In the year of 2010, while I was touring the Harvard Campus, my uncle fabricated a story that people who rubbed John Harvard’s left shoe would go on to study at the university – just for an embarrassing picture of me. Being the naïve first-year architecture student, I went ahead and touched that singular spot on What was probably the world’s most touched foot. That year I recurrently reminisced that particular moment and apprehended that if I wanted to go to Harvard I should break the mold and have the courage to step outside my bubble and form passionate voices and individuated expressions rather than follow concocted superstitions. Consequently, the last six years have been a journey of constant learning, exploring, building my thought processes and thinking outside the box to reach here.
My interpretation of Architecture has evolved in three different contexts, each one stronger than the other: Architecture as a Place for all People, Architecture for the People and Architecture within the Details.
As a child, I spent my summers in the villages of Chettinad amidst the overall communal landscape created by the harmony of architectural elements and accurate urban planning. From details like the style of beams and columns up to a larger issue of street and settlement patterns and from protection of traditional water bodies to the transition from the village to the street to the house, it was all so well articulated that I have always yearned to take such spaces back to the cities we lived in.
In contrast, in the idiosyncratic cities, most buildings get built because a private concern or corporation with easy access to worldly resources warrants it. Yet architecture, or at least most of it, is a public good. What one individual builds the others must live with, and often, for an entire lifetime. What the villages grasped that most cities don’t is the balance of power that gives the people buildings and places that is good for them too. i.e., Architecture is more than just buildings. It is a Place for all People.
Midway through architecture school – on my trip to Ahmedabad, I was intrigued by the National Institute of Design designed by Gautam and Gira Sarabhai with inputs by Charles Ray Eames. There was some life in the plan that is difficult to describe, almost visceral. The place and the people were charged with a very distinct kind of energy and I sat there all day in the weathered courtyards watching people use the space. It had everything about it – the way it composes things, the way it balances everything and the way it was designed for the people and the usage instead of augmenting them as an afterthought and seeing the building in isolation.
You need to be sensitive to and interested in the people and the world around it, which is changing at the same speed and is very fascinating. A building cannot be sustainable only in the literal sense, just by using the right set of materials and technology. It needs to be sustainable in a cultural sense and tell us something interesting and inspiring. i.e., Architecture is already violent – you always dig a foundation. So, do it for the right reasons: do it as Architecture for the People.
Even though I evolved in school, the real – world exposure to architecture and the direct experience of human and social nature made me understand what kind of architect I want to be. It’s not very often that all the forces that need to happenstance to actually make a project proceed are occurring at the same time. It coerced me to realize that just because there are so many people in the world with so many things to do, we mustn’t settle for mediocrity. We should take time to do quality work, focus on the details, reject the humdrum and always strive for something better. Only in buildings that move us, there is an element of care – a feeling of sense, passion and involvement. i.e., Architecture needs patience because Architecture is within the Details.
At CollectiveProject, I had young mentors who trained me on how to think architecturally and how to question everything, every single thing. ‘Even if you are really comfortable with something, question it and don’t form a rigid idea in the beginning and stick to it, ‘ they said. I learnt a few hard lessons on the way – but I also learnt that I could always go back and read Rafael Moneo’s Remarks on 21 Works and find a hypothesis that I can then engage with the world; I could immerse myself in Enric Miralles’ work and appreciate the importance of the line in his drawings – drawings of which his buildings are retroactive representations or I could just delve into God of Small things by Arundhati Roy and pay intense focus on the smaller things in life and how they connect to the bigger things in life. These things inspire me to develop my own language through which to process the world.
But when I processed how the world works and the role architecture plays in the world, I began to pose questions: How to find a balance between my divergent interpretations and my future interpretations of architecture? Is there even a need for balance or are they separate streams of thought, which co-exist only in a handful of projects? How much detail is too much? How do we as architects re-invent our projects and ourselves iteratively, like technology does? Such questions have led me to Harvard GSD.
Gund Hall would be the ideal place for me to absorb all domains of influence and exposure and hope of redefining an honest architecture – take architecture from the said to the unsaid. Working with visiting design critics and theorists from around the world at GSD will make sure my mind is continuously moving, thinking, assessing and persistently analyzing what we have while helping me become a medium to hear things which we normally don’t hear.