Design Prose

Naipaul on Indian Architecture

Posted in Architecture, Books, Built Environment by designprose on December 15, 2012

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.


India: A Million Mutinies Now

Posted in Books, Urban Planning, Urbanism by designprose on November 30, 2012

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.

The Tummel of Love

Posted in Built Environment by designprose on November 2, 2012

Exploration of modern workplace from what it has been and where is it going, or is it really going anywhere?

Implementing Integrated Workspaces- Trends & Concepts

Posted in Uncategorized by designprose on September 27, 2012

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.

Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger

Posted in Architecture, Books, City, City Scapes, Urbanism by designprose on June 26, 2012

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?”

A Homeless Woman in the Maximum City

Posted in Uncategorized by designprose on May 6, 2012

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.

Image is intentionally blurred out

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.

Leopold Café Colaba with Renewed History

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment, City, City Scapes, Uncategorized by designprose on April 3, 2012

This post appeared on World Architecture News Mumbai metro blog.

My recent visit to Leopold Café at Colaba Causeway brought back a few uncomfortable memories from the past; of that fateful day when Mumbai was seized and attacked by terrorists. It was 26 November 2008, which was soon labelled as 26/11 under the burden of sensationalism by the earnest media where one’s own identity is seen through the western lens even in times of tragedy. The American branding had become more essential to the media than the gruesome events that unfolded.

I sat in the café, sipping my iced tea and reminiscing about the good old college days of being broke and still trying new hang-outs. Soon, I was consumed by the memories of the past when Leopold café was attacked leaving 10 people dead right here. It has been 3 years and it made me wonder looking at those bullet marks in the walls, if, with time, we ourselves blur our wounds or wounds themselves dissolve. And how much of it matters of physical traces in built spaces.

Leopold Café reopened shortly after the destructive night of the attack. Owners Fahrang & Farzad Jehani defiantly had stated: “We would never let terrorists win.” The first customer after the reopening ordered a pint of beer for himself and a Coke for his six-year-old son, and said Leopold’s reopening was a sign ‘Bombay is getting back to normal’.

By maintaining those bullet marks on the walls, the owners have attempted to retain that part of the history and curiously many visitors and foreign tourists take a tour and document it through images. In that sense, it may be a continuous reminder of the past.

The Café stills reeks every bit of its colonial belonging from inside and out. Fluted columns, old cream-coloured slow-whirring fans, dark brown partially worn out furniture, arched windows and semi-wood panelling on the upper walls. Its clientele has always been a good mix of foreign tourists, college students and street shoppers. It is always buzzing with activities, is almost never empty and has retained the influx of people to same extent as before the attacks took place.

The much talked-about fabricated impression of Mumbai’s resilience is media generated; people get on and continue with lives often because they may not have luxury of choices. Negative events leave scars on one’s mind and mostly carry traces of it for a long time. But what about the physical scars such events leave to the built environment? By merely fixing the broken surfaces, painting it and giving it a new appearance like nothing ever happened, can we overcome the past? As Salman Rushdie asks in his book Shame: “I too face the problem of history; what to retain, what to dump, how to hold on to what memory insists on relinquishing, how to deal with change?”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Posted in Uncategorized by designprose on March 17, 2012

Susan Cain’s Quiet happened to me by chance. I heard her talking on NPR about introversion and why some people are conditioned to be quieter and prefer less noise, mild lighting and preferably less action as well. This is who I have been all my life, being uncomfortable secretly with my preferences and I had surreptitiously labeled myself anti-social. I wanted to know what she had to say in those pages to understand myself and perhaps others slightly better. And as Susan puts it, this is who I have been:

I am prone to wild flights of self doubt, but I also have a deep well of courage in my own convictions.

The book explores various settings, its pitfalls and their adequacy level for personalities falling in wide spectrum of extroverts and introverts. And this is of particular interest to me as I want to understand built spaces and how sensitive are they to the needs of individuals who inhabit them. One size fits all is not a solution and has never been and this is increasingly becoming the case in workplace environments. Somehow, our notion of productivity is misplaced and is linked to number of hours spent on the desk, regardless of lower level of creative or critical thinking to go along with it. Thinking is an organic process and a continuous one at that. Our minds may not be most fertile in a constrained manufactured set up of “team area”, “meeting area”, “collaboration area”. We need those flexible spaces not just the physical ones but those intangible spaces where we close our eyes and wander, where our minds want to visit and explore solutions to whatever problem one is trying to crack.

Businesses need to be sensitive to these finer requirements beyond a creation of brand image of built environment and a constricted environment of open plan office with strategically placed conference rooms and this perpetual need to collaborate in “informal meeting areas” where nothing sincerely appears to be informal.

Some companies are starting to understand the value of silence and solitude are are creating “flexible” open plans that offer a mix of solo work-spaces, quiet zones, casual meeting areas, cafes, reading rooms, computer hubs and even “streets” where people can chat casually with each other without interrupting others’ workflow.

Moreover, how do individuals flourish and offer creative solutions via critical thinking if the very space they occupy and utilize inhibits their stimulation where thinking through observing, negotiating, weighing, exploring best possible solutions are curbed. So perhaps it becomes necessary that participation should not be made mandatory but inherently optional. Introverts prefer to contribute only when they believe that they have something insightful or honest to add and not just fill her share of offered available airtime.

Participation places a very different set of demands on the brain than observing does.

Similar kind of sensitivity needs to be placed for other spaces as well like educational environments. Where learning is made as organic as possible, that best suits the individual capabilities and yet pushes pupils positively to strive their own devised goals than some larger misplaced aspirational goal of others. Susan explains this further:

The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kind of instructions from extroverts, write College of William and Mary education scholars Jill Burness & Lisa Kaenzig, “very little is made available to that learner except constant advice on becoming more social and gregarious.”

Person environment fit- shows that people flourish when in the words of psychologist Brian Little, they are engaged in occupations, roles of settings that are concordant with their personalities.

Book has made some very deep observations and places itself quite importantly in a place if we have to understand our human ecology and what will make it amplify meaningfully and help us get the best of the people and perform to their capabilities without pretensions. Without the perils of petrification of being extroverts and talking personae only. I will leave with one last thought on sensitive and introverted personalities:

In most settings, people use small talk as a way of relaxing into a new relationship, and only once they are comfortable do they connect more seriously. Sensitive people seem to do the reverse. They enjoy small talk only when they have gone deep.

When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much.

So next time, if you are thinking of striking a conversation with introverts don’t go to them with current weather or your holiday diaries, perhaps just think of values, moral implications and their impact on humanity, their eyes will glow and they will chew your brain till you let them.

Sub-cultural Adaptation in Workplace Environment

Posted in Built Environment by designprose on February 17, 2012

Workplace environment is going through an interesting transformation and it is being accelerated more than ever due to changing fabric of work itself. There is an evident paradigm shift from knowledge workers of Industrial age model to insight workers of Information age model. This is changing and will continue to change the way we work and perceive our work model and effectively leading to how it will affect our physical workplace environment.

Global recession has triggered this change and pushed people out of their comfort zone to look at their business model more critically and technology is enabling them to explore alternative different ways to do business. We are connected in so many ways and information flow and access is not hierarchical anymore instead it is multi-layered, multi-directional and more accessible. Moreover, in a heavily globalized environment, access to expertise and skills has become easier. With those kind of dynamic forces, it is critical to look at workplace strategies which consider predictability and unpredictability and build them into the very fabric of corporate culture. And at a minimum keep a leeway for businesses to transform and flourish with changing scenarios to address and accommodate its needs. Needs not just that are most visible, direct and current but also take into account factors of uncertainty, bundled altogether with the original vision of their business.

In a hetero-cultural work conditions, it is essential that it is one that takes into account the various value system, the work force might come with. Values by its very nature are dynamic, eroding, erasing and many a times modified subconsciously with exposure. With that taken in account, how does work environment provide conditions that will optimize capabilities of workers?

In Indian context, there is a first wave of physically highly upgraded workplaces being provided which are more or less a replica of offices and solutions being provided elsewhere in the world. So, office in China and London of the same global corp is being repeated in India as well. Although, conditions and local forces of each location cannot be more different. Indians are just about getting ready to embrace a heavy corporate work culture while the same has shown visible cracks in it already in the West. It could be a sincere intentional mistake to repeat the same model to only realize that it will fumble in Indian conditions as well like it did elsewhere. The notion of India Inc. is a fabricated, make-belief concept by handful few. The race to imitate nations and societies that are considered more wealthy and successful could be a devised Indian folly well underway. Symbolic successes achieved through gleaming buildings and advanced infrastructure may mean not more than creating a sense of temporal false euphoria. Enduring spaces and built environment are hard to come by and its almost never a product of cookie-cutter industrial output model or by merely replicating entity out of context.

Change is messy and transformation non-linear. It almost never falls into a neat linear timeline and the process sometimes takes you out of your comfort zone, thrashes you, flogs you in several directions before you can define and redefine identity of an entity, self, place, people, cluster and societal aspiration.

Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown: Charles Correa

Posted in Architecture, Built Environment by designprose on January 12, 2012

Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown designed by Charles Correa Associates is the new research and diagnostic center located in Lisbon. It is state-of-the-art facility for some of the best scientists who will be researching on diseases like cancer, dementia and blindness.


Project information:

Architect: Charles Correa Associates
Location: Lisbon,
Project Area: 50,000 sq m
Photographs: José Campos, arqf architectural photography

Full slide show, here.