Saturday, January 11, 2020

Question of Houses: Whimsical vs Social norms

FORWORD  to a book on some special houses of Mysore

A house is not just a cluster of rooms. Nor is it a physical object alone. It goes above the idea of an object or a tool to live with. It is created by the occupants with their dreams, even whimsical or too personal ones, their emotions and nostalgia of the past, their experiences and reactions to spaces they chanced upon and the values they want to project. More importantly it all depends on their financial means. Like clothes that project a personality beyond utility, a house too could be seen as a symbol of the occupants’ values. It even exhibits, though not overtly, the power relations within the family, relations with neighbours, the position of women and elders etc in shaping up the ‘show’. 
Yes. The ‘show’ that takes expressions in variety of ways.  In the details of attention on spaces of daily use or for showy occasions or by who use them most,  on use of natural light and air as a value, stress on showy garden or trees or even organic horticulture of vogue, display of collected artefacts from far and near, pictures and photographs, furniture, their style over utility or their clutter or their absence, the material palette of walls, plaster, the colours, the flooring, mats, rugs, curtains on windows, the selection of fabric , and so on.  Lately the attention is given to the “eco-friendliness” too in response to popular media, the news and views on climate change. Some of it may be genuinely informed but more often a need to belong to a group or simply what is in vogue. Often without a wholistic understanding and no commensurate change in the overall lifestyle.   
However, utility as a tool to live with, in a hostile environment has been the primary purpose of a house; be it a cave, a hut, a bungalow, a small tenement in a small plot or an apartment in group housing, be it self-built or bought from a builder.  But beyond brute survival, search for pleasure and meaning in every endeavour is a human nature. To make symbols and find a value seems to be a primordial instinct. Human is said to be a symbol making animal before being a tool making one. That thought leads to aesthetics. A human, even in animals too, urge to convert every need to be a source of sensuous appeal and further an appeal to cerebral intellectual sensibility. We call this artistic expression of our personal selves, though not necessarily an art by itself. We chose a house as a medium, to express our successes our uniqueness, our differences with others. This may be more pronounced in liberal societies than in conservative ones. As we live in a society, social sensibilities of time do influence the aesthetics. A house is a product resolving opposing aspects of    socially evolved cultural values pitted against individual tastes as well as choices and limitations of geography, climate and physical environment against promises of technology, skills and resource availability in utilising them intelligently on the other. A good house, in an intellectual sense, thus is a goodness of fit in many of these dimensions.  Cultural, technical and official norms, bye-laws and regulations are used to control the whims and deviations, often unsuccessfully in our city. 
A house is not a beautiful object alone then. Its intellectual aesthetics does not confine to visual pulchritude or a novelty of shape or form alone. As a tool, it also embodies and come out as a sign of contemporary social values as well. Freedom to do anything is continuously shrinking with cultural evolution as the life’s choices become complex. 
As a tool, and as a technological product, the beauty of a house can be seen from as that coming out of its techtonics, that is the interlinkage of geometric surfaces of walls, floors, roofs etc and the way they are joined together in construction with skills and technology. All these keep evolving with respects to social valuation of them and change in resources and environment. 
Such an evolution comes from tradition of the place, the nostalgia of individual and yet adaptation to novelty as a need as well. It cannot be static with respect to technology or novelty of forms or materials. Neither blind following of any of these also would not have a meaningful evolution either. It all indicates to the complexity of human abode or human habitat, in its creation and impact on the city and the world. 
This collection of essays by Sh. Amshi Prasannakumar makes an interesting compendium of several houses of Mysore. He chose many special ones, some idiosyncratic, some nostalgic and most having a personal underpinning single value.  The city, as it grows like many other cities, finds itself in a situation of land scarcity and shrinking of sizes of plots and increase in cost of construction. The official reactions in planning and policy making and their implementation left little impact on the overall future. We seem to gloat more in its partially selected cultural past and ignored the trends underlying the growths. That makes the future more threatening to be replica of larger cities. The ingenuity of future generations cannot be predicted, but outcome will not be different from the past if responses to challenges continue to be as in the past. 

B Shashi Bhooshan 
Architect, Mysore 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Significance of Laurie Baker
Dr. B. Shashi Bhooshan,
Architect and Professor of Habitat Design, Bangalore

Who was Laurie baker? It is difficult to put him in the category of just an architect as
most people do. Neither had he lived like just an architect. He was admired by people of
many walks of life. But still architectural fraternity claimed him as one among them
though many did not know him enough or his ideas enough. What makes Baker an
important phenomenon of recent Kerala? It is not the fact that he started work as a
missionary and did everything in that zeal, not even that he touched many lives and
influenced the opinions of policy makers and ordinary people, nor that he could create
dream houses for many who could not even dream; all that is known and written about by
media. His significance is that he was an agent of change in architecture at a turning point
in Kerala. But still I feel that he was most misunderstood architect.
History will remember Baker for making a generation of architects of Kerala think of
their past in whatever little way and make them understand the relevance of building
materials as well as appreciate the texture and aesthetics of ordinary materials. It is more
significant to note that modern architecture came to Kerala too late, or may be it is true to
say, it never came. All we have seen before the 60s were the insipid PWD stuff and the
occasional works of Bombay or Madras architects. And Baker created some thing new in
this vacuum. Though with the single minded idea of cost reduction. That was first
ridiculed and then accepted and then was eulogized and even worshipped and followed.
His kind of architecture was slowly kept aside today or if followed, done so only in form,
like Gandhian ideas are today. Yet Baker will remain a turning point in Kerala’s
architectural history; the history of modern Kerala and Indian architecture.
To eulogize is to forget the real content and keep only the form. Baker’s also might
follow the same pattern. The ideas will get corrupted if not already by the followers who
may not understand the spirit of enquiry Baker started with in architecture.
Baker’s architecture is largely misunderstood. People have used his ideas to suite their
ends. Some followed his brickwork and some his tracing of tile roof shapes in concrete,
some his jallis and some his cost cutting measures and a few followed him to make
ecological sense of his works, which, in my opinion, was the most sustainable of his
Baker’s architecture is read erroneously and simplistically as “Kerala style”. I think it
was not that simple. The so called “Kerala style” is itself a questionable notion. (this is
not a place to write about it). But the irony is that by labeling it that way, the critics and
followers in Kerala as well as outside have belittled the importance of his work. His
works, - homes or institutions or religious buildings-, had an idiosyncratic stamp typical
of his and were molded by the firm belief in Gandhian frugalism and the conscious
attempt at eliminating the unnecessary, may be of cost cutting. To do so it was inevitable
to build climatically suited structures and use skills locally available. When this was a
philosophy, it was inevitable to result in an architecture that we now know as that of
Baker’s. But we took it as vernacular and labeled as an adaptation of “Kerala style”. He
never claimed so.
Baker did question the logic of plastered makeup as an unnecessary paste on unlike
anybody before in Kerala. He bared his walls of beautiful brick works or stone masonry
and made us admire the beauty of materials. None did that in Kerala before except
Architect Chisholm and his ilk in the 19c or early 20c. He used plans and sequence of
spaces, which were contemporary and modern (least the way Kerala planned
traditionally). He used openings and windows which were simplified modern. None of
these could be called Kerala Style. His jallis were neither an adaptation of the past. Baker
rejected past’s follies and adapted relevant and significant ones from anywhere
But true, he made tiled roof and sloped concrete roofs resembling the roofs of traditional
Kerala as well as some wood joinery details, railings, etc. more like the “post modernist”
way, yet very ingeniously and beautifully. And to that extend he was using an easily
recognizable architectural vocabulary and signifying certain accepted meanings of forms.
He was thus rebelling against the accepted principles of modern architecture as well. I
think, that to him was just a way to get more latent ideas of architecture, - of lower cost
and frugal living and ecological building - acceptable to people, more like the way
Mahatma Gandhi clothed his ideas in simple mass appeal. Baker’s architecture will be
and is significant beyond these scenographic formalisms. At the techtonic level and in
technological innovation and spatial creativity, his architecture was universal, modern
and had the significant spirit of adventure and objectivity. Modern scientific spirit of
enquiry was the basis of his architecture. And it happened at a significant point in
Kerala’s architectural and political history.
Let us remember not to reduce this significance of Baker to that of a mere technician
(even if a masterly one) or just a low cost architect. Let us not disgrace his masterly
adaptations with cheap imitations as seen in Kerala’s recent scenography of questionable
and insipid adaptation of sloping roofs. A serious study of Baker’s architecture is
required. I hope some one will do it. May be that only a European will be destined to do
Baker was admittedly a Gandhian in ideas and yet like Gandhi he is understood more
superficially and because of his eminence, would be followed more in form than in real
spirit and content of ideas.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

the Eye lance

I was alone last night. It was dark. Very dark indeed and heavy rain. Only the sound of it. Falling down the roof and from eves.   Half asleepnfor a long time. Some nights are like that. Sleep does not treat me for long time when I wake up in the middle of the night. It would have been around 3.00 am in the morning. Thinking of many things. The shouting debate on SC judgement on aadhar on TV before I slept. And some thing else.  The flood, the rain. about the discussion on  validity of periodicity; of triple consecutive denials, contradiction of 41 day vow being longer than a 30 day cycle for the maintenance of purity of an ever celibate god, of unlucky 13 enlightening priestly visits and beastly acts. Thoughts came of my returning sciatic pain  and the peripheral numbness on fingers. of magnetic resonance of belief systems. 

Sensed some movement. As usual on rainy days, even street lights were off.  Could hardly see a faint glimmer of a human head with two eyes on it. Nothing more. The eyes, with a redish brown dim glow, were staring at me. I closed my eyes. Tight. Counted upto ten. Then slowly opened . Still the intruder eyes were staring at me. Sound of rain pounding on the roof increased.  So did my heart beat. A hissing wind lashed rain on the clerestory windows; a few drops sprayed through a slit. A sudden panic creeped into my body. Like a slimy someting crawling through the legs up. Lying still in bed, felt creepy bad. Fully awake I looked into those eyes. It moved a bit towards me. I made some sound, but it got stuck in my throat.
One of the eyes turned slowly. No, it rotated and became vertical.  It took the place of the nose in the face. One horizontal eye and another vertical nose-eye on half the face. Nothing on other half, the face inched closer.

I closed eyes again. Stretched my hand and searched for the switch. Oh no. There is no power. The fan is still and there is no grinding sound of it either.
There was a flicker of movement. The half face moved a bit. The other eye climbed over the one occupying the nose-space. And it slid down slowly. It crawled below the vertical nose-eye and took the position of the mouth. Funny, it looked to me like a face with two eyes only; one a nose eye and another mouth eye. I could smell a burning of meat near by. Can the face smell? Was it? My breath was still. Can the other face breath? Does it?

The lids of the mouth-eye opened wide in very slow motion. The redness of eye increased and the iris darkened. It became a large blue hole. Eerieee. The vertical eye was still watching me. It is now l like a blue lens of a camera. Some whizzing sound I heard too. I wanted to shout.  But no sound  came out yet.

A red toungue with a little flame came out of the mouth eye’s dark central hole. It stretched and reached for the other eye that was looking like a flat brownish grey shell-less snail. With a small lence in the middle. The falaming toungue twisted around the snail like-eye’s lower part and suddenly jerked and pulled in. It slowly swallowed it while the nose eye kept struggling to come out. After fully taking in and a gulping sound the mouth-eye closed. The eyelids of the lips with hairs were the only visible in place of mouth; nothing else in the face. 

A smile occurred there now. The hairy lids-lips parted. Opened wide again. And the eye re-appeared in the middle. The blue iris. A beautiful and a scary blue green eye. Staring at me. And it is moving close .. close.. close. Watching me. Focussing on me?And I realise that there was no clothes on me. I am naked. The eye is watching and coming close. Yes, the watchful central eye is coming close ..close, and close.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Of Italian pizza and MysorePak; the question of heritage manufacture?


B S Bhooshan

Dr. B S Bhooshan, Architect and Urban Planner


A controversy is raging regarding fitness of the Devaraja Market, Mysore; to be conserved as a heritage structure or to be demolished as unsafe.  All kinds of opinions have been expressed especially after part of the structure collapsed during a conservation effort recently. We know that there are many poorer structures that were conserved elsewhere, but then that requires careful consideration of rehabilitation of not only the buildings but also its spaces and removal of overloaded functions. Simple rehabilitation is of no heritage value and will have limitations of use. Here we consider three aspects of the issue and some related misconceptions.

·                     1.       The market as originally built and its spatial heritage quality as an Indian Bazaar.
·                     2     The outer building’s conservation fitness and
·                     3      The overloading of the structures and spaces over the period of more than 100 years.

All these are interconnected questions.

The Market

Devaraja Market was built during the reign of Sri Chamaraja Wodeyar  1868-94. It is one of those several Market spaces built around that time in India,  in the tradition of Indian Bazaars. It is similar to Crawford Market in Mumbai, Russell market in Bangaluru or Connemara Market, Thiruvananthapuram. It is laid out with a two storied facade around and a series of simple rows of sheds inside, having tiled roof over steel trusses. Part of the rows were destroyed sometime ago and had been rebuilt in concrete with flat roof. The market is considered one of the surviving traditional Indian urban market heritage buildings.. To that extent it has value to be preserved

The plan, the spaces and the structures built around the bazaar space have served about 150 years and did it well. Made for a city of about 60,000 people upgrading a weekly open market in 1870 to a daily bazaar, this semi open market has been over crowded for its function as a main retail market today. The vegetable as well as the meat and fish markets cannot function as the only market for the more than a million population of the city. It is also not even a wholesale market. To be noted is that these functions need not be in the centre of a large city.

Naturally, the original use of the space and the spatial organisation that served for as smaller retail place has changed and modified most likely beyond the original. The heritage value of a retail market is to be assessed as to the value of the spatial structure and ambience it can project to the future generation as well as visitors and scholars, showing how it functioned originally.  This actually means museumising the past with some functions retained to make it financially viable.  The common place shed structures themselves has no heritage value other than falsified sentiments and to a large extent vested interests of the stakeholders. Especially so the whole idea of retaining the market and continue with overloaded functions, as it is.

Only way it can be meaningfully utilised would be to make it of a low intensity market. The retail fruits / vegetable as well as meat and fish markets are  to be decentralised in many secondary centres around the city first. A part of the the spatial heritage of market can be retained for the museum value for touristic purpose. It would mean that the place cannot be allowed to be used as it is now and then keep on increasing the intensity of use continuously. The market literally can be moved to other places as in this location it does not serve the whole city any more. Lack of secondary vegetable retail markets have created miserable road side vending conditions in many parts of the city. A project has to be thought of as to create many markets in different places.  This would go a long way in improving the city’s liveability.

The outer structure

Beyond this, the main contender for the heritage tag is the peripheral structure. That is the second question. Here again, the original structure seem to have been severely altered, even mutilated, subdivided and appurtenances extended in to the street. The heritage value is in its architecture that largely is an eclectic mixture taking cues from Mogul and other architectural lineages and using a technology of bricks, lime and Madras terrace of the time. The structure does not seem to be maintained well either. However, it is possible to conserve any old structure as a heritage piece, provided it is trimmed of the current intense function and is carefully structurally rehabilitated.  Conservation should not be confused with rehabilitation of a building for a continued utility alone. It is to conserve a piece of built heritage for the cultural and historical value of it.  To that extent it has a historical and technology dimension. It also does not mean only to conserve the building or part of it alone, but to change its functions and substantially change the quality of the precinct as well.  The spaces around the building and the roads make up the precinct including the pavements and approaches and to put them back as it would have existed originally, but not as of now.  It would also mean that removal of guardy neon lights, contemporary hoardings, signage etc and recreating an ambiance of the past, as much as possible. It will also include not allowing certain functions other than that would fit inside a heritage structure. A more relaxed places like coffee houses,  restaurants, book shops, curio and handicraft shops, library etc. In short museumising the whole place and creating a cultural-recreational-market complex. That would be largely be pedestrian including certain parts of roads and streets around, resulting in restraining of vehicular traffic.
It would have to be part of an urban design plan for the centre. The heritage value of the city would improve, then.

The rebuilding lobby and compromise formula;

Any structure can be conserved.  But its use would depend on many factors. The heritage value can be retained only by appropriately reducing and changing the present functional load and intensity of use. This would also ease structural conservation. However the argument of a compromise formula, as suggested by some and reported in news papers, to retain the facade and change the inside to high value commercial mall does scant respect to the idea of conservation and would do more damage to heritage than good.  It would be ridiculing of Mysore city’s heritage itself. The heritage is not in the facade or outer shape of buildings. It is in the spirit of the place. It is about retaining the expressive part of building culture of the time; the techniques, the skills and the meanings derived over time. If we do not understand the value of it, please don’t attempt to make a mockery of the heritage. Even the so-called heritage of some of the city’s buildings is maintained on too flimsy ground. Some identified heritage buildings do not have any long history or of substantial architectural value of the time. Many are of less than a century old and has been built to look old even at that time for political reasons. This is noted in already published historical research and published books by scholars. However, the retaining of the past structure is one matter and making false fascia by poorly copying, often pathetically disproportionate too, of the old features on a new building is another. It is an anachronism of misunderstanding and of poor taste and imagination. Is this what the compromise formula suggests? It is as farcical as arguing that any pizza made and sold in Mysusu should look like MYSOREPAK. That is after all one of our original product, a real heritage. It is not the look, please note, that matters in architecture as well in food. It is the content.

The increasing argument for rebuilding is largely stemming from commercial interest of vested interest, stressing on the high value of the land in the centre. From the urban design point of view, however, it makes no sense to furthering the central density without changing the already flimsy historical character. What is needed is to slowly shift intense retail commercial activity  away from the centre to a secondary ring and remake the historical centre to a less intensely built,  more pedestrian, cultural cum commercial place with more of open to sky vending spaces which would  give an original character back to the city centre. If we cannot be sure of what we can do, it is better to leave the place with minimal intervention. Let the future generation decide.

Pathology of false heritage mutiplication

 In the recent past experiences of public buildings built in the city is of fairly poor precedence, take the case pf the ourts, new mini Vidhan Soudha, the  buildings being built in the Northern side of Kukkerehalli Kere, and many more.  They all show  poor understanding of value of architecture as a total integrated art and not just facial convolutions of false arches and paints over concrete frame structures. They neither pay homage to our real heritage, nor the soul of the technology of the time. They are just monumental pretences. Some grossly vulgar too. The arches and decorative plasters are totally false “paste-on-extras”, aped from the past, a pathetic anachronism at display.

More pathetic is the replication of canopy structures of KR Circle and Chamarajendra Circle  to many other junctions around the city. They are disproportionately overpowering on the new statues, especially so in Vivekananada circle where the statue seems buried and the Kuvempu statue at a corner park in Kuvempunagar. In one go, we are insulting the personalities of these statues to stand in inaccessible traffic islands and also exposing our ignorance of history and built  heritage in mathematically multiplying and aping the architectural forms of past follies. In fact, the original circles themselves were made only around the middle of the last century. The architecture of most heritage structures also were clearly, as researchers of history have noticed, were acts of conceit to show the people the city itself was very old and of heritage alue. They were designed to look the instructions of then authorities. We seem to revel in pomposity .

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tethering ties of love and death.

Miles and miles of thoughts like clouds
floating outside the oval glass 
Below the flapless wings 
Of humongous metal bird
A  son goes back home leaving
Steaks of fun and drafts of wine.

Streaks of pink,
Orange, maroons and lilacs
Virtually painted at the horizon
Would fade soon when
The chase of time ends
And this weary farmer’s son
Would land to haggle through
To labyrinth of rules and laws
To get back to a lengthy rude ride
Along the narrow roads
Of human streams,

Eyes close and dream rides back 
Inside a cart of rainbow
To the
Hours, days and years,

A half clad kid walking
The gravelly soil to rice fields 
Watching the yoking of the beasts 
Of desire and ambition
Drops of rain seducing the dry
Parched soil mixing with sweat from
The farmer's bare body. 
The earthy fissures turning wet 
To receive the plough's tongue
Turning pods of soil 
Like churning of the young mind 
Watching from the banks of the field.

Dreaming to escape the dredge
That was the dad’s pleasure as well as pain.

Not to his own son, dad thought
And wished and yearned and even goaded  
The son to grow wings
Escape to towns of remote lands
Yet longed without words that he would
Return to the father and the dry banks
To oversee the hired hands
Toiling the slushy soil, one day.
The son knew but pretended otherwise.

Father’dreams never match
The son’s ambitions. The farmer knew that,
The son did not then.

Leaping from the lips of wet earth
The son vaulted himself to
Known treasures and unknown
Pleasures to strokes of luck
And Lust for life
Values of new shores and
Calls of anonymity
Escaping the leash of love
Limits of emotions.

Dreams of desires 
At distant bazaars
Uprooting links
Breaking limbs
Shedding covers
Baring the nasty selfishness
Chasing loveless goals
Drifting, floating in flood
Aimlessly  to anchor again
Then again escape from  
New  tethers of ties, naked bare love.
Ultimate freedom of enlightenment or
Roller coaster of bohemian existence.
Chips of life seeded
Growing new mute ties
Freedom  of self forgotten awhile.

 Why was the broken tether soldiered?
Why the Jolting call and jetting back?
The body of the farmer
Still awaits in the morgue
To receive his precious dream,
His son, flying back with caged desires
Forgotten unsaid promises
Missed shores and yet
Missing strokes of love.