• Ammaar Chowdry

A PARADOX OF FUNCTIONALITY AND CHARACTER

Architecture has undergone constant evolution ever since mankind transformed into settlers from gatherers.



The History of Architecture has taught us the countless -isms that have been introduced based on the requirements during different periods of time. Which has led to different “styles” of architecture emerging in different regions thus making architecture the “visual aid” in recognizing a city.


Now ever since the advent of Modern Technologies, there have been a number of schools of thought that have tried to standardize a uniformed style of architecture throughout the world. This has resulted in a standardized visual portrayal of most of the cities in the world. In the present-day scenario, it is quite difficult to understand the identity of a city


While technological advancement is indeed a commendable fact, it puts forth an important question as to the features that define a city in today’s times. The authenticity and the roots now seem to be lost behind the marvelous design marvels. This leads to putting forth two rhetorical questions, “Is there something wrong in making all the cities look alike?” or “Are we slowly moving towards a more functional architecture where logistics, economics and workability take the upper hand in design?”


Can one create a counter balancing argument that justifies the need of the hour which is pushing us towards a more demand-requirement design approach which fulfills most of the user criteria. On the contrary, The Modernistic approach enthusiastically looks at creating a universal urban character hence uniting the architecture of different places into one.


The gradual disappearance of a sense of locality and a human message from our buildings is the result of cultural factors underlying the act of building - the values and ways of thinking and the actions that govern our civilization.


“Is it possible to alter the course of our culture? Is the resuscitation of regional architecture in postindustrial and Post-Modern society feasible? Indeed, can authentic architecture exist at all in the metaphysical materialism that we live in? “


Clearly our identity, and mental well-being, cannot be supported by a universally standardized and abstracted environment. Cultural anthropology has revealed that we do not live in separate physical and mental worlds. The two realms are totally fused and consequently the organization of our physical world is a projection of the mental one and vice versa. An architecture capable of supporting our identity has to be situationally, symbolically and culturally articulated. The fundamental message of architecture is the very basic existential expression : How does it feel to be a human being in this world? And the task of architecture is to make us experience our existence with deeper significance and purpose. Architecture is to make us know and remember who we are. In the words of Aldo van Eyck: “Architecture must facilitate Man’s homecoming.”


What is it that defines the local architecture of a place? They are the reflections of natural, physical and social realities and expressions and experiences of specific nature, geography, landscape, local materials, skills and cultural patterns. But it has to be understood strongly that traditional architecture are not just detached elements or a “style” of architecture cause then that would just result in it being a souvenir and a jewelry on top of the building with absolutely no context. Without continuity of an authentic tradition even a well-intentioned use of surface elements of regional character is doomed to sentimental scenography. Culture is not a mixture of elements which can be broken down and then composed again in a different manner. It is a mixture of different entities, beliefs and historical and modern material realities. It proceeds unconsciously and cannot be manipulated from outside. Hence, an authentic culturally differentiated architecture can only be born from differentiated patterns of culture, not from fashionable ideals in design.


A culturally adapted architecture is not merely a matter of visual style but of integration of culture, behavior, and environment. To deny cultural differentiation is foolish . A culturally specific character or style cannot be consciously learned and added on the surface of design; it is a result of being profoundly subject to a specific pattern of culture and of the creative synthesis which fuses conscious intentions and unconscious conditioning, memories, and experiences in a dialogue between the individual and the collective.



Image Source : Aranya Housing by BV Doshi


Architecture has a lot of constraints. These constraints can be in terms of clients, budget, requirements, functions and the list can go on. But the work and task of the architect is to make sure that despite all these numerous constraints, he manages to deliver a sensible design which is not alienated due to the said constraints. There are a number of cities around the world which have been undergoing rapid development since the past few decades, Dubai being an example of such a city. The issues with cities like these is that, though they seem to be undergoing a lot of development which may seem attractive and also impressive at the same time, they fail to grasp the fact that they are becoming a planet of their own.


DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE - THE POSSIBILITIES


With today’s technologies, it should be easy to build a new world, a world which can be linked with the past by building on the basic values, and with the future in terms of the well-being of a larger number of people. Planning will only succeed, provided uncertainties about ‘values’ are reduced to a minimum and not subject to pressures of immediate circumstances. Fortunately, we are becoming aware of the consequence of our present day actions and we are dissatisfied. We realize that it is necessary to accept technological advances and explorations of new avenues for growth. It is of great importance to harness resources and energies to support the ever increasing population. What we have not, perhaps, understood properly is a place for the technology. It is really a tool but the tool has become a hammer which we can’t wield. Technology is not an end in itself. Unbridled technology can lead to overproduction resulting in wasteful consumption. Essentially, technology should be utilized in relation to man’s welfare. Our main aim should be to become industrious not merely industrialized. By becoming industrious, that is, through skill and healthy competition and choice, we can have a better rapport between work that one enjoys doing and leisure as its counterpoint. Our approach should be based on using life, time and space more fruitfully. With this the problem of quantity, that is, the needs of the large number of people will be interlinked with quality. This will improve the values since, quality will convert the quantity into an expression of life’s desire and will not belong to the realm of competition, because, it will not be superfluous but inherently essential. To this end, what sort of planning and architecture is most helpful? What considerations should the professionals have, so that its expressions have a bearing on the history and the culture of the people? Should our architectural and community planning focus on social expectations, religious faith, aesthetic outlook, or only an economic affluence? It is accepted that we as professionals, with a limited field of control, cannot directly provide for the amelioration of economic conditions. We may however be able to decide on courses through which, economic growth not only becomes possible but progressive. This We can do.


On the other hand, we may not be able to change the social customs and manners of a people, but we can plan in a manner that provides for a healthy accommodation of these. The architect-planner, naturally cannot preach any religious doctrine, but whatever the religious form, he can plan and provide for the individual or for the community, choices for prayers, for meditation, for ceremonies or for festivals. In terms of operation and management for balanced growth, we need to discover scales which are self sufficient in certain respects and, at the same time, inter-dependent for certain operations. We should define, at least to a close approximation, the scales of various operations for an individual, family and community in villages, towns and cities so that their mode of living is in relation not only to a cycle of 24 hours but also in relation to weekly, monthly and annual needs. In this way every individual, who ultimately constitutes the community and the city, has his own choices for work, rest, reflection and creation. Quality will naturally emerge in time, provided the entire process is nurtured with this faith. This should be the basis of planning or architecture.


This is what we call culture, and the structure around which people like to throng are the ‘institutions of man’. We should search for our cultural ‘catalysts’ which become the institutions of man and which give life its meaning. In planning practices and in architectural expressions, this is what we have to look for and build.