There is much more to urban design than a plot plan. Diagrams do not resolve the integration of culture and commerce, the relationship of the public realm and private enterprise, the balance of new building and open space; they do not create the kind places that combine memory with a vital and active urbanity.
And if I may add to what Ada Louise Huxtable said in her book, On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change (2008) that there is more to urban design and architecture than a plan and drawings which do not capture the quintessential human presence and how they may organically grow or wither in that space in sum or its parts. The enterprise, the human spirit, the experiential relationship, sometimes detached and sometimes intimate, that we carry with place and space is beyond the plan and that is the real process in making of a place which is never really complete like a place is made but its continuously evolving, placemaking.
I recently had an opportunity to interact with Kevin Mark Low at 361 Degrees Conference. Kevin is a deep thinker and his approach to architecture is enthralling, this I say based on detailed, well-thought out answers to questions I posed him on behalf of World Architecture News and his talk. Kevin Mark Low, an architect based in Malaysia whose work has gained global recognition, left his corporate architecture job to reclaim and pursue old dreams and established his practice, smallprojects in 2002, which he runs singlehandedly. He has since lectured internationally and conducted workshops and design critiques at various universities.
Q: What inspired you to be an architect? And growing up as a professional architect, whose work you looked up to?
A: Many things really – my mother who taught geography, encouraged my ability to draw, without knowing that some of the worst architects in the world draw beautifully and some of the best, awfully. My father, being more taciturn, didn’t appear to bother much with what I decided, but the important thing was their both supporting the decisions I made – especially my mother and whatever she saw in me at the time, which pushed me just that bit further.
Throughout architecture school and my working years, I found, I was less fascinated by architects than the specific buildings they did – over the course of my life, these were Cimitero Brion (carlo scarpa), Zimmerman House and Clooney Playhouse (Frank Lloyd Wright), Barragan House (Luis Barragan), Lunuganga and the Alfred Street house (Geoffrey Bawa), the Louvre Museum intervention (I.M. Pei), Exeter Library (Louis Kahn), the St. Louis Gateway Arch and MIT Chapel (Eero Saarinen), Casa En Valle de Bravo (Alberto Kalach), Chapel of Hope (Sigurd Lewerentz), Chapel at Ronchamp (Le Corbusier), Maison de Verre (Pierre Chareau), Commerzbank headquarters (Norman Foster) and the Cabrer house (Lacroze/Miguens/Prati). I feel that these architects built each work with a profound understanding of their specific context.
Of these, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Luis Barragan and Geoffrey Bawa are the only three whose architecture consistently engaged the aesthetics of age in the way of time passing. Perhaps, this as yet undocumented understanding had the deepest impact on my own development.
Q. You mentioned something intriguing in your talk about natural state of ways and materials in architecture and your ongoing query on why buildings can be as imperfect as us human beings? Can you elaborate on it?
A: In the way sixty-year-old people look a touch strange when they try to look like sixteen-year-olds, buildings that attempt to defy the passage of time puzzle me. I have a greater affinity for architecture that looks its age, architecture designed with sufficient confidence such that the knocks and scrapes of its making and use add instead of detract form how it is ultimately perceived. There is something about the wrinkles and lines of an old face that is beautiful, that tells its own rich story of scars, tears, joy and pride. In the same way some of us age with dignity and grace, so architecture too can – the question is what one does to encourage the circumstances under which such gracious aging happens. As such, I select materials and engage methods of construction less for how they are able to hide inaccuracy or imperfection, growth and decay, or the ravages of use, than for how all these aspects find their natural place as part of the aesthetic character, the life of the building. Perhaps I can quote from a passage I had written in smallprojects (adaptus 2010) –
“The way in which I interact with my architecture is total; friends are made of contracts and contractors, of detritus, building culture, materials and their manufacture, the act of use, of maintenance and the tectonics of construction. As friends, they are less there for the act of building than for what they intrinsically are, evidenced in the final product; one chooses not hide the nature of one’s friends but to discover them over time. Design thus becomes less the act of showing than of revealing – that of the details of space and its assembly, of production, of weaknesses and strengths of materials, and the character of elemental finish. A construction effort observed to be less skilled through act or appearance is not always rectified, but is instead given integrity through the design of its relationship to its immediate physical context – the materials and processes of construction, each understood for their basic characteristics and specific applications, find expression in the tectonics of what is created. And the simple issue of time passing becomes natural; that familiarity and sense of scale that only comes with age guide my deliberations and decisions, as time has considerably less impact on the quality of light and space (as volume) than it does on the materials that reveal them. Architecture, as a process does not end when the building is done, it barely begins. People age, as do materials and buildings: I am predisposed not merely to make their transition as gracious and dignified as possible, but to reengage them in ways I never realised were possible.”
Global culture has become somewhat of a beast obsessed with the novelty of form. It has certainly grown past its previous romance with the spectacle of it, but the problem still remains that if the form of a work fails to excite or stimulate and present formal experiences in some fresh way, it warrants less attention. And a great part of this zeitgeist is driven by the immediacy, the instantaneous nature of the Internet – nothing is new or fresh if it is posted a day later. As such, we have evolved an architecture of the photoshoot, of work that has to be imaged as soon and as quickly as it is completed, an architecture intended to be experienced in completeness from the first day it is inhabited. For the work I do, it is not possible for me to think of architecture as ever complete with the completion of the contract – with something as dynamic, unpredictable, and human as architecture, as architects I believe we can only ever begin what time alone can complete.
Link to the full interview is here.
Home to 5.5 million women, Mumbai is considered one of the most modern, cosmopolitan and safe cities for women in India. Yet, not a day goes by without news of a woman of any age or class being molested, attacked, sexually harassed, compromised or violated in some way. With recent debate spurred by the incident in Delhi of a 23-year-old girl being mob-raped in a moving bus then beaten and left to die, it is important to question the forces that lead to this reprehensible behaviour against women and how much of it is facilitated by planned and unplanned urban spaces.
The phenomenon of women keeping away from public spaces because of physical threat is common in India. Growing up in Mumbai, I had internalised this as second nature, allowing it to determine what my movement through the city would be. Stay indoors after dark; move in herds of friends or male company, or at least in the company of a known person; always be on guard in public, especially on public transport; and later, keep questioning whether the groping, letching, staring, or whistling was accidental or intentional. This kind of covert, negotiated presence in public space is true for most Indian women. Each has devised their own compromised mode of urban movement whether it’s to the office, college or merely going out.
Link to the full article at Global Urbanist, here.
This article first appeared on The Global Urbanist on February 26th, 2013.
To understand architecture, it is important to understand forces that define and shape them. Contemporary and modern architecture of today was evolved from historical style which no longer could serve the changing times brought on by massive human movement across geographies and onset of industrialization. Modern Architecture by Professor Vincent Scully works as a thoughtful primer towards understanding what we have come to inhabit. He looks at the metaphysical force as well that humanity has never tried to explore fully quite like the modern times. Expression through architecture also encompasses this, this overthrowing of stabilities of thinking, of communities and settlements.
In all these ways, the old stabilities have been overset, and human beings, in the mass have been given an architectural environment which is an image of modern world itself, in which they do not know exactly who or where they are.
He has therefore vacillated between a frantic desire to find something comprehensible to belong to and an equally consuming passion to express his own individuality and to act on his own. He has become at once a tiny atom in a vast sea of humanity and an individual who recognizes himself as being utterly alone.
And thus, modern architecture has embedded these tensions of belonging and unbelonging at the same time and pursuit, the quest of anchoring and exploring, both at one time. Quest to find answers where have we come from and where are we going and how to express stable architecture in this impermanent state of mind.
And since, of all the cultural divisions of Western civilization, America was the one to which the future seemed most open and in which the sense of actual uprootedness was most strong, it was in America that the polarities were first swept away in terms of a new, continuous architecture order.
Another extract from Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now. Indian architecture through his eyes.
But the years race on; new ways of feeling and looking can come to one. Indians have been building in free India for 40 years, and what has been put up in that time makes it easier to look at what went before. In free India, Indians have built like people without a tradition; they have for the most part done mechanical, surface imitations of the international style. What is not easy to understand is that unlike British, Indians have not really built for the Indian climate. They have been too obsessed with imitating the modern; and much of what has been done in this way- the dull, four square towers of Bombay, packed far too close together, the concrete nonentity of Lucknow and Madras and the residential colonies of New Delhi- can only make hard tropical lives harder and hotter.
Far from extending people’s idea of beauty and grandeur and human possibility- uplifting ideas which very poor people may need more than rich people- much of the architecture of free India has become part of the ugliness and crowd and increasing physical oppression of India. Bad architecture in a poor tropical city is more than an aesthetic matter. It spoils people’s day-to-day lives; it wears down their nerves; it generates rages that can flow into many different channels.
Level or fully made footpaths are not a general Indian need, and the Indian city road is often like a wavering, bumpy, much mended asphalt path between drifts of dust and dirt and the things that get dumped on Indian city roads and then stay there. Things like sand gravel, wet rubbish, dry rubbish, nothing were looking finished, no curbstone, no wall, everything in a half-and half way, half way to being or ceasing to be.
This was in 1990, India through the eyes of Naipaul. Not much has changed 20 years later. Those words can be used as is, for current description of those same roads. Same wretchedness, same intermingling of roads to sidewalks and curbs, same undefined segregation of people to rubbish, same unfinishedness to urban scapes.
Exploration of modern workplace from what it has been and where is it going, or is it really going anywhere?
The print version of this article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Buildotech Magazine.
The changing nature of work and the need to restructure the workplace have evolved Integrated Workplace architectural models structured to suit employee performance. Work styles are increasingly fluid, more interactive, and the geography of work is expanding. A broad range of goals is driving workspace strategy, extending from the strictly tactical (health and safety, ergonomics) to highly strategic (attraction and retention, collaboration). Integrated Work programs are broadly implemented, providing a diversity of workspace solutions that better support strategic goals while still helping companies attain their cost targets. The tactical and strategic objectives that managers are tasked with, and how corporations are actually implementing Integrated Workplace concepts are being explained through observations and case studies.
Click here for the full article.
From Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger:
“This is not the place to delve fully into the homogenization of culture. But it is impossible to think about the meaning of architecture in our time without this fact, for its impact on architecture is tremendous. In an age in which American architects design skyscrapers for Singapore and Shanghai, when Swiss architects design museums in San Francisco and stadiums in Beijing, when McDonald’s restaurants are to be found in Tokyo and Paris, when expressways create a similar automobile landscape almost everywhere, and an age in which suburban sprawl had made the outskirts of London look not so different from the outskirts of Dallas- is the very concept of sense of place now a frivolous luxury? If every city is truly going to look more and more like every other city, and every suburban node more and more like every other suburban node, then what is the point of special architectural expression at all?”
This post first appeared on World Architecture News Mumbai Metro Blog, here.
Homelessness is described as a state where a certain proportion of a city’s residents is without a legal dwelling. Such people, often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe and adequate housing, or lack fixed, regular, and adequate residence may inhabit either a government or non-government provision. Each country has its own definition and provision for homeless people and as such, solutions to accommodate them vary.
Mumbai is home to countless homeless people and the number stretches in staggering millions. And to see people living on the roadside, on railway tracks in squatters or a temporary makeshift arrangement are so common that it subverts the convoluted concept of a world-class city. The ratio to citizens living in a legal dwelling to illegal ones is massive and the City has lived with it for so long that there is a comfort that has set in. Something akin to living with shame: live with it for too long and it may turn perennial from temporary.
I see one such homeless woman almost every day on my walk to the gym. She appears to be a young woman, with an attractive demeanor. With deep black eyes and dark sunburnt glowing skin. She mostly wears shorts, short skirts and western attire; quite a departure from what one expects from a hopeless Indian woman living on the streets. I have often seen her solving crossword puzzles or reading newspapers sitting on that degraded sidewalk. But whatever the activity she is involved in, she is never distressed or looks visibly depressed. She looks comfortable and at peace.
After noticing her for few months, I have started to understand her presence and my initial reaction to it was ‘she is a woman, all by herself on the streets of Mumbai’. I had argued to myself that this must be fine in daytime because the streets are mostly crowded. My arrogant pity that usually comes with privileged understanding thought of deserted nighttime when she must be all by herself. She doesn’t look perturbed as I would have expected her to be; maybe she isn’t. Either way, the trouble I felt towards her was my own, generated in my head. I looked at her from my perspective and subconsciously judged her helplessness, because she is after all homeless. Maybe she is not helpless at all. Maybe I am the helpless one on the different side of the equation trying impatiently to judge her presence and find a solution earnestly.
And that brought me to a basic question: Where is a woman really safe? In her house, alone, with people, behind locks, in groups, during daytime, nighttime, public spaces, private dwellings? Or is there really a place and time where she cannot ever be violated or victimized?
Her calm defies all my mundane worries for her safety and survival. To me she looks like she either landed homeless and has made peace in her own way and appears in absolutely no need to be organized earnestly in a civil society of legal housing and help and be an actor in this modern world just like others, which is equally wretched if not more. The world that is roughly and brazenly defined by laws, systems, societies and its moral codes of conduct and yet never misses a chance to fail humanity. Who decides that the other side is misplaced with displaced ideas of organizing ourselves in a system?
And in that vein, please think about women’s safety more deeply beyond your pre-held notions regardless of her being at home or homeless, because I really wish you would.