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December 14, 2012

Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012: Art vs Containing space

Planned on the lines of  Venice Biennale, Kochi-Muziris Biennale has started in Cochin with much fanfare on 12-12-12. The Biennale being a first of its kind event in India, was expected to offer unparalleled and  novel experience for both art lovers and connoisseurs.



Apart from the love for art, I had a great interest in the event primarily because of the context of its settings. Most of the installations are in and around Fortcochin and Mattancherry except for Durbar Hall. The raw power of the spaces itself provides artists enough challenge to match with the tension it creates. The spaces are magnificent and overwhelming, to say the least. It was a joyful act to watch the internationally acclaimed artists expressing themselves and claiming the attention it deserves. Some of the artists, like Sun Xun from China, left a very strong impact with their work. They constantly challenged our notions of art.


 "IT IS A GIANT LEAP FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF CONTEMPORARY ART IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD


December 11, 2012

Be a Connoisseur


Masters of any art form has been invariably connoisseurs of their field.

A connoisseur is defined by dictionary as a person with special knowledge or appreciation of a field, esp in the arts.

You can find many analogies for the observation. Take the field of music, photography, fine art, motion pictures or wine tasting for that matter.

Being a connoisseur automatically equip the creator to critically judge her work during the process itself. She thus knows where the work stands in comparison to the works of masters and most importantly, under varying contexts. She can appreciate the subtleties without getting carried away.


 "THERE IS A GREAT CHANCE THAT A CONNOISSEUR WHO PRACTICES HER ART BECOMES AN 'OTAKU' WHO INFLUENCES MANY." 

A connoisseur in the field of architecture need not be a great architect. But without failing, all great architects are famously connoisseurs of their craft. They could easily differentiate between a quality space and a merely ‘wrapped space’ with perfect aplomb. They will be fast in acknowledging an original work. Moreover, they rarely need a critic to judge their own creations and strive for authentic, remarkable works all through their careers. 

November 22, 2012

The Sydney Opera House: Classic case history of failure of design competition?

Google in 'Sydney' and you will find Sydney opera house as one of the first image results.

Its not uncommon that a city gets synonymous with its architectural icon. One cannot undermine the importance of such an icon on the urban fabric.

Sydney Opera House is the result of a design competition.



Design competitions are always exciting.

It shows how a similar brief gets varied responses from talented designers. It also give chances for the newcomers(except when they prefer to invite!). But most importantly, invariably, we expect something remarkable to get built, which makes it real exciting.



[Design for NAMOC Museum by selected architects which include Zaha, Gehry, Safdie, OMA, UNStudio]

The post "Are you in the wrapper business?" worries about architecture community giving more merit and importance to wrappers than its content. Not many competitions end up in disappointments though. But there are cases which, if observed closely can give valuable lessons for future.


 "THE FORM REMAINS ONE OF SYDNEY'S MOST STRIKING AND RECOGNIZABLE VISUAL IMAGES, BUT ITS FUNCTION LEAVES SOME THINGS TO BE DESIRED" 

Lets hear about this from an engineer (one of the most prolific in that!). In his classic 'The Evolution of Useful things', Henry Petroski takes the case of the architectural icon.

October 29, 2012

Are you in the wrapper business?


We all are familiar with wrappers. It comes in all forms.

There is a chance that you recognize a product mostly by the wrapping. You may want to disagree. But, honestly, many a time you buy the wrapper and not the product.



You paid Rs 300 for the music CD that you bought last week. Now, it is very unlikely that you will pay that amount to just few songs once the labeled CD and its beautiful cover is removed. You may still take the music, but you may not buy it.

You are most likely to open and read through a document arrived on your desk in a FedEx envelop than one received through mail though the content could be perfectly conveyed through a mail. A FedEx envelope has made the document look more important.


Surely, the wrapping has done the difference.

               LETS BUY THE WINE, AND NOT THE BOTTLE

October 19, 2012

Revisiting Le Corbusier’s MOA building


World has just celebrated 125th birthday of one of the most influential architect of the 20th century, Le Corbusier. This reminded me of my visit to the much famous Millowner's Association Building in Ahmedabad a few years back.


There are few cities in the world that can claim more than three buildings by Le Corbusier, and Ahmedabad is one of them(after Paris, Chandigarh and La Chaux-de-Fonds), with the Museum, the Millowners Association Building, and the Sarabhai and Shodhan houses to its credit. Such major commissions, all initiated during Le Corbusier’s first visit to the city, attest to Ahmedabad’s intellectual climate and economic prosperity unrivalled in India for a city of its size.


A comparative visual study by Peter Serenyi, comparing the Hall of Public Audiences, Red Fort and the Assembly building, Chandigarh hinting on the inspirations of the architect for his public buildings.

Since its founding by Sultan Ahmed, Shah of Gujrat in 1411 AD, Ahmedabad had been a city of commerce and industry centred around textiles. Long before the advent of modern era, the leading citizens of Ahmedabad were businessmen rather than landowner’s or men in the service of a court. This enabled the Ahmedabadis to take up the British on their own terms, and offer them stiff competition by mechanising the city’s textile industry. The close knit group of Jain families who have valued cooperation rather than competition  among themselves were the back bone of the textile industry there. Surottam Hutheesing, nephew of Mr Lalbhai- one of the prominent among these mill owners was responsible for commissioning Corbusier to build the association’s new headquarters.

 " A HUNDRED TIMES HAVE I THOUGHT NEW YORK IS A CATASTROPHE AND 50 TIMES: IT IS A BEAUTIFUL CATASTROPHE." – LE CORBUSIER

October 7, 2012

Automation: Designing for a smarter world?

Are we getting more and more addicted towards technology? Are our daily chores getting more and more automated? 

"Three scenarios likely to be possible in the future:

  • "No," says the refrigerator. "Not eggs again. Not until your weight comes down, and your cholesterol levels are lower. Scale tells me you still have to lose about five pounds, and the clinic keeps pinging me about your cholesterol. This is  for your own good, you know."
  • "I just checked your appointments diary in your smart phone," says the automobile as you get into the car after a day's work. "You have free time, so I've programmed that scenic route with those curves you like so much instead of the highway - I know you'll enjoy driving it. Oh, and I've picked your favorite music to go with it."
  • "Hey," says your house one morning as you prepare to leave. "What's the rush? I took out the garbage. Won't you even say thank you? And can we talk about that nice new controller I've been showing you picture of? It would make me much more efficient, and you know, the Jones's house already has one."
[source: NTU Intelligent Robot & Automation Lab (EN/TW)]


Do you trust your house to know what is best for you? Do you want the kitchen to talk to your bathroom scale, or perhaps to have your toilet to run an automatic urinalysis, sharing the results with your medical clinic? And how, anyway, would the kitchen really know what you are eating/ How would the kitchen know that the butter, eggs, and cream taken out of the refrigerator were for you, rather than for some other member of the household, or for a visitor, or maybe even for a school project?"



 "BUT LO! MEN HAVE BECOME THE TOOLS OF THEIR TOOLS." - HENRY THOREAU


September 18, 2012

‘Komet’: Kochi Metro- Chance for world class rapid rail stations



Prime minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for the Kochi Metro rail project (aptly abbreviated as ‘KOMET’) a few days back. 

Dr. Singh said the Central support for the 25-km Kochi project, estimated at Rs. 5,180 crore, would be around Rs. 1,000 crore. Kochi would be the eighth city in India to have a Metro network.




As an architect, I am more interested in the built spaces for the project than its ubiquitous political controversies. Here is a chance for Kochi to build world class rapid rail stations, as is the case with many recent metros of similar class and scale.



"RAPID RAIL STATIONS ARE PUBLIC SPACES. FUNCTION, UTILITY AND SAFETY SHOULD TAKE A FRONT SEAT WHILE TAKING DESIGN DECISIONS"

I have been fortunate to be a part of the team [Mott MacDonald  and Mackellar Architecture (U.K)] who designed the much famed underground stations of Delhi Metro including Connaught Place, New Delhi, Old Delhi, Central Secrateriat, Patel Chowk etc. and to further explore the design considerations for Rapid Rail stations as part of my Masters’ Thesis from IIT Roorkee. Since the building typology is a bit unfamiliar to many, I thought to share a few experiences of mine. (Believe me, I cannot do justice with a post since this is as complex a topic for even a Post Graduate thesis. See! J )


September 10, 2012

Ornamentation vs Intensification



I presuppose that what I am going to say is known to all of my fellow professionals (read 'architects'). But since I constantly meet with the necessity of explaining the same to students as well as many of my team members, I thought it will be useful to write about it.

Arriving at details and detail patterns for a particular project is very rewarding as the whole design itself. One should always understand the reason behind each detail - whether it is appropriate, aesthetically pleasing, easy to build or needed at all. Most of the time, designers seem to be caught in a dilemma of using ‘ornamental’ patterns. Many find it pleasing to eye and many discard it as superfluous and surface deep.


The real problem is when one doesn’t understand the difference between ‘ornamentation’ and ‘intensification’ or confuse between the two and take decisions.


"BOTH ORNAMENTATION AND INTENSIFICATION MAY ADD BEAUTY, BUT THEY SPRANG FROM DIFFERENT SOURCES OF INSPIRATION"

August 18, 2012

Bath House: kahn’s legacy restored.



The form of the building is unassuming.

You will probably notice just the solid concrete block walls and the large pitched roof over it from outside. It gives an impression of being too monotonous and probably more cerebral. Yet the building leaves a lasting impression upon the visitors and architectural critics because of its sheer simplicity, articulation of spaces and clarity in language.

Personally, this is one of my favorite kahn building.

Designed as the entrance and changing area for patrons of an outdoor swimming pool, Trenton Bath House was a part of the larger scheme -which never got constructed- for the Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valley.

"THOUGH UNCEREMONIOUSLY THROWN OUT OF THE PROJECT, KAHN OFTEN SPOKE OF THIS PROJECT AS A TURNING POINT IN HIS DESIGN PHILOSOPHY."

The Bath House design is a simple cruciform shape. Four square concrete block rooms or areas, surrounding an open atrium. Each of the rooms is topped by a simple, wooden rectangular pyramid roof. Apart from the pure design elegance, Kahn also clarified his thinking about the utilitarian purposes of the various spaces, and it was in this building that he first articulated his notion of spaces serving and spaces served.

August 13, 2012

Top 20 Architectural quotes.

Curiously enough, architects have expressed themselves and their thoughts in many profound ways. Many are 'thought bites' which carry more than one layer.

These are (my) top (favourite) architectural quotes (though a few are generic and can be applied to all forms of design). Enjoy..!


The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building.
Louis Kahn

I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.
Le Corbusier


Be the best, not necessarily the original. 
I M Pei


God is in the details.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe


An expert is a man who has stopped thinking - he knows!
Frank Lloyd Wright

Form ever follows function.
Louis Sullivan

I hate vacations. If you can build buildings, why sit on the beach?
Philip Johnson



August 8, 2012

Coming of Age: Contemporary architecture in Srilanka



Contemporary Srilankan architecture has been successful in continuing the legacy left by master Geoffrey Bawa. There are a handful of projects which are truly international yet rooted firmly on the country’s rich tradition. The vocabularies, in most cases, are unmistakably modern, but the spaces and details reflect local sensitivities.

I thought to share one recent project representing the impressive body of works from Srilanka. The project is in itself a case study of housing in warm humid tropical climate.

The project is a Holiday Bungalow for Mr. Sanjeewa Maddumage at Mathale Sri Lanka, built in 2009 by Architect Thisara Thanapathy (he won the prestigious Geoffrey Bawa award 2010/2011 for Excellence in Architecture).



Framed view

July 28, 2012

Sangath: Lose track to come back



Surely, I lost my way!

I guess it was in 2005.  I stood on the front lawn facing the Sangath searching for the ceremonious entry into the much famous studio of B V Doshi. The entrance itself was deceptive, to say the least. I was very excited to visit the place as a part of an architectural ‘pilgrimage’ to Ahmadabad which also included great buildings like Sangrahalaya, IIMA, Mill owner’s Association building etc. 


Then to my surprise, none other than B V Doshi came out of the building. He spotted me. I was a bit hesitant to meet the master and was literally ashamed to ask for the way. To my surprise, he asked me whether I am looking for my way to get in. With a smile on his lips, he pointed towards a circuitous pathway that disappeared behind the greenery. Upon my request to see his studio, he told me to take a look around, taking my time.


"YOU HAVE TO LOSE TRACK TO COME BACK. AND THIS IS WHAT GIVES YOU THE CHANCE TO THINK AGAIN. ANXIETY, UNEXPECTEDNESS IS THE KEY TO ARCHITECTURE."

July 12, 2012

(YGWYPF) You get what you pay for.



There is an old Chinese saying: 一分一分, "yi fen qian, yi fen huo" (pronounced ee fen chee-ahn, ee fen hoo-oh), which gets translated into the post title ‘You get what you pay for.’ 



People are accustomed to understand the adage when they buy a luxury car, an apartment or an iPhone. Surprisingly, they pretend to forget it when they are commissioning an Architect. The curious fact is, an architect’s role has a lot of subjectivity into it that one will not be able to gauge it from the receiving end. (You could easily compare the features between a Merc and an Audi before signing the cheque).

"THE SADDEST PART IS, IN MOST OF THE CASES, LESS PAY RESULTS IN SUBSTANDARD WORK."

July 4, 2012

Architect's schedule

I always wondered how to manage time efficiently. The problem becomes manifold when the case of concern is a creative personnel.




You have the classical time-management principles urging you to pack-in the maximum deliverable into a fixed time frame. They try to teach you to do 'multitasking'. You can thus learn the circus of having a coffee while riding a bus and read the newspaper as well. According to your proficiency, you can add more activities to it. I found it utterly foolish to practice it in a creative field. The only thing I can do along with having coffee and doodling with pencil designing is to listen to songs. But curiously, I cannot continue it for long unless the songs are of a particular genre! My point is, its not how many things you do that matter, but what you did.



"THERE HAS TO BE A 'DESIGNER'S SCHEDULE' AND A 'MANAGER'S SCHEDULE'. IN AN IDEAL SCENARIO, BOTH SHOULD NOT COINCIDE."

July 3, 2012

To frame it or not?



I remember reading it somewhere that a guy went to a great place to watch sunset and missed it entirely because he tried to get it all photographed within the few minutes when it happened. All he left with was a handful of digital photographs and the darkness that surrounded him after the sunset. For the moment he was triumphant. He was able to capture the rare sight at various split seconds. But after returning from the place, he soon realized that he actually missed the entire sunset! Instead of soaking into the moment and experience it, he saw it through a second ‘eye’- a far inferior one than the original.


"HE GETS SO BUSY IN CLICKING AND ADJUSTING THE MACHINE TO GET THE PERFECT FRAME THAT, MANY A TIMES, HE MISSES THE REAL PICTURE."
The story was found very familiar to me.

June 23, 2012

Fashion in Architecture































































Fashion: Noun: A popular trend, esp. in styles of dress, ornament, or behavior.

“I hate everything that is driven by fashion. From the beginning I was hating in the 60s the American way of styling, especially cars. They changed their styling things every two years and designed new ones which is nothing to do with good design”. Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams is considered to be one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. He is believed to have inspired the designs of iconic Apple products like iPod.


 His observation is strikingly relevant in the field of architecture.

"DESIGN TODAY HAS BECOME MUNDANE AND BANAL; FRIVOLOUS AND EFFETE. IT IS PLAYING ON CHEAP EMOTIONS, LIKE BEING THE TALLEST, THE LARGEST, OR THE MOST STUPID! BRIGHT COLORS, REFLECTIVE METALS AND USING A SURFEIT OF MATERIALS GET CRASS ATTENTION."

[Now, a word of caution: the rest of the post may not be popular among or pleasing to all readers. The observations are purely of the author (except quotes) and my honest intention is the betterment of the profession. I am deeply satisfied if the post helps any single reader (including myself) to do a self examination and/or to dig a bit deeper before finalizing or appreciating a design.]

June 17, 2012

Architects and sketching



Architects are associated with sketching long before the profession has evolved. One automatically expects an architect to sketch and explain his point. Architectural career choices are still majorly influenced by the candidate’s proficiency in sketching.

Is the skill heavily overrated? Or does it deserve the hype?

The problem starts when one confuses sketching with ‘art’. Definitely, creativity (and thus similar tastes) has its own part in shaping an architect’s career. But what one forgets in the debate is the potential of a ‘skill’ as basic as sketching which can help the professional in a long way throughout his career. It is a skill which can be learnt and mastered. A very powerful ‘tool’- sometimes the most powerful - which if used with care, can simplify many a process. It’s also a skill which is very enjoyable.


"STRIPPING INFORMATION INTO THE VERY BASICS HAS HUGE ADVANTAGES."



June 9, 2012

Can it be simpler?



  • Research shows that 95 percent of people do not use 90 percent of the features on their video-recorders – because they are too complicated. What can you tell about a family where the clock on the video recorder is not flashing? They have a teenager in the house.
  • In one country small businessmen have to cope with 16,000 laws in order to carry on their business.
  • In another country the tax laws run to 40,000 pages.
  • In another country the farmers rioted because they could not understand the new laws they were supposed to obey.
  • It is said that Ken Olsen, the founder of DEC, once complained that at home he had a microwave oven that was so complex that he could not use it.
  • An old woman spent a week in a shopping mall in Holland. She could not find her way out. She bought food during the day and slept on a bench at night.
  • Instructions for machines, computers, etc., are always written by those who know the system and are not much help to those who do not. Have you ever seen a sign on a road reading: ‘This is not the road to airport.’ Those who know the system cannot imagine the problems facing those who do not.
 There is often a much simpler way of doing things – if you make the effort to look for it. Simplicity does not just happen.

This is the opening page of the book ‘Simplicity’ by Edward de Bono (considered as one of the finest thinkers of our time). An excellent book, not only for anybody who design, but also to any who faces umpteen choices or decisions to make. We have a general tendency to complicate things, though a much simpler solution is available. Electronic goods manufacturers in Korea consciously introduce complex functions onto their products, with minor or no significance, just to make it appear better than its competitor (and it works there!).


"SIMPLICITY IS HARD WORK IF YOU DO NOT KNOW THE SUBJECT VERY WELL."




Simplicity in architecture has much finer dimensions. It, practically, makes great economical sense as well. But why most of the architects (including yours truly) do not pursue simplicity?

June 5, 2012

Make Sure it's Your Train

Accept it. Student architects are always confused about choosing the right career path. It gets all the more complicated with myriad options (and specializations) available today. Though the scene has changed a lot, I think the speech by Charles Correa more than a decade ago (Convocation Address at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, 1996) still is very relevant. I want to share his thoughts as a continuation of my post 'architecture as a profession'. His observations are sharp, as usual, and I am sure that any architect at any stage of his career will get useful (if not motivating) insights from the speech. Extracts from his talk are given below.

  
“How much we grow depends on the issues we have the good fortune to address. This brings to mind a story told to me by Arvind Talati, a young Indian architect who followed Doshi at Corbusier's office in Paris. After working for two years or so, when Talati decided to return to lndia, Corbusier (who was really a taciturn old man of over 70 by then) came to his desk and said, "l hear you are leaving – where are you going?" Talati replied, "To Mumbai." "What will you do there?" "Well, I don't know, but I'm sure I'll find a job." Corbusier looked at him and said, "Be careful, eh? Whenever you get to the station, there's always a train leaving. Don't jump on just because it's leaving. Make sure it's your train."


"SOMEONE ONCE SAID THAT ALL INTELLIGENCE IS A MATTER OF CURIOSITY AND WHAT IS CALLED 'GENIUS' IS JUST A KIND OF PASSIONATE CURIOSITY."

May 30, 2012

Concept: a Myth?




It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. Through the large window of my studio, I could see that it had started drizzling. The weather could not have an impact on me as I sat there spellbound, staring at a junior architect’s academic work portfolio. I just witnessed a project with ‘seemingly harmless’ brief got itself pushed into the shape of a ‘turtle(!)’ (you read it right).

I couldn’t help myself from asking the architect the motivation behind the ‘work’ as it defied all my logic and little experience accumulated over years about the specific building type. Was he limited by the area program, a difficult or peculiar site, or confronted by any structural requirement, or any other thinkable factors which could have forced him to attempt this bizarre unconventional solution? Apparently none of the above!

"THEY DO NOT BELIEVE THAT BUILDINGS CAN HAVE ‘SILENCE’ AS A CONCEPT, ‘LIGHT’ AS A CONCEPT OR ‘SPIRITUALITY’ AS A CONCEPT."


May 29, 2012

Architecture as a profession

My friend’s son wanted to meet me. It was a bit of surprise to know that he needed counseling from me in choosing his career. To be more specific, he got caught in the latest fad of becoming an Architect (thanks to recent media for glamorizing the trade).

I remember reading my earlier boss’ article describing a similar situation in which he tried (in vein) to explain to a student how the career of an architect is more than making pots of money, but about knowing ‘gaps’. Explaining in length about gap was primarily meant to indicate the importance of detailing, difference in schedules and budget etc in the profession.( Importance of detailing in itself demands more than a few posts.) It was not at all surprising that the starry eyed student opted for a much safer choice.

So, is it all about mundane details or schedule? Can’t he get paid handsomely for ‘dreaming creatively’ also?


"THE COLLECTIVE SOCIAL AESTHETICS IS YET TO GET EVOLVED INTO A REFINED TASTE TO APPRECIATE A GOOD DESIGN FROM A BAD ONE"



May 27, 2012

Are we learning right from past?

Back to bit of a regional talk. Always tried to explore (and respect) the wisdom accumulated over years (in all fields and architecture, in particular) an thus thought of sharing a few thoughts on vernacular residential architecture in Kerala.


One of the most talked-about and debated issue in the construction industry today is Vastu. Vastu (Thachu-shastram, its regional application) and its principles along with the danger of its over-commercialization may be discussed later(deserves separate post(s)!). What one ignores in the noise is a highly evolved vernacular construction method in Kerala, perfected over years. The attempt is to find out the reasons and conditions which might have resulted in this evolution which might in turn help to adapt these principles in present day scenario. 

"ONCE WE START IDENTIFY AND ADAPT RELEVANT TECHNIQUES AND METHODS BASED ON LOGICAL THOUGHT PROCESS AND NOT UPON ITS NOSTALGIC VALUE OR IMPOSED VASTU NORMS, WE HEAD TOWARDS A BETTER BUILT ENVIRONMENT TOMORROW."