The research for Monsoon Assemblages will be undertaken in South and South East Asia, with a focus on four cities: Chennai, Delhi, Dhaka and Yangon. These have been selected because the meteorological forces of the monsoon are qualitatively different in each of them and experienced and embedded in urban life in different ways. Chennai, Dhaka and Yangon will be studied by the MONASS research office, while Chennai and Delhi are the the focus of PhD study. As the project has progressed, other sites have emerged as significant to the monsoon – Ladakh, Kaniyyakumari and Thiruvananthapuram. These and others will be incorporated into the project as it progresses.

Chennai, on the east coast of India, is the country’s third largest city with a current population of 9 million people. It is dependent on reservoirs fed by the northeast winter (Oct-Dec) monsoon and frequently faces water scarcity, ground water depletion and water conflicts. It is also vulnerable to cyclone and tsunami activity from the Bay of Bengal. 

Chennai. Image: Beth Cullen

Delhi, India’s capital city, with a current population of 21,7 million, lies inland on the Indo-Gangetic Plain where the southwest summer monsoon usually arrives at the end of June. It is vulnerable to ground water depletion and water shortages and has recently experienced extreme pre-monsoon heat and the late arrival of weak monsoon seasons.

The Delhi Ridge from Tughlaqabad Fort. Image: Harshavardhan Bhat

Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is currently a city of 14,5 million people located on the Buriganga River at the lower reaches of the Ganges delta. It is dependent on ground water replenished by rainfall brought by the south-west summer (June-Sept) monsoon and has experienced severe flooding, drainage congestion and heat stress three times over the past 20 years. It is also at risk from cyclones and storm surges.

Sand mining the Meghna River. Image: Lindsay Bremner

Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate with three seasons: a hot, dry summer, a wet monsoon season and a cool, dry winter. The summer starts in March and lasts till May, the monsoon season starts in May and lasts till October and the winter period lasts from November to March. The way the monsoon behaves and how much rain it brings is influenced by its orography. Most of Myanmar is flanked by two north-south mountain ranges – the Arakan Yomas (mountains) along the Bay of Bengal to the west and the Shan Plateau on the east. During the monsoon, humid air from the Bay of Bengal is pushed up by the Arakan Yomas, cools down, forms clouds and drops huge amount of rainfall in the coastal areas. As the air passes over the mountains it becomes much drier (known as the rain shadow effect), creating a dry zone in the centre of the country. The Ayeyarwady delta, where Yangon is located and the long tail of the country lying along the Andaman Sea are not sheltered by mountains, so receive the full brunt of the monsoon. It is these areas that are impacted by devastating cyclones, storm surges and sea level rise.

Yangon, Myanmar. Image: Lindsay Bremner

Research in these cities will be facilitated on a pragmatic level by existing MoU’s in place between the UoW, Anna University and IIT Madras in Chennai and the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, and the PI is a visiting professor at the Bengal Design Institute in Dhaka. Partners in Yangon are still to be identified.