Friday, July 13, 2007

Coffee shop, then and now

The coffee shop one went to in the old days was the ‘Indian Coffee house’ or the ‘Udipi’ restaurant that offered the “filter coffee”. Today, indian cities have a variety in coffee shops – the Café Coffee day, the Barista and so on. These do not sell the indian filter coffee. They sell “cappuchino” and “café au lait” amongst other european coffees. The present-day coffee shop is a new kind of space within our interior architecture needs. And, how does one design such a “place to hang out” where the cup of coffee of western origin is more expensive than the filter coffee of indian origin? What do the young users of these new spaces expect?

‘Pastries,Coffee & Conversations’ was designed as a place for young people in Visakhapatnam. The new HSBC building was being built and there was soon going to be an increase in the demand for an already successful home-based bakery outlet in the vicinity. The client’s brief was - coffee shop that was simple and yet different.

The inspiration for the furniture came from George Nakashima’s work. It was designed with inexpensive curved pieces of teakwood that remain when the sides of a tree trunk are cut to make the clean slices for sale. The butterfly joint was used to link the pieces for the tabletop and the chair seat and back. Wrought iron was used for the support for both the tables and the chairs.

The space was envisaged as all-white textured walls with the richness of the polished teakwood and the lighting being the accent. This was a contemporary space because it belonged to the present. It hoped to link the new with the old. The space and the way the light was nurtured were new, the materials came from the past and the detailing was both old and new.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Understanding our Streets

What are the origins of a street?
How is a street in a village different from one in the town or in a city?
Where does a street come from?
Where does it go?
How does a street grow?

How many kinds of streets does a city have?

In a village . . .
When several houses are built near each other,
The path connecting them becomes the STREET

In a town . . .
A popular trading route makes people settle gradually along it
and slowly this becomes a MAIN LINKAGE or street

In a city . . .
When many streets exist already,
further growth of industry, increase in population
results in planning of additional ROADS or Streets

There will be different streets based on where they start or finish and also based on their inhabitants and on the kind of buildings they have; a street leading to a temple will be different from one leading to a cinema hall.

Can an Indian street be enclosed within two parallel lines?
Where will the cobbler sit?
How to accommodate the roadside shrine?
the Paanshop
the Sugarcane juice stall?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Designing a campus

An urban space at any point in time will have a past and a present and its effect on people will motivate designers to articulate it in order to serve better. A theme ‘Tradition & Modernity’ may not be about ‘Historic Preservation’ nor about ‘Styles’ but about ‘Continuity’, about preventing an encroaching alienation faced by us towards contemporary architectural and urban spaces.

Sometimes, it is the juxtaposition of an old building with a new one on the street and sometimes the co-existence of an old shopfront with a new one, both housed within the same aging building that has been part of the street for several decades. Or shaping a new “village” within a city where signs of the old dilapidated one still exist, the ‘urban village’ serving commercial needs in a modern but quaint fashion, as at the Hauz Khas village in Delhi. Even if one is designing a single new building in an existing campus, it must no doubt express what has been before and also reflect the inherent nature of the buildings around it.

What makes some campuses more spectacular than others? Is it the natural beauty; its landscape and perhaps that it nestles amidst the hills? One wonders whether this built environment without the trees, flowers and lawns could be just as special. And if not, i.e. if the landscape does prove to be a very vital part of the campus, does it then establish the fact that the ‘garden’ or ‘landscape’ ought not to be an entity separate from architecture but that the two be treated as an integrated whole. One must nevertheless make a substantial effort to sustain the relationship of the parts. How does one allow for growth & change and express continuity?

What role do landmarks play within a campus plan? Do they add grandeur physically and with their representation in the institute catalogs? Do they provide a sense of place or, render a feeling of security on a sprawling campus? Do open spaces that belong to a large campus also belong to the city? And, how much of the city may belong to the campus; of the streets that enter it and the open spaces that engulf it?

A campus is seen as a place formed not so much by the buildings as by the spaces in between. Is a campus born out of symmetry more difficult to nurture than one which is randomly planned? How does one grow a campus?

Artisans Resource Guide

It is hoped that it is possible to generate the small but precise targeted push that will make the difference to rural building artisans in India, in the nature of the Tipping point phenomenon, which according to Malcolm Gladwell is “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire”

There is currently a directory of master artisans for Goa. There is a need to build up a listing for as many states in India as feasible.

Who can use the resource guide?

Private developers, government tourism departments, individual house owners and architects are likely to use the guide. These are going to be the job providers, the people who will create work opportunities for the building artisans.

Related Publication

Hidden hands - Masterbuilders of Goa

by Heta Pandit. Published in 2003 by Heta Pandit & The Heritage Network

(Research conducted under the aegis of the Homi Bhabha Fellowships council)