Monday, December 27, 2010

" that time art had already lost its appeal; the professors and connoissuers were no longer interested in either paintings or books, only in the people who had made them; in their lives.

In the age of persecutors what does a life mean?

A long succession of events whose deceptive surface is meant to hide Sin." Milan Kundera about Europe of 1999. Does it not apply to us too?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Encounter Essays by Milan Kundera

"the formal innovations of great masters always have a certain discreetness about them; such is true perfecion; only among small masters does novelty seek to call attention to itself." Milan Kundera      I add: Still lesser ones shout for attention

Friday, December 10, 2010

Globalization, building technology and architecture

B.S. Bhooshan

(Something I wrote 3-4 years ago. Just dug out of junks,)


Are we losing control over our architecture, technology and sense of identity? Or are we developing ourselves to be masters of a postmodern global culture? Are we slowly succumbing to the pressures of an economic and cultural globalization or are we developing skills to inflect the global juggernaut to our ends?

This paper is an attempt to evaluate the current scenario of trends and changes taking place in architecture and construction industry and technology in India largely as a result of the ongoing globalization of its economy. The hypothesis here is that technological changes are never neutral and is prompted not so much by economic compulsions alone, but more by external influences and cultural incursions of a global phenomenon. This I believe is first manifested in developing taste cultures and style in the name of superiority of a mythical ‘world class’ and creation of a sign system and myth supposed to be denoting world class and progress. It will be argued that by its very nature, the process, at least in the short run - I think, a fairly long short run even if that be so, will heighten the dichotomies with in the industry and social consumption of architecture as the cost of construction will be rising with out commensurate increase in the affordability of large proportion of people. As a cultural phenomenon, if this will create a postmodern society, a la USA, or will it create social tensions in India is something which require investigation and debate. For the purposes of this paper, we will restrict the arguments only to the building industry.

Globalization means increasing movement of capital, ideas, technology men, products, services across the globe not deterred by the boundaries. It is being legitimized as a phenomenon offering greatest common goods and is being promoted as to have no alternative. Of course no proof is offered. It is like myths, it is a myth; which have its own rational; a modern myth at that.

Globalisation’s legitimization is like that of modernism. Modernism developed challenging the growth of global capitalism, legitimizing itself on the brave new world of science and rational thinking. Capitalism absorbed it and modernism lost its legitimizing power. The failure of modernism is largely due to its failure of its promises; the unlimited progress which will finally eliminate poverty. It did not happen. The globalisation has a similar professed aim, but has been more practical as not to claim any possibility of economic equality or even a reducing inequality. However, it tries to level cultural differences in consumption preferences as much as possible. That perhaps is not an intention but inevitable part of the process.

There may be many routes and agents of globalization, Bretton woods institutions, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc. The goal of the process is same. Triumph of the global capital. Integration of all markets. Finally hegemonic control by transnational corporations, beyond the control of governments and countries. And even political processes. Attempting to level cultural differences and pluralism, much the same way as attempted unsuccessfully by modernism and international style in architecture.

The realms

The building industry in India has been a curious mixture having characteristics of agriculture, manufacturing and service sectors. It had been largely informal, and partly formal, offering easy entry for small entrepreneurs and high absorption of unskilled labor. It has high urban and metropolitan concentration .It has also been slow to change, clumsy, partially advanced, having most shrewd and enterprising people, very competitive and even speculative. It is also one of forerunner signs of economic growth – perhaps dubiously so. Its multiplier effect on the economy is among the highest, perhaps. In India govt. spending has been a prime mover of construction in its formal sector. That is changing drastically though.

Building industry as we know has three realms or segments.

1. Sustenance / organic construction - primitive/ traditional/ informally produced/ user involved/ construction as a process largely in rural areas and small towns and also lower sections of metros and cities. Slums. Low income housing. Basically need based.

2. Quasi professional- / professional / Hybrid This segment includes small time builders and contractors operating in small towns and unorganized small project segment of metropolitan cities. At the moment , it is by far the largest segment. There is relative autonomy in this segment today.

3. Professional / Formal/ organized/ industry. This segment is basically profit motivated builder financier related. This segment picks up changes fast. Partly trying to be world class/ global. Capitalist

This segment has developers/ builders, contractors/bui;ders, professionals, semi organized labour, skilled or unskilled.

Building Industry represents a wide spectrum ; land and real estate development. urban development; Infrastructure, roads, rail, airports etc. housing, house building, commercial development,. We are concerned here more with building sector which constitute architecture.


It represents among other things the cultural adaptation of building technology for social and personal space programming. Architecture is cultural expression and expresses social values and ethos. It is a way of putting spaces together and building according to means. It is also a representation of social symbols of status and vanity and power. Architecture have never been dissociated from elite and powerful and the rich. But as cultural text, and as a symbol of status and also because the buildings are needed for human activities, architecture has high influence on the development of our attitudes towards built environment and also as to how cities and towns evolve. Though it is never a one-way influence.

Cultural symbolism of architecture is unfortunately connected to materials, size and myths of the society. It is influenced today more by values for foreign goods and ideas, for fashions and trends, consumerism and the market. Far from satisfying a need for shelter, as built environment, architecture is becoming more of a commodity for conspicuous consumption announcing social class. Different classes have different built environments; houses, markets, hospitals, shops, schools, etc. Objects of consumption have been always objects for conspicuous consumption.


Indian economy has been evolving from a spread out agrarian to an urban and metropolitan centered one. This process has been throwing up challenging pattern of excessively concentrated urbanization. With advent of service sector domination as a result of global influence and IT, this process has further strengthened. IT could have been footloose and need not be tied by physical spatial ties for movement of goods, but it has concentrated more and more in metro centers. It is not the compulsions of the industry or even the lack of basic infrastructure like roads, and power that made IT sector to be concentrated on metro regions, but the social compulsions of the human capital manning the industry to be in places of consumer excitement and perhaps the need for higher social infrastructure, technological interface and connectivity that made it so. One can certainly expect this process to continue with more vigour with the globalization and more integration of the economies globally. More so with higher proportions of transnationals arriving here.

Impact on technology and architecture

This process of globalization, and the resulting service sector centered urbanization which evolves unabatedly is leading to a systemic changes in the industry and architecture as part of the evolving conundrum of social and cultural hiatus. Architecture and technology plays a significant role.

The process of commodification of culture and heritage is the forerunner. No heritage or cultural artifact will be preserved or continue to evolve unless they fit in the global economics or can be globally sold. That itself pre empts any lasting preservation of a local tradition or heritage, except as a curious museum piece. Cultural artifacts, which include architecture, have meaning per se only in a place context. If projected on a global scale it can survive only as a commodity. That is what is happening to architecture. It is becoming a commodity at local individual building level and at the global cultural artifact level as well. At the local level it is connected with the creation and consumption of spaces for individuals and groups and status symbols for classes and at the global level creating cultural values and therefore economic values as well for certain materials and styles of dubious global class.

Defining an obfuscating “World Class” of architecture and building ( what is it?) as being done today is difficult task. Yet it is being talked about as a goal. World class in manufacturing goods actually means fitting industrial processes and products into global standards set by developed countries especially the EU and US. Its professed purpose is to create competence to sell at global markets. Similar conditions could apply to service sectors as well. But what it means to architecture and environment? The question has muddled answer because built environment is always meant for local consumption and not for exports. Therefore it s consumption is [predetermined by local taste culture. World class in architecture and building in practical terms is a projection of manufacturing and service norms to a cultural practice. It could mean precision of joints, low tolerance, and finer finishes and therefore lesser dependence on human skill, more and more mechanization and automation. This is opposed to the aesthetic value for the handcrafted products which has a different levels and value system for finishes and geometry. Creation of an aesthetic value for the” world class”, which has been slowly developing over a century or more, is a precondition. The process leads to less and less dependence on labour and time-consuming construction techniques. Technology evolved for labor scarce economies/ capital-intensive construction similar to making of a product and to be marketed.. This suits the formal segment of industry which has higher capitalist mode of production What values inform the aesthetics of “global architecture” . in India except the acceptance of superiority of mass production by machine or the implied superiority of the cultural context of a developed country where from architectural and technological values today originate?

The process is exacerbated by few other things that happens simultaneously. From process to product: Impersonalisation of the process and product is the one. Changing the value of architecture and buildings is influenced more and more by extraneous factors and not intrinsic factors. This is already so. But will heighten further. For example: Value of construction especially of buildings, like other products are not always determined by the cost of production. It is invariably linked to the site and place because the products of construction industry are tied to a place or site. Use value of a constructed building would be more or less same everywhere but the exchange value depends largely on other factors. The place land value, the control systems of the industry, the mythical values of vanity, fear, concerns of status and safety etc. and land values determine the FAR and later the FAR determines the land value in a vicious cycle. All this controlled by real estate market forces and advertisements and marketing promotions, which promise and inflate values on certain aspects of status and vanity.

More and more global capital would move into the building industry. Construction then would be more professionally managed introducing international controls like ISO and other agencies so as to safeguard and institutionalize corporate and professional interests. With 100 percent FDI participation in real estate work hungry firms from abroad are sure to get in in a large scale. This would also require smaller construction and design firms getting eliminated from certain segments. Construction projects are becoming bigger and bigger and with global competition possible with GATS the level playing field gets eliminated for a large number of intermediate and smaller firms and companies. They have to become subsidiaries or ancillaries and will have to be subservient to the international capital. Arrival of the global capital brings its own preferences and tastes in architecture brought in by international consultants and accepted by the supporters of ‘mythical world class’.

Higher professionalisation in more and more specializations tends to make construction cost increasing with management and service cost spiraling in formal sectors. The free movement of materials, ideas and persons also makes cost attaining global levels slowly and surely. This will make economic and social sense only if the income levels of the majority will match that. That is doubtful as all pundits agree that it will take a long time for growth to disseminate. Initially it may exacerbate the existing hiatus.

Three scenario:

However the economy of India cannot be changing in short run to make this scenario possible through out the political and economic space. At least three levels are possible to coexist for a long time.

1. Global tech level:

This level will dominate large projects which are on the increase and metropolitan real estate. The major players will be the MNCs and large Indian companies in the formal sector and also by local companies, and firms aspiring to compete in the global market or the local space of the global market adapt the technological and material preferences. This segment has to be part of a global system of patronage, network and therefore adapt what is perceived and promoted as good internationally with out looking into the repercussions on the local society or economy and more so the cultural traits and the architecture.

Creation of a new elite class of individuals, firms with the impact of glitz and glitter changes the technological and architectural programs and representations. First in the builder commercial industrial segment and later in housing segments as well through real estate marketing.

Promotion of a universal building culture opposed to the evolution of plural and culturally different practices. Design development and architecture of this will continue to be controlled from global centers which will produce cultural artifacts for dissemination world wide through media and pulp and sop. This happens through the metropolitan centers. The myths and icons of new brave world scrounging the elite surface. Aestheticisation with out connection to deep structure of culture, like the language we use, will be of surface twists or outright aping.

2. intermediate level

Alternatively, the localized labour intensive informal market will continue in segments which cannot afford to be part of the international or organized formal segment. This segment with its innovativeness and improvisation drastically changing the expected industry standards and blatant violations of property rights and legal and safety standards will thrive on the gullies besides highways of globalization. As it already does. Cheap improvisations of structural glazing and aluminium cladding are already in place. This segment will spatially coexist with the first one patronized by smaller and intermediate size projects. But as already seen its architecture is also influenced by the high tech level.

3. The Folk level:

At the lower level, the traditional folk techniques that will have to continue to exist for the marginalized majority. The totally informal sector which is not going to vanish. This will still continue in rural areas, smaller towns or in housing segments of the lower and middle classes in the metropolitan suburbia as well.

On can lament about this loss of traditional building practices and skills and impersonlising architecture and commodification or one can just shrug the shoulders about the inevitable. One can try to resist and chose to operate in the bare foot economy at level 3 . Or one can resist the juggernaut by trying to inflect it to local conditions at level one. A kind of making the global forces mend ways for local issues. The loss of identities is beginning to kindle nostalgia and therefore the clamor for heritage and conservation. But heritage conservation efforts are also today based on economics; the idea of commerce and profits. It is also ironically a product of international tourism. Heritage is USP. Replicating form with out regard for the process or inherent quality of material used. Kolapuri Chappals in plastics.

Organizationally for the profession of design, globalization and higher international integration is likely to change at various levels. As the trend is projects are getting bigger and bigger and the design is no more a personalized single person dominated affair. It is going to be more of teamwork across related professions. The kind of design structure we have been used are changing. If one opts out of this design corporate approach, one has to be content with smaller works at the second or third level of architectural scenarios.

The question is whether it will be possible to integrate all the levels or will they work on different wavelengths.

We are arriving at post modern condition in parts with out even fully going through a developed modern condition. Dichotomous condition has been with us. The hiatus further gets manifested in the architectural and building scene. Shoulkd we be bothered about it? Shound we not?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

published in trendsideas

See the link: the magazine is published by Times: both hard copies and on net®ion=72&topic=14

Sunday, June 6, 2010

AA School workshop comes Bangalore


A 10 day workshop and 1 day symposium conducted by AA School of architecture, London and BMS College of Engineering , Bangalore.

This August the AA School of Architecture, London, Zaha Hadid Architects Computation and Research group (ZHACDRG), Autodesk Inc and Department of Architecture, BMS College of Engineering , Bangalore will bring a unique architectural workshop and 1 day symposium to Bangalore. The workshop as represented by the diversity of the collaborators, will explore the relations between contemporary software technology, design techniques, creative expression and its manifestation within India’s emergent economy and ancient built traditions. The intention is to look beyond Computer Aided Design (CAD ) as simple design automation to CAD as enabling architectural creativity whilst still responding to complex spatial and material performance constraints of our times.


The workshop will focus on exploring connections between architecture, New Media and fabrication. The aim will be to provide the participants conceptual and programming framework for advanced digital methods within collaborative architectural design. Towards this, the workshop intends to make available a rich, varied and international talent pool from institutions such as Zaha Hadid Architects London, AA School of Architecture , London, Southern California institute of architecture ( SCI-Arc ), Los Angeles apart from local partners including BMS college, Bangalore. Further, the workshop expects to tap into expertise of Autodesk, who are on-board as software-development / training collaborators of the workshop.

The workshop will initiate participants into a compressed version of design to production cycles in contemporary architectural practices. The design brief for the workshop will centre on the design of a canopy/shelter and the emphasis in the teaching will be placed on emergent computational design-production tools and techniques. Aiming to extend the knowledge base of the participants, the workshop will use production-proven design methods, and software platforms – both for concept development and material articulation. It looks to build on previously successful workshops at the AA and elsewhere, and generate a platform to show case India’s architectural design talent.


AA School of Architecture and BMSCE will individually certify participation in the workshop as part of their design curricula.

Autodesk Inc will certify participation as part of their Autodesk training certification for specific software used / taught during the course.


The deadline for applications for both the workshop and participation in the symposium is 15 July , 2010 .

Workshop - 10 days

Generative structures : Emerging design technology and contemporary architectural practise.

02 -12 August 2010 , BMSCE , Bangalore

Symposium - 1 day

Emergent design technology, design intelligence and creative expression.

12 August 2010 , BMSCE , Bangalore

Tutors - workshop

Chikara Inamura .

Researcher - design delivery, Zaha Hadid Architects ;

Advanced computational design tutor, and AA Design Research Lab (AADRL)

Shajay Bhooshan ,

Lead researcher, Computation and Design Group, Zaha Hadid Architects.

Advanced computational design tutor, AA & AADRL

John Klein

Technical tutor , Southern California Institute-Architecture

Mostafa El Sayed

Researcher , AA Alumni , Computation and Design Group , Zaha Hadid Architects


Asst Professor, Architect, BMS College of Engg, Bangalore , Local Coordinator

Symposium – probable speakers

Patrik Schumacher, Partner, Zaha Hadid Architects

Brett Steele, Director of AA ,

Christopher Pierce, Director of AA Visiting School, AA Unit Master

Nils Fischer, Associate , Zaha Hadid Architects , London.

Vijay Sohni, President , Council of Architecture, India.

BS Bhooshan , BSB Architects, Professor, BMS College, Bangalore, India.

Kiran Venkatesh , Inform Architects, Bangalore ,

MadhuChand KR, Assst. Professor, BMS College ofArchitecture, Co-ordinator

Eligibility and target Audience.

There is not a pre-requisite to know any of the software that will be used during the course. The workshop is open to current architecture and design students, recent graduates, young professionals, and design teachers looking to augment their digital skills from India and elsewhere. The workshop will benefit students looking to pursue post graduate studies / research in architecture as also architectural firms looking to train their staff.

Accommodation & Costs


. The AA Global School requires a fee of 500 Euros per participant which includes a 50 Euro Visiting Student Membership, made payable to the AA School of Architecture. Fees do not include flights or accommodation. Accommodation is not provided, but advice on affordable hotel can be given. Students need to bring their own laptops, digital equipments and model-making tools.

Early bird discounts : 400 Euros per participant for those registering before 15 June 2010 .


Participation in workshop automatically qualifies for participation in symposium. Fees for symposium alone is 25 Euros.

Early bird discounts : 10 Euros per participant for those registering before 15 June 2010 .

Website and more information :

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kolkata Urbanism: Coexistence of glitter and litter:

 December 2009

It was almost my first personal encounter with Kolkata. I have been here on short visits before, but never encountered it like now. I did it alone walking around and exploring. I have heard a lot of stories and not-so-good epithets about the city and I expected a chaotic hell. I did see a ‘hell’ all right, but it was not dissimilar to many other ‘metropolitan hells’ in India. What it displayed was a quite ease and predilection with its disposition than the usual uneasy grumpy rashness of metropolitan India elsewhere.

On the morning of December 26, I reached the Dalhousie square; the epicenter of Kolkata; the seat of its political power. Compared to the pompous aloofness of Bangalore’s Vidhansoudha and its pretentious facade, this red building looked more like a huge distinguished but ravaged old man standing by the roadside. The pompousness of arcades and barricades and also the battalions of police and other vehicles around made it seem formidable and powerful though. The bamboo scaffolding put up for painting made it look precarious as well.

I walked across and strolled into the side streets. And the city really punched me hard.

Frying masala. The smell of it and the hiss of cooking on kerosene stoves and make shift fireplaces on the sidewalks hit me. It is on and on endless in all the streets. Smell of food and the sound of it being served and eaten by people sitting on wooden benches and tables, the clutter of plates and tumblers, the smell of dirt and filth mixed with water, the sound of rushing water from hoses and hydrants, the sound of chattering men and women bathing and washing clothes on the road from those hydrants, the sound of tinkering and welding , the men repairing small electrical machines on the side lines, the shout of rickshaw pullers with their shameful burden of yore, the bells of cycles and horns of cars, the clickety-clackety relics of trams, laugh of happy looking men and women, the tactility of walking on rough broken pavements, the slush of mud, the colorful clothes hung on steel barricades separating the road and sidewalks, the thud of things thrown down from roofs , colourful ads of digital cameras and laptop computers, and the mosaic of clothes and mobile phones and electronic goods on the elegant shop windows of rundown buildings, men and women in soiled working clothes, babus in their best attire, puppies, street dogs and cats, dying flower plants on broken planters, food gadis under colourful cloth umbrellas …Ah a rioting attack on all of one’s senses.

That was my first sensual phenomenological adventure in and around Dalhousie square. Later I found that this mixture is not just in one street but in all streets of old Kolkata; Chowranghee, MG Road, Esplanade, everywhere. Nowhere in India, I experienced this real boiling cauldron of urbanization unabashedly mixed. No attempt here to separate the glitters and litters by barriers of law and semblance of westernized order. The rickshawala blissfully sleeps on his vehicle on the side of a street. So do many on paved surfaces and benches and even on the balustrades around the tranquil yet filthy central lake in front of the Writers building- the secretariat. The migrant worker families live on huts around the large unkempt maidan with its unclean pond, like they do in the villages. Men and women bathe in those waters, the embankments are misused, dumped with waste and dirt, and growth of wild plants abounds and there are many huts. No manicured lawns and plants as one would expect on the side of a lake which reflects the Secretariat. Across the road that is full of yellow couloured ambassador taxi cabs, there stands the remnants of the Raj, the majestic white postal building; the red bricked others with Corinthian and Ionic columns. A real contrast of life situations, a miniature of life in India.

One may find this coexistence of various strata of society, luxury, middle class and poverty in all our cities, in Mumbai, Chennai or Bangalore, but not the way they ‘peacefully ‘ occupy the same urban space. Am I imagining? I checked again, no it is real. Right in front of the seat of power, the Writers building, it is there, the chaotic disorganized unsightly yet peaceful coexistence. Visual poverty and ugliness is not pushed out of the main roads. Not to be visible for the upper class and powerful elites. Is the ‘Bhadralok’ tamed enough? The streets, all of them, do have a side walk wide enough for people to walk, but occupied by venders of all kinds of goods and road side eateries (a poor man cousin of fashionable food courts, a distant cousin of roadside restaurants of Europe) yet leaving enough space for people to walk and shop from the upper class outlets in the adjoining buildings. Three decades of communist democracy made poverty as visible as luxury. Decadence of edifice is not apologized nor covered up. I wonder, is it by design?

The centre and old part of Kolkata presents no evidence of glittering sheen of consumerism dominant in new urban spaces and in central part of other cities. It does not mean consumerism is not there. One look at Park Street tells a lot. However, hardly one finds any new buildings there. All old ones have seen paints decades ago, no new aluminum windows or structural glazing covering the facades. All these are reserved to comparatively newer areas a like Salt Lake City or Rajarhat and other peripheries. Capitalist real estate dreams are catching up the citadel of communism on the periphery.

One finds an addictive abandon. (Gay abandon?) Starting from the beautiful pond of the centre, there are many useful relics of the past which are abandoned to languish. Kolkata is the only city in India continuing to run the transport heritage of trams. But what they have today is an apology of its early traffic wizardry. Its coaches are rattling ramshackle of wood and steel, the connectors are archaic slipping the electric network so often that the conductor has to do a repair magic with a rope more often, the people who travel are all too poor to pay a decent fair. No wonder that the Calcutta tram company (CTC) runs buses to rehabilitate their redundant employees, who cannot be retrenched and to cover the losses. All the main streets of old Kolkata have hydrants established by the east India Company with water pumped directly from the river for washing the streets. They are still there, used by poor to bathe and wash. Nobody do bother to remove them though they add to the filth of streets. It certainly serves the migrant labour.

With all this palpable chaos for an upper class elite eye, there appears an invisible equation; a balance between the various strata of society. The lower strata do not seem pushed out of sight as in other Indian Metropolises. They are very much there everywhere, the poweful votebanks, perhaps. Kolkata is not pleasant to eyes, it doesn’t show off wealth, it may be repulsive and unsightly, it does not hide the contrast with in a gleeful veneer, it does not boast of a westernizing metropolis trying to be hightech with poor parts and filthy unsightliness canned up beneath the surface. Not so far at least. The human face of Kolkata is pleasantly smiling. Metropolitan misery seems internalized and expressed. It is a metropolis of poverty with a facade of poverty. Does it provide a base to build a future Kolkata; a metropolis of progress, a city of promise? or Will it wilt and wither away faster? Does it hold a promise?

I did not see much in three days of aimless walk, perhaps. But this was my impression, I may be wrong.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Habitat design

Today more than 30 % of India’s population lives in urban areas. In 2032, it will be in 41 %. Still it will be lower percentage than most of Asian countries. The problem is not its low percentage, but that too few cities are growing too fast. Miseries of bigger cities and metros are compounded by haphazard growth. The smaller cities and towns are other hand stagnating. All are in bad shape as much as infrastructure and housing are concerned. Channeling urban development is and will be one of the challenging tasks of India.

India is building. Building very fast too nowadays. The urban planning and the other hand has had a piece meal approach and did not and do not pace with building spree. Planning exercise in India has been based on selective and corrective bureaucratic measures, a legacy left by the British. And it depended wholly on controls on land development with very limited proactive role. The processes are too slow. Planning traditionally has been an exercise of distributing activities on two dimensional space and introducing networks and controls. And then wait. Architecture on the other hand has been concentrating on individual buildings and smaller complexes. Without a holistic vision of the city. While the new economic thrust invests heavily on real estate and buildings; the infrastructure and planning are lagging.

There was a need felt some decades ago for a discipline which will bridge these two areas and work in between buildings at one end and the city on the other. That resulted in ideas of townscape design and city architecture and then urban design. Design is a positive activity which is efferent from planning and it is meant to be proactive though planning tools could be used at times. The idea is to see urban development, buildings, architecture, heritage, transport, other networks and social concerns in a 3 dimension and not in a two-dimensional plane and also in an integrated way. Like town planning, Urban Design as a new academic discipline also originated in the West and looked at urban traditions developed in the western culture. It also had efforts concentrated in metro cities and leaned much on architectural aesthetics and theories. This certainly has undergone tremendous change in last two decades of evolution wherein behavioral sciences and social sciences as well as other humanities, law, finance and technology and more importantly the ecological aspects and resource utilization are getting integrated. So when we talk today about the metro lines, for example, we talk not only of its effects on traffic or its technology and alignment and legal aspects alone or how it changes the skyline, but also about its impact on the surroundings, on the behavior of people and on the additional development that may happen around etc. Essentially on what will be its impact on life on ground? This integration is not a projection of past it is also of proactive speculation and therefore, the domain of design.

When we integrate all this and take the discipline of urban design even to smaller settlements and to look at holistically with an ecological perspective, it is appropriate to name it Habitat Design. Habitat is more an inclusive a word than urban. Habitat Design is same as ‘urban design’ with a thrust on ecology and with a more integrated approach.

When we started the course on M. Arch (Habitat Design), at the BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore, we had this in mind. The courses and studios were programmed with this perspective and tried to learn from the existing urban design programmes in the country.

This will give opportunities to the participants to develop skills and attitudes to work in a variety of urban situations, not necessarily in planning or architecture alone; in urban governance or in areas of nongovernmental community work.

The approach to learning has to be a cooperative effort with students and teachers working together. That is where the studio approach comes to use. The design here is a process rather than a product to be thrashed out at the end.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An interview

An interview given to Ms. Prathima Manohar, some time in 2008 but never published anywhere for some reason.
Some of the questions were interesting, so I thought it could be here

1. What's the latest trend in architecture in urban Indian homes?

There is no single discernible Indian trend. Historically, the show of vanity and wealth has been a major trend and it continues. But one can also perceive that simplicity and environmental concerns are catching up. If there is a pan-Indian trend visible today- it is that the  regional variations of the past getting obliterated in the large cities given that similar techniques , services and materials are available in all our cities.

2. Is there a shift towards efficiency from elegance? Are elaborate elements out of favour?

Both efficiency and elegance have never been major concerns except perhaps in rare academic discourses. Ornamentation or ‘elaborate elements’, is also not completely out. It finds different ways of expression. Cladding is often ornamentation. So is excessive use of glass. This alone does not guarantee elegance. Sacrifice of ornamentation cannot  bring in efficiency automatically.

3. What do you feel should be the guiding factors while designing a home - architecture and interiors?

It depends on the person you are designing it for. There is a class of the elite who look for ‘architecture’ beyond an ordinary lovable home. This category is increasing in all segments, due to media and higher appreciation of the value of design. A home should fundamentally celebrate the virtue of life. In the current predicament of global warming, run-away economies, appalling political scene, and insecure life- architecture could be meaningful and not simply a show of what one can afford. It could be what one can consciously avoid to make life meaningful.

4. What does good architecture do to make a house warm and comfortable?

Warmth and comforts are personal and cultural. One who is comfortable at certain environment may not be comfortable at another. I believe that there are no universal standards of warmth or comfort. All of us get used to certain comfort levels. A concern and understanding of larger values of life and society often results in an environment with more of natural elements like light and air and a choice of materiality. Thus articulating a thought process that went into the design, could be considered warm at personal level for many. But some can be easily comfortable and feel warm in an artificial and synthetic environment as well, like that of an aircraft. This depends on the basic value system one has developed with or imbibed. One can make a personal conscious choice or go by fashion. It is impossible today, perhaps meaningless as well, to be building at any one extreme, as conditions and contexts are constantly changing beyond individuals means.

5. The social fabric of societies is changing. What sort of influence is this having on architectural trends?

All changes are not deep. Most of them are transient. Economics is changing a lot of lives and lifestyles in large cities. Work pressures are also changing. Age pyramid is getting tilted towards the young working groups. Bachelors with higher disposable incomes are also rising. Nuclear families are on the increase. The demands and hold of old generation is resented but nor revolted. Women have more voice and more visible. But men have not changed as partners in many of habits. Servants are not completely dispensed with; in fact, they are becoming more and more essential. Cooking styles are also not changed fully.

This hybrid situation is perhaps more volatile and is reflected in the architecture. “Multiplicity” seems to be the major tendency in today’s city architecture. The home buyer today is also much younger. In the past, one looked towards having a house as permanent. Not so much today. Therefore, the saleability at a later stage becomes a priority. Modular kitchens and imported toilet fixtures are becoming norms. But one still finds period furniture and moulded shutters behind sleek cabinets and by side of imported electric chimneys. The mood today seems to be one of fashion and not of prudence. I think a maturity to develop out of this hybrid situation over a period of time.

6. How should an architect balance his creativity and client's needs?

Why do we put too much premium on architect’s creativity? Can all architects be highly creative? Can ordinary but well done work be not a good one? Architecture as a profession can happen, at various levels of intellectual or that of a responsible construction. We should not expect same creativity at all levels.

Client’s needs are important to be satisfied. But they should not contradict with the larger interest of society. An architect can choose to build for a client’s wish for a Mediterranean villa or an acropolis in the middle of Bangalore. Those are his fancy needs. But I will choose not be the one to design it, as it revolts against my beliefs, not because it affects my creativity. Attitude makes most of architecture not creativity alone. Talent can be wasted easily.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The questions of name?

The supreme court of India made a judgement in a petition that a divorced women should not be allowed to keep the surname or name of the previous husband.

Curiously it raises many questions about name.

First a silly one:

I wonder how will this law get enforced, if a woman had the same surname before and after the marriage? Or if she changes it by making a slightly different spelling.

More seriously,

Why is that the surname or the name of the husband be attatched to a woman in the first place? Most of the time it is done forcibly by the husband or his ilk?

This was not the pattern in many parts of India before.
Why has it become a pattern now? It is a practice picked up from the British, and the West, perhaps. I know my mother or grand mother did not have a name other than one given to them at birth. They remained so even until and after their death.

Another related question,  why children, boy or girl,  should have the names of father's only atttatched to theirs? and why not the  mother's. Is it a practice showing women are of lesser gods? Are godesses lesser than gods? These are not legal questions, but curious ones.

More practically, if a married women is made to change her name after marriage, should she not be compensated for further change after divorce? Because she will have go through difficulties of name change? Like alimony being paid. Or else she could keep the names if she wants to. It is her choice, then.Does'nt it make sense?

Thinking more about names. Name is after all an identity. Two or more part names are required today, perhaps, as a means to identify a person precisely . Especially when there are more children born than the stock of names available. The name is an identity. The given name, first name,  is the first identity of the self or the person. The other attatched names are identities of the larger group the person belongs to. In a really free society, it could actually be the group a person wants to identify with.  So one should have the freedom to choose "six-footer" or "lamboo" or "thin-one" or a "budhivantha" or intelligent-one, "punditha", a "professor" etc as his second name. In fact, many of these names are actually used by many even if they are not really so. They have come as default of being born to a family. There  are people who have also given titular names  to themselves like "manthri" or "senapathi". One can also have a nom de plume  or  a pen name like  the French architect of Chandigarh, who called himself Le Corbusier. It meant the 'enlightened one' in French. His real name was Charles Edward Jenneret.

Most commonly used second or third name are caste names.   Place name, family name, surname or combination of some or many of these are also in use. But in most of the cases, a father's name are found as part of one's name. One could choose or not to keep the surname or caste  identities, though one cannot choose the father's name. In matrilinear societies like Kerala, people used to be identified by the uncle's name and not the father's. Most often people keep or remove these identities for some benefits or for some ideological reasons more than just being plain convenience. For a long time keeping caste names were considered not 'progressive' enough. Many children of some 1950s to 70s in Kerala, for example, did not have caste names attatched.  In fact, some people deliberately gave their children names which were of very different caste or even from caste names from diffrent places. So it is not uncommon to find given names like Rao, Kothari or Ajay Ghosh or Winston Churchill, Lenin, Stalin, Gandhi, Choudhari etc confusing the identities very pleasently. In recent times, the ideologies seems to have taken a reverse swing so much so that some 'caste less children' of 60s and 70s have started  getting their names changed with caste names attatched taking the required troubles. The caste identity seem to give a new found advantage. Some persons have even modernised old caste names to more stylically chic sounding ones!

Whoa! What a problem with one's name? Am I a mere name? Does my name mean everything? Should it mean anything? Can there be names which does not mean anything?Can I be with out a name? May be an alpha-numeric identy?  Why not? Why do we want nice sounding names?

With Nandan Nilekani's efforts, some of us can just choose to be known by a unique nuetral (in gender and caste) identities pretty soon! Till then live with the problem of long and short names, nice sounding, confusing, irritating, rough, sweet etc.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Questions from students

The students of Sinhgad College of Architecture, Pune asked me a few questions to answer. Here are my responses:

1. How do you see your journey in your eyes? How did you evolve as an architect and a human being? Did these 2 facts complement each other?

BSB: I know I grew up as a human being first and then as an architect. I chose to do what interested me and I stumbled into architecture. I was fortunate enough to find kinds of work which interest me, and that I enjoyed doing it. That made me evolve as a person as I am. First decade and a half of my career was that of teacher and researcher rather tangential to architecture learning social sciences relevant to planning and architecture. Later, I returned to do things which were different from that yet continuing to be a teacher. It helped me to develop as a human architect, perhaps. However, my trajectory of career is in architecture is not normal. I believe that, a lot of things are chance happening, but lot depends on one’s attitude to work and life. All professions and all works have their own attractiveness. One has to have an attitude to enjoy what one does. To me, all work has been basically ‘serious fun’. Once it stops to be fun, it turns out drudgery, and it can warp one’s development as a human as well. I never wanted to be a professional on a safe and beaten track, but never a self-centered maverick just for the heck of it. That defines my work as an architect.

2. How do your philosophies translate into designs?

BSB: I don’t know. Lot of things is given to us without our own conscious knowledge. We don’t choose your parents for example or where you are born. And who happens to be your clients and what kind of work environment and design context one is thrown into. Designs emerge out of context. Context does not mean the physical setting, the site, climate, functions, surroundings, the buildings around etc, as commonly thought. Context is defined mostly by unseen parameters like budget, economy, social values, the political and social environment, the industrial and technological set up in which one works etc. When the design develops as a group effort, not just as thought product from a maverick individualist architect alone, metaphors and ideas to shape architecture emerge unselfconsciously. When we limit our parameters, the emerging architecture also will have limited valance. I believe that architecture is not experiential alone, nor just cerebral, it is a product of multivalent process. It gives a physical concrete experience as an object and also is a social construct as a metaphor or idea, which in turn may help make and further ‘social construction’ of meaning of concrete object.

3. How many design processes do you adhere to? Describe them briefly.

BSB: I am not sure. Life is a big and complex process, difficult to put it neatly. So is architecture meant to support life? Architecture can delight like art, has to be cost effective, and needs to interface with technology and culture. Thus our design ideology and methods attempt to circumscribe innovation in formal, technological and cultural realms. With its multi-valent agendas, our architecture has been collaborative -the client, the builders, contractors, the site engineers and the workmen are partners in the process.

Technology, in both its dimensions of material and technique, has been at the core of our work. The attempt has been to be at the cutting edge of contemporary technology albeit in a manner suited to the prevalent local conditions and ecology. Technology has never been an end to itself with us, but a means towards catering to the physical, psychological, fiscal, social and cultural needs of the client and the project. This view led us to pioneer the use of various materials, including stabilised mud blocks, and extensively develop and use various construction methods including brick vaulting, brick domes, skin domes and doubly curved forms, prefabrication, 3D windows etc.

4. Recent construction materials and techniques that have a bright future according to you?

Materials and technology are tools to make architecture happen. They keep evolving. They per se do not determine quality of architecture, though some materials could adversely or positively affect well being and environment. The essence of architecture remains same always. To be sensible, sensitive and safe. And to delight.

5. Your favorite historical monument and how does it reflect in your design (if it does)?

None. I have no favorites in any period of history, including present. I refuse to put anything to neat categories.

6. What are the important aspects that you will keep in mind while designing in India? Would it be the same for structures outside India?

The idea of India exists only as much as an idea of an Indian culture. So tempting an idea yet so nebulous and foggy. To make architecture it does not help. Architecture, I believe, is tied to a place and also simultaneously one cannot escape the global forces as well. Architecture is primarily a social act and phenomenon. As spatial culture it mirrors the cultural trends. A “conscious” architecture needs to be ‘located’ in a place and its culture and history. The global forces of today also cannot be discounted and need to be addressed and mended. This should inform our work. Two aspects are seen as prime foci:

1. Architecture as interpretation of the cultural text that makes the place. That text is not static but evolving.

2. Architecture as construction. This means concerns of ‘green’: impact of the place on buildings and the buildings on the place and its ecology, which also means response to climate.

This principle will work anywhere in India or elsewhere.

7. Comment on LEED and Green Buildings.

There is a lot of controversy on the subject. Green building idea as much as it is a concern for ecology and energy consciousness goes it is valid and important premise, but if it becomes an apology to support architecture which fails in all other aspects and use it as a support argument for poor design, it cannot be accepted as architecture. They could be just ‘green buildings’.

LEED like many other rating systems make sense as much as its parameters. The parameters of rating systems are many times insensitive to real local issues and priorities. They could be misused for promoting certain business interest alone. They also expect formalizing and professionalizing building industry way beyond many societies can accept and accommodate. Thus they become tools for elites to feel less guilty and to project a new champion social status. This makes little impact on the large scale really. That is why the controversies arise. An inclusive system which can address the issue from a more holistic point of view, economically, politically and socially is lacking.

8. Who are the architects who have influenced you and to what degree?
No one particularly. I have liked the works of many in different ways. I value any work which has serious thought behind. One may disagree. But one has to accept sincerity and deep thoughts as great virtues. Many, including my colleagues, my clients and my students influence my work. I am ‘influenceable even now.

9. Core skills that we as students should develop as future architects.

Skill to discern depth of content from surface sheen. Skill to question any fashion trends, past or present. Honesty to work. Skill to work in a team and to lead. Skill to synthesise ideas given by others. Skill to analyse an idea and convert it into a building. Skill to continue learning. An open, not a closed, mind. Other technical skills are secondary and that can be learned any time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

the environmental question

`The inner crisis in environmental politics today is precisely the lack of bold concepts that address the challenges of poverty, energy, biodiversity and climate change within an integrated vision of human progress. At a micro-level, of course, there have been enormous strides in developing alternative technologies and passive-energy housing, but demonstration projects in wealthy communities and rich countries will not save the world. The more affluent, to be sure, can now choose from an abundance of designs for eco-living, but what is the ultimate goal: to allow well-meaning celebrities to brag about their zero-carbon lifestyles or to bring solar energy, toilets, pediatric clinics and mass transit to poor urban communities?'  MIKE DAVIS in New Left Review

Sunday, January 24, 2010

architecture of cities today

Written in 2005 in reply to a question during a National conference at Kodaikanal: what is the most significant aspects influencing change in architecture today

Is architecture really changing, except on the surface? Economic changes, aspirations of the commanding and controlling strata of the society, changes in the gender relations are major factors that influence architecture. Technology is a minor factor. The metropolitan economy, where service sector and global linked IT companies are leading the  change, is affecting the demography and ethnicity of our large cities. Disposable incomes and spending habits of the burgeoning middle class are on the rise. This population though miniscule in the total population of India is emerging as most visible and most vociferous in the media, both print and electronic. They are exposed to the world outside through media and travel. They are also in the impressible age group and are easily impressed by the architectural glitters of the west, the shopping malls, credit cards, multiplexes, chic joints, etc. Media and popular travel and architectural magazines, advertisement, are all adding to the utopian aspirations. The architectural and spatial taste cultures are influenced by this surface glitz.

Our education also gives them little room for understanding and and to make sense of spatial culture over and above the material surfaces and to understand social and environmental implications. Their purchasing power also influences the real estate sector and influences their investment decisions. The young generation has dreams of creating mini Europe or US in India, even if it means shutting themselves inside fortified enclaves, moving along elevated highways in chic automobiles, isolated if need be from the nuisance of Indian reality outside that is too large and too distanced from their dreams. The smart real estate tries to cash in on this dream and the result is the new found surface glitter. There is short sightedness of the sustainability of this economically, socially and politically. This may have impact on the smaller towns and larger hinterland architecture, but not on a visible scale.

Beyond the surface change, I do not see any change in content (structure in anthropological sense) of architecture. Certainly not in large part of India in a significant way. Architecture perhaps has become more visual and more hyped.

It is valid even today I think, even after the reession.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A sense of angst: a melancholic melee: a force of creation

Dr. BS Bhooshan

There is increasing evidence of a new confidence. We hear fewer apologies to do what we do now. There is appreciation for technologic braveries and showpieces, even if they are not appropriate to climate and culture, often. There is search for a new vigour. Daring excitement is not a taboo; experiments in market place though not acceptable. Crass commercialism and intellectualism (albeit pseudo one sometimes) coexist. There is also a renewed interest in the ‘conservative’, ‘contextual’ as well as ‘culture’ and heritage which are marketable now. May be confusing, but there is passion , of many strands. Can this be a sign of coming of age and will the generation next graduate further and start producing architecture of significance for India?

Architecture always seemed a search to me; a search for many diverse things. Search of an elusive and nebulous ‘core competence’ of the profession that defines ‘architecture’, a search for a philosophical justification for its existence distinct from some other related activities, a search for the intellectual content beyond the routine of building, a search to be different, a search for a point of departure, an ideology- low cost, green, energy, ecology, or USPs for the commercial world, etc. Extended to the professionals, it always ended up as a search for excitement, a search for name, fame and success and of course, money. The multitude of possibilities in a plural society makes architecture seem like a personal agenda. When we include all the players in the realms, the client, the builders, the construction workers and their varied skills, the engineers and consultants, the planners as well as public at large, the various strata of the society who use buildings differently with different attitudes, there arises a confusing conflict of agendas and the best exercise seem to be that of conflict resolution. Circumstances seem to conspire to make good architecture happen, nonetheless, though not very often.

Architecture, as objects in a context-physical as well as cultural, is a total sensory experience, but not just visually alone. That is how we experienced and evaluated architecture before. But today the majority of buildings and urban spaces are designed and produced with visual experience alone in mind and are also being evaluated through the visuals, especially photographic visuals. The print and visual media have added to this. Excessive lights made possible by the lighting industry and glossy pictures and dazzling 3Ds numb our other senses. The haptic sense of touch, the senses of sound and smell and even kinaesthesia are hardly explored seriously. Are we moving away from real experience to virtual one? Does this make it possible to transcend real space defined by cultures as images can be exported and transplanted with ease? And does it relegate or reduce the architecture to mere soulless surfaces of colours? I wonder.

The design agenda also has moved from a multivalent mode to a dominant single mode. We are dependent on limited agenda today leaning too much either on elitist economic sense on one side, on crass commercial success in the middle dancing to the demands of consumer market and on social activism on the other side. Even the cultural meaning of architecture is often reduced to visual scenographic details alone; creation of visual imagery of one kind or other; either iconic (most noted ones are so) or blatantly insipid copies. Or sometimes plain gimmicks in construction, like walls made of beer bottles. Hardly do we seem to appreciate a balanced view of architecture having multiple dimensions.

So we create variety of labels too like ‘green’ buildings, or traditional or ‘vernacular’ recreations or mythical ‘heritage’ sets like the many in hospitality sector. If passion drives those choices, there is hope. But if it is simple branding and jumping into the wagon of convenience, then it leads nowhere. Many of them fail to outlive the notion of contemporaneous novelty or a limited public appeal of nostalgia and hardly achieve a seriousness enough to be called architecture. In this context, if a minuscule percentage of buildings turn out to be serious architecture, the credit goes to the heroic efforts of a few.

We create many complexes today over dominated by the production process dictating the design. And in the builder segments which accounts for large amount of urban buildings, the idea of architecture seems to be to create as much volume as possible and produce a loud packaging appeal and merchandise for sale like any other commodity. The design agenda is mutated and mutilated by management, economics, finance, bureaucracy, fashion and even ‘vastu’. The humongous scale of construction today makes neither architects nor architecture in command. Our traditional skills seem to be insufficient. Is such scale of construction a necessary evil? Or do we need to move on to an era of teamwork, reducing the often bloated egos? Is it not emerging?. Future is, perhaps, of the underdog, and not the maverick?

Architecture is taught and practiced even today in a problem solving functionalist mode. But hardly functionalism is a USP in architecture any more. Personal whims are. Hardly there is any public debate. Whatever little public space is used for discussion, current fashions take the lead. Can this lead to a serious Indian discourse, beyond the transfer of images from our past or from somewhere else? Can there be a multi-cultural synthesis for the evolving future? In the era of shrinking thought boundaries. Seriously? I hear many talking about practicality of simple design without a hangover of theory or of green rating or cultural context as justification for insipid work. Could there be any design possible like that without an underlying theoretical concept of what is architecture really?

So is it confusing? Or is it beginning of a new sensible era? Destruction is perhaps, necessary to create new construction. Can we make it happen, really, beyond the image making?

I pin my hopes on that few of the next generation. Let us not confuse them with one sided arguments. Let them open the minds and see beyond fashion and labels. And not only a new generation of architects; we need a new generation of people who can appreciate architecture in its proper perspective as a cultural medium by itself and not just a functional utility or a showpiece of vanity or packaging material.

The sense of angst which is palpable on many youngsters today sure will turn into a force of creation.

published as OPEN PAGE in Index Furniture Journal IFJ feb 2010