firmly believe that the notions of identity and brand will play an active role as we create the new wave of the architecture of spectacle that aims to progress society with hedonistic interventions.



Vardhan Mehta is a thesis year Bachelors of Architecture student at Pratt Institute in New York. He has been awarded the covetous Presidential merit scholarship five times in a row, among other travel and research grants. He has also won two international design competitions in the past 2 years, based in France and Berlin.

As a scholar, he enjoys theories about Disruptive design and dirty realisms. As a professional, he’s involved with smart cities and other urban design initiatives in the emerging economies of South Asia. As a designer, he’s always looking to collaborate with teams of interdisciplinary individuals to propose competition entries. He can be reached at for those interested.


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