The Cybermohalla Hub is a segment of Nikolaus Hirsch’s and Michel Müller’s growing project for a cultural laboratory in a new settlement in Delhi and supported by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. The physical structure is many things in one: a hybrid of school, community center, archive, and gallery. An evolving institution, both programmatically and physically from one to two to three and four storeys, it is never finished. On a parcel of three to six meters, space is so limited that usually separated elements are now blended into one: furniture elements like cupboards, shelves, display boards, and work desks are not additional elements but the load-bearing structure themselves. The institution grows with its production of texts, documents, videos, and objects. Shelve after shelve, the structure (made of leftover wooden material) can grow and at the same time outsource its components – as if the situation in Delhi is already in a mode that oscillates between production and display.
Urbanism in Ghevra – between the Formal and the Informal
The Ghevra settlement is located in the new north-western frontier of the city, having emerged after a large population was re-located there in conjunction with the demolition of squatter settlements in the city, namely in Nangla. In Ghevra, urban planning becomes a tangible physical frame. The grid is its conceptual device. At the megacity’s most recent frontier, the grid of the new settlement is reminiscent of the previous neighborhood close to the center of the city, from which the inhabitants were evicted. Nangla was an informal squatter settlement, and now people have been thrown into the urban planning of Ghevra. Its grid might remind us of the proportion of Manhattan, yet in a version that is scaled down to a minimum with blocks of 13 x 2 parcels at three to six meters each. This parcel is the legal form.
Mohalla in Hindi and Urdu translates as neighborhood. The Cybermohalla project deploys the meaning of the word mohalla in its sense of alleys and corners, of relatedness and concreteness, and as a means for talking one’s “place” in the city as well as in cyberspace. Approximately 70 practitioners work within the Cybermohalla, engaging with various media tools and forms, including animation, photography, storytelling, performance, radio, stickers, broadsheets, event-based conversations, wall writing, booklets, wall magazines, and blogs.
The project has been divided into four different but related approaches. Belonging to generative contexts, the activities imply a constant making, questioning, and refashioning of the specific location. Generative contexts thrive on local intellectual life and site-specific narratives. In its ongoing and open nature the resulting generative and multi-layered archive collects information that simultaneously asks new questions about the daily life in the neighborhood.
Activities in the minor practices section involve solitary or smaller group exercises such as reading and writing. By paying attention to the self, to the body and its senses, the idea is to unleash and make available creative aspects of each individual’s perception.
The communing activity is a way to connect resources in a variety of formats. By smaller group collaborations, emphasis is on experimental and unexpected assembly of materials and on the type of conversations that such activities generate.
The public dialogue distributes ideas generated by the various activities. An open dialogue is kept in motion that allows for new material to re-enter the intellectual fabric of the localities. This may include provisional constellations of images, texts, sounds, objects, etc., that are regularly brought into circulation and conversation in the forms of broadsheet, radio, installation, wall writing, and books.
Institution Building as Knowledge Production
In May 2007, Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller set the Hub in motion by researching the existing Cybermohalla labs in Dakshinpuri and LNJP, investigating programmatic structures and spatial parameters. Collecting material of the lost space in Nangla and measuring the two remaining cultural labs they started to develop a spatial reference for the new plot in Ghevra. The research process and its tools were almost immediately reintegrated in the Cybermohalla Ensemble’s written practice. In his diary fragment “With Nikolaus and Michel, after moving through Ghevra / 2 May 2007,” Suraj Rai wrote: “Michel moved from one edge of the room to the other, watchful of his readings on the instrument he used to measure distances. He placed the black instrument squarely on a wall. All our eyes were fixed on the red dot of light that the instrument cast on the opposite wall. Then he read out the measurement and Nikolaus sketched it down. Next, the instrument was on the floor, and the red dot of light on the roof. I have seen hundreds of plots and many rooms being measured with an inch tape. But this measuring felt different. Maybe because of the machine, or perhaps because of the two personalities using it.”
Before taking the pencil in their own hands, Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller asked others to draw and to speculate on the future space – those who will inhabit it. The questions were, Can amateurs draw? Can architects share the production of space? Together with more than twenty of the Cybermohalla practitioners Hirsch and Müller sat down on a cool stone floor and made drawings. Programmes were drawn as spatial diagrams. Out of scale, yet accurate in their intentions, these drawings became speculations on a future institution that has become a hybrid of community center, school, studio, and gallery.
Back in Frankfurt, Hirsch and Müller developed an initial model based on the workshop in Delhi: an almost perfect system with an extreme economy of space that integrated entire work areas in the wall structure. Too perfect, one might say. After the first prototype was shown at the Swedish Architecture Museum in Stockholm (March 2008) the system was broken up. The spatial elements and the related decision-making processes were redistributed and scaled further down to a group of students, decomposing the geometry into individual components – not for the sake of individuality but for a communal process that changes again the physical condition of the space. Knowledge production becomes physically tangible. Within a given systemic approach, multiple scenarios are allowed to evolve. Introducing a numeric multiplication, three groups of two students work on walls and floor, facade and doors, ceiling and terrace. Interfaces have to be negotiated: changes in geometry, in structural engineering, and a material strategy is developed using different kinds of waste timber boards. The structure shown in Vienna, previously exhibited at Manifesta 7 in Bolzano, is the result of a long process: a one and a half storey, 3 x 6 x 5 m large prototype of the Cybermohalla Hub that Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller will construct in Delhi in 2009. Eventually the Hub in Ghevra shows a possibility of how institution building can become a self-reflexive tool of knowledge production.
Text excerpt by Monique Behr