Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dutch windows

Time and again, I have remembered the presentation by Sverre Fehn, where he showed a project he had completed in the Netherlands and talked about how he had been pleasantly surprised with how much glass one could use in a dutch residential project.

So many years later, as I walk the streets of Amsterdam, I recollect that talk and wonder at how the Dutch keep the interface between their houses and their streets both transparent and beautiful.

Monday, May 25, 2009

John Berger's "Seeing comes before words"

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But, there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled”.

“We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. As a result of this act, what we see is brought within our reach – though not necessarily within arm’s reach. To touch something is to situate oneself in relation to it. We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.

Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible world.

If we accept that we can see that hill over there, we propose that from that hill we can be seen. The reciprocal nature of vision is more fundamental than that of spoken dialogue. And, often dialogue is an attempt to visualise this – an attempt to explain how, either metaphorically or literally, ‘you see things’ and an attempt to discover how ‘he sees things’. ”*

*Berger, John Ways of Seeing, British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 1972

Photo : Dhuba Ati Gaon in Assam

Thursday, May 7, 2009

the morning light

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Design and Nature in Mauritius - Photo essay

Besides being a splendid and breathtaking landscape, Le Morne holds great importance in the history and memory of Mauritius and has been declared as one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites for its natural environment that is increasingly becoming rare.

Le Morne has become a focal point for commemorating the Abolition of slavery in Mauritius.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ganapati Karkhanas

The men worked quietly on the plaster of paris idols. They let us come in, let us watch them at work. It was so unusual to be in a place with so many ganeshas. The streets around Shivaji Chowk in Pen, 45 min.from Panvel, in Maharashtra are lined with Karkhanas or workshops that create the Ganapati statues that are sent to Bombay and to towns all over Maharashtra. It is said that more than 70% of the statues that are sold in Bombay are made in Pen.

Each of these ganeshas are destined to have a life of their own, in street corners in Bombay and elsewhere that are preparing themselves to celebrate the arrival of the elephant god - the megastar of the ganesha festival.

These are not the most ideal conditions for the artisans to work in and yet the work goes on. Can tourism not bring in the funds that can also upgrade working environments within the ganapati karkhanas?

There was natural light falling on the quiet ganesha in waiting. The men who were skilled with their hands and had made these gorgeous idols from ordinary clay were men to be admired.

A ganesha tour could indeed be a beautiful experience for many of us. It could be a one-day trip that would begin with the ganesh darshan at the karkhanas, then, a walk down few of the streets in Pen, to know the still prevalent vernacular architecture of the konkan region, a lunch and then, some looking around in the local bazaar and interacting with the local people.

A vernacular house could be identified for lease to be managed by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation or as a Private sector enterprise in the vicinity of Shivaji Chowk, similar to the heritage houses developed by Pondicherry tourism as boutiques, restaurants & coffee shops.

A traditional street that could be developed as part of the walking tour in Pen in addition to the visits to the Ganapati Kharkhanas.

Infrastructure such as roads, water supply and drainage systems may need upgradation if a floating tourist population is expected. The tourist facilities that could be provided here are:
  • Restaurant with local cuisine
  • Tea shop that is clean and with a ganesha storyline for the theme
  • Rest rooms/Toilets
  • ATM
  • Ganapati Souvenir shop
  • Ganesha Museum

There are an increasing number of craft tours and textile tours that allow us to explore the world of the artisans in India. "One day in the life of a silent Ganesha" could be one such fulfilling experience for the discerning tourist.

One of the karkhanas visited was the : Wadke Bandhu Kala Mandir, Kasar Ali, Pen - Raigad. ph: 02143- 254237 & 93707-17877

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Architecture Design process

This is something i wrote whilst travelling in Europe more than 12 years ago. It was the first time ever in Europe. Everything around was fascinating and intriguing and made me contemplate about experiencing life, experiencing architecture and about how these have shaped my thinking on the architecture design process.

Before asking people to share their experiences, I begin to think about the experiences within different environments that I have had. How do my surroundings affect me? What are the thought patterns that these environments generate? There are images reproduced here in the form of sketches, that my mind captured, at the plaza, on the street, within a building, on the train or in the cathedral.

Experiences in life make us think the way we do. Although two people could see the same things at the same time, they might not always do so. If I walk through a busy street, I see and remember. I walked through the street with you. What I saw is different from what you did. We walk towards the Eiffel Tower. I see the caricaturists on my right. You enjoy the river Seine on your left. I feel the arch above us, that holds the bridge. You see the ornament on the bridge. We walk to the Pompidou centre. I see the pipes and railings. You see the people on the escalators.

If you see the river Seine, you may also see the caricaturists the next moment. If you see the ornament on the bridge, you may also soon feel the arch above us. If you see people on the Pompidou escalators, you may not miss the pipes and railings. Time is a dimension to be considered too, is it not? Whilst walking, what might be within the range of vision one moment, might not be, in the next. If you don't feel the arch above us at this moment, in the next moment, we are not below the arch anymore. Experiences are linked with time, aren't they? Especially it is, when two people walk along a street, you experience in one moment the ornament on the bridge, and I, the arch above. In the next moment, you cant feel the arch and I cant see the ornament. It was only for the moment and that moment is now gone.

Here is a link to some of my poems & sketches of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Friday, March 6, 2009

a way of seeing Review - March 2009

Over the years, I have opened several times John Berger's book 'Ways of Seeing' and been entranced by its words and its images. This blog had to be called 'a way of seeing architecture' because so much learning has always come to me from the book.

So far, this blog has had posts about architectural design and heritage conservation in India that have ranged from questioning what is good design, to understanding why Codifying Indigenous Building skills is important to contemporary architectural design and some observations on the vernacular architecture of the Konkan houses. The blogpost on Bimilipatnam documents the process of people's participation in a conservation effort on the east coast of India. There are some thoughts on the Chettinad houses of Tamil Nadu and the heritage conservation at Hampi.

The search for meaning in architecture and heritage goes, what IS good design? HOW do we create an ecosystem for heritage conservation?

"But suppose there IS no meaning! Suppose life is fundamentally absurd! Or suppose EVERYTHING matters, which would be worse??" - Calvin, in 'Its a Magical World' Calvin and Hobbes Collection by Bill Waterson

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hampi Conservation

The 'Hampi Conference' was held at the Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore from 16th to 18th January 2009. It was a way for some of us to learn that Hampi means so much to so many people. There were scholars both from India and from abroad who have lived in Hampi and researched its many complexities for more than a quarter of a century. People who have spent so many years of their lives to document, to analyse and to share the history of the societies that have lived in the Vijayanagara region. There were the local residents from the Hampi area who shared knowledge of the indigenous ways of living that have been responsible for the survival of the Hampi Ecosystem.

An Ecosystem has been defined as "a living community along with its physical environment, considered as an integrated unit". The many layers that were uncovered at the Hampi conference affirmed that the way to approach Heritage Conservation at Hampi had to be simple in thought so that it could flow in and out of all the complexities and bind them together once again. An "ecosystem approach" recognises that humans with their cultural diversity are an integral component of many ecosystems. How could we strengthen the involvement of the local community in the process of revival?

Hampi has been declared as a 'World Heritage site'. The 'Hampi World Heritage Development Authority' has been formed. There will be teams of professionals in various disciplines who will work towards a Master Plan for Hampi. However, the objective is not something that lies at the end of this road. The objective is to respect substantially the human component of this ecosystem and that lies in the "process". In a Biological ecosystem, energy transfer takes place through the food chain which makes its beginning from the sun. In a Conservation ecosystem, it is a similar transformation of energy that must happen and this makes the 'process of conservation' a key element in the Hampi efforts.

Is it possible to establish a small space/cell within Hampi where any passer-by can walk in to know about the current happenings on the 'World Heritage Project'. This could be similar to the Information Cell, for instance that the 'City of Rotterdam authorities' set up for its citizens in The Netherlands, where information leaflets, books, fact sheets and films were available on what had been documented of the past and what was being proposed for the future. It was a glass-fronted shop with large, wooden models of the existing urban fabric and of the new developments being designed for its people.

This cell, could have a meeting room where local residents could discuss with the authorities on how they could participate in the project. It could provide access for scholars and experts to old historical maps and to the new 'Digital Elevation Models (DEM)' or the scientifically prepared georeferenced basemaps that are being now generated for Hampi. It would house a comprehensive library with books, documents, newspaper clippings on Hampi's heritage efforts and current development plans, on the Hampi Utsav & how to contribute meaningfully to it, correspondence on hampi's conservation efforts and much else. It is possible that more people from Hampi will begin to have a reverence for their architectural and natural heritage.

The main purpose of this cell would be to create enthusiastic teams of people all over Hampi who want to be a part of the Conservation effort and to bring back the indigenous ways of sustainable development back into our lives.


Based on a comment on this blogpost, i am adding this note. Here, a Conservation ecosystem for Hampi is seen as a long-term vision in which local residents play an important role. It would be essential to understand and influence positively their thoughts, ideas and actions towards the Hampi region.

Secondly, an ecosystem approach would focus on a revival of the indigenous skills that made Hampi a world heritage site. Perhaps, the traditional building artisan and his skill will sustain if there is a continuous flow of projects to execute. Therefore, we may want to work towards enhancing artisan networks and connect them to on-going traditional and contemporary architectural work.

We may want to document or codify traditional knowledge so that it becomes a part of the present design and conservation education programs in India. At the Hampi conference, Dr.Cheluvaraju from Kannada University had observed that "In the past, myths and rituals made local people preserve natural and built heritage"

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bamboo building

In the villages of Assam, bamboo building is common even today. The houses are detailed out to combat the heavy monsoons. The floor of the house is a bamboo weave that allows the water of a flood to flow in, rather than keep it out. This is an important principle of sustainable development. During this time, the inhabitants of the houses get into the canoe that every house stores in the stilt area below the bamboo floor. When the flood waters recede, the assamese people occupy their house again. The belongings are protected by putting them up on the bamboo loft. The roof of the house is built with local grass and can last upto 10 years before it is replaced again.

The houses shown here are from Dhuba Ati Gaon, a village about 30 km from Kaziranga, the wild life santuary in Assam well-known for its one-horned rhinoceros. The people in this village originally belonged to the Miri tribe from Agartala and chose to settle near the Brahmaputra river. Today, they are called the Mising community.

The bamboo weave makes both walls and floors breathe allowing a cross-ventilation all over. There is natural light that comes in from this weave as well.

The woven bamboo loft allows the clay pots and pans to be held easily.

An earth plastering is often done over a close-knit bamboo wall for further protection.

There are several innovative details to learn from in the assamese house.

The stilted part of the house is for protection against a gentle flood. It is for the canoe that belongs to the house and for the children of the village. Here is a link to : Crafts in Bazaars