Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Transendence: beyond the boundaries

A few months ago, I was asked to make opening remarks on a gathering of architects and students on a theme of transcendence. I have now forgotten when and where was it delivered. All who listened also , perhaps, forgot about too. though some asked for a copy then that I did not have. The notes I used just surfaced when I was searching for something else. 

It may be of interest to some, may amuse some others. If it does to any one, I would be happy.

Transcending  boundaries.

I am honoured to be here today and thank the designer publications for inviting me to make the opening remarks. I am standing here with great trepidation to make the first remarks where  a crème –de-la-crème of architectural fraternity is gathered. I agreed to take in this onus, not realising its enormity .
First there was the word, says the Bible. Similarly here, during the exchange mails, a word came into the correspondence.  Transcendence.  Sounding good with connotations of philosophy, sufficient , it stuck. It defined and created a curious intriguing barrier as any ambiguous abstract  theme would be for a conference on architecture that is most concrete. More I think of the theme I am perplexed and wonder how could we transcend it.
Transcendence and imminence are two words of philosophy, metaphysics precisely; to seek beyond or to seek within. That stuff is beyond me.  Let me stick to the common meaning: To transcend is to climb over a barrier, go beyond boundaries. 
At a mundane level, transcendence is life.  As life has barriers, physical, mental, chronological. Many of these barriers  are conceptual, natural and come or made up for a specific  purposive knowledge of the world.
 Look at butterfly’s life cycle. Its life, the same life, manifested differently  at different times with in limitations and barriers. And life transcends from one from to another. Egg, worm, pupa, cocoon, and the butterfly.  So does many others forms of life, a child’s growth. From physical growth to mental growth, acquiring emotions, skills and social behaviour, into a person and a unique personality.  Life transcends.  
Societies form and grow, cultures develop.  Skills develop differently , then some where exchanges do happen and evolution take different turns. Cultural artifacts and their creations transcend original boundaries.  Contrarily societal evolution has created barriers and limits; caste, creed , religion, professions .  Humanity always tried to transcend these systemic barriers and boundaries. And more such boundaries get created anew too.
Words try to define our architecture. Words and thoughts are expressed in languages and languages appear in procession. A linear procession at that. But many thoughts are non verbal . Are  architectural thoughts, about spaces and world about rhythm and time; are they linear ? Can language adequately represent architecture of it’s phenomenological sensory dimensions?  Are we not trying to transcend either way? From language to architecture and architecture to words.  And other representations of architecture too? Drawings, geometry, graphics, photography ; The print media. Electronic media. Is the idea of architecture itself is transmuted in this process?
Complexities are on the rise. Engineering and planning, urban design and infrastructure, humongous cities and buildings of gigantic scale go beyond our conceptions, beyond human ease of understanding.  Transcending andmoving towards a chaos? Or to an understanding and knowledge to tame the complexity?  Human knowledge has been bound into categories. Boundaries and cells .  Professions compete, uniformity of processes are enforced creating more complexities. Don’t we need a transcendence beyond desciplines and profession? 
First, the definition of architecture itself is in confusion. We are confronted by the raised middle finger of Frank Gehry. With an obnoxious gesture, he recently dismissed 98 % of all architectural productions as some thing coming out of the other end.  The arrogance of the few as being representing a few who does some thing worthwhile for humanity. Mostly, as critics say, creating sites of spectacular spectatorship, showy, self advertising, hollow. Rest are all just buildings. Not worth talking about.  But that the rest constitutes the world. This hiatus between the majority of ordinariness and the high end of design is not going to go away soon.  Do we have a theory which can connect the ends of high-design tradition, bordering the art and the habitat-space- tradition of the vernacular, craft and the folk out side the profession of architecture itself?  In squatter settlements, villages, small towns. Developing countries in Asia and Africa, where majority live? Stupid places standing in the way of march towards smart cities. How do we transcend these? That stupidity swams. We cannot ignore.
Architecture has always been playing out illusions. And illusions and visionary creative hallucinations drive the world of future, perhaps
Illusions are also after all wishes and dreams tying to  transcend current limitations. Like magic, it is attractive and appeals to logical minds too.  Flying trapeze and other adventures of circus and sports also transcend the normal human abilities, and push the limits of determination and skills. And perhaps, that appeals to more people. When dreams and utopia open up new possibilities, it can energize many young minds.  Illusions suggesting falsity could be products of snobbery and plain smart foolery or may be perceptions and glimpses of what could be too. When pursued it transcends thoughts to fiction and futuristic.
For example; the synthetic biology researches. The Fab-Tree-Hab of MIT labs. One scenario of the future of technology seems to be trying to imitate life’s processes as Rachel Armstrong says. Some materials even though not living may show properties of life; like growth and movement. In such a scenario the architect’s building blocks are not dead materials, but life’s processes. That would make very strange geometries or non-geometries and defy the sense of visual order we are used to. Yet it could be intelligent and claimed to be more eco- friendly as well. One may not even know what shape the building and city of such development scenario would take. We have been designing with a definite plan and construction plan leading to a definite product. The synthetic biology as an open system of design envisions a utopian system like an illusion, influencing the process not knowing the final product. Yet one cannot dismiss the possibilities. But how do we assimilate future into our human social systems and transcend their limitations?

From mere construction to functional notions, architecture transcended to semiotics and linguistics in search of  a support theory. None seem to last. Ecology and sustainability seem to provide a respite at the moment holding the fort. The success or failure of this movement will depend, unfortunately, not on the profession perhaps, but on the immanent force of destruction in the global economy and ecology. Yet the large masses of folk would continue to build large part of the world  non- professional non high design tradition and hybrid building systems . How do we transcend to system of coexistence and mutual influence

Saturday, January 31, 2015

politics of space

Space has been a a theater of politics - of powers struggle of individuals, genders and groups.  In bed rooms, in houses, in public places,in cities and villages, in national spaces or outer spaces; where ever human and their tools and technology can reach, space has been modified and recreated and produced to serve the power relations and to augment or challenge the existing ones.  the professionals in this drama, who help create and design the arena are only agents of the actors and are actors themselves some times. Their power to create space depends on the manipulative and salesman skill they wield with the political power and not on the absoluteness of the goodness to the world as a whole.    01 February 2015