Monday, January 24, 2011

Congrats Shajay!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


memories of the past are not fully our own, they are partly reconstructed by others. the early childhood memories are largely reconstructed by the parents; consciously or unconsciously.

Friday, January 14, 2011


World is in a falling drop,
The space is in a point.

I am.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


A magazine asked me :What or who inspires my work? 

Certainly no single person or a single idea; I say. There may be many.

I am no worshipper of heroes and neither I follow any blindly; in architecture or in life. I appreciate and am impressed by many a thought and I look with awe towards many a great men and their idea. I constantly evaluate new thoughts in architecture from whatever sources, but have never tried to imitate those either.

If I have to talk about my inspiration and motivation for the kind of work I do, I have to talk about the chances in my life which shaped the circumstances in my career life. Those contexts and chances are my inspiration.

Like many of my colleagues in the college in the 60’s, I too was impressed by the works and ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. They were projected to our young minds with large images. Chandigarh and Corbusier were overbearing at that time. The poor Indian media of the time also projected a few successful Indian architects and their ideas and buildings; Kanvinde, Charles Correa and BV Doshi. Frankly, having studied in an upstart college without any peers and insufficient academic environment, these presentations were swallowed without any real critical thinking. The works on these Indian and other great masters of the World , largely of US and Europe, were also absorbed mainly through secondary and vicarious superficial experiences via photographs, plans and writings without any real experience albeit fleetingly of some. My first encounter of real contemporary architecture was with Laurie Baker. As he built in Trivandrum, the experience was real. Though he was being ridiculed by the established architectural circles there, he was motivating enough. The novelty of his social concern and need for cost reduction evolving into an idea and vision of a kind of architecture impressed me. So was his idea of searching the local idiom.

The palpable mood of the sixties was that of finding an Indian architecture for the new independent India. The works and writings of Correa and Doshi with discursions, though strenuous, into the ideas of the past also kindled a need for developing an architecture without really imitating the so called west. The questions raised were impressive and made sense, but the solutions offered were not fully convincing. A realisation came to me at a later time that the questions themselves are often not appropriately framed and was a result of looking with tinted eyes. The counter arguments for an Indian scenographic architecture also ( a forceful and popular agenda that never disappeared even today) appeared faulted and too shallow. The essential core of architecture appeared nebulous and hazy to me by the time I completed more than two years work with the govt. PWD after passing out.

This confused young mind ran away from architecture for studying planning at Chennai SAP. I did not find that field exiting and satisfying either, but it opened up an opportunity to work on documenting the space shelter of the marginalised in Chennai for an year. This was a time I could come across many non-architect professionals. Further, my stint at the Institute of Development Studies at University of Mysore working with geographers, economists, sociologists, anthropologists etc. for over a decade opened up a view of architecture from outside the profession. The social content of architecture appeared important. Working on policy studies on development and shelter for over a dozen years researching and travelling, all these time keeping the essential heart of an architect, I started appreciating the side of architecture as seen by others. That has certainly made an imprint on my works after I returned to architecture with full time practice in 1987. Several men and women, of different walks, crossed my path some walking along and they all shaped my approach to architecture and life without them having any special knowledge of architecture. Some of them are my own clients; some my collaborators; some not even any professional- masons, carpenters, contractors, builders who all have a view of their own.

I find my architecture not as a vocation working towards a product, but as a process; a search to understand how it gets built in different social contexts and how people react to it and modify it while using. This is not a research interest, but a personal interest in understanding the phenomenon of architecture. To this extend, I find working on individual urban house very interesting, albeit slogging without commensurate monetary benefits for the time spent.

At a basic level, I look at architecture with the idea of constructing an outcome with a method concentrating on the technique of construction and organising it around the available skills and methods- owner built, mason dominated or contractor built, each throwing different challenges. Exploring the methods is an inspiration itself and that is where Baker has excelled and is a source of influence. So is some of the works of Jeffrey Bawa of Sri Lanka. I may call this as building up an architecture reacting to various properties of materials used and the methods and techniques used.

This leads to another area ie. that of aesthetics of construction. We start reacting to surfaces, sounds, visuals and smells on their own merits and react to them very differently than looking at as construction alone. The architecture transcends utility and function as its appeals to sense become important. This is an inspiration on its own. Geoffry Bawa’s and Alvar Aalto’s works have this quality profoundly expressed. It also raises the question of place making.

But then we don’t stop there – I did not - wondering how and why the materials and spaces and shadows etc. appeal to us. It transcends the apparent and trusted ideas of beauty and aesthetic appeal. Then it borders on pure art where we try to see if there is any communication and any meaning in the arrangements of elements; visual, haptic, olfactory and acoustic. The reading of many works of less known and better known literary (fiction as well as non-fictions) works and efforts at understanding the semiology and semiotics (study of signs) in art and architecture, interest in theatre and films and having many non-architect interactive friends, all influenced me to question and understand as well as shape my approach architecture; largely an eclectic one, though. This is discursive and not a fixed idea either.

I also started learning and looking at postmodern architecture since the start of my practice. Not for its surface glitch and shapes, but for the ideas behind, the questions raised. However, I find architecture hard to discuss easily in public because there is a general misunderstanding of it. This is where I find architecture is political in nature and has a profound impact by the way the society develops. The question of relevance in a particular context only is understood from architecture and taken valid by most people. The surface is understood more easily than what lies beneath. In this context, I tried to do two things together. Create an architecture which is understood at one level, as it meets the functional demands and the uncritical eye, succumbing to even to the spurious ( to me) demands of vastu fears and then surreptitiously pursuing/ subterfuging another idea beneath. It is not easy. This often has led to conflicts also; and further misunderstanding as well.

The idea of communicating an idea or thought beyond being just interesting or novel, leads to the idea of politics and social dynamics in architecture. For a time, architecture gained popularity as simple arithmetic to reduce cost as popularised by Baker. Some time a reinvention of a past (heritage and ethnicity) finds many takers often resulting poor surface imitations of the past. It seemed to me that we always needed an alibi for architecture, be it cost reduction, structural safety, functionality, ease of construction or recently, the elusive sustainability or heritage.

Architecture is generally not understood as a celebration of life and should include all those aspects. This multi-dimensionality (or multi-valence as Charles Jencks calls it) of architecture is its strength as well as limitation. The architecture does not get the intellectual attention today and has not developed as a significant medium on its own right, precisely because the essence of architecture is not communicated to be politically and socially significant except in these fragments. So we have to get into kind of labels, like low cost, high tech, sustainable, ethnic. However important those labels may be, architecture is not made of any one of them alone, I believe. So I tend to question the notions in which we get entrenched and become short sighted.

My belief is in the celebration of life, not in the vulgar ways, but living wholly in the context which goes beyond the immediate physical setting or its historical setting. Stepped wells of Gujarat for example was a celebration of the resolve connected with storing and collecting much needed and scarce drinking water. Architecture is also about a positive approach to future which should not be pre-empted by the past or current limitations. Modernity- or any similar notion- is not to be understood in parts but as a whole. ‘Drama of history will have to coexist with the banality of everyday life’ ( Milan Kundera) looking forward to a possible future. That hope should inspire architecture. It has many ways perhaps.

This informs my work, and is my inspiration, though I could not live up to my own ideals always. I believe in hybrid solutions as a bridge, geographically and temporally.