Building as an Agent of Change

The recently concluded conference : Z-Axis, curated by the Charles Correa Foundation [Goa], ‘Buildings as Ideas’ witnessed a meaningful shift in the discourse of architectural paradigm.

The conference, presented in diverse contexts, was collectively driven by a strong intention of ‘influencing a positive change’ with the physical manifestation of a ‘building as an idea’.

As designers and visionaries of the built environment, we are in a weighty profession that has the potential to condition the societies we live in. In this, it assumes a tremendous responsibility to the many unseen layers of complexities and concerns which rattle our inner subconscious each time we alter that which is naturally on this earth to accommodate that which we ideate. As individuals, each of us contributes to the shaping of the built environment in our own way, but as architects, we tend to disconnect ourselves from this reality more often than we should.

In retrospection, architecture has already surpassed the discipline of art and engineering with commendable breakthroughs in the ‘craft of building’ and more importantly in the ‘perception of the built’. This is the 21st century where the number of architects graduating every year is in a reasonable proportion to the challenges at hand.

Gradually a global, holistic architectural discourse is gaining momentum in the right direction. And the potential of young blood to ideate on a new architecture is immense.

In the purview of architecture as a benefactor of social change, South African Architect Ilze Wolff questions, “How do buildings participate in the construction of societal structures of power, race, and gender?” Inspired by a nation’s contradictions in its socio – political history, an architectural practice of consequence connected to the politics of being human creates a hybrid mix of spaces and buildings as seen in the Water Shed Project in Cape Town. Towards an architecture rooted in a context beyond materiality, inspired by the melancholy of a past, Bangladeshi Architect Marina Tabassum seamlessly infuses spirituality and divinity into spaces such as the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, that resonate with native communities. In another context, a state of the art public architecture in struggling parts of Middle East is breaking the taboo of working on complex projects such as the Tabiat Bridge in Tehran by Architect Leila Araghian, that require major sanctions and funding amidst a national political turmoil.

As it is becoming important to make our presence felt in the society at large, we find an increasing number of architects engaging in the production of innovative, affordable housing and technological solutions in the mainstream building scenario. Addressing the global issue of social housing, Dutch Architect and Academician Dick Van Gameren’s case studies on the housing timeline of Western Europe attempts to trace a common thread of socio-cultural impact on societies and races across the world. The idea is to redefine the way we approach this demand of housing in a world with an increasing shortage of land to build upon.  From a similar school of thought, we find architects such as Rahul Mehrotra channelizing architecture to positively influence the scales of equity in workplaces and means of livelihood in adverse habitats like in the case of Hathigaon project in Jaipur.

With a strong agenda of ‘architecture of change’ where individual expressions and grass-root involvement form the basis of a vision of user-generated cities, enthusiasts from parallel disciplines such as Anthropology, Economics, and Urban Planning are anticipating an interdisciplinary architecture in an age of rapid urbanization, especially in the third world economies. Mumbai-based Urbanology, sP+a Architects, and Bhuj-based Hunnarshala Foundation are few such practices where this approach is seen as a means to safeguard the future of our cities by empowering inhabitants through design.

Currently in India hybrid, globally collaborative practices are breaking new ground with substantiated projects of huge endeavor.

But there prevails a constant struggle to create architecture as a manifestation of art and expression of its immediate surroundings, tied together with a unique aesthetic in parts of India where the approach to design is limited by its regional influences. In contrast, in the same part of the world, the perception of architecture as a cultural artifact has set for itself a strong premise in the larger national economy. Chinese Architect and Academician, Yung Ho Chang believes that while global influences will produce glorious architecture, it can never replace that which belongs to the place.

The idea of ecological sensibility and creative rendering of an ancient tradition and history is a visible practice as far as in the South American countries like Chile where practices like Barclay & Crussoe  perceive their architecture as one with the natural terrain as seen in the Place of Remembrance Museum in Peru. In this context, Indian architect Ashok B.Lall stresses on the moral responsibility of the profession to refrain from succumbing to market forces to produce a compromised architecture. Suggesting an approach that is independent of any economic agenda and with a clear focus on the local culture of a place, architectural practices could stimulate the process of understanding ‘local’ site context and the ‘glocal’ urban environment in architecture, energy conservation, and recycling of historic buildings.

Interestingly James Taylor-Foster, a very young British architect, writer-curator, and European Editor-at- Large for the Chilean media platform Archdaily asks, “How can architecture occupy a legacy while still making progress?”

Globally, young practices today have moved beyond just the physical manifestation of architecture by successfully appropriating architectural programmes to increase the diversity and intensity of human interactions.

Their work highlights the power of informed framework – research, practice, collaboration and advocacy to initiate pertinent discussions and propositions as a means to create a sensibly built environment. Clearly, we have a long way to go.

In the words of Charles Correa,“Certainly architecture is concerned with much more than just its physical attributes. It is a many layered thing. Beneath and beyond the strata of function and structure, materials and texture, lie the deepest and most compulsive layers of all” 

The immediate challenge then is not to redefine our role but to expand our outreach as architects by making ourselves more inclusive as a profession. This is why when we speak of ‘buildings as ideas’ of a conscious architecture for a greater good, we gather the whole point of our existence as a profession in the first place.


Text: Hrushita Davey
Photography: Fabian Franco
Photographs Courtesy of Charles Correa Foundation

 

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