From Wasteland to Biocultural Heritage: Negotiation by Design in Khotale, Konkan, India

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Strategically located along the Konkan coastal region of Maharashtra in India, are biologically and culturally diverse sites of petroglyphs, roughly 10,000 years old from the Neolithic Period (Dalvi, 1990). The sites are situated in distinct laterite plateaus called ‘Sada’ which hold a unique habitat known as rock outcrop. Khotale is one such remote village in Sindhudurg that stands as a model for the complexity that capitalism, colonialism and climate change conflicts have brought about. It is inhabited by ephemeral wetlands* and goat herders (Dhangars), who are the guardians of the ecosystem. One of the major findings of the fieldwork is that since land use here is historically classified as a ‘wasteland’, the residents of the plateau face a very real threat of eviction and destruction of livelihood and important ancestral knowledge because of laterite mining. My research will examine the “thick” (Hirsch, 2016) archaeological, cultural, and ecological landscape intersections in Khotale by exploring the site of anthropogenic damage, in the form of the laterite mines, as a catalyst for landscape design. The thesis aims to decolonize the policy level wasteland classification of Khotale’s rock outcrop plateau by questioning the role of landscape architecture in this village. This is achieved by first outlining the positionality of the landscape designer, then understanding documentation as a form of advocacy in participatory spatial design methods, experimenting with landscape design as a form of negotiation between different groups and finally, a critique and reflection on these methods. This is an incomplete design process, and its effectiveness even as a test can only be understood once it reaches the hands of the stewards. Much like a manifesto or a call for action, I will end by discussing ways in which this design document is a relevant product of negotiation and accountability by outlining its future trajectories with different stakeholders.

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