Pavement Pouce

Association Puts Kibosh On Welcome And Good Fortune

Freedom of expression not included in the bylaws.

IN TRADITIONAL. Hindu culture, a kolam is an intricate geometric design, temporarily inscribed at the threshold to the home. Fleetingly formed of rice flour, the kolam is intended to invite and welcome guests and good fortune. But in the rigidly controlled culture of a Northern Virginia subdivision, a kolam can be an invitation for controversy and alinch-pin for arguments about religious expression.

Last year Ram Balasubramanian adorned the driveway of his home with a brilliant red and white kolam, part of a traditional coming-of-age fete for his 14-year-old son. Rain was expected for the day of the ceremony, so the design was rendered in paint rather than flour. The South Villages Homeowners Association, however, felt the kolam conflicted with its vision of suburban harmony. It demanded that Balasubramanian remove the design and imposed a $10 fine for each day that it remained. Reluctant to eclipse the potent symbol, Balasubramanian kept the kolam, and the fees rapidly accrued to the maximum of $900.

Hoping to avoid conflict, Balasubramanian spoke to his neighbors; an informal survey of 20 residents indicated unanimous support, but the association was unmoved. Although he isn't a man who seeks the spotlight, local and national media caught wind of the controversy, and

Balasubramanian trod a less confrontational path: With great reluctance, he obscured the kolam with numerous coats of black paint.

Balasubramanian found himself at the center of an outsized controversy. "It was all one innocent step after the other, which created a much bigger issue," he said.

Home owners and their associations have clashed in court over religious symbols ranging from mezuzahs to unapproved Christmas displays. But in spite of numerous offers of pro bono legal services, Balasubramanian trod a less confrontational path: With great reluctance, he obscured the kolam with numerous coats of black paint. Though disappointed, he was philosophical about the outcome. "We have a lot of compromises because of the totally diverse culture here," he reflected. "At the same time, we do not want to be looked upon as troublemakers." The home owners' association was less inclined to bend, remaining steadfast in its demand that Balasubramanian pay the $900 penalty for his unauthorized expression of piety.

—Joshua Gray


IFLA announces details of2009 student design contest and calls for submissions.

Landscape architecture students interested in two of our current national obsessions—green jobs and infrastructure— can get a jump on the working world with the International Federation of Landscape Architects (ifla) annual student design competition. The theme of this year's contest, held in conjunction with ifla's 46th World Congress in Brazil, is Landscape, Infrastructure, and People for Tomorrow." The competition is open to individuals or groups of up to five. Winners, who will receive cash prizes as well as certificates, will be announced at a ceremony during the October conference in Rio de Janeiro. The deadline for entries is August 18. ifla is also seeking multimedia submissions from practitioners, academics, and students on green infrastructure. Submissions can take the form of experimental design projects and critiques, research, written or photographic essays, digital animations, or films. The deadline for submissions is March 31. For details, visit

"Green Infrastructure:

"Green Infrastructure:



0 0

Post a comment