Trainees visit to ‘Kaav’ at Kabini

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Discussion 28 – Presentation on Artists

We had an interesting presentation by trainee architect Waqif on works by a few artists, both Indian and international. A few of the interesting works are given below -


Amy Shackleton is a New York based artist who works a lot on urban landscapes. Her works are especially interesting for us architects as they throw a fresh perspective on urban spaces.

Terraced City

Life Support

Boiling point

Mona Rai is an Indian artist whose works are full of dots, dashes, slashes, directional strokes and streaks. Ar.Tony was reminiscing how her work the ‘Bageecha’ somehow reminded him of Gustave Klint’s works


Stained wall

Stained wall

Igal Feidida is an Israel born artist, a self taught artist and photographer who has an innovative style of his own.  A unique facet of his works are the writing in Hebrew which dot his canvas.

otiyot in seven days

the void


Artist Daniel Connel’s works were also featured. Daniel was part of the recently concluded Kochi Muziris Biennale, where he brought to life the walls of Fort Kochi with his unique portraits of the locals.

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Stapati is featured in the ‘Deccan Chronicle’

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Stapati featured in ‘ARCHITECT& INTERIORS India’

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City Centre, Kolkata

The City Centre Mall in Salt Lake City, done by Charles Correa is a unique shopping mall, not the stereotypical closed glass-box that one finds everywhere. Correa has defined the mall typology in his signature vocabulary – crisp volumes juxtaposed around pedestrian spines leading to courtyards and open spaces. The double height pedestrian pathways act as the organizing axis, directing movement. The double height spaces are covered on top with a semicircular translucent roofing, which lets in light during the daytime. There are bridges connecting the adjacent blocks together, which help in breaking up the monotony of the straight volumes of the pedestrian spine. Invariably, these pedestrian spines open up into informal courtyards and plazas which act as spaces for pause and form activity nodes around the strategically located food kiosks. These gathering spaces are abuzz with people and activity and are pleasant spaces to use with their comfortable volumes, greenery and enclosure.

One of the nice things in the mall is that in the spaces where people are meant to gather, Correa has provided plenty of seating – both in the form of moveable furnitures as well as built-in seating and platforms, giving people plenty of opportunities to sit and relax. One focus area of the mall is the large open plaza with the central kund, an element which is a classic Correa motif. The entire plaza is organized around this kund, with combinations of steps leading down to it. This space acts like a microcosm for the city with people hanging out in the open air, people having conversations, kids running around, families relaxing etc. The open terrace of the mall adjacent to this space has been converted into a large food plaza with open as well as semi covered eating spaces created which are enclosed by vegetation. This serves as a very natural space for people to hang out, especially in the evenings.

The interiors of the mall are more or less similar to the other typical mall spaces, with anchor shops strategically located as well as well defined pedestrian circulation paths along shop frontages. However, credit must be given to both the architect as well as the client for their vision, which has created a very unique shopping mall experience with humane spaces.

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STAPATI wins SIX awards in ‘IIA State Awards for Excellence in Architecture 2012′



Project  -   ALILA DIWA AT GOA

Alila Diwa is designed with Goan sensibilities overlaid with modern vocabulary. We wanted it to be as contextual to the place and time as possible. The language & proportions used throughout the project is a product of the detailed analysis we did on Goan vernacular architecture. Despite the large built-up area we have been able to bring in a human scale for the buildings.

The primary concern while designing was to take advantage of the elements of site both physically and visually. Our planning strategy was to allow the existing trees to remain in place while the building wrapped around them. Thus the cluster of mango trees became part of the main courtyard while the presence of banyan trees provides ‘spice studio’- the specialty restaurant’ an ambiance of lingering nostalgia.

Considerations about elements of nature were a major deciding factor in planning the overall space syntax.  The building has an open plan concept which allows free flow of spaces. Except for critical areas like rooms, conference halls & portions of the main restaurant all other areas are left open allowing the flow of natural light and wind. The positioning of swimming pool is again after careful consideration about wind direction. By positioning it along the windward direction we were successful in bringing the cooled air into the courtyards which in a way acts as wind funnels. Although the built space is spread out, the services are kept invisible. To avoid the guest circulation crossing the service circulation we have provided dedicated underground links to key areas from back of house areas for room, F&B and electro-mechanical services.

Use of local plant species that required minimum maintenance was given foremost consideration as far as landscaping is concerned. The intention was to showcase the indigenous flora of Goa & there by provide a natural look to the overall landscape. The decision to retain all existing trees on site was strictly followed. The process of designing the resort around the existing mango & banyan trees, though proved to be a tough exercise; gave a unique character to each and every space as no two areas could be replicated.     Water bodies are positioned in strategic areas considering the visual and climatological aspect. Only natural materials are used for all hardscaped areas.

Though there is no rating certification for the building, the incorporation of  all the above features makes Alila Goa one of the “greenest” among the hotels in this category.




The building is located on linear site beside the NH by-pass in Calicut. The structure comprising of office spaces, circulation core and recreation zones is layered sequentially along the linear axis. A 12m high atrium connects the two office spaces. The site overlooks a canal and a lake on the northern sides. Glass facades and large openings envelop the north and eastern faces to achieve maximum view.

The design shows how openness can be merged harmoniously with internal spaces. The 12m high entrance courtyards, which is a modern interpretation of traditional courtyard forms the main element of the building. The mezzanine floor acts as an extension of the courtyard. The circulation of the entire building is oriented along the courtyard space where natural elements are maximum used.

The design of the building revolves around its climatic responsiveness. Maximum openings are given on the northern and eastern side there by tapping the glare free north light. Void between the blocks and shaded openings on the south-west side allows maximum air circulation with-in office spaces. The entire service core is provided on the south-west side to help shield building from the sun. The south-west facade is articulated with terracotta louvers at floor level to allow air movement within the studios.

Laterite, which is the locally available traditional material is used for the wall extensively. Exposed laterite merges well with the glazed facade of the entire structure.




Set amidst a sprawling landscape of 3.2 acres, the residence evolved directly from the site, as a response to the local conditions and context. The spaces are designed as a continuum, flowing from a set of covered spaces to semi-covered ones, interspersed with courtyards and water bodies, creating distinctive micro-climatic environments. The overall aim was to create a seamless experience, integrating the occupants with nature at all points. The existing natural features of the site have been augmented to create landscape spaces that serve as an extension of the built-space, with pavilions, water bodies and walking trails. The built spaces are a play of roof volumes, hugging the ground in a distinctive horizontal composition, which is offsetted by the tall coconut trees in the site.

One of the focus of the design is the large internal open-to-sky water-court, which along with its functional role of micro-climatic control through evaporative cooling, brings in reflections and moods to the interiors, mirroring the changing qualities of light, sky and the seasons. The material palette employed is a combination of natural textures contrasted with smooth finishes in the interiors, which along with the distinctive detailing creates a modern interpretation of our traditional built forms, one which is compatible with out tropical context.




The challenge while designing was to make the building both culturally and climatologically responsive without disturbing the natural setting. The being located at the edge of the forest gave us the opportunity to work on heavy landscaping.  The existing building in the site was a modest single storey structure. The challenge was to convert this holiday home into a boutique safari lodge with a contemporary feel to.

The facility has a total of four luxury rooms with an independent balcony for each room that over looks into the jungle. We placed the rooms on the top floor so that the elevated view gives better opportunity for spotting of wild life. The main dining area is semi open area on the ground floor with a view to the pool. All the subsidiary services are also paced in the ground floor, hence providing complete privacy to the guests. We have provided a top deck above the rooms which can be an ideal spot for guests to relax and enjoy the view of the jungle and can also act as a gathering space.




The Rain Forest resort at Athirapally is dealt in such a way that the building is laid out along the contours of the site with a minimum foot print. The entry to the building is opened up to facilitate maximum unobstructed view to the waterfalls with the rooms being tucked in on the floors below. Existing natural vegetation was not disturbed at all for constructing this building. The view of the imposing waterfalls was the criteria in planning the layout of the resort. Cost effectiveness was the primary concern while selecting the materials in this boutique resort




Haritha Vidya being “A rural institute for advocacy and training in sustainable farm management practices and enhancing agricultural productivity” had to be true to its name by being a low cost sustainable building with strong climatic and sociological responsiveness. Haritha Vidya is located in Thamarassery, Calicut; the foot hills of Western Ghats.

The building primarily consists of Class rooms, Library, Computer center, Auditorium, guest rooms etc. We followed an open plan approach for the building hence we have class rooms with no walls and the landscape flowing into the rooms. This approach has helped us in maximizing the natural lighting and ventilation thereby reducing the power consumption and maintenance costs.

The building is designed to utilize the sloping terrain of the site and hence there was minimal land cutting involved in the site. The two level of the building are accessible directly and merges into the natural vegetation. Use of steel sections for openings and locally available compressed blocks have helped in reducing the cost of construction of this building. The furniture used are modular units designed by our office.

Overall the design follows a minimalist approach and the tends to be true to the intention of its usage and also use of materials and elements.

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Fish Painting!!!

An office is often defined by the culture that prevails, the activities that happen. We at Stapati believe that architecture encompasses all the arts and that allied arts are of utmost importance to keep us refreshed and to have the creative juices flowing. More so, group activities are integral in increasing the cohesiveness in the office and in providing an opportunity for some unabashed fun! It is in these lines that a ‘Fish Painting’ session was organized one evening. Myriad shaped wooden fishes were chiseled out by our in-house carpenter and these were given life by all of us. Bottles of paint and a few brushes were all that was required to bring out the child in us, literally splashing colours all around. From abstract fishes to textured ones to even a ‘Nemo’, the designs varied. Some good music and great food completed an evening where all of us had tons of fun!

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Discussion 27 – Subodh Gupta

Indian contemporary artists are currently gaining a lot of attention worldwide. These young breed of artists are making a mark on the international scene, both in terms of quality of work as well as in the value their works are commanding. One of the frontrunners of this scenario is artist Subodh Gupta, who through his interesting sculptures and installations showcasing commonplace objects has redefined how mundane artifacts are perceived. The works of Subodh are an eye-opener for us Indians in how he contextualizes and positions objects we all are familiar with, like the ubiquitous metal tiffin box,thali plate etc.  and how he associates meanings and connections to them. These objects gain added significance and meaning and transcend from their banal existence to an elevated one. There are stories and narrative interwoven into each installation, which Subodh himself explains in his unique vocabulary. There are social messages in his installations too as he tries to highlight issues through his works, often works that reflect the evolutions and transformations that our society is undergoing. One can see strong influence of Subodh Gupta’s personal context in all his works, how his experiences during his childhood trickle into his works. In a way his works and life are a good reflection of present day India, a country which is taking large strides forward on the back of a strong economy and also one where material progress is becoming equally important. An inherent restlessness is evident in his works, which is so characteristic of our society today.

Subodh Gupta was born in Patna and currently lives in Delhi. His works encompasses sculpture, installation, painting, photography, performance and video. One of his famous series is the ‘Still Steal Steel’, a series of photorealistic paintings on everyday kitchen utensils. There is a certain arrested motion in these paintings, with the objects captured in a moment of vibrant motion. His video ‘Pure’ is a literal and symbolic take on cowdung and purity. His works are highly sought after, being exhibited in prominent galleries and biennales around the world.

During the discussion that followed, our forum was divided on how to classify the artistic quality of his works. One group opined that it was easy to create such installations from commonplace objects and that it cannot be really classified as something great. However the majority of us were of the opinion that his art was powerful and that he was really successful in creating a dialogue between us and his work and also with the objects he has used. Even though his works are rooted in an Indian context, there is a certain global quality in his works which allows an international audience to appreciate and enjoy it.

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Discussion 26 – B.V.Doshi’s works

B.V.Doshi is one of the most revered architects’ of modern India. In a career spanning many decades, he has helped define an Indian vocabulary, especially in the post-independence era when the country was searching for an identity. Along with his immense contribution towards the built-space, equally relevant is his contribution as an educator, a philosopher and theoretician, inspiring countless generations of young architects. It is in this backdrop that we had a presentation of 3 of Doshi’s works – the Sangath, the Gufa and the CEPT. A lot of people wondered initially what was the purpose of having a presentation on such a ‘common’ and familiar topic like Doshi was. But the real surprise was the documentary, which had Doshi himself explaining his works and taking us through the spaces and the narratives, thus revealing fascinating accounts on how the designs evolved and also giving an insight into Doshi the person.

The first work that was put up was the Sangath, Doshi’s own studio. Doshi starts off by explaining the stories and the process behind the evolution of the design. Sangath is one of the most interesting architectural studios in the country, a space which really shows Doshi’s design values and influences. The partly sunken studio space has given rise to numerous landmark spaces, serving as a setting for numerous designs which have changed the face of architecture in India.

Questions of public and private, open and enclosed, form versus formlessness – all form part of the issues which were addressed in the design solution for the studio. While explaining the evolution of the design, Doshi mentions how the process is more exciting than the final product. This set off an interesting debate following the presentation, with Arun starting off saying that that need not be the case always and that the end product was equally important. Roshan too joined in, expressing that it need not be the process alone that matters and that most often, the final outcome was really important. Ar.Tony put things in perspective, when he said that for the designer the process was more interesting, while for the end user and the layman who might not be able to relate to the process, often the end product was all that mattered.

One of Doshi’s key strengths was to explain things in a beautiful manner, often weaving stories around them to make the narrative more interesting and captivating. This is very true whenever he talks, always bringing in anecdotes and stories from his experiences, often to substantiate and elaborate the conversations. Some of his stories are sometimes a bit too fascinating at times, but one probable reason could have been that Doshi worked in a time when the country had newly gained independence, when majority of the people were illiterate, when the conditions for architecture were not the most conducive and so to counter that, he had to resort to such a narrative style that was very imaginative and one which could be assimilated & identified easily by the ordinary people.

Doshi’s immense interest in our culture and his keen observation is revealed when he gives the example of the turban as one of the most contextually suited piece of clothing, apart from its primary function, being used to serve as a sheet to lie down on, or even used to draw water from a well. This was further substantiated in the discussion that followed with Ar.Tony mentioning how in places like Rajasthan, people wore bright colours to stand out in the monotonous desert landscape, while in a tropical context like Kerala with lots of vegetation, people preferred to wear white.

The second space that was analysed was that of Guha, where Doshi collaborated with M.F.Hussain to create a gallery space for Hussain’s paintings. Doshi explains the evolution of the design, telling how a long time previously Hussain had asked how the houses were so hot and how Doshi almost in jest tells him that a building can also be underground. This conversation was revived years later when Hussain wanted to build a gallery space for himself in Ahmedabad, with Doshi suggesting that the design should be a ‘gufa’ built underground. Hussain agrees to this, but Doshi further challenges him saying that the space will be unlike any gallery that has been built and that Hussain would have to really innovate to exhibit his works there. Thus was born Gufa.

The curvaceous form of the space which is half submerged into the ground is one of the most different forms that one would encounter anywhere. The finishing for the roof bulbous roof structure is done with china mosaic and locally available saucers, with Hussain saab painting a large black cobra intertwined over the roof. The underground gallery space has no straight walls and is almost totally an organic form. Here, as Doshi had challenged, Hussain comes up with an ingenious approach of converting the ceiling of the spaces into a large canvas, painting directly onto the concrete.

The presentation soon went on to CEPT which is one of Doshi’s most important contributions to architecture. One of the main success of Doshi was that he was successful in creating an institution like CEPT, which owes its beauty more to the culture that has been created, which is really the vibrant soul of the campus. This, more than anything else makes the school stand out from the rest and embodies the true spirit of how architectural education should be in a country like India. Here, even Doshi’s architecture for the campus takes a backdrop. It merely becomes the setting on which ideas are exchanged, discussions are carried out, things contemplated over, where interactions, which are such an important part of any campus, takes place. That is why Doshi the visionary must be so much appreciated, as he has helped in educating generation of architects in the ‘CEPT way’, who are spread across all regions, making a change to the face of architecture in the country and even abroad.

Doshi’s strong conviction that architecture is not a standalone entity but one which encompasses all aspects of life and culture, has rubbed off on the system of education in the school also. His interest in the allied arts, in culture, in people and their ways of life, in philosophy, in research, in lost tradition, in our rich history, all form an integral part of learning in CEPT and helps in grooming well rounded architects who are empathetic to our people, history and context.

Doshi recounts the influence that his 2 masters Corbusier & Lois Kahn had on him in evolving the spaces. He takes the best from both of them – Corbusier’s delineation of spaces and character and Kahn’s clarity of structural thought. This by no means imply that Doshi merely copied from his masters. As Neelkanth Chhaya, the director of CEPT states, Doshi though influenced by both the masters, evolves a deeply personal vocabulary, one which was the result of Doshi’s constant travelling, sketching and observations.

For most of us present, the architecture of CEPT was also timeless, in the way spaces are defined and most often, not defined, to be used in a variety of ways that the students deemed appropriate. The open spaces in the ground floor, the large studios with their huge north lights, intimate balconies, the linear axis of the entrance steps, the informal seating spaces, the microcosm of the canteen…all seemed just perfect. As Ar.Tony mentioned, the landscape and nature being omnipresent, plays a very important role in setting the tone of the space. Sujith mentioned an interesting anecdote where Doshi used to tell how he used to plant hundreds of neem saplings in the barren campus while it was being constructed, which has resulted in the lush green campus of today.

There was a bit of a debate whether Doshi has really practiced what he has preached, with Roshan posing the question to the new trainees who have joined our office. Most of them felt that Doshi’s works speak for themselves and that he has indeed given justice to all his theories and narratives.

Perhaps the most important aspect that we young architects gained out of this was Doshi’s passion for life, his love and empathy for his fellow human beings and his constant search for meaning in his wonderful journey of architecture, where someone who is above 80 years still travels, exploring & learning newer things and one who still maintains a sketchbook and still keeps sketching!

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Discussion 25 – Calatrava & K.S.Radhakrishnan

Santiago Calatrava’s works were the topic for discussion during this Tuesday’s discussion. Following a short video on his works & his philosophies, there was a discussion on the relevance of his works – whether it was justified to spend so much to create such extravagant spaces. Ar.Tony set the ball rolling by wondering aloud what the relevance of Calatrava’s works was, if it was possible to justify the cost of the projects & the resources required. An interesting discussion followed with Roshan stating that Calatrava’s works often gave an identity to the place, as most of them were landmark structures helping to give a new definition to the place. Anand joined in saying that often Calatrava’s works were a source of pride to the people, elevating their sense of belonging and rootedness. Sujith mentioned that some of the works were similar to Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, in what the structure did to elevate the region around it. Ar.Tony elaborated on how Guggenheim helped in kickstarting the ailing economy of Bilbao, putting Bilbao on the world map, generating opportunities and in the process, reviving the whole city.

The discussion turned to touch on the relevance of public art in our urban spaces. The trigger was the installation of sculptures around Calicut city by a group of 10 artists. Ar.Tony narrated an interesting incident during the installation of the sculpture by renowned sculptor K.S.Radhakrishnan in the middle of Mananchira Square, which was one of the urban green lungs of the city. It seems that while the sculptures were being installed, a couple of gentlemen walked up and started behaving aggressively, questioning the need for placing this sculpture right in the middle of the green space, thereby ‘spoiling’ the space. Ar.Tony was discussing how ordinary laymen related to public art like sculptures, installations etc. The main function of such works was to provoke people to think, to reflect and contemplate. Public art tended to take art literally to the masses, by being present around them in common places, instead of being confined to galleries. Thus, they had a far wider reach and influence. However, one of the questions that arose was how to get ordinary people to become actively or even passively involved, on what will define what is acceptable and what is not and on the approaches required. It was agreed that most often, public artworks were acceptable as long as they were beautiful to look at, so that ordinary man could relate to it easily. Inspired by this discussion, most of us present went to see the installation of the sculptures in Mananchira, where in the middle of the green open lawn, K.S.Radhakrishnan’s ‘Musui’ was frozen in suspended weightlessness on top of the massive granite boulders, a strong contrasting composition as an ode to the free spirit against the trials and troubles of this world.

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Works of Luis Barragan – Discussion 25

‘Architecture as a sublime act of poetic imagination’

 The works of Luis Barragan were the focus of our weekly meeting. A video documentary on the amazing works of Barragan was a huge inspiration and was watched with rapt attention by everyone. The amazing simplicity, the colours, the light, the volumes, the planes, the gardens were all so relevant even after all these decades. The timelessness of the works was stressed by Ar.Tony, how his ideas and concepts were equally applicable even today in this fast paced world.

Luis Barragan is one of the most underappreciated architects of the modern era. Born in Mexico, Barragan was educated as an engineer but taught himself architecture. He travelled extensively through Europe in the early part of his life and was deeply influenced by the beauty of the native vernacular architecture- the colour, the light…all guiding his designs later on.  During his travels, he came in touch with various artists, photographers, writers who formed close relationships with him and whose works had a profound influence on him.

A very enthusiastic discussion followed the presentation and you could gather the admiration in everyone’s voices as they discussed the works in detail. It was agreed that his masterful use of planes to enclose volume and define space was something that was finely thought out and represented a rare perfection.

Barragan is known for creating spaces that are unique, spaces that celebrate, are silent yet full of vibrancy. In his gardens, silence resonates. Barragan had a special love for landscaping which was expressed through the gardens in his designs.

‘In the gardens & homes designed by me, I have always endeavored to allow for the interior placid murmur of silence, and in my fountains, silence sings’.

His buildings often had a plane facade which often concealed a very vibrant interior. His work was often called ‘minimalistic’ due to his use of simple planes for enclosing spaces and his austere volumes. Yet, all his spaces are deep, full of meaning. Barragan controlled the movement lines in his designs to such perfection, revealing only what he wanted the person to see. The different spaces were revealed gradually when one moves through the design, creating changes in directions leading to different visual focuses. For Barragan, a meaningful design was one which stimulated all the senses. His spaces were stimulating visually, yet were often silent with just the sound of his fountain and the wind audible. He controlled the use of materials, from the smooth walls to the textured ones, to floor planes paved with stones, the smoothness of the water bodies to the walls covered with the climbers.

‘El Bebedero plaza & fountain’ – The horse trough that Barragan designed, set in the backdrop of a long tall white wall was simplicity personified and was a great example of how an architectural intervention was ideal when it completed the natural context it is part of without superimposing itself. We all were delighted with the beauty of a simple plane white wall, one at the end of a long avenue lined with drooping Eucalyptus trees, how the wall caught the shadows of the leaves like a screen, how it changed with the mood of the day. Yet, a seemingly simple thing like this was carefully designed – the proportions of the wall, the slightly offset location of the water trough, the functionality of the trough for the drinking horses…all carefully thought through.

One common element throughout Barragan’s work and life was his affinity for art and beauty. Ar.Tony stressed on its importance, observing how Barragan constantly surrounded himself with artworks and how his circle of friends included a lot of artists, whose ideas and works Barragan often included in his own designs. This co-existence with allied arts was necessary for the development of an architect, to broaden his outlook and perspective and was something that Ar.Tony advised all of us budding architects to follow.

Barragan was deeply influenced by the use of bold colours in the vernacular architecture of Mexico, which appealed to the artist in him. All his walls feature bold colours – from the vibrant pinks to the deep ultramarines to the rich yellows, all contrasted with the brilliant plain white walls. These walls often acted as screens on which were highlighted shadows of trees and often acting as a backdrop for highlighting beautiful trees themselves.

The ‘Gilardi House’ designed by Barragan on a tight urban plot really epitomized all of Barragan’s principles. This genius of a design was something that really struck all of us for it sheer simplicity and clarity. The entire design essentially revolves around a magnificent tree that Barragan retained and made the principal element of the design, creating enclosed courtyards and sunken courts, masterfully juxtaposing volumes and planes to create a unified whole. The space was so inspiring that even Ar.Tony added that the gauntlet thrown down by the Master was something that should be a challenge to all of us and should be in our minds while we were designing.

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Dallas Theatre – Discussion 24


The Dallas theatre designed by the OMA, with Joshua Prince Ramus as the project architect, was one of the topics for our weekly discussions. The video on the evolution of the design was an inspiring one with Ramus taking one through the process in a very methodological manner. His breaking up of the architectural design process into 3 core elements of Issues, Positions & Architectural Manifestations was indeed interesting and gave perspective to the Dallas Theatre design. Tony further added to this by stating that design process depended a lot on selection & rejection.

In the project, the theatre space is designed as a multifunctional space capable of a variety of seating & stage layouts to suit the different performances. This was a unique way of approaching a theatre design since it allowed for a lot of flexibility & innovativeness in the plays & other programs conducted there. This was reflected even in the stage & audience seating configurations, with movable seating allowing for a normal proscenium and also a thrust configuration wherein the stage was thrust into the seating space to create more of a connect with the audience and also for occasions when the stage was absent and even the entire floor could be converted into a single flat floor configuration for conventions, get-togethers and other such activities.

This was achieved by the architects by taking a joint position with the clients to go from ‘Two-thirds Architecture & one-third infrastructure to one-thirds Architecture & two-third infrastructure’ in the budget. As Ramus stated, this was indeed a remarkable departure, especially for the clients who were bold enough to go ahead with such an unconventional approach. Thus, the architectural manifestation was to take the ‘front of house’ & ‘back of house’ operations around the performance space & to redefine them as ‘top of house’ & ‘below house’. Thus, the entire performance space was freed up allowing for a lot of flexibility, even to the extent of having the entire perimeter of the building open, so as to bring in the city as a real background to the performances, if the creative director so required. This was achieved by the use of a ‘Scoreboard lift’ wherein the balconies & the proscenium can be lifted up to free up the ground space. Also, seating rakes which are movable were used to create various flat as well as raked seating configurations. Thus, along with the ‘multi-form’ configurations possible, even ‘multi-procession’ access was created, wherein the creative director had the freedom to decide on the circulation patterns in the building to create an experiential entrance into the space for the audience.

The end product was a space which was extremely efficient and functional and also one which was highly flexible allowing a lot of creative freedom for the performances. There was all round agreement that this was indeed a very unique design that evolved, with a general consensus that it was more of a machine than an architectural space. Tony emphasised that it was unbelievable the amount of importance that was given to performance arts & their facilities in the US, whereas here in India, such facilities were very few. It is a situation that needs to be remedied as there are a huge variety & diversity of performing arts here also which are unique & qualitatively comparable. A few people raised the point whether such extravagant & costly solutions were indeed required.

Another point raised was the process of design itself which was followed for this project. The simple clarity in the process and the methodological approach & research were indeed inspiring. The discussion ended on a positive note with all of us convinced that we need to really broaden our horizons & to come up with innovative solutions that are workable on the ground.

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Apartment design -The way forward – Discussion 23

Highrises in Mumbai

What is the best way to provide a holistic build environment when one is designing high density vertical housing? How can we create environments that are more interactive, more social, and more sustainable? This was the question that was posed as a design exercise for an upcoming project in the studio.

Huge volumes of built-up spaces are being created all over the real estate segment in the country. Yet, most often these projects end up as high density slabs which are improperly designed, which do not quite address the needs of the people who will have to live there. The general mentality being to cover up as much permissible space as possible, creating buildings which are often environmental , psychological & climatological disasters, ones without even proper lighting & ventilation. Now why is this being taken as the norm & not being questioned, so as to come up with innovative solutions that are suitable for our context & way of life? Why is that we  designers unable to change the status quo, unable to foresee & be harbingers of change, to define a new vocabulary – one that is sensible to our climate, our patterns of living, our functional, social & urban needs?

These were a few of the questions that were raised in our in-house discussion. It has been generally agreed that for the promoters & the builders, most often the economic profitability is the only concern, due to which good design often takes a back seat. Yet, it is something that cannot be merely wished away by designers, in the dream of a utopian state. One of the major observations was that there was not an adequate amount of research being done to come up with relevant solutions which are acceptable to all parties concerned, including the promoters. New ways of designing may have to be developed; new materials will have to be explored, newer construction methodologies will have to be devised – and for all this, adequate and sustained research & exploration will have to be carried out. But are we really doing that, or are we just stumbling from one deadline to another?

This project and the exploration process was thus a step in that direction to address these core issues and come up with positions that are relevant to our context. Ideas were thrown back and forth and debated at length. The entire office was involved in this effort and was divided into different teams and was given specific themes to explore. After a lot of brainstorming & literature studies, certain concepts were identified, which were to be carried forward & developed. A lot of past projects were analysed to study why they worked or didn’t work. Habitat ’67 was a case in point. Though it was a revolutionary concept and heralded a unique prefabricated construction program, it has never been replicated anywhere else and similar ideas weren’t further explored. Even two additional ‘Habitats’ which were proposed in the US & Israel never materialized.

This also led us to consider the role that the clients played in defining the building program, how clients are very reluctant to pay for higher facilities & common areas which added value to a design, except for the high-end luxurious segments. An example was raised wherein a project had to be shelved because the builder had offered extra floor areas in the typologies. Clients were just unwilling to book for the said project, forcing the developers to go back to the drawing board & redesign & re-brand the entire project, to toe the line so to speak. Thus, branding & positioning of a project too had to be clearly thought out to arrive at a workable solution. At the end of the session, there was all round agreement that these initiatives & explorations had to be further carried forward so that it reaches a stage where implementation might be possible.

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Kanchanjunga apartments – Discussion 22

Can high income flats use the principles of climate control, zoning of spaces, view etc as in housing??

The task which had the characters of Safdie Montreal’s habitat 67 plugged in resulted in such a high income apartment- Kanchanjunga apartments. A presentation on Kanchanjunga apartments was given before the discussion forum by Aswathi.

She started the presentation appreciating the master head for creating such an all time wonder. It is an awakening solution for high-rise housing, a successful attempt by Charles chorea to implement traditional bungalow planning strategies into a multistory residential apartment situated in Mumbai.

As the location’s most endemic factor, climate provides the designer with a legitimate starting point for architectural expression in the endeavor to design in relation to place, a modern interpretation of a feature of the traditional Indian bungalow. Harmonious relationship between Kanchanjunga and its immediate context is realized as a result of its inherit local vernacular. Mumbai having tropical climate asks for east-west orientation for the building to catch the prevailing winds from the Arabian Sea and the city’s best view.

The layout of the apartments in Kanchanjunga achieves an open floor plan while creating distinctive spaces through its changes in level. It has 32 luxury units of 3 to 6 bedroom flats. All the units were are arranged as an interlocking composition with the play of intermediate split levels. 3- 4 bedroom units are one and half story and 5-6 bedroom units are 2 and half storied. Its minimalist unbroken surfaces are cut away to open up the double-height terrace gardens at the corners, thus revealing some hint of the complex’ spatial organization of living spaces that lie within.

After the presentation Ar.Tony was of the opinion that facade has a dramatic effect due to outer double height terraces and themes of color palette add the drama in the aesthetics. Amal added that the interlocking form and colors reveals the complex spatial organization of the livable spaces of the tower. The discussion drove everyone to think for a while why can’t we architects design something like this? Rini and Deepak were of the opinion that for a great piece of work to build you need high end clients. Discussion ended hoping that tomorrow we see many such kanchanjunga apartments in our country!!

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Defining Art – Discussion 21

They say that most great ideas begin and end in art. Man has always had the inherent need to express – and anything which carries the the power of expression is  ruled to be art.  A illustration of this idea was the presentation by Rajeena on two of the most prominent architects of our time.

Damian Hirst , the controversial British artist was the first to be featured. His most famous work , titled “The physical impossibility of death in the name of someone living” features a real shark with its mouth open floating in Formaldehyde solution. While the initial impact of the formaldehyde sculpture is intense , it raises questions with regards to the nature of art if it is as easily reproduce able as this “pickled shark”.  Damian’s “For the Love of God” skull is a brutal (and expensive) expression of the reality of Death , which is the topic that Damian chose to explore to the maximum. Other examples of Damian’s art such as spot painting- which are rows of randomly colored circles and Spin paintings further illustrate the architect’s spontaneous and revolutionary ideas.

Akbar Padamsee was the famous Indian artist that Rajeena chose to explore. Padamsee’s work defies easy categorization as  his work is at the same time figurative , abstract , Indian and universal , flamboyant and rigorous. The most famous of his work are the metascapes – that he defines as “two dimensional” perspectives. The metascapes are extremely sophisticated in terms of their treatment of colors , exploration of relationships between  complimentary colors and the creation of spaced and boundaries within the canvas. Padamsee creates metascapes to convey a variety of expressions and moods.

The discussion that ensued after the presentation explored the  idea of art. While a group was of the opinion that objects that create a mere shock value , such as Damian’s shark cannot be really considered art – and if it were to considered so , the samples found in biology labs should also be treated as artworks. In fact ,almost everything in nature will have to bear the distinction of being art. They insisted that Art must spring for a basic idea – the crystallization  of which might involve the creation of something that bears the stamp of its creator and invokes a response in the minds of the viewers.

Another group was of the opinion – that anything – even the samples from one’s biology lab – can be termed art if presented in a way that invokes any sort of impact on a viewer. They insisted that art belied barrier or medium – and that a pickled shark , or a diamond studded skull is as artful as a beautiful painting by Picasso.

However, everyone agreed on the point that art , whatever the medium and nature , was integral to architects as design is an extremely broad and interdependent discipline. The birth of new ideas often begin in art and spread into architecture , often beginning revolutions in the field of architecture , such is the power of the art.

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Sainte Marie de La Tourette – Le Corbusier – Discussion 20

“ To discover , To create a different other architecture , unique and original in its essential nudity”

-        were the master builder Ar. Le Corbusier’s famous words when asked to describe his objectives behind the construction of the La Tourette.

Sainte Marie La Tourette is a monastery of the Dominican order in Eveux , France near Lyons. Inspired by Le, Thoronet , a Cystercian monastery in Southern France , Corbusier raised his building around a central courtyard. Taking advantage of the varying contours , he placed the building on stilts letting the ground undulate- providing the main entrance on the third floor level.

The building contains a hundred cells , study rooms, halls for work and recreation , a library and a refractory in addition to a church. The church forms the single main focal point of the complex. The low ceiling with giant domes of light makes this space unique. The cells , each of which is acoustically insulated and measure approximately 8′x24′ illustrate corbusier’s extensive study into human proportions and their relationship to the environment , each cell different from another in terms of finishing and positioning. Light has been a principal element in the design and each cell is provided with a solitary window which gives it unique spiritual character.

The three exterior elevations are provided with panes of glass designed by Xenakis which is said to have been inspired by harmony of music. On the other hand, in the garden-court of the cloister, the fenestration is composed of large concrete elements reaching from floor to ceiling, perforated with glazed voids and separated from one another by “ventilators”: vertical slits covered by metal mosquito netting and furnished with a pivoting shutter.

The central courtyard is broken by geometric masses which creates a beautiful play of light and creates a volley of imposing shadows. At La Tourette many aspects of Corbusier’s developed architectural vocabulary are visible – the vertical brise-soleils used with effect in India, light-cannons piercing solid masonry walls, and window-openings separated by Modular-controlled vertical divisions.

The building , in its brutal honesty of materials and seeming harmony seems to empathize with the Spartan character of its inmates and  is an expression of their way of life .

Our discussion , after a viewing of the video was primarily focused on the modular. Rini pointed out that the harmony of the building has its roots in the system of proportions used and expressed her admiration for the degree of concord and the almost sacred proportions of the building.

Tony was of the opinion that the masterly play of light within the building was spectacular and the quality of spaces were unmatched. However , he added that the modular was just a system of proportions – not much unlike our Vastu Shasta. He went on to assert these proportioning systems , which are so often misinterpreted today often hold keys to good spatial design. He expressed the need for understanding of these proportioning systems.

Arun added that this was a dire need and that an understanding of these systems would only give us the power to transform them to fit into today’s context , for , history is a witness to the fact that all great architecture is novel , with its roots in history.

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Standardization in Architecture – Discussion 19

“God is in details” proclaims the master builder , Meis Van Der Rohe.  The ancient architects who built our temple complexes and cities would  agree – for our heritage is based on uniqueness. There might not be a door or window that resembles another – each exuding and character of its own that exists harmoniously with the rest of the building.
However , with the advent of industrialization and an architecture that evolved out of a common consensus of efficiency rather than aesthetic , with the advent of the so-called “modern” architecture , the degree of detailing involved with the design process has reduced drastically. Standardization is an accepted norm in architecture today.
Is this sudden loss of uniqueness inducing a drone of boredom into the architecture of our times ?
This was the question that came up at our discussion table this Tuesday.
Arun was of the opinion that detailing comes with an economic price. He insisted that the amount of detailing to be undertaken would depend on the kind of project that one is dealing with.  An architect may choose a greater degree of standardization for an apartment building , while choosing to go in for a higher degree of detailing for a high-end resort. The reason being that , in case of the resort , the equation between his remuneration and time is balanced , even with the time allotted for detailing , while it is not so in the case of an apartment.
Poonam suggested that choosing the right detail from the standardized options available is also an art and requires the eye of a good architect. She added that , with the vast array of standardized products available in the market , the discerning architect needs to be aware of the market trends and choose the products that goes with the spirit of his design.
Rini was of the opinion that – standardization in all aspects , is perhaps not very encouraging. She pointed out that – in harmonious designs , every part is a projection of the whole. As such , the eye of the architect must reach to all elements in the building – be it doors , windows or installations The choosing of any random product from the standardized one available may be a compromise of sorts and may reduce the overall harmony of the building.
Tony added that it is not standardization of products that we must be vary of – it is the standardization in thought process. He pointed out the examples of the commercial complexes mushrooming in our cities – each a tiring repetition of the other. He added that – what makes a building original was the idea – the base concept – from where it springs. He insisted that originality is always refreshing irrespective of whether parts of the building is standardized or not.
Amal agreed with him adding that we were , in fact , far behind the developed countries in the race of standardization , yet , most of the innovative designs seem to coming from them. She pointed out that perhaps – this very
standardization – takes a load off from the shoulders of the architects and gives them more time to innovate , explore and develop.
Our discussion ended with the contradiction of the master architect’s proclamation -
Perhaps , God is not in details after all.

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Oscar Neimeyer – Discussion 18

“It is not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. What attracts me is the free and sensual curve — the curve that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuous course of its rivers, in the body of the beloved woman.”
If there was ever an architect for whom architecture was at the foremost an art – it has to be Oscar Neimeyer. It was this belief that was reinforced with a viewing of a short documentary on this master architect this Tuesday.
Neimeyer , all of 103 today , began his career at his father’s typography studio but soon chose to study architecture engineering at Escola de Belas Artes and went on to work with Ar.Lucio Costa. Neimeyer was fascinated with the fluid character of Concrete as a material and strove to create objects of beauty. He was hence praised and criticized for being the “sculptor of monuments”.
The video shows Neimeyer at his studio explaining his sketches and describing an architect as a connoisseur of beautiful forms. He believes that the practice of architect is a continuous strive for beauty and that an architect  must constantly strive to create beautiful forms inspired from a flower , a tree – or a lovely lady.
Forming a testament to his continued affection of curves are the various buildings in Brasilia – including the famous National Congress of Brazil. The Niteroi contemporary art museum brings to fore the smooth sensuality of the curved form. The same artistic idealism can be seen in his furniture – with his inspiration ranging from the mountains of Rio De Genaro to the female form.
Towards the end of the video , Neimeyer takes a detached stance and explains , that when we stand apart to look at the larger picture , it is humbling to realize our own significance. He believes that we are , but a speck on the huge canvas of this universe. An hence – an architect must strive to increase the beauty around him – and ceaselessly create a more enriching experience for his fellow beings.
The video , however created much debate on our discussion table. A section were in gross disagreement with Neimeyer’s approach to design and were of the opinion that creation of a sculpture comes second – the primary function of the architect being the fulfillment of the functional requirements of the project. It is the function that needs to be addressed first and not the aesthetic. The entire approach of creation of a building so as to be a thing of beauty seems absurd.
Another opinion was that architecture is nothing without its art. A functional building will not amount to good architecture unless it has been conceived with the soul of an artist. Hence, approaching design with an intent to creating beauty is not entirely flawed.
However , we came to the conclusion that it is indeed the elusive perfect amalgam of functionality and aesthetics that create good architecture – and one detached from the other is only half done.
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Sendai Media centre – Discussion 17

Nature has been the inspiration for everything fine in life – from high art to the most complex science and even brilliant architecture. The Media center and Library in Sendai, conceived by Ar.Toyo Itto providing a fine example of a most thoughtful interpretation of natural order in built form.  It was this remarkable building that was the subject of the video presentation that occupied our discussion hour this Tuesday.

The Media center is based on a simple structural system of hollow cylinders formed by seemingly random arrangement of steel tubes – reminiscent of branches of a huge tree. The floors are stacked on these pillars creating spatial orders that identify with the function of the particular area. The ground floor – which extends beyond the setback limits open out into the street forming an open café and resting area blurring the boundaries between the built area and the street separated only by a clear glass façade which can be drawn back effortlessly.
The spatial order of the buildings defies any particular definition and echoes the architect’s feeling that rectangles limit – both movement and imagination. Walls at right angles are provided only when function deems it necessary. The walls are otherwise built on an organic plan or, as in the case of the exhibition center – even rendered moveable. The interior of the building is sparse – simple and minimalistic but shines with a warmth unseen in other modern buildings, with the exposed structural system adding to the character of the space.
The inherent honesty of the architectural language is evident even in the elevations – which is a mixture of plain glass, frosted glass and cladding.  The clear glass facades allow for uninhibited view while the frosted areas are for spaces that require a degree of privacy.  The entire complex is a testimony to the use of modern technology to create building that relate to the context and fit into its site.
The video evoked an enthusiastic response. While Rini confessed that while she was of the opinion that any building that satisfies its users and is clean and organized functionally is acceptable, it definitely needs that special artistic touch, the poetic factor to be called good architecture.  She added that Sendai Media center fits into the category of the buildings that responds to the traditional character of its location albeit in an extremely abstract manner.
Tony posed the question of the feasibility of building such structures in India. The group was divided on this, but came to the conclusion that we were, perhaps, quite far from accomplishing this feat. However, it was agreed that we had, of our own, certain skill sets that had the potential to create architecture that can stand apart, even globally. An example was given of “The Akshar Dham” temple in New Delhi which can only be termed beautiful.
Our discussion concluded with emphasis on the need to think beyond the obvious and contemplate on the emerging architectural language which gives utmost prominence to material honesty and distilled simplicity
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Jewish Museum – Discussion 16

“Expressive vs. Neutral, Complex vs. Simple, Unexpected vs. Habitual…. “

These thoughts have been the major debates in the architectural community for years. Even now the air is fresh around these thoughts. Well, these were the thoughts that heated up our discussion forum this Tuesday.

Forum started with a video presentation on the famous Jewish museum in Berlin, Germany. Museum stands to exhibit the struggles Jewish people had to go through in Germany. The 3 lakh visitors in the first 3 years, before any of the exhibits were even moved in shows how the building itself becomes the exhibit.

The architect, Daniel Libeskind, in his own words describes the building as “between the lines“. The strong expressive lines of organization and relationship. Every inch of the building has something to speak out. The hardships the Jews had to go through are clearly written on every space in the museum. The tower of holocaust, garden of exile, the voids – all create the kind of tension the Jews had to go through. Time freezes in space and you are taken back into those days of terror and tension.

The museum is connected to the old part by an underground passage with a radical, zigzag design on top named after “Blitz”. Cutting through the form of the museum is a void, a straight line whose impenetrability forms the central core around which the exhibits are organized. In order to cross from one space of the museum to another, the visitor has to  traverse sixty bridges, which open into the void spaces, the “embodiments of absence”.

The presentation kept everyone speechless. The strong expressive language of the building needed no words to describe it. Tony pointed out the various struggles and hardships the Jews had to go through and how well the building takes us through the same feeling. Long after the video ended the clinging noise of the metal plates kept ringing in our ears. It was as if the tension was injected into the veins by the building, keeping the memories alive.

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From Tents to Large Span Structures – Discussion 15

As in the case of most innovations, the inspiration always lies in history. The case with the awe-inspiring large span structures of today is no exception. The cutting edge technology behind these finds its roots in the logic of ancient sails which enabled the renaissance sailors to explore the world.

It was this fascinating story of tensile structures that was presented before our discussion forum in the form an admirably well-documented presentation by Ashwathi.

The presentation sought to give answers to specific questions like -

What is a tensile structure?

Tensile structure deals only with tensile force and not compression. The most important feature of these is that it can cater large span without a need to break the space with columns.

Then how is it supported?

Most of these structures are supported by steel cables whose size is determined by the span of the structure, some are even suspended

What make it so flexible? Is it the fabric used?

Though it is called tensile fabric, in reality these are sandwiched panels coated by weather proofing material whose size is determined by specialized software. The software converts 3d roof structure to flattened images and divides them to form panels.

These basic questions out of the way , she launched into an a series of examples to illustrate the various ways in which architects have utilized the potential of tensile materials.

She began the illustration by aptly quoting the master of Tensile structure,   Frei Otto who designed the Olympic Stadium of Munich. It had an acrylic cable net roof, a translucent structure which symbolized the new democratic and optimistic Germany.

Next in line was the . Millennium Dome designed by Richard Rogers which had an extremely eye-catching suspended roof . The roof was suspended by twelve 100m high pylons which denoted twelve months of a year or each hour of a clock face. Sydney Myer designed by Barry Patten is an example where the roof is supported by steel cable , 21.3m pivoted down the earth. Cable consisted of 173m long ropes of 9cm diameter each.

Jeddah International airport designed by SOM architects was very interesting as it is the world’s largest roof. The roof is divided into ten modules consisting of 21 tent units each supported by 46m high four cables in the corners. Two groups of five modules each on both sides of the central access road accentuate the pathway.

Burnham pavilion designed by Zaha Hadid for an artist, Thomas Gray was of a totally different technology. The temporary structure had 7000 bent pieces in which no two pieces were alike. Skylights were provided to create light and shadow effects  inside the pavilion. German pavilion designed by Frei Otto which took the shape of the contour to create a manmade landscape and Shukhov Rotunda designed by Vladimir Rotunda which is the first membrane roof were the other examples

What makes these structures free from sagging was a common doubt that arose after the presentation. As a part of clearing the doubt Aswathi explained how the structure is erected on site. In fact the structure is pretensioned as a prt of its erection on site and this makes it free from sagging.

The discussion was entertaining and informative and provided us a glimpse of the creativity that a wonder-material stimulated in inspired minds all over the world.

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Johnson Wax Museum – F.L . Wright – Discussion 14

Routines can be tiresome and is often found to bar creativity with its exasperating repetition.  Breaking the tedious routine while providing inspiration was the purpose behind our discussion this Tuesday – and who else to inspire better than one of the great masters of architecture, and the father of organic architecture – F.L.Wright.

The twenty –seven minute long video that was selected for our viewing featured one of Wright’s landmark building-namely Johnson Wax museum.

The video begins with the 70-year old Wright bearing witness to the strength testing of his now-famous canopied-column that was to be a major feature of the Johnson wax building. The video shows the engineers load the column with double the estimated tonnage leading to its collapse while the old architect watches thoughtfully.

The fact that the museum now sports these very columns is a testimony to Wright’s shrewd structural knowledge.  Wright strengthened these hollow columns with honeycomb shaped reinforcement material that helped distribute the load evenly and allowed it to withstand more load – one of the many features of this remarkable building.

The Building which was meant to be a new-age symbol to the Johnson wax company sports a single entrance – to access which one has to walk all around the building , taking in the smooth monumentality of its exposed brick texture with no openings to reveal a clue of the inside. The entry is not emphasized and is accessed from the parking area. A visitor then walks into a great hall (25m*65M), double height, divided into three parallel bays supported by hollow columns, diameter tapering to 20cm and attached to a brass holder allowing slight movement making the building earthquake resistant.  The columns spring into a canopy at the top supporting the roof. Where there could be a cornice are Pyrex tubes that bathe the insides with natural light. The hall has no openings and hence no noise penetrates the building. An occupant likens the experience of working in the building to being in a pine forest.

The room of the director of the company and the supervisors overlook the great hall and all the partitions within the building made of Pyrex tubes, which allows light in while also protecting the privacy of occupants.

The video ended on an inspiring note – with a brief review about the tripling of the profits of the company – and increased efficiency of employees after the building was occupied. This sound proof, earthquake proof, vermin proof building stands testimony to the genius of Wright and provides hope to the likes of us, aspiring architects!

The discussion then turned to the passion and dedication that our profession demands – not to mention the degree of courage that Wright possessed to design this totally novel structure and see it to its completion.  A wry comment about the rarity of the clients like Johnson and opportunities to truly explore brought about a wave of cynicism … but soon gave way to high romanticism as we contemplated the universality of good design.

We left the discussion convinced that through the various styles of architecture , what remains constant is the urge of their creators to explore history and contemplate on it – and these very reflections are transformed into creating that transcend time…

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Studio Mumbai – an architecture practice with a difference – Discussion 13

It has always been fashionable to do things differently. And yet, most adventurers who undertake this task buckle under its stress but the few who manage to walk the hard path – often earn respect and criticism in equal measures.

It was one such story that our discussion forum witnessed this Tuesday when Deepak chose to present before us the work of Studio Mumbai – an architecture practice with a difference.

Based out of their quirkily un-conventional office with rusting corrugated metal sheets for a façade, the firm has succeeded in creating architecture of acclaim. What might be more amusing to the architecture community is that this firm has finally freed itself from the darkness of the AutoCAD screen. The buildings are designed on paper and executed on site from the architect’s sketches, supervised by the architect and his associates themselves.

What wonder is it then that the buildings exude with passion?

An example being the Reading room – which is a timber addition to an existing house. The architects choose to eliminate the walls, but cover the structure with an agricultural shade net allowing light and air to permeate the structure while providing view to a magnificent banyan tree on the site.

The elegantly simplicity and novelty of detailing is evident in their most famous work – the Palmyra house. Located outside Mumbai – in a coconut grove, this house is built as a refuge. The main massing being two wooden volumes – the house seems to gel into its surrounding. The plan is simple and open and the structure is primarily of wood with wooden louvers forming most of the façade of the building. Light, airy and simple – this building stands close to nature.

Studio Mumbai also has to its credit the Tara house – which is a multi generation house , the special feature of which being a subterranean aquifer which fills a secret room beneath the garden – with the roof lights creating beautiful patterns over the water.

The firm has also designed in varying climatic and geographical zones such as the Leh 360 guest house in the snowy Himalayas and Trinity Guest house in the tropical Cochin , each building fitting into its landscape and innovative in its detailing – yet simple in its overall character.

The presentation – impressive as it was, gave rise to varying views. While everybody was in agreement that the quality of design was excellent, there was an argument that this unconventional method cannot be adapted for the kind of projects a typical office deals with. The forum agreed, almost unanimously, that if architecture has to be dealt with as a business, the level commitment the architect can give to project becomes extremely limited.

The forum concluded with a renewed energy  towards better design and enthusiasm to pour passion into every activity !

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All of us must have, at some point in time, savored the vague moments between sleep and wakefulness – the almost magical moments when the hazy dreams take on a most ethereal quality.

It almost seemed like a real-world manifestation of an architect’s detached dreams when Tony presented before us the images of Kenya’s Shompole Resort. Located on the outskirts, this huge resort seems like an extension of an architect’s poetic fantasies.

The resort welcomes a user with its pristine white walls and spotless white flooring with the wooden members and the thatched roof providing highlights. There seems to be an almost whimsical integration of water bodies of various shapes into the plan. The volume of the resort is wrapped around the existing trees and is open with no doors or complete walls – leading to amusing scenarios where birds fly right into the resort and set up nest on the trusses of the roof.

The resort offers a limited number of suites – each suite in itself offering rooms of huge proportions. The level differences vary in a quirky manner and tony confessed to have tripped on several of the many level variations. The open space planning moves through the lounging areas into the bedrooms and to the toilets in a seamless manner. A huge Swimming pool that looks out into the sparse landscape forms the part of the suite.

However, the resort, Tony testifies, is a housekeeping nightmare. A heavy storm can devastate the walls – that are merely metal grill reinforcement covered over by a mixture of cement, clay and plastered , though forms fanciful shapes – collapses in an event of a storm , common to the African nation. The pure white flooring needs vigilant monitoring and the many water bodies, if not cared for, become breeding ground for mosquitoes and insects.

The resort, dreamlike in many aspects failed to impress our forum, and some declined to even term it as good architecture- for good architecture, they argued, is never detached from rationality. Functionality forms the crux of aesthetics and grace without prudence is meaningless.

However, the forum was in agreement that one lesson that one can imbibe from this resort is the use of natural materials and the innovative detailing in parts of the resort such as the coves that hold the lanterns and line the pathway or the effective lampshade of bamboo strips that attaches itself to the electric light filtering the glow of the light.

We concluded with the judgment that middle path , as the enlightened Buddha said , is applicable in architecture as well – and the middle path between functionality and fancifulness defines aesthetics.

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The Brick master – Discussion 11

“My feeling as an architect is that you’re not after all trying to design a monument, but Mohan Singh’s house where he can live happily with his family”

-          Laurie Baker

These strangely inspiring lines define the idol who was truly the poor man’s architect. It was a documentary on Ar.Laurie Baker that filled our discussion hour this Tuesday.

Ar.Laurie Baker whose accidental halt in India during the war years, after rendering medical service to the war-victims.  He was invited to design a shelter for leprosy patients.  He spent several years in the mountainous regions of North India exploring and understanding the native architecture of the area.

However, it was his wife’s homeland that was fortunate to benefit from the creative genius of Laurie Baker.  The distinctive feature of Laurie Baker’s architecture was its unpretentiousness.  He believed that one must, in his own words “take one’s conscience out of deep freeze and use it, not only in architecture- but in everything in life”.  His sincerity is evident in his buildings that he refused to plaster, allowing the character of the bricks to reveal itself. He describes it as utter foolishness to cover up the indigenous beauty of materials with false facades.

Baker was an architect who involved himself with the tactile physical aspect of his work. He stressed on the need for the architect to be actively involved in the evolution of his design into a building. He describes it as the duty of the architect to understand the nature of the site, climatic conditions in person – and described architecture as a process that often relied on intuition and was known for his innovations on the site.  A colorful piece of glass that lends a special glow to a room, an innovative jail detail or an extended eave – evidences of the architect’s insight.

Baker was a true environmentalist who took utmost care to be considerate to the natural bounty of earth.  While all his buildings exemplify this, a particular example would be the CDS building in Trivandrum where he addressed the need for a decreased temperature inside computer center by providing strategic double walls and perforations to allow wind movement. He was against robbing of natural resources and has never gone beyond superfluous in his designs.

Above all, Laurie Baker was an extremely vigilant citizen and completely aware of the dire reality that faced him. He worked with compassion, understanding the need of the hour – developing techniques to reduce cost. Be it the rat-trap bond or shell roof or building with mud. Baker’s designs respond to the need of the hour creating poetry with the bare minimum.  All his designs stand testament to this.

A simple human , a genius architect – who spares intellectual jargon and advices architects to design with compassion , common sense – and- to have Fun while designing is a hero to almost every architecture student and young architect.

After the viewing of the documentary Rini was of the opinion that In today’s scenario, where the architects seem to creating designs that are superfluous, to cater to their egos, where the designers cater to the elite , where everyone aspires to be a starchitect , in this increasingly selfish world – Laurie Baker is an inspiration.

However, there was a counter argument from Poonam that Baker was perfect in his day and age , but has become obsolete in today’s times. She maintained that the world has gone beyond brick and mud and one needs to now concentrate on exploring novel materials. Laurie Baker is great, but we have to move beyond him.

It was Tony who argued that it was not the outer shell of Baker’s philosophy that we must imbibe – it is the values. The wonderful geometry, the beautiful volumes and the organic blending of spaces. He added that Baker’s ethic of non-elitism was only one side of the coin and that one needs architects who design for the elite as well. The Starchitects need not be branded as selfish and branded wrong.  Selfishness , in his sense of the term is the generosity of the entrepreneur who creates wealth , but also creates employment.

The group was almost equally divided in support and opposition of this statement.  An energetic argument in favor of and against architecture turning into a business and the world into a capitalist battle ensued…and still continues..

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Timeless architecture – Discussion 10

How does one define timelessness in architecture?? There could be a thousand views on the topic, well; some beleive it can be achieved by being simple and original. Others would be a little more conservative by stating a timeless building should reflect an era, its culture and technology. Anyhow, our discussion started with the famous quote from Mies Van der Rohe – “it’s better to be good than to be original”.

The enlightening presentation by Portuguese architect Tiago de Martos on Brazilian architecture gave impetus to the discussion. Tiago took a novel stand by presenting lesser known yet interesting work, a refreshing change from the well-known Brazilian starchitects Oscar Niemeyer and Marcio Kogan. One could understand the three basic principles that govern the Brazilian architecture Simplicity, clean, elegance.

Buildings are the clearest expression of the way of people living at a given historical period, exemplifying their available technology and their artistic ideals. More lasting than other cultural manifestations, Brazilian architecture often incorporated arts, such as sculpture, painting and other popular artifacts.

Discussion kick started when Tony pointed out the mission statement of Stapati – “Timeless architecture”. Well, how does one achieve it?? The discussion then turned to the question of universal character of good design, transcending boundaries and time periods. The quality of timelessness has always eluded definitions, but abounds with examples.

Ranjith pointed out the fact that all major architectural wonders have achieved that stature because of their simplicity. Purest use of original materials, plan and form all contribute to the making. Then comes the question, “what about Madura temple?? It is not simple in form, but nobody dares to say it is not a timeless building.” While it is not right to term it simple, it is indeed a startling testimony to timelessness.

So it is not simple form or plan alone. So what can it be? Well, like any dish, it should have all the proper ingredients in the right proportion. The reason why, for instance, the traditional Kerala architecture stands out is the proportion used. Any slight change may have ruined it.

Then came the question of the hugely popular and radical architects Zaha Hadid or Calatrava. Their buildings have the evident “wow factor” that makes them stand apart. They reflect the era in which they are built. Perhaps 50 years from now, people may call it a reflection of the modern era. They showcase the technology and culture of the time.

Discussion heated up when the mass voted against it. One group seemed to hold a latent dislike towards the Gehry and Zaha brand of design. “How can you call them timeless building?? Zaha hadid buildings don’t serve their purpose!!!” And so it emerged – a purpose. Parthenon, pantheon all got their value initially because of the function they were hosting. The religious backdrop did make a difference in the scale and importance of the building. Another step in achieving timelessness.

There was silence in the air for some time. Everyone was in a state of dilemma, trying to think it out aloud. It’s not a “thing” that can be achieved by a set of guidelines. Architecture is often said to be coined by the words art and technology. When all the ingredient – simplicity, scale, proportion, purpose, purity combined with the sense of how to mix them up, the perfect dish is served – a “TIMELESS BUILDING”

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Portuguese architecture – Discussion 9

The great rules of architecture are universal, only varying in language and form to fit into its endemic surroundings. This found expression in the refreshing presentation by Ar.Tiago Santos on Portuguese architecture. Tiago, who hails from Lisbon, practiced in his city for over five years before embarking on a journey of exploration that brought him to India.

The presentation began with the work of the trio – Ruy Athouguia , Pedro cid and Alberto Pessoa who designed the headquarters for Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a Portuguese private institution of public utility whose statutory aims are in the fields of arts, charity, education and science. A landmark in the Portuguese Architecture of the 60′s, the apparently simple, modern building is skillfully combined with the surrounding park with its lake and open-air auditorium to form a harmonious whole. The building seemed to hold a character of serene monumentality and seemed to have a rational ordering within itself.

Moving on, we were introduced to the work of Carillho de gracia.  Knowledge of the sea Pavilion, which is an abstract, sharp geometrical composition – two rectangles at right angles to each other reflecting the stark modernity and minimalism that runs through modern Portuguese architecture.  However, the creation of spaces within the building – the open courtyard with greenery, provides respite and adds to the sculptural quality of the building.

An optimal mix of the fierce minimalism and organic restfulness was the work of starchitect Alvaro Siza. Tiago presented before us two buildings of Siza with almost contrasting characters. One was the Portuguese pavilion – minimalistic, logical and precise the prominent feature of which was a concrete sail anchored on fin-line walls. The building responds with clean straight walls and geometric volumes respond to the needs with no frills. Almost in contrast to this is the serpentine gallery. A non uniform form developed in response to the site – accommodating the trees and other elements. The framework of wood and mortar-tenon joints with polycarbonate sheets provides abundant natural light.

Tiago seemed to be of the opinion that a discussion on Portuguese contemporary architecture cannot be complete without the work of Eduardo Souto Moura. Clean lines, buildings that seem to stand on their edge in an honest, non-superfluous manner seem to define his style. An array of residences, including one reminiscent of the monumentality of pyramids and another, for a cinematographer which literally spells out the vocation of its resident capture interest.

However, the contemporary architecture of Portugal, with the exception of Siza seems to give greater attention to the visual and spatial aspect of the building. It seems mostly unrelated to the context and bold – with no symbolic and metaphoric allusions.  The architects seem to be detached from the old-world need for relation to the environment and search of meaning. The buildings just seem to hold their own and stand apart, in bold defiance to the past.

While the merits of tendency are debatable – this glimpse into the architectural scenario in Portugal provided us direction and inspiration – to transform the ideals of postmodernism to fit into a paradigm of our own.

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From the Rhode Island – Discussion 8

In the rare moments of contemplation, I am sure all of us must have wondered at the sheer incredulity of the fact that the wonderful abundance around us arose from a single living cell. It is most humbling to realize that the tiniest blade of grass to the loftiest tree holds within, a part of you and me.

Design, i am inclined to believe is but, an extension of the laws of nature.  It was hence, a captivating session that showcased the beginning point of design as, Shruti presented before us the work completed in the course of her first 3 months at the Rhode Island School of Design.  The initial semester that would empower the students to decide the tributaries of design that they would like to specialize in.

The course of her study was structured around three studios – Design , Spatial dynamics and drawing. The design class included a 4 week long exercise that challenged the students to analyze any set of data and provide a graphical representation to it.  While a student chose to list the Oscar winners in the time span of the last 20 years with an interactive, computerized system, another chose to graphically create connections that would enable an observer to understand the number of rapes and murders in the different states in the  US.  Yet another student decided to “map the insanity” of her hometown creating  interesting patterns which would allow the user to understand the ratio of mentally deranged people to the normal population and trace the increase in it over the years.  Shruti had created a 3 dimensional tool that showed the differences in land area , population and  population density in various countries.

She described the system as being thought-based, and not grade-based. The main emphasis of the design studio being the critique sessions where each student is reviewed by his peers as well as the professors and offered suggestions to improve her design.  The process of design hence flows seamlessly, adapting and innovating.

This was evident in next project that shruti chose to describe, which was to create self-portrait sculpture out of chipboard and gluetgun – the challenge being the limited primary shapes that were allowed for experimentation . The result was a variety of sculptures, some abstract, while some, she said vaguely resembled their creators.

The next project in this short period was to create a body-suit sculpture that had to be inspired from the work of an architect or a sculptor with either a movable part of an element of surprise. This exercise was a delight to watch as the students provided a myriad of options.  One chose to create interesting shadows with the projectors while she wore her net-and wire body suit that reminded one of the lashing waves, inspired by a sculpture by Naum Gabo.  Yet another chose to be inspired from a sculptural water tank in his hometown creating a spherical suit that lit up with a tiny in-built projector. There was a Gaudi-inspired sculpture and one inspired by calatrava…and one that almost literally depicted the Bird’s nest in Beijing.

It is indeed a baby step towards the world of design where almost everything is an abstraction.  It was interesting that a time period of 4 weeks was provided for each project, which allowed a lot of flexibility and allowed experimentation unlike our schools where we rush to fit in maximum projects into limited time afforded by semesters.

Shruti also provided us a glimpse of work from her art class, where she experimented with charcoal. Drawings with eyes closed, on water and on themes that the students fancied – merely looking at the sketches filed me with the sense of freedom that they carried.

It was interesting to understand the way the design system works in other countries, and it is high time that we opened our eyes and our education systems to the world of new possibilities.

Shruti had not decided on the discipline that she was to chose.. .but then again , the branches of design are as accidental as the permutation and combination of molecules that created a rabbit , an elephant or you. .

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Fountainhead – Discussion 7

The Fountainhead is most often the one book that is thrust upon the hands of every first year student, and is lauded by a large section of architecture society as a book that transformed their train of thought about their profession, and life.

As such, it was not surprising when it came up at our discussion table and afforded a spirited and interesting session.

Howard Roark – the ideal man and the architect who values his integrity over commercial success. The idealist who doesn’t build for clients, but for his own self-satisfaction, which he believes is the prime purpose and motive of one’s life. The hero who abhors collectivism. A patron of the supremacy of man’s ego.  The stern defender of honor who blows up a building meant for the underprivileged for the reason that his design had been mutilated in its erection.

While a hero of such clarity of thought and integrity might have impressed many, our members seemed to hold an extremely cynical approach to Roark-ism.

Renjith agreed that he held a deep seated admiration for the devotion that Roark possessed with regards to his work. Indeed, any work achieves perfection only when it is love made visible. However, the extreme level of individuality and egotism embedded into one’s work is an impossible scenario in today’s world. The architecture practice is now a play of interdependence between many people and design is hardly ever a one-person job.

Arun added that Utupia is always a mile ahead and pointed out that one cannot afford the inflexibility of Roark that Ayn Rand claims is integrity.  An architect, in Arun’s opinion is one who can make compromises and provide the user what he requires.

Amal found that Roark-an approach to architecture  - the passion towards understanding the various materials and the indomitable drive towards innovation is all good , but divorced from a deep seated and human understanding  of the desires and needs of the people , without empathy to its occupants , no architecture ever can be termed successful.

Deepak brought to light the issue of the degree of ownership that an architect can have over his design. It was his opinion that an architect has no right to destroy the built form of his design in an event that it is not built according to the guidelines specified by him. He went on to add that every individual, however egoistic he may be , is born into a society and must obey the social order. He maintained that, like the harmony of the interdependencies that one finds in the nature, man is also genetically wired to have an interdependent co-existence.

Poonam added that the extreme right-wing ness of Ayn Rand , though spearheads the economy of the leaders countries currently is definitely showing a negative curve and uneven development where in the rich is getting richer and the poor poorer. She was of the opinion that the view that a man’s primary moral goal remains his own satisfaction seems to be the outcry of an extremely narrow mind.

It seems evident  that Ayn Rand is slowly losing popularity in STAPATI , and to me personally , seems a positive development as our world today needs a new clan of architects who can relate to the needs of the people and not stand apart as a group of boorish , pseudo-intellectual , unapproachable individuals.

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Kinetic Architecture – Discussion 6

So our discussion forum had a new visitor today who brought with her the perfect antidote for the identity crisis (!) that we had been suffering from in recent times.

Arthi provided us a glimpse of her Thesis Project which had its roots in Kinetic Architecture – the evolving branch of architecture that deals with physical transformation of buildings with an objective to redefine traditional methods of design.

Aarathi began by talking about the growing tendency of our cities to turn into concrete jungles, as the high-rises that serve various purposes during the daytime turn non-functional during the evenings, they turn into sleeping structures that serve no purpose but occupy precious space.

This brings us to the need for architecture that would be customized to functions and can be transformed as the function changes.

What if a building could be an office during the daytime and an amphitheater or an exhibition space by the night?

To experiment on her concept, she chose to implement her ideas into design of The Lamborghini Headquarters on a site located in Dubai.

She envisaged cubical volumes that would serve as modules which would move along all three axes and continually transform to match the various functions as required.  .  The volumes that would form the modules can be arranged in relation to each other in three dimensional spaces in a variety of permutations and combination. The volumes could be brought together to form a large exhibition space or stacked to form an office space. They would shrink by evening to form a landscape feature or a playground.

In harsher climates, she suggests a thermal cover over the entire kinetic modules which would again be collapsible or transformable into an element that would perform a different function.

While the entire idea appears fantastical, the future might just hold something within its fold.  What began with Fuller and developed through Calatrava is finding fulfillment through groups such as Archigram.  One lives in an age when one is not surprised to hear of buildings, parts of which rotate to obtain the best orientation through the day.

While Aarathi was thoroughly grilled by our detail-loving, wonderfully rational and curious members,  the concept was a spark that I hope would stay and perhaps inspire us to think beyond that which we know is possible , for like Ar.Karan Grover mentioned –

We are only as good as our imaginations.

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Expressionism – Discussion 5

Good architecture has always been the result of strong personal convictions drawn from philosophy, history and a deep understanding of the nature of society. As such, architecture can be rightly called a true mirror of its time.

An exploration of this nature of architecture brought us to a discussion on expressionism and its significance in architecture.

From Gustave Eiffel to Eero Saarinen to Frank O’ Gehry, a quick glance on the time line shows buildings that stand apart with respect to their massing, or use of novel materials and technology to invoke a strong emotion in observers.

Our discussion began with Eero Saarinen’s Yale Hockey Rink. As he describes it himself.

““…the concept of the building was arrived at as a completely logical consequence of the problem. There was the site, an open location…it seemed a place where one could express the special nature of this absolutely independent building and could express its structure freely.”

The roof form of the building is dramatic and evokes in the user a sense of fluidity and freedom in the viewer while it stands proudly in conversation in nature.

Expressionism finds a different form in Frank’O’genhry’s  Weisman Art museum in Minnesota.  The building which can only be described as a collection of abstract and seemingly arbitrary cuboid and curvaceous forms has a sculptural quality. While it blows away a casual visitor with its enigmatic grandeur, an architect walks away wondering about the thought process that went into creating the sculpture clad in brushed steel.

Yet another master of Expressionalism was Antonio Gaudi with his Casa Batilo in Barcelona serving as a good example. The master architect found inspiration in the wonderful diversity of sealife and has created a spectacular rendition which , like all good art , has lent itself to a million interpretations.  The absolute lack of straight lines , the very organic – feel of every feature of the building makes it stand apart and lends it an expression that changes with every eye that falls on it.

Unlike these examples, expressionism can be symbolic as in the case of Airforce Academy Chapel by Walter Netsch. The chapel , Massed like a phalanx of fighter jets shooting up into the sky , provides a feeling of loftiness that one often associates with religion while emphasizing the location and context of the building.

One finds the spark of the divine in the quiet spirituality of the expressionism in Corbusier’s  Ronchamp Chapel or feel the tinkling of the river when one looks at the FL Wright’s famous Falling Waters.

Expressionism, it is obvious, is a quality that permeates all the styles of architecture, rather than a style in itself. All work of art and architecture is primarily a carrier of the expression of its creator’s concepts…and all works of beauty are those that evokes in the observer, even an inkling of the thoughts that motivated its creator.

Expressionism , after all , is what brings the world alive.

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Firmitas , Utilitas , Venustas – Discussion 4

Firmistas , Utilitas , Venustas were the cornerstones of the age old wisdom of Vitruvius , design of a good building being based on its functional , aesthetic and technological aspects. Life comes a full circle as these Vitruvius ideas gain special relevance in today’s world of increasing globalization.

The architecture profession today is in the stronghold of two opposing forces .  One being the pressure to keep up with an increasingly commercialized shrinking world and its architectural manifestations in the form of iconic skyscrapers, standardized hotel chains and shopping malls. And the other being the architect’s conscience to create buildings that responds and relate to its surroundings.

There s a general consensus in the architectural community that the special identity of places matter.  Identity, it is agreed, is a synthesis of multidimensional physical and psychological environmental attributes.  It lends its character from the spirit of the place and the symbols of the place. Symbols of the place refer the various local elements that can be interpreted into creating something that is architecturally new.

It is the moral and social responsibility of the architect today to tread carefully while creating new spaces, because while changing the spaces, they are also changing the way the society sees itself. It is under this temperature that the architecture world stands today.

We see some architects trying to seek architectural regionalism within an international framework, some trying to recover architectural traditionalism and others trying to contrive traditional types within their moral aspects in order to produce new homogenized developments within communities built environments to promote residential ties with communities, thus promoting place identity.

As such , as we step towards a new era in architecture , it is essential that  -

  1. Maintain historic continuity by respecting the dominant styles in the region
  2. Incorporate architectural language drawn from vernacular design aspects.
  3. Integrate positive aspects of advanced technology using modern techniques materials and building automation and control systems.
  4. Addressing the project to the place identity and ground on which the project stands reflecting the local cultures and linking to the global forces.

Let us strive to create a new architecture that serves to sympathise rather than shock.

Refernces – “Globalisation challenges in architecture” – Ibrahim Mostafa Eldemery ( Journal of architectural planning and research)

“creating local identity through architecture” – Robert Adam

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What is our Legacy? – Discussion 3

If the whole of history were to be made into a cartoon strip, most definitely the buildings would do most of the talking, as architecture has always been a mirror and a manifestation of the thoughts of a society at any point of time.

Our work and lives too goes down into the comic strip, for the future to learn from, criticize and laugh at! And if we were to add a title to the architecture that we’re creating – what would it be? What is the identity that we give ourselves through our architecture?

This was the topic that came up on our discussion table this Tuesday.

An argument was that identity is an evolving chain and that the duty of the architect is to merely respond to the need of the hour and that very activity would, in due course of time lend a new identity to that place.  It was pointed out that the city of Calicut has been on a process of continuous evolution, forever changing…yet to this day not succumbed to an identity crisis, for every new development brings with it, a novel character.

Yet , at the present course of development , with the stronghold  of modernism over us and the increasing need for the local architects to attach themselves to the international bandwagon and correspond to an international style ,  are we creating an architecture of facelessness ?  In the face of this universal language of architecture, what happens to our valuable vernacular? What happens to the architecture that reflects our culture and is deeply rooted in our past?  What happens to the architecture that gives our cities a unique identity that defines it and makes it stand apart? What happens to architecture that the people can relate to and which lends to a place that intangible quality that endears it and bonds it to its residents?

While one group believed that the any building, whatever the style, which responds to the climate and respects the nature creates its unique identity.  A building that fits into its surroundings and creates minimum footprint is the need of the hour and such a building, will definitely have a character that stands apart.

It was pointed out that this argument leaves out a very important element – the culture and tradition of the area.  Any building that does not respond to the culture of the area is spiritless.

So how do we keep the delicate balance between responding to the universal architecture climate while keeping true to our traditions? How do we remove ourselves from being awed by the advancing technology while not returning to the nostalgic historicism?

This bought us to a discussion on the critical regionalism.

Critical regionalism is an approach to architecture that strives to counter placeless-ness and lack of identity in Modern Architecture by utilizing the building’s geographical context.

However, a common interpretation of this attempt to reconnect with the past is often a “glib” and merely “visual” imitation of the vernacular using the modern materials. In Kerala, one so often finds gables that are a more a decorative feature than placed after an actual understanding of the real principle behind it.  It was agreed that this mere “visual” recreating of lost forms is mere creating soulless buildings and cannot be a solution to the problem of lost identity.

It was discussed that reinterpretation of the past should happen in a more “tactile’ manner, i.e., that through sense of touch, through experiences. An understanding of the quality of spaces and the reinterpretation of those in tune with the present needs and using optimal technological methods is what that may define crucial regionalism.

Ajay quoted the example of the  Kala Academy in Goa by Charles Correa. Correa captures the spirit of Goa through his “ Kala Academy “ , where the mass is spread horizontally and organized around an innovative ground plan with an open street going through the entire building. Murals on the high walls turn visitors into actors as they walk around – a tribute to “tiatro”, a form of Konkani Theatre. Portuguese influence, the sun and the sea. Everything is there in this building..

Does it “look” like Goa or “feel” like Goa?


Vinod quoted the Kandalama hotel by Geoffrey Bawa,, the  elegance of which is almost an apt example for “building the site” . The spatial narrative of the spaces is remnant of the local architectural language and the understated-ness of the building forces the user to look at the surrounding – the building is mute while the environment is alive.

Tadao Ando and his distinctly Japanese architecture was pointed out during the discussion as an example or the “regionally modern”. Like he says “I am indebted to Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe, but in the same way, I take what they did and interpret using my vision and experience”.

 Is critical regionalism really the path ahead? Should that be the heading that our future generation will place over the cartoon strip that defines our times?

 What do you say?

PS : Thanks to José Lourenço of “Goan Architecture” for the pictures and information regarding Kala Kendra.

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Sema Kau Landfill and Urban Design – Discussion 2

And so it seemed to Mr. Vivek that we were wandering far too much in the murky territory of romanticism and needed a bolt of rationality to remain balanced.

It was generally agreed that the Indian architects today are stuck in a rut, with regards to technological innovation, while the world around able to give form to their romantic fantasies strong technical support with advancements in technology. It was, hence, fascinating to have a glimpse into the design process of an international firm like Jurong International.

The Sema Kau Landfill, which was built with the ash produced by Singapore’s incineration plants was to be converted to an eco-park. The very thought that  a landfill created of waste is a now to be an object of beauty  makes one filled with optimism about the future ( and makes one suggest fantastical ideas such a hill-station out of ash , in near future!! )

The design process was evolved to be a continuous journey of a myriad of experiences.  The various zones within the island were identified and given textures inspired from the Singapore’s endemic flora and Fauna.  Marshlands, water bodies, sandy areas and grasslands were created ….each holding its own definite identity, with built forms, pathways and open spaces designed to reflect its basic character. Bio- mimicry seemed a prevalent theme .The visitor is hence offered several experiences as he moves from the boat jetty to the various parts of the landfill.

The entire design is supported by a wealth of thorough research and the design offers exact numerical data with regards to the energy it might consume and the channels of waste disposal right down to the financial profitability of the project.  This is was truly a new experience for me, the smug frog in the well , and made me increasingly aware of the need for  a wider horizon.

Perhaps it’s well for all of us to gain the Socratic spirit and believe that “the wisest is she who knows she does not know”

The discussion then turned to the irony of that fact that, in a country not far from our, such care is being provided to development of a landfill that might cater to around 2000 people while, here, a city of two million is allowed to develop in an arbitrary manner with no planning. What is a solution to this…except a general awakening of the public and the authorities??

As for me , a product of the system of architectural education that did not teach me how to put bricks together , or how to apply plaster…..but condemned me to wander listlessly in the romantic territory wondering if form follows function or if more is less or less is more..

The strong grounding and the sheer rationality and good sense of our discussion was a welcome break.

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Form Follows Function – Discussion 1

    Our session this Tuesday began with a discussion on Louis Sullivan’s famous Phrase “Form Follows Function”. The discussion gained relevance in the face of an increasing tendency towards extravagant forms by some of our “starchitects”, who seem to be putting form over function and aiming to create bold, unconventional forms that have an immediate “wow” factor.

   While some agreed that it is a matter of pure common sense to put function above all as it is the primary reason for the construction of the building. All aspects of the design, including the form stems from the efficient fulfilling of the basic function of the building. It only seems rational to put attach importance to function.

 Some others were of the opinion that “form follows function” is just a nonsensical justification for building some “big dull boxes” and that function definitely has more than one aspect. Vinod pointed out the case of Bilbao, where the weirdly (for want of a better word) shaped Guggenheim museum led to a total transformation of the city. According to him, function is a much varied thing and that it is time to redefine Modernism’s war cry. 

 Peace was restored by Ajay who calmly quoted Geoffrey Bawa who said that a building must be true to its function while respecting the nature of the site, its location, the local materials and the culture of the people inhabiting that area. 

 It was Ajay who triggered the next discussion with a few slides quoting Christopher Day’s “Spirit and Place”. 

 We had a lively discussion on the increasingly face-less nature of modern architecture and the cold , impersonal spaces that seem to have stemmed from the ego of the architect and refuses to blend into , or become a part of its natural scenario. The need to delve into our past and explore the ingenious and beautiful solutions developed by those who walked before us was felt unanimously. 

 It was agreed that one needs to explore and filter the basic principle that characterizes these spaces and try to transform them so that they can be applicable in the present context…

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Architecture Discussion forum

Architecture Discussion Forum is an initiative of STAPATI to promote interaction and explore the various facets of architecture in the present context. Even as we are actively engaged in the architectural trade, the need for continuous learning and experimentation and the necessity for constant interaction with other architects is inevitable.

This forum is an attempt to expand our horizons by communication. A myriad of discussions on topics ranging from theoretical to the deeply technical. Every member contributes by making presentations on topics of his interest and initiating the discussion, which then takes a life of its own.

The discussions are mediated by Ar. Vivek P.P, who completed his masters in Urban Deign from the National University of Singapore and is an able leader who provides a new direction to every session.  Ar.Vivek works with his team at “De Earth” in Calicut.

Architecture is a series of experiences, a continuous stream of conversations…

So let’s Begin…

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