Saturday, August 12, 2017

Beautiful in a will-not-take-your-breath-away kind of way

I have been visiting the United Nations Building by Joseph Allen Stien for a while now.  And I am always struck by the studied expression of the central fenestrations that hold the building together. It to me is a simple expression of the buildings relation to the ground and how it seeks lightness as it moves upwards. An expression made by a very  careful manipulation of  three materials,  and a triumph of proportions! 

I am at once reminded of the intricate wood lattice work facades of the fortresses and temples of the Tibetan tradition of building that one sees in the architecture of Bhutan, Tibet and Ladhak. Where a desire for lightness and seismic stability yield a façade of a somewhat similar ordering as we move from the ground to the air.  Of course the effect is markedly different in the case of the UN building, where it is one façade of  narrower entry block, as compared to that of  Dzong or Lakhang (temple) but the similarities are so apparent.

Do I find it beautiful and meaningful because I have encountered it before and it is familiar and I am able relate to it as well as recognize it from my past? Or is it beautiful because it has meaning and expresses a relationship with the site / ground it sits on and the sky and acknowledges these elements in different ways, and also explores the possibility of a different inside-to-outside relationship at  the different floor levels?

(There is no tour-de-force of  architectural gymnastics or herculean structural achievement,  that seems so much the requirement for being considered architecture in this day)

It is beautiful, in a quiet, will-not-take-your-breath-away kind of way. 

Is it beautiful because of nostalgia? Or is it the poetic expression?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Value of Architecture is the Architect - No wait!

On my Facebook feed, instagram and twitter, I read the unfortunate news that the Hall of Nations has been brought down.

It is no difficult argument that it should not have been, or that there are far ugliers, more ungainly and completely un-celebrate-able buildings in Pragati Maidan (the Irony of the name does not pass me at the moment!) that should have met this fate long before Hall of Nations perished to it.

So the question comes to mind -How? Or why?

As a young upstart of a practice, and a young architect trying to make headway into the world of design it is formidable kind of future to ponder.

But I think the answer lies probably, not in architecture or its value or how its value is perceived, but in the nature of discourse on architecture in the country. Which even now is yet to come of any kind of age.

I happened to attend an event at IHC discussing the proposal of National Museum of Architecture, a small group of architects and people from allied disciplines.

Before long the discussion wound its way from architecture to architects, and the value of keeping a repository of works of the who’s who.

And it suddenly became quite apparent how little discourse there was, and if there was any it was more like Name-Dropping.

The discourse on Architecture is not the Discussion of Architects. And the Value of Architecture is not in the name of the Authorship.  They are separate. The Architect may be important by a symbiotic relationship to the Value of the Architecture, the reverse is painfully untrue.

But in that small realization I believe the discourse of architecture may be carried out in earnest. The value of architecture is not the name of the Architect who designed it. Its value is (and should always be) quite clearly distinct.

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Sunday, July 03, 2016

Wondering…... about Walls and what they Do...

Its a nice wet sunday, I am sitting in my studio, looking out over the Mehrauli Archeological park, all freshly painted green by rain, Lila and Frida and Yuuka loll about lazily after their mid day meals and on my table is the book - Mehrauli, A View from the Qutab, by Karoki Lewis and Charles Lewis.

With no particular aim, I am flipping through it. I have no memory of how the book got here or if it is mine at all, but that is besides the point. It is just interesting to look at a curated and "other" view of the places and streets i walk through ( sometimes even unknowingly) almost every day, some familiar and easily placed, others still enigmas even after four years of being drawn here.

On page 41 is a double spread, a wide angle, front-on shot of the Madhi Masjid, and in the bottom right of the picture is seen a winding tarmac surface, a road. For a while I tried to place the image, and then it did come to me. This is the disused mosque on the left of the road, as you wind your way up the hill and before you see the rear of the Jain Mandir (temple) complex. 

For a while it looked unfamiliar, where was this place? where you could casually walk off the road, and stroll into a mosque? Yes i could place it and yet some how it did not belong to the Mehrauli of now, where everything is behind walls and fences, and everywhere there is gate, which you are un-invited to pass ( if anything, that is what you feel when you see the gate the guard, the shabby upkeep and the fences that the ASI has built around its dead empire).

Why do we need a fence? A wall? A gate? Who's mosques and tombs and temples are these anyway?
And what is the wall doing? is it keeping the mosque safe? is it Keeping the people safe? is the road safer because now a wall keeps it from the mosque? So that no kids can park their scooters, or cycles and sit on its steps and while away time in lovely weather like today ( and in doing so keep a watch on the road)? Is the security guard there really needed? Are people really stealing stones off the wall? and a fence will stop them? And what happens at night behind the locked gate? Or behind the high wall? 

Or are these things here to tell us this is mine and that is yours? So i can throw my garbage over the divide into what is not mine. And keep secure what is inside my gate? And what is outside my gate is another man/ woman/child/governments/owners /aliens /gods/ devils/terrorists business?

What if there were no walls? And no gates? would we all be killed by marauding cattle? Or better neighbours? 

What  if there were no gates outside which you could drop your plastic bag of garbage with the wilful justification of this great knowledge that the land outside the gate was not yours?

If you look at it another way, walls have made us more violent,… and gates have made us care less...

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Museum of Knowledge, Chandigarh - the Idea

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Friday, February 06, 2015


I have always been fascinated by knives, the clear purpose of blade, as an implement to part, cleave, sever.  Designed to held by hand and deployed by a stoking motion. Stylized and fashioned over time, and yet the the purpose built directness of knife is a joy when encountered. One that does its job perfectly, a balance of shape, weight and  proportion. So a sugar cane stripper, in a village in Bengal completely had me.

I cannot entirely explain its beauty, one has to see it used, the effortlessness and the appropriateness to task and skill of hand. And fit. The Crudeness only ramifies it “perfection” if you could call it that.

The knife here, is one side or edge of an unfolding. One where I want to talk about directness of purpose, shape, use and response. The other edge is a window. The  connection may seem a bit farfetched, bu I hope I can string together a certain aesthetic argument.

History and theory, somehow have a knack of complexifying things. And often to a point where the conversation becomes hard to follow, laborious and altogether disjointed from the simple pleasure that the practice of architecture and its obvious aftermath – the building , are supposed to enable

Design is most often a search, an enquiry into the nature of things and their relationships as part and whole which together provide a framework for expression and creation of both the built and the not built. I use the word not built, as different to Un-built, to clearly identify the act or decision of not building certain things or parts of buildings or space – like not building a wall in certain parts to provide apertures that can act as point of entry – doors, or communication – windows.

These decisions sometimes are results of stand points and intellectual exercises and some times of a considered and carefully mediated response to condition of site or location or topography or geography that inform the omission.

Much of the time, the articulation of the omission is guided by our altogether urban (and thus fairly sophisticated responses of form and function that are created from a surfeit of resources and technologies), born in synthesized environments that are completely controlled and regulated and overflowing with choice.

Our obsession with systems and technologies sometimes I feel lend a certain sterility, and disconnect. We become of higher orders than the environments we live in.

With this background then, when one encounters the primitive answer it is both satisfying and liberating.  A window, doing what it must - made from what is available, with no desire for beauty or celebration, no call for intellectual validation or flag waving. Nothing but pure window. And when you look closer then, a story unfolds. 

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Zen Garden of Khel Gaon

So, I was visiting a client in Khel Gaon. And I happened to see this.

On does then wonder and think.

What is a Zen Garden, is a pool with a rock and stone path leading to red bridge?

Where do you find them? And why? And how do they find place in Khel Gaon?

And more? What is Zen? Is it a red bridge? Or a Rock-strewn path? Is it designed to evoke and induce a certain contemplation?

And if the label had not been there would it be apparent?

And then the most important? Why?

I will leave these as questions with no attempt at answers

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Saturday, June 14, 2014


Case 1.The other day stopped at a red light, a few seconds later an Audi A6 pulls up along side, the man at the wheel, well heeled with a Hublot on his wrist, lowers the window and casually drops a disposable plastic glass out the window.

Case 2.On Sunday last, I went to the Darya Ganj book market, and I got there before time, the sweepers where still cleaning up, you could see small piles gathered at regular intervals. Piles of dust and dirt, wrappers, used condoms, syringes, stubbs, bandages, and unrecognizable things, all being collected and then disposed of into a hand pushed cart – by hand.

Case 3.At the Mehrauli bus terminal, there are toilets, that are not used, but a wall is – the toilets are kept locked. I wonder if they did put up toilets would people use them?

My questions then –

A. If we throw garbage outside our gates on the street side,  or just some where when people are not looking. And if we have no qualms about dropping the empty chips bag down the side of the auto. Or out the window in the middle of wilderness on a train? Would you piss in a toilet if there was one?

B. Is cleaning up some one else’s job- the governements? The oppositions? The sweeper you so generously pay 50 rupees a month to carry your dirt?

And so –

You can cry hoarse about  how bad/unsafe/unlivable/uncivic and third world the city is and so why you like London or Paris or whatever white skinned city is vogue this season.

You can vote all you like for progress and development and safety and whatever other Sh%# you would want - till the day you don’t drop the disposable glass, or flick the wrapper or spit on the curb or stop right across the zebra lines - the city will smell just as it does to me right now – 



The pattern of growth, urban development and progress of the city doesn’t give you much choice in the matter. Needless to mention is the abysmal lack of civic facilities or the upkeep of the miniscule number of those provided, that is only the tip of the iceberg sized issue.

Systematic privatization and /or restricted access to the city’s so called public spaces has reduced the actual truly democratic spaces of the city into spaces that are often not accessed by and thus uncared for by the citizens who most wield the power to have this spaces well kept.

(We do not want to be in our city any more. We don’t walk its streets, we don’t play in its parks or stroll its boulevards. Our desire for the more progressive energy burning and upmarket and marketable lifestyle has removed us from the city into pockets of isolated synthetic environments which we shudder to move out of. And as consequence the city becomes a monster, not because it is but it is a sort of chicken and egg situation that once set in motion the city presumably remains unsafe because those who want  to/can make it safe are no longer willing to be present in it.)

The only truly democratic space in the city is the street, that the middle class and upwardly mobile would be loath to set foot on. They are only fit to drive thru and to make condescending glances at the less fortunate who have yet not risen to the point being able to drive through them. Or the truly economically destitute – the homeless and the nomadic sellers at street light and beggars.

Most public space in the city bears a stance of “Do Not Enter” either in terms of access  or control or by a necessarily requiring financial transaction that in self-reflexive manner polices and thus keeping large parts of population out.

So what is left of the city - that you, me, the guy in the fancy imported car and the Metro, the homeless under the may flyovers and the vegetable vendor is that common denominator that you cannot avoid but would never want to possess – It would just be a place you would take a leak in if you if you had to.

Of course another thing is that no one actually belongs to Delhi – no one is a Delhi-ite if that is a tern you can use. You are either Punjabi, or from UP or from Bihar or Bengal or Gujju, or from Kerala or from Bangalore or Lucknow or some other place. Delhi Belongs to no one except the Jatt boys riding about on 350 cc bullets without helmets! And even they are dying to get out!

In some way its like a thru’ station – everyone is passing through – here while it lasts , taking what they can while they can take it and then heading out to some other place. Much like something/someone used.And that doesn’t  help.

It’s all cyclical – it’s a city you piss in, because it is a city you piss in!

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