Thursday, August 30, 2012

architecture in print

printed in Journal Design Detail, Vol 1 Sept 2012

Architecture in print.
B S Bhooshan
Writing is a linear arrangement; of words, thoughts, ideas. It presents itself like a procession of signs. But are thoughts linear always? As thoughts are expressed verbally often, logical thinking appears linearly perhaps. Words have to form a sentence in a preordained fashion, ideas are to be formed in paragraphs and they have to be positioned one after another, so on and so forth. We find nonlinear thoughts confusing. If thoughts put to paper in that fashion will be difficult to understand, complex and may be boring too. But still our non verbal minds, I think, often think laterally without a start ing point and a finish;  starting anywhere and meandering and no proper finish.  Architectural thoughts are often in a nonlinear fashion.  Unlike verbal entities like writing and it is also not understood or experienced only cerebrally. Unlike other visual media, architecture is also read, understood and experienced through many senses. However, it seems that architecture cannot be understood these days without verbal support.
Architectural profession is influenced by the idea of writing and similar narratives. So the idea of formal architecture understood or arranged as procession of images, things or objects. Monumental spaces of western classical history always tried to do that. We are also drilled with two dimensional visual ideas like symmetry, balance and harmony etc.  
Historically architecture of a culture is located in a place. It constitutes the place. To the extent that time is linear, events and ideas in one time influencing the next; but space has no time and layers of time can be found superimposed in the same space. French philosopher Michel Fucault called it heterochronia, citing cemetery as a classic example at that(!). However, buildings and places can be understood and read as multiple narratives with unfocused following of the eye backward and forward and laterally. In many places, one can start and stop from different entry and exit points. In addition , built environment meet us through the haptic (touch related) and acoustic and olfactory as well as kinaesthetic senses too.
In spite of many theories and methods to channelize design thoughts, conscious design most often is nonlinear; and is abstract and multi tasking too.  The architectural theory culls and scavenges from many disciplines, forms ideas about physical space and stops there, leaving the actual method of design to a nebulous process, to the individual designer to find out.  Even the simplest and mechanised form- search  is truly cloudy. The process looks apparent only after the design is arrived at.  This despite claims of parametricism. After all built environment is ‘touchy-feely thing’.  The end result, the built space is not always cerebral, but experiential. And experience is multisensory.  More so in the not-so-self- conscious cultural production of architecture and places.
Design of architecture is a process of converting nonverbal, nonlinear thoughts .  To that extent it is a media by its own right. It is represented in diagrams, drawings, pictures and inadequately in words.  Print and visual media is poor in conveying the architectural idea adequately   to the readers.  When done so, it is misrepresented and twisted resulting in misreading of the idea.   In reverse, architects are generally poor verbal communicators; many abhor it and many even think that talking too much about design and analysing it verbally drains their creative energies. Geoffrey Bawa famously refused to talk about his works saying that his works should speak for itself. There are also architects who left the feild and did well with words, British novelist Thomas Hardy for example and recently, nobel prize winning writer, Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk left studying architecture after 3 years. His book on Istanbul is a vivid description of the city and its cultural history, though.  Is there a disconnect between architecture and writing then?
Yet architectural journals are in the increase in India. Are they read by words or by photographs; both grossly underrepresenting architecture? Long tradition of architectural journalism has reduced architecture to mere photographic and vicarious experience. Real experience of many an architecture and places is too distance for many, but virtual experience of those places is too common. As long as direct experience of architecture cannot be conveyed over distances except through words and pictures, this limitation will always be there. Then, how is and to what level the print media is then influencing architecture? And its design. Is the print media only promote architects or is it promoting critical debate in architecture and built spaces? If so what kind of discussion would be relevant in the print space?
This photograph is an entrance court to an office. This makes good visual composition in print.  But does it adequately convey the experience the space can give. Will it be more or less than the expectation this picture generates? The object is several times removed from the image (sign).