SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Twenty-five years ago, Gurgaon sat as a massive farmland outside of New Delhi inhabited by just 121,000 people. Today, the population count sits at 2.3 million, and features a glittering glass skyline. Despite that, there still remains no established citywide infrastructure, water or electricity.
Gurgaon can serve as the supreme example of India’s rapid and often chaotic development. “Gurgaon embodies all the aspirations of India’s urbanization,” says Danish photographer and architect Lars Mortensen. “At the same time, [it] explicitly reveals the thin, crackling façade and the monumental problems—both social and environmental—urban India has to deal with.”
Mortensen photographed Gurgaon and eight other cities undergoing rapid development, all for his series In Search of Habitat, recently published as a photo book. The images captured reveal a packed jumble of residential towers, ramshackle slums, and abandoned buildings, and the infrastructure that often struggles to serve and connect them.
“I’m interested in the contradictory urban phenomena that often emerge when cities grow exponentially,” Mortensen says. “As an architect, I need to have some kind of understanding of what is going on.”
The number of people living in India’s cities has skyrocketed from 62 million in 1951 to 429 million today, a growth trend which shows no sign of slowing. The World Bank projects that by 2050, India’s urban population will nearly double to 857 million—more than twice the population of the United States. Over the next 15 years alone, the country will have to build between 7.5 billion and 9.7 billion square feet of residential and commercial space each year to keep pace.
Mortensen, taken by the rapid growth in India, wanted to see it for himself firsthand. He booked a ticket to Delhi in 2010 and spent nine weeks traveling the northern and western regions of the country—from Chandigarh all the way to Maharashtra and Telangana—by train. Mortensen spent hours wandering through the country in search of interesting spots he discovered courtesy of Google Maps, such as a squatter’s settlement near Mumbai that sits on a hill overlooking the high rises of the Chandivali neighborhood.
During his exploration, Mortensen was introduced to cities laying in haphazard disarray, or in some cases, incompletion. Areas that have been clearly ignored by the country’s wealthy. In the Mumbai slum of Dharavi, he found squatter settlements with open, festering sewage within sight of neat row houses and residential towers with reliable electricity and running water. In Gurgaon, high-rise apartments behind tall walls had paved roads that ended abruptly at the property’s boundary. And throughout the country, he saw derelict buildings and construction projects that had been abandoned when the funding dried up.
More than five years later, the progress remains still fairly uncertain. The country is home to Asia’s largest solar park, but the $17-million Jaisalmer Airport sits empty three years after it was built. “With such intense development, quite a few projects simply fall by the wayside,” Mortensen says. “Sometimes it is simply hard to tell whether something is being constructed or whether it is slowly deteriorating.”