Effects of Architecture on Public Behaviour in India


03 Oct 2016 21 Sep 2017

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India and its cities is often associated with poverty and disorder in the eyes of both foreigners and nationals alike. The roads and streets are littered, walls are indiscriminately scared by blood red paan, old and unmaintained infrastructure is found vandalized as though its sole purpose was to act as a medium of defiance towards the government’s inefficiency; and any dark niche becomes a place for defecation. This phenomenon, of public acceptance toward urban uncleanliness is experienced in almost all cities of India.

India is a country which has a deep rooted history and has many ancient cities. All of which have been documented with awe in the eyes of the writer, talking of their beauty and intricacy. One of the oldest civilizations on the planet, built their haven along the banks of the Indus. Their cities showed a sensitivity toward cleanliness; and the great baths and the sew-age system are a testament to that. Yet today, Indian cities are looked upon as filthy, unhygienic and unorganized. No Indian culture preaches of such treatment towards their environment yet the problem still remains in front of our eyes.

However, I believe that the solution to this urban phenomenon may lie in the way we design our built environment. It is widely accepted that the environment we are placed in, plays a major role in affecting how we behave in it. This brings me towards my research question:

How can architecture affect the behaviour of the public in order to curb the menace of littering and vandalism, hence maintain cleaner and healthier cities?


My research will aim at finding a long term, objective answers towards three core topics

  • Vandalism as a cause of social defiance.
  • Littering as a cause of social negligence.
  • Sense of place as a tool to earn respect of the people.


Almost all major Indian cities date back at least to the colonial era and they see their fair share of social unrest in the form of strikes, riots or revolts and some even have seen war between empires. Unrest has always existed between different classes or casts over the history of our cities and in the present context it mainly exists between different religious communities and much more between the public and its government. Vandalism is one of the by-products of this unrest.

My research has found that vandalism is strongly associated with defiance. This defiance can be rooted toward any cause, institution or a government body. This anti-social activity has been enabled by poorly designed built environments which lack surveillance be it manned or automated. This has also led toward increase in crime rate in many high-rise and has eventually reduced the desirability of the housing project.

In Oscar Newman’s book ‘Defensible Space’, his research is directed towards how crime can be reduced in the housing projects of New York by designing urban spaces which will affect the behaviour of people and affectively prevent crime from occurring in the first place. The author defines Defensible Space as ‘Defensible space is a model for residential environments which inhibits crime by creating the physical expression of a social fabric that defends itself.’ (Newman, Oscar 1972)

His work revolves around how simple gestures in the planning phase can have a vast impact on the inter relationships of multiple users in an urban environment. His work revolves around generating spaces which are surveyed by the community, or a group rather than an individual because when people begin to protect themselves as individuals and not as a community, the battle against crime is lost. (Newman, Oscar 1972)

Further his book talks about the need for a site to create a defined territory which can be surveyed by the users of that territory. There is much usefulness in this approach as the potential criminal perceives such a space as controlled by its inhabitants, leaving him an intruder, easily recognized and dealt with. (Newman, Oscar 1972) Edge conditions are also a vital consideration as the outside space becomes more defensible if they are clearly demarcated for the use by one household or a small number of households, and if they are observable by residents, neighbours and passers-by. (Cisneros, Henry, 1996)

When interiors are designed, the author has found that ‘attitude towards interior finishes and furnishings creates an institutional atmosphere, not unlike that achieved in our worst hospitals and prisons. Even though the materials are in fact stronger and more resilient to wear, tenants seem to go out of their way to test their resistance capabilities. Instead of being provided with an environment in which they can take pride and might desire to keep up, they are provided with one that begs their ability in tearing it down( in comment of Pruitt Igoe) (Newman, Oscar 1972)

Taking inferences from these approaches I aim to see whether similar principles of design can help prevent vandalism in India’s urban spaces, hence develop further inferences towards how cultural differences can affect this stream of though and how it can be used to my advantage if possible. Further, I would like to ascertain whether this approach can also be applied towards prevention of littering in public spaces as well.

Another method of reducing vandalism takes a nonphysical approach a particular area involves community involvement by means of fund raising in Jefferson School District, Daly City, California where vandalism had been a concern (average daily attendance 6,100), for many years. Several schools were consistent targets for graffiti and broken windows. Maintenance crews devoted Monday mornings to sweeping glass and repainting surfaces. It was time consuming, costly, and most discouraging.(Brietler,B , 1988) An Idea came in 1985

from the newly appointed superintendent, Joseph DiGeronimo. His plan was to offer an incentive program to the students. Each school would have $500 put into a reserve account for eventual use by students-that is, unless the money was first consumed by the costs of vandalism. The money would go to the student body to use as it wished, as long as the expenditures were legal and in good taste. (Brietler,B , 1988)

The scheme was successful enough that it was able to reduce incidents from 114 in 1985-86 to 51 incidents in 1986-87. (Brietler,B , 1988)

Even though my research is focused in finding a prevention rather than a cure, secondary measures will only help to reinforce the former. Since, in the Indian context, where monetary gain is the main incentive to get work done efficiently, schemes of a similar nature be implemented so as to facilitate maintenance of our urban spaces.


I was initially filled with the notion that vandalism and littering are done by the same social strata and for similar reasons. But on further studying I realized that they are two distinct behaviours and are motivated by different factors. Vandalism had been associated in almost all my readings as an act of defiance of the people of the lower class or people who believe have been neglected by a governing body. It would be wrong to assume that it is the lack of awareness or literacy that is the root cause of littering. The most common sight of littering is that of plastics bags, disposable containers, plates and spoons Items which are attributed with the consumerist classes i.e. the middle class and high class.

The Indian department of sciences and technology states:

Most of today's plastics and synthetic polymers are produced from petrochemicals. As conventional plastics are persistent in the environment, improperly disposed plastic materials are a significant source of environmental pollution, potentially harming life. Therefore Littering is not merely an eye sore but also a health hazard and, it should be a matter of concern that we keep our cities clean so that we can benefit in the long run.

Another fashion of littering is very unique to India owing to a recipe that is unique to Indian culture. Almost all public spaces can be distinctly associated with the splashes of paan cud, commonly seen at every corner of a staircase or the end of a passageway. Paan is made using a single beetle leaf with a filling which is usually constituted of areca nut, lime and cured tobacco. This form of paan is not meant to be swallowed and so spitting is inevitable. The areca nut is what is responsible for creating the blood red coloration which is the key identifier of paan cud. Paan is cheaply available to both the poor farmer and the rich merchant, and is an Indian man’s pass time, chewing constantly to while away the long and monotonous day.

The primary cause of this gross negligence towards correct disposal of rubbish, is because of the lack of far-sightedness of the common man. The lack of a united spirit in the city, where

every man is out there to fend for himself be it status, earning or justice and this has led to a fragmentation in the urban society. This is what has eluded the minds of the people, that, even trivial acts such as littering can add up to larger consequences. Liberalization has granted the benefit of private ownership of land, but this has allowed people to assume the corollary, that, what is not owned by them is not under their jurisdiction completely forgetting the democratically It belongs to him but at the same time, also to his fellow countrymen. This blatant thinking of in and out, mine and not mine has deluded the spirit of a common in urban society which manifests itself in the form of negligence.

Vassos Argyrou argues that depending on one’s position in space people may find things to be in place (have positive value) or out of place (have negative value) or, they may be invisible to the observer… Therefore, the like beauty, litter is in the eye of the beholder. (Argyrou, Vassos, 1997) Depending on these characteristics society way either be proactive or they may be negligent towards littering.

Peoples understanding toward cleanliness is mainly defined by their way of life. The fact that some people treat littering as eyesores is presupported by ’the ability to detach oneself from the world and constitute it as an object of contemplation and reflection.’ (Argyrou, Vassos, 1997).. This portion of society’s ability is rendered possible by the division between mental labour and physical labour. This is possible in those who are economically well off and have the luxury to contemplate the world and its problems. The do not need to partake cumbersome labour (like brick laying and farming) in order to fight the elements of nature, rather, they would prefer to do the same through “sport” (by going rock climbing or hiking). They tend to contemplate the world as an aesthetic reality. Trying to treat nature as a body whose truths assessed and aliments cured.

By contrast, for many people the world is far from a comforts and conveniences, and the possibility to contemplate the world is distant. These people are compelled to work on days which, most people would take the day off. To them, the world is a battle field and life a daily struggle. Out of this confrontation – akin to physical combat the world emerges as a formidable adversary and the Self emerges as a physically and mentally strong individual who, far from being deterred by the challenge, welcomes and even provokes it.(Argyrou, Vassos , 1997)They are too obstinate to give up on the challenges that face them and, given these circumstances, their aggressive approach towards life, to them avoiding littering is a far too gratuitous an act to be seriously considered.

However, it would be premature to assume that the cause of this uncleanliness is because of the lower working class and that the middle and higher classes are devoid of this attitude towards our cities. This only suggests that different conditions of existence predispose people to view the world and themselves, in different ways.

The author later goes on to say that the middle class claim is that people litter because they are ignorant. Rather, it is that people are ignorant because they litter. The distinction is significant because it implies that litter is a self- evident truth accessible to everyone. If the middle class can perceive it as a problem, villagers and urban working classes can see it too.

But, as middle class rhetoric has it, they choose to ignore it and this is what makes them ignorant

This act of negligence towards the city is well illustrated by Sudipta Kaviraj, in his paper’ Filth and the Public Sphere: Concepts and Practices about Space In Calcutta (1997), talking of the notions, of what is public in the eyes of Indians, in the city of Calcutta. He talks of how Hindu culture is responsible for the concept for ‘apan/par’ in which people only look at their property as their world, which requires attention and has to be kept clean. Whereas the surrounding is of no importance to the dweller.

The inside of a Brahmin house was often kept impressively clean, including utensils and other household goods. Interiors of houses were swept and scrubbed with punctilious regularity. Indeed, there was an interesting connection between these duties and the religious markings on the times of day. The household’s internal space had to be cleaned at the hours of conjunction between light and darkness, at dawn and dusk, which coincided with time for worship (puja). The form of this puja, especially at nightfall, was to light the auspicious lamp, which had an understated piety about it and was performed by women, who shared a strong connection with the symbolism of the interior. It would be considered odd, and faintly sacrilegious, to take the auspicious lamp into a room that had not been cleaned in preparation for this most ordinary form of thanksgiving. Thus, the cleaning chores were considered quasi-religious duties for household members (mostly women). Yet the garbage collected from this obsessive house-cleaning would be dumped on a mound right in front of the house. This owed not to a material-geographic but a conceptual distinction. When the garbage is dumped, it is not placed at a point where it cannot casually affect the realm of the household and its hygienic well-being. It is thrown over a conceptual boundary. The street was the outside, the space for which one did not have responsibility, or which not one’s own was, and it therefore lacked any association with obligation, because it did not symbolise any significant principle, did not express any values. It was merely a conceptually insignificant negative of the inside, which was prized and invested with affectionate decoration. Thus, the outside—the streets, squares, bathing Ghats, and other facilities used by large numbers—were crowded, but they did not constitute a different kind of valued space, a civic space with norms and rules of use of its own, different from the domestic values of bourgeois privacy. (Kaviraj, S 1997)

Kaviraj also mentions that cast is not the only factor but the differences in perceptions between the different classes also is responsible for the littering. The middle class who were capable of affording an education attach much sentimental values to their public parks, but the lower class cannot understand the importance of the latter as much of the middle class’s sentiments had aroused from historic contexts which the lower classes could not relate to due to lack of an education. What this shows is that there were two different codes for using social space, one mapping of inside/outside and another of public/ private.(Kaviraj,S 1997)

This study has helped me grasp the gravity of the situation. That there is a cultural link towards the way we maintain our public sphere and that there lies a differences of conceptual approach towards the term ‘public’ by the different economic strata of society.

Another concept I would like to focus on is the broken window theory, which says that a crime is more likely to happen if the physical environment is already abused. This phenomenon is necessary to understand as it acts as the spark to the fire if not tended to.

The corollary of the theory can also be tested to see if extremely clean environments can also be used to create a social unacceptance toward uncleanliness of our public spaces.


Littering is a social and health problem. It may be harmless in small quantities, but when it is upscaled to the urban level, it becomes a menace and a cause of concern. Today the Indian government has tried to curb littering by means of promotional messages on television. And people are well aware that it is illegal to litter. Under this circumstance, littering is not merely an act, but also a statement whose message echoes through all people who see it. Citizens who see their streets and roads littered will be filled with the notion that their government is incompetent and incapable. This eventually will lead people to be lax, not just towards littering laws but also towards other restrictions, quoting the latter failure as an example. Owing to its visual nature, littering spreads like a disease in the spaces of the citizen minds and then into the spaces of the city.

This will eventually breed negligence among the masses and destroy community culture. This further translates into more extreme cases where our urban spaces will be vandalized to vent out anger.

Therefore it is of at most importance that we take immediate action and strongly reinforce these actions with preventative measures in order to maintain a physically and mentally society.

From my literature survey it has come to my knowledge that littering and vandalism have been looked at from a very objective point of view and research is directed more towards these phenomena as reactive measures and not a long term preventative measures. Therefore I would like to focus my future efforts into finding ways in which we can prevent littering and vandalism before it can even happen.


Newman, Oscar 1972, Crime Prevention through Urban Design Defensible Space, the Macmillan Company, New York.

Colquhoun, Ian, Design out of crime Creating Safe and Sustainable Communities, Architectural Press

Canter, David 1977, Psychology of Place, The Architectural Press Ltd. London

G.P.D, 2004 , Economics and Political Weekly , Vol. 39 ,No. 9.

The British Medical Journal Vol .2 No. 4255 1942 ,Towards The Clean City, BMJ

Kaviraj,Sudipta 1997 , Duke University Press, Filth and the public Sphere: Concepts and practices about Space in Calcutta, Public Culture.

Keizer, Kees, 2008 American association for the advancement of science, Vol. 322, No. 5908 Science, New Series.

Brietler, Bruce 1988 ,Taylor & Francis, Ltd., Vandalism: The carrot instead of the Stick, Vol. 61, No.8

Argyrou, Vassos 1997,Wiley on behalf American Anthropological Association, “Keep Cyprus Clean” : Littering , Pollution, and Otherness, Vol. 12, No.2

Hazards of plastic, 2009, viewed 20 July 2014 TIFAC, <http://www.tifac.org.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=739&itemid=205


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