Art Culture Society / Innovation / Lectures & Meetings

Architecture without architects


I joined Prof. Anil to meet B.V. Doshi at his architecture bureau Sangath in Ahmedabad. More than a week has passed since then, but still, I think I should blog about this meeting. For those non-Indians and few Indians who don’t know him, I am told that B.V. Doshi is one of the most influential Indian architects of our time. I, non-Indian, non-architect, apologise for my ignorance; i got to know of him only a short while ago.

The meeting with B.V. Doshi was held to discuss the ingredients of building a novel, innovative School for Architecture. Prof. Anil was invited because B.V. Doshi wanted him to share his insights on cultural creativity, educational innovation, alternative ways of learning and the grassroots bottom-up approach of SRISTI. Starting off with that, the discussion soon gained a deeper philosophical meaning of looking at things and non-things, everything and nothing in between the obvious and the hidden.

The conversation was held in a small room, high ceilings, courteous atmosphere. The walls taped with paper-models of bygone architectural project designs, one window high up beyond reach, indirect light falling on the grand, heavy, wooden table and on us, leaving some spaces in shade, rays of light slowly wandering across the room. Behind me the rough sketch of a Hindu temple, Mandira, a poetic line scribbled next to it, on the table some cups with hot, freshly brewed chai.

The conversation had just started but my mind had already wandered off, from dark spot to bright spot, person in the shade, person in the light, finely lined drawings on the walls, my white phone on the dark table seemed misplaced, should I switch the recorder on; I decided against it since I did not want to interrupt the conversation and ask for permission, but I used it as notebook –  in the rush of hurrying to the meeting, I had forgotten pen and paper.

” … aesthetic design. How do we fill space with feelings instead of things?” Mr. Doshi had my attention back. How do we fill space with feelings? My first thought was, too many things will leave no room for feelings, or only for chaotic feelings, maybe. But a completely empty room, wouldn’t that create unwanted feelings too? Maybe a middle path, a glass half full half empty, depending on the perspective, the structure of the room itself: I looked at the window high up above me, a stream of light falling in, slowly touching and letting go of things, table, shelves, chairs, walls, drawings, cups, the steam of hot chai, the skin of intensely discussing people.

What is the psychological sub-layer within the design of a building? How do we feel about the space we have created and then occupy for a while; how do we fill it and how does it fill us, our bodies, our thoughts, our spirits, our moods? Can the design of a room give us sanity, and can it make us insane? What is the responsibility of being an architect? I had read about a prison in California with murals of forests behind bars. The inhabitants were on hunger strike because they could no longer stand the conditions of isolation, caused by the building’s design.

I asked, why we need to build rooms for mediation, isolation, if a tree in a forest and a river would suffice to calm me, to ground me while lifting my spirits? But then, can not the design of a room fill us with a different kind of calmness that, in such a manner, a tree and river would not provide? I looked back to the temple drawing behind me on the wall. B.V. Doshi had studied the design of temples, the meaning of processional walks before entering the core of a room, a temple, a church, rituals and their accessories, the details in the grand, a temple’s architectural constellations. My thoughts wandered to the Adalaj Stepwell, just outside the city of Ahmedabad. At the core deep down a well, fresh drinking water, the fountain of life only to be reached after passing several descending layers, a processional walk, perspective alterations.

Prof Anil mentioned a villa we had discovered during our last research walk in May, the Shodh Yatra through the villages of Wardha in Maharashtra. The villa was old and a little run down; on the first floor we discovered colourful glass doors, engraved flowers, some window pieces broken, some still intact, old linen fluttering in the blind spots. These doors, in their imperfection, were pieces of art, maybe only because of their imperfection and decay, merely beautiful. What then, if not perfection, makes a space beautiful. Is it the architect? What does it mean, being an architect? Do we need architects? Are they the ones to fill a space with feelings? What responsibilities does it bring?

My thoughts had wandered with the rays of light crossing our meeting room. What were we discussing. The challenge to create. The energy of intensified needs, the unbearable desire to create something beautiful. Beyond the limits of existence. A novel School for Architecture. A school of human being. A place that encourages breaking the rules, questioning, doubting, becoming real, expressing our very own nature. Architecture without architects. A laboratory in which not only students but also the teachers will learn. Space to break free, become aware, follow intuition and insight. Maybe a strive for more intuitive, intense, conscious designs. If we become bare, if we walk down the processional layers to the core of our being, what will we discover, imagine, create?

Brilliance lies in the details, isn’t it? What are the details of human imagination? I caught a glimpse of the scribbles my seat neighbour had drawn into his notebook. Little sketches. Some geometric figures. The details. I wished I had not forgotten my notebook for putting down my thoughts. Left with the touch screen of my small phone, I suddenly felt clumsy, handicapped. After the meeting I went home. I cleared my room from clutter. To make space. More space for feelings. And I made sure to fill my bag with pen and paper.


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