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Seen: Kumbh Mela

Allahabad, India

The biggest public gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela deploys its own roads, pontoon bridges, cotton tents serving as residences and venues for spiritual meetings, and social infrastructure such as hospitals and vaccination clinics — all replicating the functions of an actual city. The pop-up settlement, which arises for a Hindu religious festival held every 12 years, seamlessly serves 3 million people who gather for 55 days and an additional flux of 10 to 20 million people who come for 24-hour cycles on the six main bathing dates.

This extreme temporal landscape starts a fruitful dialogue about other ephemeral settlements, such as refugee camps, military settlements, and mining camps. From the Kumbh, we can learn about planning and design, reflecting on flow management and infrastructural deployment, but also about cultural identity and elasticity in an urban condition.

Issues of social inclusion, diversity, and even democracy emerge under the framework of a neutralizing grid of roads. This subdivision of the city forms clusters of freedom and facilitates space for individual and group expression. You come away questioning permanence and stability as default conditions for the production of a flourishing urban environment.