Between Books & Buildings

Friday, May 12, 2017


The text starts behaving in a particular way when it is bound in the form of a book. The book has its own agency. The environment in which the book provokes the reader to be read and the manner in which the body engages with it talks about the body-space dynamic embedded in its form.The reception of text in a given environment - static or mobile - is a function of time. The body space rubric is thus also coupled with time, eventually describing time into the reading of the content. Text of the content has its own time (of reading and of its own place) the way text paces thought, which creates a certain environment. What happens when this transmission clashes or collapses with the time which the absorbing physical body is suspended in? Can the format of the book mediate time?

The table of books 

On books: Discussing with Poonam Jain
Participants making their own books

Participants working on their book projects
Artist Poonam Jain opens up ways of imagining books through her works.

Participants listening to Poonam

The team

Structuralism and Structuralists

Friday, April 28, 2017

Says Foucault:

"Imagine a photograph representing a face. If you make this image go from positive to negative, in a way all the dots of the picture are going to be modified. That is to say that all the points that were white will become black and that all the points that were black will become white. None of the points, none of the elements therefore remain identical. And yet you can recognize the face. And yet the face remains the same even though it has gone from positive to negative, and you can say that it stays the same; you recognize it because the relations between all these different elements have remained the same. Relations between the points have stayed the same, or relations of contrast and of opposition between white and black have remained the same, even though each of the dot that was white has become black, and each point that was black has become white.

Deep down in a very broad sense of what structuralism is , we can say that structuralism is the method of analysis that consists of drawing constant relations from elements that in themselves, in their won character, in their substance, can change.

Structuralists are people for whom what counts in essence, are systems of relations and thus not all the lived individual experience of people... what I do belongs at heart like structuralism to this great questioning of the sovereignty of the subject..."

Notes from the Serendipity Arts Festival 2016

Saturday, April 22, 2017

India never evolves, it jumps. We have situations where one day there is no toilet and the other day, they are hundreds. We have situations where there is no electricity, but the person of the house has a mobile phone.
We are not going to ever have 240 museums - like London.

What we have to do is to open up locked up temporary infrastructure for arts and artists. Second is to open up / find patrons who will have something worthwhile to offer.

India is not necessarily an educated race, but we are highly intelligent.

Feroze Gujral


What is the History of memory? How do we utilize memory?
The struggle of the archive is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
A shared history means a shared experience.

The phenomenon of Europe and America coming and "helping" us to discover our destiny.
Rise of extreme nationalism in our countries.

What kind of crisis emerge, what are the violent implications when a country wants to expand its economic might in its surrounding areas? The first 1857 nationalism movement was against the economic exploitation.  What are the ethics of working in a particular kind of political economy?

War has forced a lot of people to migrate. Migration to America and Europe have not yet been a big political question. But these questions are going to come up. Nepal is stuck between two world superpowers - India and China.

We have to learn to be silent and listen to our neighbour.

When you have no power to talk to the big, powerful people, the only way to probably talk to them is humour and satire. It completely undermines the political process and art can bring about some subtly. You can be standing opposite to a very highly intelligent person who is opposing you and still not be bale to be do anything about it. It is here that art can intervene as a mediator. Art has influenced and shaped narratives in every culture - and it happens over a longer duration of time. Subtleties of political debate can be conducted only through art.

To be sure,  nation/states can't understand humour.

Amrith Lal

If you are true to yourself, you are true to your political time. So this question will be inevitably there in your work. So you don't have to question consciously.

Riyas Komu

Notes from Marshall McLuhan

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The people of the west developed their visual point of view and their acuity of vision along with Euclidean geometry. No other country in the world had Euclidean geometry except the country of the phonetic alphabet. without phonetic alphabet you don’t have euclidean space. there is no euclid in the orient. There's neither any individual identity, private identity in the orient. But the kinds of left and right hemisphere things coordinate quite well since the lineal nature of the left hemisphere is very visual - visual space is the only space that is lineal and connected. Acoustic space is not lineal or connected. The acoustic space is a sphere who we hear from all directions at once. Acoustic space is a sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose margin is no where. That is a simultaneous sound which creates that kind of space. It is the space of the sound bubble in rock space. But right hemisphere is simultaneous acoustic and this is very favourable to the corporate identity of oriental man. People who 'play it by the ear'. As opposed to those people who have a strong bias of 'point of view' and who play it by the eye and by logical connected estimate bottomline quantity and so on. This is all left hemisphere. But the right hemisphere has no bottom line and is interested only in quality, not in quantity. And so the other wordless, the non-worldly orient with its interest in the way of life rather than in the amount of product…you might say, polynesia, our various attempts have been made to organise the polynesian into the dynamic produces of this and that and they remain completely indifferent. They are very acoustically oriented people. Very right hemisphere. But the right and left hemispheres affect both of us to some degree. There, its not an plain either or. We use both the hemispheres to some degree. But in some cultures, the one or the other gets much stress, much play.


To Read means to guess.
Reading is an activity of rapid guessing.

Old English rĒ£dan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch raden and German raten ‘advise, guess’. Early senses included ‘advise’ and ‘interpret (a riddle or dream’)


...paradoxically, the clown was a person with a grievance. his role in medieval society was to be the voice of grievance. The clown's job was to tell the emperor or tell the royalty exactly what was wrong with the society. He often lost his head in this process. but the clown, the international , motley of our times, the clown is trying to tell us his grievance. the beards, the hairdos and the costumes of the young are  manifestations of grievance and anger. 


Playing to the Politics of Pedagogy

Thursday, April 06, 2017

We are in the review season for architectural schools. I was appointed to assess the works of two schools of architecture in Mumbai by the University: Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and the Indian Education Society's (IES) College of Architecture. Both very different in their pedagogical approach, but tied by the syllabus and codes of Mumbai University.

At KRVIA, students are trained to look at design interventions (located in any place) through a predominantly urban focus. KRVIA's outlook to design; as the Director Aneeruddha Paul had once explained me long ago; does not treat architecture separate from urban design. It doesnot draw a line between the two disciplines, rather, thinks of architecture to be inherently inscribed within a larger set of urban forces. (Ofcourse, this comes from the school's own situated ness in the city of Mumbai). Thus, architectural responses articulated in the studios are necessarily thought and set within a theoretical trajectory of understanding cities. Rightfully so, and pedagogically innovative. For a long time, "city" had become a buzz word for the school. All projects were informed by a direct or pressed reading of urban conditions and urban studies. There was a moment in the life of KRVIA, aligned with the interest of the West, to generate tremendous studies on the city of Mumbai - that they are situated in - through their architectural design studio and research projects. Other schools were oblivious to the idea of the city until then. 

Other colleges, like the IES have been influenced by the loud and bold projects of KRVIA, only marginally. KRVIA, in my opinion, managed to draw attention to architecture as an urban function for many colleges of architecture around the city, as well as the country (?). As some of its faculty disintegrated or shared their knowledge with/in other schools, or made productive exchanges with other local colleges, thinking of architecture through the urban method became available to them. Colleges like Academy benefitted directly with professors like Prasad Shetty taking studios that anchored the experiences of students within the urbanity they grew up in. A few fresh graduates of KRVIA who taught at Academy of Architecture were able to inject methodical ways of working in their otherwise staling design studios. They were also able to expand the teachings of a particular 'urban' method to these colleges.

Over the years, KRVIA has become critical of its own 'urban' mode, although it has not completely given it away. The students often end up imagining programs and their architectural formulations thinking compulsively through this urban - as if it had become a universal standard, or sometimes, even as default. While they do get sensitive over the years, the confidence in the city and an architecture overtly situated in its dynamic, shapes an architecture that is obsessively ambitious. The evolution, if I may say, as been located in diagrammatizing the building, often a one-liner, with little emphasis to its architectural resolution. Some may say, that to think of buildings through diagrams of architectural intent is a virtue in itself, and that it must be to the credit of the college. That a building is an argument, that it has a larger urban function, that it is a cultural object - are all accepted. But I find it hard if these are not logically carried forward into a rigorous architectural resolution. To expect this in a system of mass education, and at the third year level is unfair. Further, I am more concerned about what kind of diagrams and what kinds of building types do come out of such approach, and how do we assert them as relevant?

On the other hand, colleges like IES seem to have missed the bus completely. Today, we saw students dealing with a making an institution catering to the city inside the artificially created forest of Maharashtra Nature Park. While the brief aimed to achieve the objectives of generating an appropriate urban response, as well as tackling the issue of sensitivity to the natural surroundings of the site, the students seemed to have addressed neither. This, produced through an absolute lack of method, and through the guidance of faculty that has neither a focused 'urban', nor 'environmental' orientation of any sort made the student interventions miserable. Firstly, we failed to see architectural intent in any of the buildings. None of the projects established in what way would they like to respond to the nature around them. Certainly thus, there was no study whatsoever of the ecology of the place, or an understanding of the ways in which nature has been dealt with through built projects across the globe. Secondly, there was no clarity on what makes the building "urban"? What are forms of "urban" in a natural setting? How do we understand the "urban" within the rubric of environment? These questions don't seem to be even vaguely thought of through the studio mentors. The only idea to respond to "nature" was that of the "organic" - quickly resolved into a swirling shape - say a leave, or curve, or spiral or circle - purely in plan. Further, differently scaled outlines of these shapes were subdivided without any structural understanding into smaller "rooms".

The indifferent resolution of any shape or diagram into vacuumised rooms was common to both - IES and KRIVA. In KRVIA, students had invariably provided regular rooms - with one metre doors, even for cattle, goats, and other animals - reached through steps and ventilated by typical windows. In IES, all kinds of activities happened in rooms of more or less same size and shapes - a pottery workshop happens in a classroom with 40 seats and a teacher, as much as a bamboo workshop. Both have same facilities. Further, all rooms are 3 to 3.5 metres high. There is no volumetric sensitivity to room proportions with respect to their programs. The idea of architecture as volume is understood only by a few, since the volume is always dissected into the X & Y axis - the plan and the section. When dissociated, they hardly are perceived together, and fail to come together until the end. But what I primarily want to draw out here, is the generality and banality of form achieved through the urban method, in one case, or the uninformed urban mind on the other.

Over the span of three to four months, how can students merely expose themselves to merely two or three other architectural references, sometimes, none? To be sure, students certainly take on to the internet these days, but can't there be ways where digging out books and looking at building plans and photographs are integrated within the subject of design? Indeed, one can not deny that students today don't even know what to look at in a visual. Gone are the days when one could look at a Vitruvian Man and think of the proportions of one's own body and further the mathematical inscription of nature. It would take a lecture of 45 minutes to merely go over what the diagram means - even if it was so visually evident and obvious! The centrality of visual studies and ways of seeing to architecture can not be denied, and inevitably need to be drawn into understanding architecture. Values of composition, scale, proportion, aesthetics - those embedded in visual methods have to be made explicit, with critical and conscious knowledge of problematics of historical pedagogical modes of organization of forms (bauhaus / constructivism / structuralism / deconstructivism, etc.). The visual method has lost its importance for two reasons - the failed determinism of schools like the Bauhaus on one hand (as identified by colleges like KRVIA), and the failure to upgrade the very traditional workings of the same Bauhaus to the present (as apparent in colleges like IES).

Dilemmas occur when you have to grade students within the problematics of such pedagogical issues. One college suffers over-identification, while the other suffers indifference. Within the politics (of the failure thereof) of pedagogies, how do you evaluate the product? Evaluation here becomes so banal - for the student's project is merely the function of the pedagogical imperative.

The School of Environment & Architecture meanwhile attempts to wrestle between the urban and the environmental - constantly pulled between the ideologies garnered inevitably by its founders. Between excessive expectation and ambition to meet both, the school either tears down students or produces serendipitous conceptual innovations. The lack of architectural resolution or the ill representation of a well conceived project keeps me unsatisfied - not just at SEA, but at every place I go for an review. The studio I participate in at SEA has a heavy (unnecessary) urban focus - something that I do not particularly enjoy, or resonate with. With almost no space to experiment my own architectural questions - those which I once initiated at Academy - the last three years have left me academically frustrated between the urban and the environmental. After all, these are not the questions that excite me, neither are these my areas of expertise. These are not my inquiries. I am interested in exploring the absolute-ness of architecture and throwing it back in the space of the real, eventually learning how the ideal can find place in the practical.

The political play of pedagogies prevents such exploration - where does one find space to explore ideas? How does one deploy them outside these mega constructs controlled by those in the hands of whom institutional power vests? Hopefully, I will find my space. For while I was once in search of an academic space, today, it has completely trapped me within its own constraining ideology, expecting me to play to it. A day will come, and I'll snap!

Reader Number