Talaab in India: Multifunctional Landscapes as Laminates


The talaab, or a ‘pond’, has been an integral part of the Indian life and landscape for centuries. Primarily for collecting rainwater, it acts as a rich venue for multiple activities, the complexity of which defies its simple design elements. While landscape architects are primarily concerned with understanding these design elements, a study limited to the physical design of a talaab will not enable a complete envisioning of its multiple roles. The concept of “frames,” put forth by the sociologist Erving Goffman as cultural definitions of reality, is used to address this gap and to examine, through a historical analysis, the change in ownership and management of water in India. Based on linguist Stef Slembrouck’s discussion of frames as spatial metaphors, this paper speculates that the talaab landscape acts simultaneously as a space for normative or expected/typical activities and as a situational/interactional entity. The paper further characterizes the land-water interface of a talaab as a “laminate” hosting normative activities and acting as a situational/interactional space determined by culturally governed temporal and ideological principles. The use of this model to interpret space as a physical and socio-cultural construct allows a better understanding of the possibilities for creating multifunctional landscapes embedded with social and spiritual meaning.