As a Master of Landscape Architecture student and student ambassador at the ‘Tromsø Academy for Landscape and Territorial Studies’, I was invited by the Latitudes Network to join a 'Global Beach Clean-Up' in Sandøya (Norway), this was followed by a Summer School in rural India (organised by CEPT), accompanied by architecture students of the University of Westminster. As an open-minded person who likes to travel and meet new people, my answer to this invitation was without hesitation positive. For me this was a great opportunity to broaden my interest in extreme landscapes, the interaction between people and their direct environment and to explore the link between architecture and landscape architecture. This is going to be a story full of contrasting cultures and landscapes.
I met the Westminster students in Tromsø (Norway). Some of them had experienced the Arctic already during a winter workshop, others were new to this climate. We started off by taking a three-hour ferry from Kvaløya to Sandøya, the island where we would stay for one week. Sandøya is a place with only one inhabitant, surrounded by beautiful fjords and stunning beaches. Unfortunately, these beaches get polluted by plastics and other rubbish coming from Europe, specifically the U.K. The focus of this workshop was to clean up the beaches and raise awareness through an exhibition in both Tromsø and London. Students started off by hiking to several beaches on the island and collecting as much plastics as possible. This concluded in a pile of rubbish. From that point on we started to think about concepts to raise awareness through plastic structures. We ended up with several interesting and clever structures. Plastics seen as a new geological layer, plastics seen as the food of tomorrow etc…
During this week we were lucky with the weather and had a great time getting to know each other. Food and accommodation were provided by a person called Tore. He was a very interesting person who served us from time to time some local Norwegian dishes (Norwegian salmon was one of our favourites). From this very idyllic, relaxing and beautiful island within the Arctic circle, we flew via Tromsø, Oslo, London to Mumbai.
We started off by spending two days in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, before going to a more rural part of India. Mumbai, with more than twenty million people, is a very colourful and eclectic place to visit. Being in Mumbai was a kind of transition period in between two workshops. We were free to explore the city. Public transportation (rickshaw, train, etc.) is a must if you want to experience the real Mumbai. Go with the flow and don’t think too much of all things that can happen in traffic. We visited the more prominent tourist attraction “The Gateway of India” but also things like the world’s largest open air laundromat called “Dhobi Ghat”. On our last morning in Mumbai, we went on a small trip through the slums. This was quite a culture shock compared to what we are used to in Europe. Here we visited an architecture office called “Urbz”. They provide sustainable and innovative solutions for housing in slums.
This visit was a very interesting and enriching experience. After our intense visit to Mumbai, we took off on a domestic flight towards Nagpur. When walking out of the airport, we experienced a rather dry heat in comparison to the humid heat of Mumbai. From the airport of Nagpur, we drove one hour in a North-West direction towards a small village. Our accommodation was a traditional house constructed out of bamboo and mud. These are also the two materials we worked with that week. Everything was basic, for some people this was kind of a shock. I loved it and embraced the opportunity to spend the night on a bamboo bed, having fireflies in the room and the company of scorpions and frogs while walking to the bathroom. The first day we went to the village to see more examples of bamboo and mud houses. Everyone was extremely welcoming. Each time we were offered Chai tea and biscuits. We met several people who built their houses by traditional knowledge and self-education. Thick mud-walls served as an isolation for the heat of the sun. The following days we experimented with different mud and soil mixes. We tried to understand which mix was the best for building mud houses. Which bamboo skeleton creates the best structural value. These experiments were accompanied with thorough discussions and lectures regarding our findings.
The final days we combined our newly gathered knowledge in a more advanced mud-bamboo wall. The times we spent together in the bamboo workshop, mixing mud, eating vegetarian meals etc… were amazing and worth every effort. Some students from the University of Westminster started to learn Hindi. We became good friends with some of the Indian students who also joined the workshop. During the evenings we shared stories, discussed all kinds of subjects, played guitar, went for a walk, had some drinks and local food.
For me, this was a true experience of rural India with an educational layer added. I learned a lot in a very short time, things that I will carry with me throughout my professional and personal life. An international summer school like this also puts you in contact with people who share the same interests and can be relevant for future projects.
Bert De Jonghe, Student Ambassador