The challenge of this project was to re-imagine the “Black Taj” in the contemporary context.
Now, as is well known, the Black Taj is an orientalist legend presupposing that a mirrored architectural piece of the Taj Mahal was allegedly planned by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and to be constructed in black marble across the other side of the Yamuna river. However, such place is occupied by the ‘Mehtab Bagh’ or ‘Midnight Garden’, which is where Mughal royalty would settle to contemplate the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal in the moonlight.
The proposal nevertheless, took up this challenge from the lens of infrastructural transformation, environmental development, and citizen engagement, in relation to a non-nostalgic way of approaching heritage.
In that way, we proposed a temporary set of water-treatment pavilions capable of sustaining long-term environmental and community programmes. The idea was to produce potable water and reactivate the gardens as living ecologies, while providing alternatives for those that don’t have access to either of these. Therefore, the project would work as a platform anyone could approach in order to understand water processes, exchange knowledge and act upon pressing issues in Agra.
More than a conventional purification plant where the public is cut out from the processes and discourses elaborated by experts, we surfaced the water issue as something anyone could participate in. Make an event out of it, make the politics of water become mainstream and have a center stage; ignite generalized discussion given its limited and limiting condition. The project in that manner consisted of a series of pavilions -set upon regenerative wetlands- which would employ different mechanisms to make water potable while revealing the mechanisms to do so, eventually setting forward strategies to access and transport such water to the neighbouring informal settlements. Additionally, the typology of such pavilions was reinterpreted from Mughal tent architecture -hence ‘Lal Dera’ or Red Tent in Urdu- while incorporating many conditions of their urban planning and hydraulic technology.
Now, even though this enterprise takes place in an environment that is self-generated, it lacks the appropriate infrastructural qualities to accommodate educational activities due to direct sunlight, extreme heat, and lack of privacy. Quality of space, is an issue that hinders their learning processes.