Questions in Architecture

Article by Shristi Sainani, July 9th, 2019

Chaitya caves showcasing buddhist architecture, 2nd Century BC ( India ) — Photographed by Shristi Sainani

“The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of novel comes from having a question for everything.’’ said Milan Kundera in his book, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Hence for the purpose of this article, I find it essential to pose more questions rather than discuss the contemporary that overshadows the forgone beauties of what has been : Genkan(s) of Japan, heavy overhangs of Chinese roofs, timeless vernacular courtyards, Jharoka style balconies of Indo-Pakistan subcontinent and so on.

Society isn’t homogeneous, then why should our cities be? Why must architecture, responsible for instilling the very ‘identity of locale’, be towering masses of concrete, glistening glass and steel?  Once upon a time, amongst studying the ornate structures of basilicas of roman glory, it was decided, that for the birth of new architectural philosophy it was required to dismiss decoration, multiplicity of colours on a single element and every-day gable roof became an element of the past. Furthermore, matte, sleek, man-made materials were adopted to emboss sophistication on to ‘advance living’ of urban fabric. We, architects, became the preachers of minimalist construction practices. However, is modernity sophisticated or just plain lazy? 

Or maybe this is a style statement trending just as choosing all black as everyday attire; but again, is that the new uber-cool, focussing on the ‘essential’  or is it just turning away from making an effort towards creating something meaningful. If not buildings, what tells our cultural stories? What do our architectural footprints leave for the coming generation?

Epitome of progressive urbanism and a growing nation seems to have become a fast paced life, high volumes of traffic, global financial permeability and lean, perfectly dressed skyscrapers.

Routines must be executed faster and faster; time equals money, it is said. The fashion of globalisation, passed through ages has now left our popular cities anaemic and devoid of sensitivity; leaving negligible space for those who failed to have coped with the harsh, rapid growth of people and places. Financially downtrodden pushed into cornered, city slums or favelas, informal settlements with less than average social security, person per square foot in general, quality of life. With no time left for apologies on bumping past a fellow pedestrian, moreover, road rage instances - may we say we tend to have an intolerant, unconcerned cityspace?

Chaitya caves showcasing buddhist architecture, 2nd Century BC ( India ) — Photographed by Johnny Miller (ARIA BENDIX, Business Insider, 2018)

To clarify, I refer to both, the physical and social realms which constitute giving an ‘identity to locale’.These two realms as extremely codependent. There is no architecture without people as there are no people without their architecture.  

What is this codependency incepting? Can cities be planned in a sense that they induce tolerance? Juhani Pallasmaa brilliantly writes, “Architecture is about the understanding of the world and turning it into a more meaningful and humane place.” Which leads us to what building traits could be incorporated to instil a sense of serenity? Can well planned cities stop violent civil outbreaks? In the world which we call home, 450 million people suffer from mental and neurological disorders according to World Health Organisation (Who.int, 2001); how can those figures be simmered down using the built environment?  

To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem. (Carl Gustav Jung (1981). “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious”). In conjunction, this article states nothing strikingly fresh but is presented as a reminder. We as architects must realise we are not just employees, employers, artists or builders; we are trained to be technical activists, morally-woke revolutionists who need to stride forward towards the duty of ensuring the right questions are constantly asked for apt solutions to effectuate.