Open Letter to the President, CoA. Again!

Dear Sir,
First of all congratulations, on becoming the new President of the Council of Architecture, India, the last time I wrote an Open Letter to the President, CoA, it was a different sir on the receiving side.

Just in case you missed it, here.

I would love to express my gratitude to the council for conceding the voice of the fraternity over the issues mentioned in the previous letter (Logo competition, CoA website). To best of my knowledge, the logo competition has been abandoned and the website boasts of a new look.
Well, before I get to the core content of the letter I must apologize for being such a pain, you are free to yell “What is this guy’s problem, why can’t he live in peace!” To be honest, the last time I was only voicing the widespread opinion in the community, this time around I am expressing a personal agony, and other people may or may not feel the same about it.

Sir, you would be happy to know that between the last letter and today, my name got registered in the register of architects with the CoA and a couple of days ago I received the certificate of my registration. I was happy to see the envelope on my desk. I could recognize it since it was a self-addressed envelope that was sent with the other requisite documents. I pulled out the contents of the envelope to check whether everything was in place, yes everything was in there. Then finally I looked at the certificate of registration. It was supposed to be a pious moment, a sacred joy that only a person who has undergone five years of rigorous education that architecture is, would know. But I was appalled by the document, the ugliest piece of paper that I seen in the name of a certificate. I was hoping that it would be something that would adorn the wall of my humble office someday but now I don’t see that happening. Let me begin with the good things first, the 300gsm ivory like paper (I am guessing) is great for a document of importance and the reverse letterpress seal is spellbinding, though all its glory is lost in the clutter that the piece of paper is. Before getting into the details, let me share the events of the day I received the certificate, as they unfolded. My dad came home from office and asked me about the envelope, I told him what it was and he congratulated me. He went ahead and asked me to show it to me. He was baffled if this really was the certificate, with contempt he started pointing things out to me, I was happy to see that he could talk about design in that sense. Sir, I must mention that my dad is nowhere related to a field of design; he is a senior administrative officer with the government, usually buried up in paper work. There must be something grossly wrong if he seemed to dislike the certificate.

The Certificate, as received.
The Certificate, as received.

Now about the document, the document has no sense of margins in place, text alignment is badly done, and my picture is bloated out of proportion and blurred of course. The beautiful letterpress seal is just lost in the mess. I would ignore all of it, but one thing absolutely disastrous is the column on the right, a column to add registration renewal data each time, manually (most likely). Sir this is the kind of thing that shady money launderers and black money lenders would use (such pieces are called “hundi” if I am not wrong), the only person I know who still uses such a system is the local cable operator, who is fighting a lost battle to DTH service providers. I can understand that this is to save paper (if only done thoughtfully), but the document could have definitely be designed better and maybe the receipt could carry space for renewals. I understand that I shouldn’t do it every time but the sad truth is doctors and lawyers have better designed certificates hanging on the walls, though I am not sure about CAs this time because I haven’t had a chance to see someone’s certificate yet, I’ll find out about it the next time I visit a CA’s office.

The Hundi maintained by the Cable Operator
The Hundi maintained by the Cable Operator

Sir, I am sure there are pressing issues waiting to be addressed in your capacity as the President of the Council of Architecture, India, but a small redesign of the certificate wouldn’t hurt. And I think I would get something to hang on the wall.
The last time I wrote the letter I signed as the voice of the fraternity, this time I wouldn’t.

Regards,
CA/2016/75808 (Oh yes! I have it)

Should we and would we exist?

Disclaimer: This post is my take on the issue at hand. In no way does it represent the take of the architectural fraternity. Naive, outrageous and downright stupid are terms that I am quite used to.

I came across two articles an ad campaign on the internet today:

1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/justinshubow/2015/03/17/the-american-institute-of-architects-outreach-campaign-is-doomed-to-failure/

2. http://www.architectural-review.com/essays/empty-gestures-starchitectures-swan-song/8679010.article

3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLhbTGzE6MA

I feel compelled to write my possibly shortsighted rant after going through the three. The profession of architecture just like many other things in the world, is being faced with existential questions. The entire human race has faced questions on existence since time immemorial. Going off the track I often joke that Christopher Nolan and his movies are widely applauded for the ingeniousness. But in no movie so far does the human race come to end despite being pitted against all odds. Wouldn’t he be better off by portraying the end of the human race? Wouldn’t that make him the remarkable genius in the true sense? Survival is the thing that the human species is best at.

I do believe that architecture is a profession which is not really required in most cases, civil engineers, contractors and people themselves are capable enough of designing spaces for themselves. Isn’t the same true for all art and design profession at large? Painters, sculptors, furniture designers, graphic artists and many more would fall on the list. They do not really need to exist but, (un)fortunately they do and to the best I know, would continue to do. The question of need is often a perplexing one. People questioning the needs of things have mostly been on the wrong side of history. Much of the progress that we have made so far has been dependent on doing what we didn’t need to, creating what wasn’t there before. Steve Jobs shameless admitted that “Customers do not know what they want”. Was he wrong? I don’t think so, he was being brutally honest. And to your amusement, astonishment or rage the company that he led, sits on a $170 billion cash pile. He wasn’t doomed to fail. Or even if he was, he didn’t. Rather he changed the course of history not just for the computer industry but for things that we would generally fail to notice, packaging and advertising being the most important ones on that list.

Much of the criticism of architecture of today is based on the lost sense of place. I find this not just to be inappropriate but also an oversimplification without taking any reality into account. What is the sense of place? I live in India, I wear trousers and shirts which weren’t here, do not belong here but like it or not are here, I love pizza, I am typing this on a computer which was perhaps designed in the USA, manufactured in China and assembled here in India and in a language that wasn’t mine till 200 years ago. Perhaps the only thing that would distinguish me from an American is the color of my skin. Is color of the skin the thing that should give the sense of a place to me or to the buildings in my surroundings? I am a citizen of the world and shouldn’t my buildings be a reflection of that fact? How much longer can we dwell in the past? I am not an advocate of parametric design but, I do believe in the principles of Voltaire. Galileo was ridiculed for his firm belief in heliocentrism and we all know the rest of history. Evolution is a continuous process and each step is a landmark in itself, so are the works of Gehry and Hadid. What the future might be like is only a guess at best, to say that future architects would be astounded by the nature of our choices today is an overreach of a one-sided imagination.

The wise also raise a question of here and now or highlight the sense of urgency that there is. I find this one related to the previous one to an extent. The disregard for here and now is what directly constitutes the more than 40% of the economy of Dubai today. The number is much more when indirect benefactors are taken into account. The truth of the world is that millions are starving or deprived of drinking water while we are doing what we are such as putting and getting back billions of dollars on a social networking platform, or buying a $1000 suit. At this point I do agree that the future might be terrified on our gullibility and inability to exercise critical judgment and not learning from our own history. Historically, the consume less approach of sustainability has failed and from my observations of humanity might as well continue to fail. The right question for me isn’t that can a building consume less energy but, can we produce more energy? As I have observed earlier architecture isn’t merely about designing for the needs but, designing the needs too.

The works of many architects have been criticized for generating momentary awe. The reason for the ephemeral nature of the awe isn’t the flaw in design but another phenomenon called information overload, there is so much that is happening everyday and every second of which we want to be a part of but are limited to a virtual rendezvous. Are you in awe of the Monalisa at this moment, most likely not, does that make it any less a masterpiece? In times when stress and depression is widespread, momentary awes, icons and monuments are the things that we seek. Here and now is a question of dilemma. Parametricism is a fearless statement of possibility in that sense.

Viewing architecture in isolation from the society is an unjust and sinful act. Star architects aren’t doomed either. The ego is here to stay. Democracy was supposed to be a doom on the idea of individual faces in power but the reality is that we have always craved for faces and leaders, leaders who are bold, charismatic and unrelenting for most of their life. We look for heroes, we look for personal greatness and star architects are only the architectural manifestation of that thought. I do believe that everybody isn’t equipped to do everything, you don’t invite Gehry or Zaha Hadid to build a peace memorial, you just don’t. If you do then the flaw is in your discretion.

The two articles are full of architectural examples and pin the doom of architecture mostly on two architects. I don’t have any examples here, because the answers are fundamental and related to the way society functions.

Personally, I am a fan of Apocalypse, if it comes it wouldn’t strike architects alone, and it wouldn’t be because of architects alone. The entire humanity would be doomed. Apocalypse is only wishful thinking. We would pretty much survive.

Pulkit

Architecture education: what is wrong?

Preface: The following write up can be rejected at the very start as a ranting of an escapist nevertheless I would enjoy my right to write. To say that nothing is wrong is negligence at its peak. There is a great hue and cry over ever expanding gap between architectural practice and architectural education, the quality of architects being produced is being questioned too. As a student of architecture here are some of my observations.

पत्थर की दीवार और लकड़ी की चौखट थी ना जाने कहाँ से तस्वीर उभर आयी
पत्थर की दीवार और लकड़ी की चौखट थी ना जाने कहाँ से तस्वीर उभर आयी

1. Can design really be taught? A rather rhetorical answer is no, but the mere existence of countless institutions stands testimony to the fact that yes it can be taught.

2. Liberty is the guiding principle of design and it must be. But do institutions imparting design education follow that principle?

3. What do I mean when I say liberty? Liberty to choose; courses, projects and if possible people. Can’t I design my own course in a standardized framework? The reason why this is important is simple, at the end it is expected, if not self-consciously that the work you do should be an expression of individuality, so why not in education?

4. Architecture and design are very dynamic in nature, how can design education be stagnant? And we have the same courses, under the same syllabus for years together.

5. Innovation is the heart of architecture, where is the innovation in education? Though I like the sound of Introduction to the architecture or theory of design or building science, but I wouldn’t mind meaningful yet crazy things such as LEGO 101 or interlocking building blocks 201 or advanced study in energy efficiency.

6. Coming back to liberty, once we get into discussing the core courses of architecture, where is the liberty to design? After crossing the threshold of functionality, design is very much subjective. Educators need to understand this in theory and practice.

7. The growing gap between education and the profession is a matter of great concern. Though many educators are professionals themselves yet the gap only widens. I interned with 4 other people from different colleges in the same offices, within weeks all 5 came to the conclusion that “college mein kuch nahi sikhaya”. This clearly indicates that this isn’t the story of just one college or one student.

8. An immediate remedy, till the time more pondering is done, is to create a course on construction practice, which is just one day of site visit each week for the entire duration of 5 years. And it is very important that this course must not be linked to other courses. Yea, a seemingly logical step would be to learn about RCC slabs in the studio and then go see it on the site. This is another traditional approach which has not yielded the results. It would be better that you go and observe things at the site and wait for the studio in which the details would be taught. The element of curiosity is very important. There is no learning without curiosity.

9. As Charles Correa says, architecture is not created in a vacuum. Buildings are made of materials, understanding of materials is important. The theoretical construction material subject isn’t helping much. Understanding of material doesn’t come from the numbers that tell the strength, elasticity and other properties, it comes from understanding the creation of the material, the designing of materials. Education needs to cater to these two aspects of understanding building materials.

It is time that we shake the foundations of architectural education and bring the innovation back to education.

PS: I have not included the already expected answers to these questions such as giving more importance to internships, organizing more guest lectures by professionals and other things. I have tried to avoid talking about the teacher as an individual here, I can go on to lengths talking about it but, it is difficult to replace teachers in the system than changing the system.

Teacher-bashing

This afternoon I accidentally discovered a grammatical mistake committed by my middle school English teacher. I say accidentally because it had been lying there on a social networking site for almost a year now, and funnily I have graduated from school 4 years ago. The teacher in question was the disciplinarian of the school, what more could I want? The kid in me wanted to grab the opportunity of teacher-bashing instantaneously, but the ‘mature’ person in me was confused. Though I must have ignored 1000 such errors in the past, I may even continue to do so in the future, and it must have been a typo or reluctance on the end of the teacher, yet I could not ignore it. An insignificant error made way for an intellectual debate in my head. Why was it such a big deal to correct a teacher on a social media platform? Wouldn’t we look forward to such opportunities as kids? Weren’t we taught to stand by what is right?

A lame thing became a moral dilemma. I consulted two of my friends on this, a person whom I went to school with and another friend from outside the school. It would be disrespectful, humiliating, it would be rude, just let go, were the suggestions that I got. I am neither a “grammar nazi” nor the most righteous one. I have committed my share of sins too. Maybe I was raising rhetorical questions to cover up my innate desire of teacher bashing, may be…

The truth is, there is no truth. What the society tells you is the truth and then there is the absolute truth, the one which is unquestionable, the one which is not open to interpretation. Absolute truth is I have been and would continue to be a hater of the current education system.

Teaching and parenting are the two things that truly shape the world. I have great respect for parents and good teachers; the only thing that disturbs me is that these institutions have been watertight. Why can’t I challenge (I choose challenge over question) these? I may be wrong, and I would love to be wrong, but if I get a response I would learn a lot, and that would be the true learning, and that would make education meaningful.

One last question, isn’t a student who learnt his lesson well the best gift of a teacher?
I wrote this note as a mark of gratitude and a proof that I learnt my lesson well. I express a sincere apology for doing that.

मानव का मशीनीकरण, मशीन का मानवीकरण

बड़ा ही विचित्र ज़माना है एक ओर लोग मशीन में अकल की बात कर रहे हैं, वहीँ दूसरी ओर खुद को सरलीकरण के नाम पर विविधता खोने पे मझबूर कर रहे हैं | सीधे शब्दों में कहा जाए तो विचारों का मशीनीकरण कर रहे हैं , बस यह विचार और विचार कर पाने की शमता ही मानव को पृथ्वी की सभी प्रजातियों में सर्वोच्च बनाती है | व्यवहार नमक शब्द विलुप्त होने की ओर अग्रसर है, यह सच है की सोशल मीडिया जैसे तकनिकी आधुनिकरण से अपने विचार व्यक्त करने की आजादी बढ़ रही है वहीँ संस्थानों में मत रखने के अधिकार ख़तम किये जा रहे हैं | विविधता की कमर तोड़ कर फॉर्म और प्रक्रियाओं में पिरोया जा रहा है |

कला के आयाम बढ़ रहे हैं पर कला सिमटती जा रही है | दुनिया इंग्लिश सीख रही है और भाषायों की विलुप्ति पर मगरमच्छ के आंसूं भी बहा रही है | अपने आप को जैसे ढालना है ढालिए लिए पर दूसरे को अपनी इच्छा अनुसार ढलने की वैचारिक तथा व्यवहारिक स्वतंत्रता तो दीजिये | पूर्ण आजादी भी बुरी है, आजादी के साथ आने वाली ज़िम्मेदारी का एहसास होना अनिवार्य है, पर इस भावना को समझपाने भर की अकल भी यंत्रीकरण की आग में स्वाहा हो गयी । आजादी का जुमला जैसे कंप्यूटर में डाल दिया गया हो बस यह शब्द सुनते ही कार्यवाही करना चालू, मोमबत्तियां लेकर चौराहे पे रवाना, बिना सोचे बिना जाने |

वक़्त की मांग है बहुमुखी व्यक्तित्व संवारना, इस बारे में बात भी की जा रही है, लिखा भी जा रहा, पर शिक्षण संस्थानों के पाठ्यक्रम में नज़र नहीं आ रहा है । यह भी हो सकता है की बहुमुखी विकास अर्थ अंग्रेजी बोल पाना और कंप्यूटर पे दक्षता हासिल करना ही हो, क्यूंकि जो हो रहा है उससे सिर्फ सरपट अंग्रेजी बोलने वाले , कंप्यूटर पे धडाधड बटन दबाने वाले और 9-5 एक ही काम बार-बार करने वाले औज़ार पैदा हो रहे हैं | 2005 के बाद आये गतिवाद में कब तक 90-95 का कम्प्यूटरीकरण करेंगे और विडम्बना यह है की कंप्यूटर आगे बढ़ लोग वहीँ रह गए | ग्यानी महात्मा कह गए होंगे की स्वयं को वक़्त के अनुसार बदलो, पर महान लोग सिद्ध कर गए की वक़्त उनके अनुसार चलता है | किसी ज़माने में ऊँगली पकड़ कर चलना सिखाया जाता था और फिर बेपरवाह बचपन व्यतीत करने दिया जाता आज हालात ऐसे हैं की कॉलेज जाने वालों की भी ऊँगली पकड़ रखी है समाज ने |

आत्मिक स्वतंत्रता बरक़रार है इसलिए मैं ऊँगली पकड़ने से इनकार करता हूँ, आपको जो करना है कीजिये आपकी आजादी को ठेस पहुँचाना मेरे सिद्धांतों में नहीं | यह लेख जानबूझकर हिंदी में लिखा गया है , मैं अंग्रेजी के खिलाफ नहीं, मैं अंग्रेजी थोपे जाने के खिलाफ हूँ |