Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"A Timeless Way of Living" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

In architecture we are crossing through a period when the crying baby gets the milk!

What I mean to say is that architects are screaming and yelling like babies to grab attention. Facade architecture, the packaging of buildings in trendy envelopes is popular. Fashionable western architects are “selling styles,” not making architecture. Each building they make looks like a copy of the one before.

It is only one sense these architects are playing on, and that is VISION, leaving, touch and textures; smell and nature; sound and volume, common sense and proportion to the winds. In other words architecture is at one of its low historical points where style, fade and crude popularity are projected.
This “bad taste” is media driven from cities, outward toward the smaller towns. It works on the centre-peripheral phenomena where more and more energy builds up at a central point, until the system explodes. While this is happening at the centre, there is more calm, thought and reflection out on the periphery. Often more creative works can be expected from Pune than Mumbai and Mumbai more than from New York. But young architects always look in the distance to find local truths.

Over the past decade young architects have grown up in a digital world. Their experience of architecture has been in Virtual Reality: 3D on a 2D computer screen. While this has allowed pushing the limits of the VISUAL WORLD, it has suppressed experimental architecture which finds its dimensions not only in vision/sight but in touch, smell, sound, sequence and movement.

CONFUSED

In all of the resulting noise, cacophony, yelling and screaming we even find young architects wondering WHAT IS ARCHITECTURE. They want to know what the reality of architecture is.

CONTINEOUSLY EDUCATE OURSELVES

Education in architecture is a search for the reality of architecture. I feel there are several “givens” about architecture which must be the basis of education and of practice.


architecture is built; it is construction; it is technology;
architecture is response to functional needs; it is a product with performance standards;
architecture is social action as every single building either “gives” or “takes” from the social milieu. At the most basic level the exploitation of Floor Space Index is a social indicator. Architects can also create new public domains. They can make schools places that stimulate learning.
architecture is an exercise in economic analysis as every client has a budget which is an estimate of the value of the economic operation of the building in producing something! At least happiness in a home.
architecture is history as it is a part of a behavioral pattern which persists overtime. It is a process in the present, which draws on the past and creates the FUTURE.
architecture is poetry, because in the end it must go beyond the programmatic! It must say something about the human condition. It must raise people’s spirits and spark their curiosities.
CRITICAL REGIONALISM

I feel each country in the world, and each region of each country, has a unique search for architecture. There are elemental concerns (confused as global concerns), but every regional context holds the secret of GOOD ARCHITECTURE. Bangalore, Trichy, Cochin, Managalore, Aurangabad, Ahmedabad, etc. are all regional centers with strong contexts to draw from.

VERNACULARS:
ATTITUDES/COMPONENTS/ELEMENTS.
Every architect must develop a language, and in fact I believe each region should have a language or a dialect; an architectural language! This is a group effort.
I. ATTITUDES

There are several themes/ or attitudes from which regional languages can be drawn:

attitudes towards Nature :
Exclusive or Integration.
Artificial or “green” response to Climate
attitudes towards Scale:
Monumental or Human
attitudes towards Material:
Cosmetics versus Honest
Global Expression versus Geographical resources
attitudes towards Proportion
Articulated or Ignorant
Working Modules/Machinery versus chaotic.
5. Attitudes towards Vehicles

Make them king !
Exclude them and create pedestrian precincts.
6. Attitudes towards Context:

Evolution or Revolution
Learning from, or insulting
7. Attitudes towards community

Create cozy passages and plazas
Build up to the road line
II COMPONENTS AND CONNECTIONS
At a very simple level architectural language is made up of nouns (or components, or things: support columns, movement stairs, roof spans, enclosures and ramps). It is also made of verbs, or connections or action.

To me, this is the easy part of making a language. Identify ten components and use them. What are the roof, shade, stair, support, span, envelope devices and their connections.

III ELEMENTS

More difficult is the understanding of the elements of architecture:
ELEMENTS PERSIST THROUGH SYSTEMS: They are everywhere.

LIGHT AT DIFFERENT TIMES of day, or the year.
IMAGES IN SPACE as ONE MOVES THROUGH THEM.
SHADES of/and COLOURS and their traditional meanings.
RELATIONSHIPS:
AXIS BETWEEN POINTS AND VIEW LINES, AS IN MEENAKSHI TEMPLE.
ANGLES OF REPOSE “STANDING POINTS” TO SEE GOPURAMS AND SANCTUMS
REPETITION – DOMES IN HUMAYAN’S TOMB;
INTER-PENETRATION (AKBAR’S TOMB) DIAGONAL VIEWS THROUGH COLUMNS WATER BODIES/SANCTUM.
TEXTURE – GRAIN AND “FEEL” OF STONE
SOUND-VOLUMNS (ECHOES AND REVERBERATIONS)
GHARANA OF ARCHITECTURE :

We have musicians known as gharanas, and in philosophy we have “schools of thought.” We need “schools of thought” and gharanas in architecture. In ancient regions I could see unique schools of thought emerging. We could have clear attitudes towards nature, sense, materials and proportion.

We could have unique components to create support, span and enclosure. We could have special motifs for shade, stair, floor, seats and connections.

We could have our own elements and unique ways to employ them.

I challenge you, young architects of India. Make your own language and your own style.
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