Architecture – First taste, then Debates
Ever since I was in school, I loved watching buildings being built. When we were looking for a house to live in at Aurangabad, looking at the builders’ brochures, I could stroll through the half-built site of those 15 – 20 buildings to the exact flat, with my eyes closed on the first attempt. Since there was nothing else special to talk about, but then, to the questions of teacher and relatives about future, like, ‘What do you want to be?’, I began to answer ‘I will be a builder’.
Later, one of my uncles introduced me to the speeches of IAS, IPS officers. Soon the sentences like, “When your mom needs to call you, again and again, to have food, while you are busy in your work, that’s the work you are made for” engraved on my heart. Till that time, I had started drawing some imaginary buildings as a ‘hobby’ in the seventh or eighth grade.
Not only was the standard coding system used for windows and doors were unknown to me, but it was not even possible to know that there were architectural dictionaries such as Neufert’s Data. Then I designed my signage languages for different notifications and went on from drawing a bungalow in the seventh standard to designing a sixty-storied building in the tenth. My solutions were simple for the little things. How wide should the stairs be? How much space does a car take up? When such question arose, then, taking a chit and a pencil in the pocket, I would enter any building in the colony as if my father was the landlord.
At that time my sandals were about 30 centimeters in size. So, I used to measure the distances of five or six places by stepping consecutively, one step at a time, come home and calculate the average and, then I would have an ideal figure. In the process of measuring these steps for different things, I have covered all the platforms of Aurangabad railway station, both the bus stands, the passages of 3 to 4 big colleges, and so on.
So, my design portfolio had bus stands, commercial complexes, sports plazas, and anything until I was in the eleventh or twelfth standard of Highschool. As everything was just a matter of imagination, I would have designed the President’s House, and nobody would have a problem with that. Just for that counting my step’s part, no one would have let me walk there, that was all!
But still, I thought this whole thing was civil engineering. So, then I went after JEE. Of course, that was not the case. But I didn’t have any complaints as I was going to learn this sometime later. At that time, about two months before the 12th standard examination, one of our family friends showed at home, saw all my works and he told me about architecture. Even in such a crucial time, I prepared for the architecture entrance exams in two months, passed the entrance of architecture, got that degree, and then, in the same way, searching, struggling, suddenly finding something, I took admission in KRVIA in Mumbai for ‘Urban Design’ and now I have almost passed it too.
In short, despite the earlier fascination, now, for almost seven years in a row, I have been directly involved with architecture as a student. According to some theory, in twelve years’ practice, you master something. It will take another five-year plan for me to do so with architecture, but I still want to write it now.
What exactly is architecture to me?
If the purpose of education is to motivate thinking, then how much of it is involved in architectural education? And what are the motives of it? Because I am a part of a generation that is eager about declaring itself introverted and then turning to overthink. So, we are not just creating or developing thoughts, we are already exposed to them. In such a case, when we say that education should be developing thinking, we will see only two things, ‘debate’ and ‘taste’. This sequence may need to be changed for architecture. ‘Taste’ first and then ‘debates’.
Renowned Marathi philosopher and writer, Narhar Kurundkar, once said, ” If the answers to many questions like, how was the curry? – How did the exams go? – How did you get a wife? – never go beyond ‘good or nice’, then what kind of ‘taste’ has education developed?” Even if we replace the word ‘good or nice’ with some millennial urban slang, our progress is still at that same point. ‘How did the building feel? How was the submission sheet made? Why did the floor break? ‘ No matter what you ask, that same millennial slang is your answer.
And it is often explained in just a word or two. Because many times, it’s not the case that the person does not like that discipline or faculty of education, but one is unable to express feelings about it. This expression should be the main purpose of teaching architecture, is what I’ve felt from the receiving end – as a student. In short, the practice of creating a ‘realization’ of exactly what attributes the brain thinks about, can be called the teaching of architecture.
To make a habit of looking at a building, its timeline, its style, size, details, its technique and materials, texture, color, quality all at once – is to enjoy the building. What appears in front of you is stunned. Is tangible. Is stationary. Understanding it as fluid, abstract, and changing becomes the first step in the journey of enjoyment. Because if you don’t, your emotions will not be able to travel to the interpretations. But; Damn, these dimensions are contradictory.
I think this happens because architecture is both a science and an art. It is from this contradiction that the scope of the argument of all architectural philosophies opens up after the parameter of ‘taste’. Because there will be no ‘debate’ without ‘taste’. In many other disciplines, one is expected to ‘enjoy’ the ‘argument and debates’.
Whether it is the historical style of all ‘isms’ like Cubism, Constructivism, Minimalism, the philosophical arguments in it cannot be understood without first enjoying the architecture. Hence the order – first ‘taste’, then ‘debates’. In some other disciplines like, say – physics, the student has to understand the laws and theories first. Learn the rules, their constant evolutions, and then start enjoying the traditions of theories and scientist’s debates. So, here it’s first ‘debates’ then ‘taste’ in the faculty. But to my awareness, this cannot be applied in the field of Architecture.
It is a matter of discipline to manage the sequence of these fault lines, as the freedom of the artist and the discipline of the technicians have to be maintained at the same time. The artist is the artist as long as – the poem is being written, the picture is being drawn, the performance is going on – on the stage. By giving birth to art in the transcendental state, the artist is free to live the life of the common man in the eminence and start the journey of going back to art by gathering experience. They need this neutral time for more creations.
Thus, architecture also becomes the practice of stepping out of the artist’s disguise and immediately entering the role of a technician, and the ability to gain neutral space between these continuous transitions becomes the training of architecture.
Or is it a conflict between ‘struggle’ and ‘conservation? Society forgets the one who works for ‘conservation’ but that work can be completed. But on the other hand, the struggle often does not reach it’s to its destination, still, its peers become faces of the society. What should I do where ‘art’ supports the struggle and ‘technique’ helps in conservation? While I was the one, who was a part of arguments that whether architecture is an art and a science, it is not good to allow such a mismatch of ideologies in times of need.
I cannot get stuck in the world of – only me, and my drawings on the paper, and that I will not look beyond them to any other social aspect.
We, as a society cannot afford that. Now, today when the country is entangled in development ideas, where we have come a long way with ‘Idea of India’ and now we are fighting over ‘Idea of Development’ of India, of course, we – architects – can build similar bench strength for the nation. Because that’s what we’re trained to do. But is an architecture that much socially oriented, to get authorized from people for these herculean tasks in this democratic nation?
Architecture stood out at the same time as the milestones of human history were evolving. Sometimes showing the projections of powers, sometimes showing the resilience of the society. Being a way to set narratives for dictators or being a mirror of society’s expectations, architecture kept blurring at these ends like a pendulum. But at least today, in the twenty-first century, it is time to explore whether it can have any different meaning in the life of the common man. This exploration should become the way we practice architecture.
Because there is another way to look at it. Buildings are built on the exploitation of those who have lost everything, their hard work, sweat, efforts, long working hours, and mechanical life. In the old days, they were paying the price of pushing freedom into slavery for those who lost wars, but the context is the same even today. So, it is quite possible to state that architecture can never make ordinary people’s lives comfortable because its foundation is at the root of class division – a structure that can be called Marxist in the traditional sense. The first shock comes to my mind when I can show that this art is such a devilish art with these kinds of arguments.
By pulling it forward, we can efficiently prove today’s ‘less socially oriented model of architecture’ more precisely than the first way. Because it can be made as true and convincing as the first stream, so I think that the sequence of – first ‘taste’ then ‘debate’ in the education of architecture – is our only way to bypass this second structure that may seem pessimistic.
Therefore, it is necessary to talk about piers of architecture and on what foundation it is to be laid for the future. Because today, as we face one of the most pressing crises of all time, the direction of the minds of architects can become a latent current in this turbulent environment and work to take society out of it, even if it is nowhere to be seen. This is the power of the faculty of architecture. It is up to the leaders to decide whether to recognize it or not. But what exactly is this latent power in architecture?
The whole game of architects’ minds can be summed up in one sentence. Assuming that there is life in the inanimate space, and then going on to design the material aspects to satisfy the mind of this new – conscious space. In doing so, the game is to meet the dichotomy in the space with the expectations of the user. This is the unique state of spiritual materialism of architects… But the real fun is that both the image in the minds of anonymous users and the expectations of the space to be built are up to me … not only that, it’s up to me to decide what should be right for both of them.
Even though the idea of writing someone’s destiny is fascinating, but then you should be prepared to take responsibility, even when the decision is not yours. As an architect, one is influencing the states of minds of the people around a place, today, at this very time.
The place – which is yet to be built -by living in it in the future. And for that, all three fictional characters- space, users, and architect – used to make scripted decisions are present solely in my head, standing face to face at the same time. But when deciding the opinions of those three roles, I have to use only my five senses alone, which are not three in a way, they cannot be …
How do I deal with this limit? This limit of mine should not be the reason for the dissatisfaction of anyone living in that space sometime after ten or fifteen years. Because according to the same mythology, even the given faults, if spoken in the house are blessed and approved by the gods and spiritual guardian of the house… They are bound to come to me…!!!
Yes, we have the backyards of the world to us for developing them and create a better future. But let us be blessed by the almighty to be able enough to justify it…!!!
©Ar. Shaunak Kulkarni (The author is well-known architect and blogger powered with out of the box design ideas and reach domain knowledge.)