Thursday, February 25, 2010

Institute for Revival of Traditional Building Arts

Some years ago, I was documenting the Restoration efforts made by the West Zone Cultural Centre towards conserving the Bagore-ki-Haveli at Udaipur. Whilst doing the study, I came across a document that contained guidelines for setting up an ‘Institute for Revival of Traditional Building Arts’. Such an Institute had been initiated at Jaipur but it had closed down eventually. Maybe, elsewhere in India, there will be efforts to put up an Institute such as this one at another time. I reproduce here some key points from that document :

The work strategy for the institute will be :

- To document old traditional building art forms through a survey of buildings of historical and architectural importance
- To extensively photograph work done in such buildings. The cataloguing will be done building-wise and building art formwise.
- To locate master craftsmen of traditional building art forms in the various districts and to catalogue them including their addresses and other particulars
- To select old heritage precincts and buildings which need restoration, reconstruction, revival etc. and to make these available to the Institute for conducting training on actual working conditions
- Selection of artisans / trainees for receiving training and to lay down minimum educational or experience standards for a particular art form
- To prepare the curriculum indicating the period of training, theoretical and practical classes to be conducted and to identify faculty for imparting training
- To document the trainees skills and addresses, on completion of the training, so that this talent pool is available for being called upon whenever work is needed to be executed on a commercial basis and also to provide employment to them, wherever possible, through the efforts of the Institute
- To prepare films, videos, slides and literature for use as training material. This will need to be done separately for each building art form
- Brochures and technical literature to be prepared for dissemination of information to the prospective customers of such work
- To find avenues of work for the trained artisans in the public and private sector
- To evolve new patterns, new designs and improvements in old designs so as to make future work both time-effective and cost-effective
- To conduct research and development in traditional building materials
- To make traditional building art forms more economical and acceptable to the public

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mud house - 2

The layout of the round mud house was always the same. It comprised of a circular inner room which was used mainly for storage of grain and all the main belongings of the household. During winter, this room was also used for sleeping. In the summer, the family slept outdoors or on the spactious verandah that was a part of every house. Enveloping this inner room, in plan, was another circle which served on the left as the kitchen and on the right as a store room or a sitting/sleeping area. The circular house was based on the concept of a verandah and again verandah.

The inner room received light only through the door to the room. Because of the extremely low overhang of the thatch roof, it was better not to have windows. And the low overhang was to protect the mud walls from the rains. The roads leading into a hamlet were the usual narrow mud paths, opening into large open spaces, around which mud and thatch huts lay strewn.

The children were always outdoors unless they were at school, which was a basic one, and yet not all families could afford to send their children to school. Some children continued to play in their verandahs or just outside their homes waiting for the school bell to ring when the other children would join them.

While the children played in the sun, the mother cooked on the common chulahs (stoves) built by them in the open spaces. These had been made in the same earth that had built their homes. Wood was used as fuel.

While the rice cooked, some women were busy within the house, cleaning, or putting a little one to sleep. They moved back and forth from indoors to outdoors, making transitions through spaces and making similar transitions through the day from family responsibilities to social intermingling.

The design principles that had been followed in the layout of the coastal andhra houses allowed these interactions amongst families. It was a way of life that they had always followed. Often, roof overhangs of adjoining houses touched, but one bent a little to go beyond, on the mud path that lead between them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mud house -1

This is the first part of a series of blogposts on an experiment in mud construction that was carried out in the village of Haripuram, near Visakhapatnam. The traditional coastal andhra village was typically a cluster of round mud houses. The houses were built close to each other in a circular formation so that the cyclonic winds that often hit the coast bounced off tangentially away from the cluster. Houses with two family units were often roofed and walled in rectangular form.

The old houses in Haripuram were more than thirty years old and they had mud walls and palmyra thatch roofs. However, the new constructions being built used reinforced cement concrete slabs and burnt brick walls. Initially, the possibility of constructing a two-storeyed mud house was discussed to bring back mud as a viable building material. For this, a manual block-making machine would have to be purchased. This required a higher budget for our first experiment. Also, the local masons would need to undergo special training. It was then decided that a single-storeyed mud and thatch house with a few of its drawbacks eliminated would perhaps be a better way to begin.

It was hoped that such a model house would evoke confidence in the people to learn to improvise on their ways of building. It would be clear that the new house which didnot have the disadvantages of the old houses had only incorporated a few simple changes, but was in all other respects like their earlier houses which they knew how to build anyway. I started to sketch the mud houses in the village.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Architecture & Representation

In beginning to understand architecture, to study it from drawings and images, you realise that such a study would be looking at architecture from a distance. It does not involve us in a living environment.

In India, architecture has had spiritual meaning that may relate to the time of day, in the way light enters the sanctum sanctorum of a temple at a particular time on a particular day in a given year. The architecture of water in the stepped wells of ahmedabad is an experience of shade from the sun for a traveller. How do you represent these experiences?

This question brings us to studying art and how it has been represented. Perhaps a study of finding meaning in art would bring us closer to finding meaning in architecture and understanding how to represent it before its creation and after.

I reproduce below an exercise I undertook as a student, to study a painting, to walk through it as if I saw nothing else, to be inside the painting and not outside it.

I looked at the painting `ANNUNCIATION´
by Crivelli

And then,
My eyes tired of the rapid translation
Of visual images into geometry
I heard the applause

I could not help seeing
The Geometry in its composition
And, for a while
Nothing else.

The second act had begun.
My mind switched
From `spatial analysis´to the `meaning´
Of this drama

Now, I had to `see´and `listen´
Listen to the murmur
Of the hands and the eyes
To later interpret their meaning

I must therefore divide this story into two parts
the first dealing with Meaning
and the second with Geometry


This painting exposes the difference between the level of curiosity of a child‘s mind as compared to that of an adult. The scene involves several characters of which only one is a child. Only this child seems to look outside of himself. He is not aware that he is being seen. The others know that they are being seen. Perhaps, they view themselves as participants of a drama. They must play their part and play it well.

The child would like to have his presence acknowledged. He could direct the world, he thinks, because he knows what‘s going on, if only they would listen to him. But, he has decided to take refuge behind the parapet, to act naive, only of course, till he is Big.

One wonders if instead of Crivelli, any one of us were painting this picture, would we have represented the little child as seated on the steps... instead of standing behind the parapet. Would it have altered the meaning of the image if instead of being concealed in part behind the parapet, the child had instead been painted as hiding himself in the folds of the robe of one of the men...

Or, what would happen to our interpretation of the composition if the child stood beside the kneeling saint and lifted a building block from the model held in the hands of the saint. Would it be a sacrilege to treat the representation of an important event in so light a manner? And, could this then be the starting point of caricature?

Besides, is the child accompanying one of the three men? Or, has he climbed the steps on his own to get away from the street and the strange happenings there? The apple and the peanut. Are they his playthings left behind on the street in his haste to get to the head of the stairs?

Have the three men gathered at the steps because a programme they were participants of within the building has just ended? Are they on their way out... Or did they hear of an extraordinary event happening in the street and therefore hurried outside to watch? Or, is this simply their favourite rendezvous after work hours? They are not plotting against enemies, are they...Is the curtain shown in Virgin Mary‘s chamber, a mere representation of a circumstantial object or is it meant to be a symbolic barrier between the duality in the life of the Virgin Mary – separating her divinity from her mortal existence and its implications, as drawn from the objects shown beyond this curtain.

Anyway, are all those objects, curtain and bed and books actually to the right of her or is that a mirror wall by her side reflection the room space to her left, hidden from our point of view behind the column...


The painting ANNUNCIATION by Crivelli confirms at the outset the presence of a spatial datum.

The vanishing point of the painting is held at the furthest end of this datum, appearing, however, at the centre of the vertical axis of this two-dimensional representation and with respect to the horizontal axis at its first quarterly division. It is a one-point perspective drawing with all the object lines directed towards and converging at this vanishing point.

One notices instantly the beam of light from the sky directed at Virgin Mary in the lower right half of the picture. It is especially conspicuous since it is the only line in the painting that does not converge or that is not directed towards the vanishing point. This divergence from the rule gives it a special quality to make it a symbol of power. It is presumably a very important feature of the act being represented. As one looks at the rug hang out on the parapet near the peacock, one may not think about what length hangs on the other side, for, one knows.

We can see in its design a symmetry about its width and from our prior exposure to such designs know that the design would be symmetrical about its length. This establishes its length to be twice as much as is visible to us on our side of the parapet. However, if the rug design were instead a small motif repeated unevenly, we would be quizzical about the length of rug that hangs on the other side of parapet.

The painting is composed so that more than one-half of its right side is occupied by a solid mass and another one-quarter of its left side, leaving a quarter-width for displaying the spatial outlay. The spaces show various forms of human behavioural patterns within the different planes. The Virgin Mary is encased within the GOLDEN RECTANGLE. Thus, the proportion of the Golden Section seems to have determined the position of the different objects within her chamber. In a reconstruction of this part of the painting, one may derive a series of golden rectangles which result in the appearance of the logarithmic spiral.

“the dichotomy of individuality and universality may be seen as
Art for art‘s sake against Art as a system
Geometry for art‘s sake and Order as a system”