As a part of the closing conversation of the 2018 edition of The Bangalore Workshop, Richard Leplastrier, Peter Stutchbury, Madhura Prematilleke and Niall McLaughlin discuss the challenges of making and teaching architecture of gravitas in a world with a visual bias.
7th April 2018, IIM Bangalore
Video: Edited by MATTER; Courtesy: Vimal Jain Foundation (VJF)
Transcribed by: Nidhi Shivaraj Patil, Vrinda Kanvinde and Shruti Tilva, Hundredhands
TRANSCRIPT OF THE CONVERSATION:
Niall McLaughlin (N): Thank you. I was asked to moderate this conversation just a couple of hours ago, so you are not going to look at a very well prepared moderation. I am going to end up by asking the group a question, which is that, when I flew in yesterday morning, and drove through Bangalore in the dawn and looked out from the motorway, what I saw was so overwhelming, as a set of issues or problems for architects, that I wondered what the witness of a Masterclass here could say to that scale of activity.
And so, I will end up by asking that question, but maybe to move, first of all, from the personal towards the more global issues. I thought it might be nice if the speakers could tell us something about particularly their origins as architects, and how you first came to think of architecture as a profession for you.
Madhura, was there a moment that you thought you were going to be an architect, and how did you develop as an architect?
Madhura Prematilleke (M): You want the short answer or the long one?
N: We have time…
M: Then there are two answers.
The one was when I finished my school and I was trying to work out what I should do, we had in Sri Lanka, a Conference of Non-Aligned Nations, Heads of State of Non-Aligned Nations, 1976. The first time that the country had hosted an international gathering of that stature. So Indira Gandhi was there, Muammar Gaddafi passed me by on the street inside his car, and did this [gesticulates], Tito was there, you know, all the stalwarts of the Non- Aligned Movement the West loved to hate.
But after this conference, the Government imported these wonderful Holden Statesman cars, maroon and brown, open top limos for these Heads of State. So then after the conference, they auctioned them, and I read in the newspaper, that the highest bidder was an architect.
So that is the more interesting version. It is true. My parents wanted me to be a doctor. That is what everybody was supposed to be. But I did not want to, and I said, “I want to do something creative.” I had no idea what that would be.
N: Can you think of the time in your education when the lights went on, so to speak?
M: Absolutely, absolutely, I’ll tell you. The lights went on in my second year, when there was an examiner who came, a foreign examiner who came to examine the third year group, one year senior to me, and he spoke on an evening like this, after the examination. He spoke about the light and the joy of architecture and he was like a child, talking about all these things he loves about architecture, and for the first time I felt validated about the things that I thought were interesting about architecture, and about which I was having so many battles with my tutors. And that guy, his name was Doshi.
N: What about you Rick, how did you start it?
Richard Leplastrier (R): I could always draw as a kid.
It is a sort of a start, and then after that, I got into the sailing boats, and quite high-end sports, and so on, and so forth. And it connected me with a whole series of friends who were builders of boats; like we have been talking about. It was at that time that I decided I might go and do architecture.
But I had been in the United States with my parents for a year and I went to high school there. And I had done all the work in Sydney. Finished, here, I did not have to work at all there. And so I would spend most of the time in the Arts Department. And then John Andrews, who was a very good architect in Australia, came out, and he visited us in New York, because he had my parents’ name and telephone number, and he came and stayed. And he was going to Harvard, to do his Masters at Harvard. And you know, I had some of my drawings lying around, and he said, “Well, why don’t you do architecture?” I said, “Well, I am not sure about that, my dad wants me to be a pharmacist.” Selling condoms over the table. Can you imagine?
Anyway, John and I took our car, and we went and saw Phillip Johnson’s house. The Glass House that sits in the forest, down low. Completely glass. The house that Wright was invited to dinner. And he arrived late, as usual apparently, and everybody was seated at the table inside, and he walked around this glass box, tapping it with his stick to find the entrance. Fantastic! And I think probably at that time, I decided that I would get involved in architecture.
N: And in your early career, you worked with and collaborated with quite significant architects, didn’t you?
R: Oh, I have been really fortunate. I have had great teachers, really great teachers and they have set the path for me. I have realized, I think, that nothing really comes through your own abilities that much, but everything is passed on. And in turn, we pass it on. And, what is it that Uncle Max says, Stutch? He says, “If you wanna keep something”-this is an Aboriginal Elder who has become very important for us, he says, “If you wanna keep something, you’ve gotta give it away.” Nice philosophy, sixty thousand years of philosophy.
“If you wanna keep something, you’ve gotta give it away.”
N: And which of the people you worked and studied with do you think of as being teachers in the sense that you would admire now?
R: Well, Utzon was a really seriously brilliant man, and every line that was drawn in his studio, you were only in effect, his hand. You did not really work things out for him; he sat down with you and drew with you. That is the best education in drawing I have ever had. And he would describe as he drew… exactly the way the life was going on in his building that he was talking about. And, he would draw the light coming in, and he did it brilliantly. That was quite shattering.
His connection to nature was something very different as well. That affected me profoundly. We used to go out sailing together; he had a boat off the boat shed and he enjoyed letting me sail the boat, and he would just sit there very quietly. But, he saw things when we were doing that… I thought to be a young Turk, I was pretty observant – I had not even begun to see. That really shook me. And, and it was greatly in influential, and how architecture is so deeply in influenced by the lessons of nature, not by imitating it, by the light, and so forth. And each of what these things are doing and all of you probably understand.
N: And that great project in Sydney, that when it is there, it is so obvious, but it must have had one of the most difficult gestations one can think of, for a building. I am just wondering, when you were in it, in the thick of it, the thing that we know now and recognize, was not there and may have seemed to a lot of people to be almost inconceivable. What was it like to be on the front line when the building was coming about? What was your sense of how that circle was to be before it was proven?
R: The struggles that we actually knew were the struggles that he was having in terms of architecture. He somehow kept all this sort of political turmoil away from us. He did not want to disturb us with that so much, although we knew that things were not going well and that the government was not paying him, and therefore he was not able to pay his staff and so forth.
And you know, I had reports from friends, who used to live in the same area as he and Lis, his wife, that he’d be walking the streets, you know, at three in the morning, not sleeping. A very sensitive human being. That breaks you down. Even a man like him, it breaks you down. And I remember, I was working in the boat shed in Palm Beach at the time and he came back from town and saw the lights were on. He came in and said, “Oh, Ricardo”, he said, “It’s all over. Finished. The end of it.” Amazing.
And the other thing, it was difficult for us, who actually worked with him, and who knew the solutions that he had come up with, for these difficult sections of the roof like that: perfect acoustical form of the theatre and the way the glass walls had to hang from the ribs of the shells, but appear not to touch the ground, so they were not bearing load of the shells, and destroyed their freedom – we knew all about that, and we knew how wonderful the whole place would have been, had it been finished to his mind. And it was not. Only the beauty of the shells, the platform, the theatres cut in, and the claddings. After that? Second rate solutions. How sad!
N: I was just thinking, Peter, when you are talking, at crits like today, or reviews like today, or when you are giving lectures, one of the most consistent things you do, is describe walking, or moving through a landscape. You are on a path in New Guinea, you are looking for the way to choose a track, or you are looking at the line in a fence, as you drive through the countryside. There is a very consistent way in which you talk about the imaginative resource you fall back on is very much that of a kind of a country man in a way or a farm boy.
I was just wondering, you have never lost that, have you? In the sense that it feels as though there is another life that you fall back on, as an architect, to kind of have an experience, or possible experience, if I am not wrong.
Peter Stutchbury (P): I am not really even sure if I fall back on it. I think it is there all the time. I think it exists just below the surface, you know? A great friend, mutual friend, Neilsen Warren who works in the office one day a week, he was my first and only boss – he phoned me up one day, aged seventy-four, and he said, “Pete, I think it is time to retire” and I said, “Neils, I think it is time to come and work with me.” So he comes down, and he mentors all the young people in the office, which is amazing for them, a fella like that doing that.
He says that families have a four hundred year cycle. And just to answer your previous question, on my mother’s side, all my uncles were builders. On my father’s side, they were surveyors, engineers, bridge designers, and joiners. And I did not get it! I never saw that coming as a lineage of being in the world. But, you know, traditionally it was a master stone mason [who] would teach his son, and his son would teach his son, and on that knowledge would go.
To answer your question, my mother’s family also have a big parcel of land on which they farm animals, and on which they grow somethings. And, as a young child, I was brought up there, and I spent a great deal of my life there, never realizing what I was going toward, just farming the land, just being on a horse or a motorbike, and moving sheep through the landscape- slowly, because you cannot push them too hard, in that sort of climate, which is desert or semi-arid desert. They will die if they go too hard, no water. And that was that, in a funny way. Until I went to university, and I had to start finding reasons for my thinking. I had to think, “Well, why do I think like that? You know what, why am I so direct about things? You know, I have designed something, and it is very apparent what is been designed and why it is been designed.” And I traced it back to my formative years, in the landscape. If you put in a fence-line, you do not put it down the stony ridge, because the fence does not work there. You put it to one side, where the soft ground is, you know? But not too soft that it falls over with the weather. So, that is on one hand.
On the other hand, my father was a maker, an engineer. And he used to make little sailing boats, and used to help me make little billy carts, and cubby houses in trees and on the ground. He would bring home old containers. He made those big power stations: he was an energy engineer. And so, he taught me how to make things; we would be down in the garage after dinner, making stuff. And when I left school, I had no idea, what I was going to do. In fact, I got to the front of the queue at the university and they all looked at me and I had registered for commerce. And I do not think I’d have made a very good businessman. Like hell! And, this little old lady looked at me through the grill, and she said, “So, young fella, what are you going to do for the rest of your life?” And I went, “Oh! Not commerce.” And I walked away, and I had to think about what I really wanted to do for the rest of my life. And architecture was, you know, I suddenly thought an obvious occupation.
N: Something what interests me is that, when you look at work from another place, another culture, and that is developed over a period of time, and you know that there are individuals involved in the work, and you see houses, that, you know, any of you might have designed. But I am interested where the work develops what I call a self evident property. Or it seems as though the interest in boat building, and Japan, and the lay of the land, and aboriginal culture, and climate, and resources, and so on, are brought into a form of synthesis that makes it seem as though why would you think about anything else in any other way? There must have been a time when most people, and even you yourselves, did not think that way. And I am wondering how those conversations came about, when these key ideas first became present to you. Or, who you were having discussions with, when all these things were not obvious, and needed to be assembled into a set of ideas. Is that, is that a clear question?
R: Yeah, the difficulty of doing this with you as the moderator, Niall, is that we do not hear from you, how you began as well. And that is really interesting for us, because that is a four way conversation. So all I am saying is, do not leave yourself out, that is all!
N: There is a guy over there who worked out that if you got me to ask the questions, then I would not be able to talk.
R: Well, we would be really interested in how the lights went on for you, because it is an interesting thing.
P: Have they gone on?
N: I wanted to study English literature, and in Ireland, your parents would pay completely for education. My father said to me, “I am not paying for you to study Literature; you need to do a vocation”. And for a moment, I thought about dentistry. I think this is a common theme here; we are all refugees from the medical profession.
And I was very lucky because I went to the priest who was the head of my school, and I said, “I was going, I was thinking of studying dentistry, and I hope there are no dentists here.” But he said, “I have often wondered what it would be like to spend the whole of your life looking down other people’s mouths.” And it just happened that I walked through Trinity College, Dublin, and there was a building there, called the Berkeley Library, which was designed by ABK [Ahrends, Burton and Koralek] and I knew nothing about architecture, I had not done art at school, I could not draw, I had nothing that would suggest that I have a future in architecture. And I just looked at the building, and there was something mysterious, and strange and compelling about it. There were these beautiful curved windows on it. And I did a funny thing, I climbed up on the building, and I started looking at the window to see how it was done. And a guy said, “What are you doing up there?” And I said, “I am looking at the windows”, and he said, “Come down”, and it turned out that he was a Professor of Architecture at UCD, and he chatted to me for a few minutes, and I did not think about it again. When I went to UCD, I met him and saw him again. And it was just that that made me feel that that was worth the thrill.
“We all had to sit in the same stool, the Aalto stool, at the same table, the trestle table, with the same drawing board, the same pencil, and sharpen it in the same way and we spent the whole of our first year copying drawings by Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn.”
From the minute I started, we were talking about it earlier – my first tutor in first year, had worked for Louis Kahn on the Paul Mellon Centre – Shane De Blacam. And we were there from the bogs, and the farms, and the suburbs of Ireland, and we were all seventeen, and none of us had a clue. And he came in, and we all had to sit in the same stool, the Aalto stool, at the same table, the trestle table, with the same drawing board, the same pencil, and sharpen it in the same way and we spent the whole of our first year copying drawings by Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn. And he would crit all fifty of them in an afternoon. So fifty copies of one drawing, and we would just sit there, and patiently listen to him talking about them. And I felt like I had been introduced to some completely strange and mysterious new world. It was just amazing. So my lights went on when I met Shane De Blacam.
R: We know him. He is an amazing man. Yeah, now back to the question that you asked us…what was that question?
N: The question was, I am really interested in this. People ask me about it, and I am very interested in it myself. I am interested in when a group of people who are hanging out, loosely in, you know, as part of some broader scene, who are bringing bits of baggage from experiences they have had in life, begin to have conversations with each other, and begin to design things, and connect with each other, so that a kind of architecture comes about, which has a philosophy associated with it, and a way of making. And if I looked at a building from that broad scene, I would know it was a building from that scene. So it develops, what I call, a self-evident property, “What another way would I do it?” There must have been a point where that was a tentative set of intuitions, and you were meeting people and connecting together. And I was just interested in hearing more about that story, where you move from your early experiences into beginning to form those connections and meet people and feel as though it was a view of the world you were sharing.
R: Yeah, well, it came a bit later. Or it really does not come really early, that sort of stuff, I don’t think. It comes like on the back of travelling, experiencing other cultures, and realizing that there are lots of different ways of doing things. I spent a long time away from Australia; and I travelled in all sorts of places, with just sketchbooks, and travelling in a simple way, through wonderful India, in just my kurta and pyjama. And when I got back, then things started to fall into place. I found other people around, who had, not similar experiences, but who realized that there is a great richness and that it is tempered by your own country and culture, within a certain route, that is. You know you have always got the commercial strand, to which you will never belong.
N: But who were the first people that you met? Who you say, “We get each other.”
R: Well, Sweeney Kosonyiski, who is a great friend of Shane De Blacam’s, he also was with Kahn. He is still a great friend, he is a great artist, he is still a great critic and teacher. Big influence. Young fellows, like the young bloke here on the left. Yeah… it is a difficult question to answer.
N: So, bloke here on the left, tell me about the first time you two met.
P: I asked my mum pretty early on why she pushed us out to the land so often, out to the desert. She said, “I wanted you to have the knowledge of the city, but the truth of the country.” And, I never really understood that properly, but I had this inner warmth about architecture. One day, a friend of mine, said to me, “Ah, there is an architect you’ve gotta meet”, and I heard about this building. I have said this story quite a bit, and it is quite a good story. The building happened to be near where my parent’s had a little cottage. So, I went down one weekend, and, the building was under construction, it was probably maybe sixty percent, fifty percent finished and I snuck into the building, illegally, as we do: students. I got into the building, and my jaw dropped like this, and my first feeling was, “I have only dreamt about this, I have never seen this as a real thing.”
I was quite overwhelmed. At that point, I needed to find the person, or the people that created that – a little bit over-enthusiastic, I would say, but at that point, there was a sound at the front gate – two people arrived at the front gate, I started to shake: I did not have enough time to get down the back stairs and out around the wall, and as the door slid open, I dived into the bush, next to this tiny little building. But it was very vegetated, this big garden, not as big as it is now. And I lay prostrate on the garden like this, hoping that they would go away very quickly. But they did not.
It was the client and the architect, and they came into that little building, and talked for about forty- five minutes, though it seemed like three days. But they talked in the most beautiful, poetic way, about not just architecture, but about life… And I was absolutely seduced. I was like a, I was a follower then, and you know… I still am! They were talking about it, actually the roof that was going to go on, from memory. And they left. Anyway, I got out of the bush, dusted myself off and stood there for probably another ten or fifteen minutes and just looked in wonderment, at now, a building I could better imagine. I went out, knowing then that you could actually open the front gate, and then I chased that architect.
N [to Richard]: And did you turn around and say to your client, “I hope that kid’s got the message, hope the kid in the bushes got the message.”
P: I cannot say how much that teaching has guided me. Through much.
N [to Madhura]: When you met this group and you had, from your point of view, an independent approach to that kind of thing. And I know this is the kind of thing that you were talking in your lecture: that there are a lot of common themes. Was that something that you had arrived at from an independent stream? Or were you aware of that way of doing things?
M: My first meeting with Richard was at the same house. I was not hiding in the bush. I had this wonderful good fortune of getting to know Glenn Murcutt, which is like some kind of dream. He was someone I worshiped. Still do. A God… from a distance. And then, because he came over to Sri Lanka for a conference, immediately, we became very close. And so, when we went back to visit, he took my wife and me to lunch at this David Walker House. And Richard was also there. And that was a wonderful experience, and this wonderful house, which well, I have seen most of Geoffrey Bawa’s work, and I have seen a lot of work in the tropics, but to me, this house is the best tropical house I have ever seen. So that was my introduction to Richard, and to sit there and have this wonderful meal made by his client, David Walker who is such a wonderful man, and to hear Richard talk about it, and talk about how it resonates with the idea of shipbuilding, boat making…
N: I was interested in your work, when you spoke, because I have not heard you speak before: about the incorporation of found elements into your work, or even to some extent, the invention of as if found elements. I mean, in that major public building, it is as though you are refurbishing something you have already… you, design a ruin and then refurbish it, or so… I was quite interested in that, I mean you could say on one hand, in the most obvious ways, it points to a certain kind of humility, but I am not sure that it is humility, I think that there is something in your authorship that likes this sense of playing with these given fragments, and it is like when they are not there, then you will invent some. I am interested in where that comes from, in your work.
M: For me, restrictions are the source of invention. So, a tight budget, a tight site, whatever, drives me – gives you things to bounce off, I guess. If someone were to give me an empty site, and blank cheque, I would not know what to do. So this building, which is the biggest one I have ever done, and probably will ever do, I suppose I was looking for this anchor. And now that you say it, maybe it is true, I create these things. But, I do like to think it is humility. But, maybe it is not, maybe it is arrogance. But I could replicate that, but I need something to hang on.
“For me, restrictions are the source of invention.”
N: And can I ask you all, about the idea of the Masterclass that you have been involved in here, but also collectively in other places as well, as an institution, how it came about, and what it has become over time. Because it is now got an international reputation and the sort of process that the students have been through over the last week here, is a form of teaching that is now acknowledged as having its own identity. I just wanted to hear a little bit about how it started, and how it developed, and what you think it has become?
R [to Peter]: Well, you kicked that off with Lindsay, didn’t you? So why don’t you take that?
P: There was a Dean of Architecture, Head of School, Lindsay Johnston, who a lot of us know, at the University of Newcastle, where we were teaching, at the time. [They were] having a review of all academic positions, and that review stipulated that Heads of School had to have a doctorate in order to be a Head of School and Lindsay did not have a doctorate. So Lindsay was facing the bullet, or demotion and he approached me in the corridor, and he said, “Pete, I have had enough with this form of education. You know I have been teaching for eighteen years, I have been a practicing architect for twenty-seven, I am active academically, I have received the Institute’s academic award, and I am going to be asked to leave the School of Architecture because I do not have a doctorate?” He said, “I wanna start a teaching environment but we need Glenn and Rick. Can you get them?” I said, “Ah, easy. I will just say we are going on a fishing holiday.”
And so, we sat down, and hatched a scheme. But first we had to talk about what it was we were trying to do. And what essentially we were trying to do is what we have been talking about for years, that is, start a teaching environment that was all about responsibility, and making, and drawing, and things that are disappearing out of the teaching environment. Unlike your particular workshop. So, I approached Rick, and he said, “Well I have always wanted to do that”. And then we spoke to Glenn, and Glenn said he would do it for a year. That was twenty years ago. And we are still doing it, but what we all said was, if we ever felt it was not productive, we would stop doing it. But the idea was that, through doing, and through the process, we would uncover exactly what it was we wanted to do, or how we were going to do it. And what that has evolved to be, is, I guess, to make us, and the people we are involved with, aware of our responsibilities as citizens of the world. And that becomes more and more evident, and we do it through private responsibilities in architecture.
N: What interests me about it in part, is also that it is four practitioners. So it is a notion of an education that engages with practitioners?
P: It is three or four different types, there is a practitioner one, there is a student one, and there used to be a Singapore student one, but they took the funds away. And then there is this sort of roaming overseas one, which is this, and usually, it is run by ex- Masterclass students- people who attended Masterclass. Like, there will be one in Chile, later on, and there is often been one in New Zealand, and it is surprising how many people wanna nurture that aspect of architecture.
R: But, I think, added to that, is that it takes place right in the place where the design problem is. It is not detached. And I think one of the great difficulties, in architecture, is that so much of design is done in a studio somewhere, and you make a few site visits, and you think, “Oh well, I have got all that sussed”, and you get a surveyor and you say well I now know all about it, and of course you do not. And we, all four of us, believe very strongly that if you stay in a place for a while, you start to pick up its ethos, how the animals move, how the rain falls: all the things that we all understand probably fairly well. We understand very well. And if you set a design problem there, it just shortcuts everything. You know a student might say, “Well, I am going to put this window there, that is going to look out to this tree” and you say, “Oh no, no, hold on a moment. Just come outside with me.” And you go outside, and you say, “Look, mate, the tree is not there, it is fifteen metres to the left.” And your site, and site appreciation- not analysis- is not correct, if you do not have your base information. So, I think that that has also got a lot to do with it.
“If you stay in a place for a while, you start to pick up its ethos, how the animals move, how the rain falls: all the things that we all understand probably fairly well.”
And at the same time, someone like Utzon, just knocks the whole idea right on the head, because, he did the Sydney Opera House from Copenhagen, or near Copenhagen. And he based it all on the hydrology charts of the Royal Australian Navy, which gave all the contours of Sydney Harbour, under the water. And he saw the whole structure, landscape structure of Sydney, from this amazing navy chart. And because he was a sailor, and his father was a designer of boats, he knew from that, the form of the land, and therefore had the vision of this beautiful platform which extended the rhythm of all the points of land in Sydney Harbour. He gave us another peninsula, and then put the theatres in them. So simple.
N: But in both of those examples: grand and mundane, the thing that links them is this sense of the imagination being within. Somehow I imagine it being within the environment.
R: Absolutely! Very strongly. Yup, but your situation, it has interested me from this wonderful talk, and we have met before and heard you speak about things, and your belonging to a group of people, as you asked us, you look like you are absolutely on your own boat. And I think that is a wonderful thing. But, I mean, is that so? Or do you have people to whom you can really refer, within the status of architecture?
N: I mean I must say, I deeply envy the camaraderie of your group in the sense almost how I was asking the question earlier on, about how those conversations began and developed – because I think that you seem to have managed to operate together with this version of the world. In the sense that you may be individual practitioners, but that, you would, I think to be seen from an external perspective as belonging to a group, and it is not just intellectual, or artistic, it is a social, personal, almost familial environment, and I profoundly envy that. If I had been asked, back in 1990, what I would like to have done, it would not have been to have my own practice, as a sole practitioner – I would have far preferred to have worked in a more collegial environment, to be part of a team, rather than being the initiator. That may not have been the best thing for me, but it would have been what I felt like.
One curious thing that happened to me, is that I moved to London, and I was nineteen, and I did not know any architects. I was not part of a scene in London, I did not know anybody who studied there. And so, for the first ten years of my practice, I worked by myself, from a room, and the only people I knew were builders and students. And so, I just sort of discovered my own identity as an architect, through teaching and building, rather than associating myself with other people who I would have said were my peers. And in a sense, it was quite a difficult business, but the chance it gave you, was the opportunity to make yourself up. You could invent yourself on your own terms, and become in some way, your own critic.
And I must say, I really, that period between ’90 and 2000, I really enjoyed; before I started employing people. So I did not employ people, and I would not enter competitions because I think they kind of drive you away. I would just invent projects, and I would build the buildings I was given to do, and sort of teach, and allow that to be something that gave me the opportunity to think of making a kind of architecture that was true to me.
So I think that I do not have peers in the sense that I think, you do. One thing that I did recently, was to realize that all those people who leave your practice, to go and work for somebody else; Pete and I spoke about it this morning; if someone works with you for five, six, or eight years, and then they leave you, it is utterly heart wrenching. You think, “What are you doing? Am I not good enough?” And people saying, “We have been kicking the ball around together all these years.” And I say, “Yeah, but you get to score the goal.” And so, I mean, it was, and what I said is, actually these people have left, so I should incorporate them into something bigger. So we now have a mutual group of about forty practices, who started with the teaching, or being in my studio, and we just take care of each other.
And that has become a really nice imaginative resource for me recently. I felt like I might be the grey hair, who would be telling them things, but they have more to teach me than I have them.
R: Yeah. Your relationship with those students, in that group you showed, is really special. That is enviable. I think the danger of the group workshop- studio thing that essentially kicking off, and gaining some sort of credibility, is dogma. And, that is why I think that you have to give the students in those workshops all the freedom in a way, and yet at the same time it is the place that has the discipline. Now there is that lovely quote of Da Vinci’s where he says something like, “Strength dies in freedom and thrives in the discipline.”
N: Oooh! That’s very good.
R: It is well, done by the master. I think that there is sort of a balance there. It is an interesting issue, isn’t it, really? You know, when to say to a student, “Give it a break, you cannot do that” or say, “Well, work it through, have a look at it, draw it out, make a model.”
N: It is interesting when I came to London; I went to teach in the Bartlett. Peter Cook teaches and he says, “Students should be left to invent things innocently, without reference to other things, so that the purity of their imagination can unravel to produce originality.” And I remember John Tuomey, who taught me saying, “If students cannot do something, they will always find someone boring who can do it for them.” So it is this idea, that the innocence of your mind, is the site of creativity.” He also said, “You have to learn every single building. You have to learn every plan, every section, you have to learn every precedent. And if you do that, it will teach you how to be ordinary, and if you are extraordinary, you are extraordinary anyway.”
It was as though the two teaching methods were the opposite to each other; that one was predicting that you would be extraordinary and that therefore, you would not need anything to help you; while the other was saying, you need to be given that loan to fall back on, that is your imaginative resource. And the other great master who I love is James Joyce, who says, “Imagination is memory.” I think that is a fantastic idea.
And I am wondering with your projects, because you have the thing again, Iam coming back to, I mean, you teach and practice, but you have this thing as well, that you always have to begin in the given, you always have to see yourself as being… that the decisions that you make, are not ordinary, but they are somehow involved in a continuity. And every project you presented, I loved the fact that you showed the dancers. And then you showed the dancers in your building. Did you ever just show us the building? It was as though, the dancers are the thing, the building is just the thing that is there, I mean, I was really fascinated by that sense that you are working out of the given, and that sort of continuity.
M: But really, the dancers are the thing, the building is just a shed. If at all, I should have showed you the door detail. All things are continuity, there is a continuity- nothing is really invented…all things have been already invented; civilization has been around too long for us to be able to invent anything new.
I did a window detail once where a client gave me an old window, which she had collected. It was beautiful, this blue-green patina on an old window, and she wanted me to use it. And I had never used, a so-called, “antique” piece in a building before. So it took me months to work out how to position this. So I put it in the wall, with glass around it, so it was like this little jewel, which was en-framed by something else. And I felt really good! I had done something.
And a few months later, I happened to visit a building by Geoffrey Bawa, which he had done, thirty years ago, and there it was. Everything has been done before. You may happen to see it, you may not. This reference makes life much easier. I really am a borrower and a stealer. After some initial thinking about whatever question is presented, I just go and start learning through books and magazines and start tagging things, that leads me to something else. I borrow and steal and I think copying is the sincerest form of flattery.
N: I want to ask a question, which is about the continuity of practice and education. This is something I raised earlier this morning. This idea that this model of architectural education that says that you spend five, or seven, or eight years training to be an architect, and having fully limbered up, you are then propelled out into the world. Sometimes I think it is like somebody who has got a handful of water, and they have got to then carry it through the rest of their career.
And I am just wondering that, that separation where you spend a period of time notionally being taught, and then you spend a period of time notionally practicing, seems to me to be almost completely unsustainable in terms of our contemporary thinking, that in a way, you begin your form of practice on your first day, of the first year, and finish your education on the day you retire, or die, or whatever you want to do. And that the interconnection between practice and education is something that is lifelong, so that it throws education forward into practice, but also the responsibilities of practice back into education.
“And that the interconnection between practice and education is something that is lifelong, so that it throws education forward into practice, but also the responsibilities of practice back into education.”
It seems to me that the kind of teaching in the Masterclass, that you have done, particularly the practice based one… I see the evidence of it when I meet somebody in London, who has done the Masterclass, and they have, in a sense, been revived through that. I am wondering, is there another way of thinking? I mean, even the time we spent this weekend has been an education for us. Is there a way of thinking about the relationship between practice and education more fruitfully?
R: Well, I think that there is, and I think that it is the way that we are starting to do it. I think all of us, we have had our practices for quite a long time, and all of that time, we have been, practitioner- architects, we are going to the University and working with students. But there is something about the confines of a university that somehow cuts it off from the whole dynamics of the world at large. Which is why we have set this problem as well.
What happened with me, well, I went along with this stuff for a while, and then in the end, I said to the group of students, “I would like to work with you in a certain part of the sea, say Piermont, down where the water comes in, but, I want us to have our own studio for that project. You leave the University, pack your bags, and we will find our own studio, and we will do it all there – and then I will go back to the University, and tell them that you have all passed.”
Well, the students of course, like your group of students, were brilliant; they found this old ferryboat: not just a ferryboat, the South Steyne used to take ocean trips- serious ship- and it was lying defunct, and they went and saw the owner, and they said, “Can we use this as a studio for the next three months?” And he said, “Okay.” And we had that ship as a studio… We had all our drawing boards set up on it, we had three or four exhibitions of the work in progress, with the general public. We had feasts down there, with kingfish being cooked on the pier, and people looking at all the drawings. It was a really rich time.
I [then] went back to the University and said, “I have got the students to mark themselves.” And they said, “What?!” And I said, “Well, you know, they know what they have done, and where their weaknesses are even better than I do. And here are the results.” And they said, “Oh, we cannot do that.” And I said, “Well, I am not marking them.” And there was dead silence. They ended up getting, from the architectural practice quite a well-known architect, to come in, they called all the work in, and this bloke from outside, checked them all over, and gave them their marks. That almost finished me with Universities.
To have the student group working, where they look at the whole place first, and then they decide for themselves, within that place, what buildings can be enriched, or changed, or removed, or whatever, just was so effective, and involving. And that is sort of how I regard Universities. At the moment we are still teaching in Newcastle, but we are not taking groups or anything like that. We just go there, and we spend a day there a week, working basically with the final year students and, we do not determine really anything with them. But, we sit quietly, on the table, where one can draw, and they come and talk with us about issues. They have got the problems, they come and see us, to have a yarn about it. It might be a problem at home, but…
N: And taking that story… take me to here in the last week now; and the conversation that you are having about one wall, on one side of this very privileged and beautiful setting, and how it interacts with this kind of teaming life all beyond it, and tell me about how that felt this week, as a project for you to be teaching.
P: Well India is almost opposite to what we are familiar with in terms of culture, and in terms of like how you populate a landscape, too. So, over the years, I am more familiar with it, but, I think one of an architect’s resources, is to be able to see something, and translate it, and interpret it, and work with it. There are several issues, I think, which surface. One is equality, one is beauty, we just talked about [this] with Richard today. And the other one is reality, and somehow we have to, weave them all together. I think, underlying all that is the need to teach what it is, not to follow the leader. I think that another project would be, for instance, how do you put another course of bricks on that wall. You know, as opposed to how do you take it down, and still retain the security of the campus. And so in trying to teach that, we are then bringing in all the considerations we would take, and choosing place, activity, sensitivity, and sustainability, there is a much better word: responsibility and trying to weave that in the whole time we are talking about issues.
“One is equality, one is beauty, we just talked about [this] with Richard today. And the other one is reality, and somehow we have to, weave them all together.”
I am about to take twenty students out to the desert, in six weeks time, that will be a lot easier for me, because I will be out with authority, or with knowledge, I can talk about everything. So, well, for me personally, I was more of a translator, and a mediator, and the encourager, as to what could be done, what could not be done.
N: The question I ask myself, coming in the taxi from the airport yesterday morning is, it appears [there is] something like five hundred new cars being registered every day, the population is going to double in a decade, it is going to be twice the size of London in a decade. And, I look up from the motorway, and I see these cliffs of concrete, of construction sites, and I see these whole new permanent bits of city being made, at an absolute rate of knots, and I think, “What is my little song school at Cambridge going to say to any of this?” Or what is your twig on the path going to say to any of this? Or what is your boat builder going to say to any of this? Or what is your little fragment of glass in the doorway, what does that lesson say to that whole?
P: You know, twenty years ago, Lindsay approached me in the corridor with an idea, and I am sitting here now. Based on the Masterclass, based on an idea of education in this particular way, I am sitting here, in India, and have done a few times before, talking about it. And there is an audience here, of a hundred and fifty people, listening to it, which did not happen twenty years ago. What is that story about the sandalwood?
N: Do you want to tell that story for people here?
R: We already told it, didn’t we?
P: I think Bijoy should tell that story. Common.
P: Common, you take a little roll here. Go on. Bijoy will tell the story. It is a great story.
B: I think Chirag should.
P: Who will tell the story?
B: We had Shabnam Virmani here, a few days ago, and she of course, was just incredible. And as part of her performance, she sang this one song, and she translated it for us: the story about the bird, in the forest, that was enjoying the shade and the comfort of this beautiful sandalwood tree. And then there is a fire, and all of the other animals are running away, the birds are flying away, etcetera. But this particular bird refuses to go. And the tree asks the bird, “What are you doing? I have my roots, I cannot move, but you can fly. You should leave, go away.” And the bird tells the tree, “You think I am going to go? You think I am going to leave you and fly away?”
And the fire was raging, and this little bird flies out to a lake nearby, gets a little water in her beak, comes and throws it onto the fire. And keeps doing this, back and forth, and back and forth. All the other animals are going, “Come on! Are you crazy? Get out of there.” And the bird says, “I am doing what I can.”
N: Wonderful. Thank you. But I am just wondering, for people here in the room, the conversation is around the stage and the podium, but, is that question relevant to you? I mean, the scale at which India seems to be developing, and the kind of rampant effects of a certain kind of unleashed sort of modernism, is just consuming the place! And then there is a group of people who are saying, “Just look at the little bird. Look at the little bird with its beak full of water. Is that enough?! Is that form of witness enough?”
R: I do not know. I really do not know.
M: Bijoy did not tell the second part of the story. The Gods started to feel sorry for the bird and they wept, and put out the fires. So we are waiting for the Gods to weep.
N: And if they don’t?
M: We will make them.
R: But, I mean, I see it as a headlong flight into disaster. And we know the situation of the planet, and the resources. We are well past the end of our bank account. The resources that are being used without any common sense are extraordinary. And, I suppose, all one can do as an individual, or as a maker of things, is to fight those causes, in all their manifest veins of groups that are now forming. It is got to be done collectively. One joins the collective.
N: So, with your advice not to plant the fence on the rocky ridge, or to go and see where the tree actually is, what would you say to Bangalore now? Given that the rise in population is going to occur; given that the strain on resources is what it is; given the nature of national and local politics; architects in Bangalore are asking- for those architects who are asking themselves what can I do? What form of practice can I constitute that will answer to that? Are there things that you are looking at, thinking, “These are the first things that you should do?”
R: Well, if we still make what we make, what we make as well as we can, at the same time, I think you have got to be politically involved. That is what the message was, yesterday afternoon, from that wonderful fellow who came in and added to the talk of the wonderful man who gave the original talk. The pair of them, were incredible. And the last fellow, I can never remember his name, I admire him so much.
“Well, if we still make what we make, what we make as well as we can, at the same time, I think you have got to be politically involved.”
R: Yes! He has got a strong scientific background, you know? That is unshakable. And I think there has to be a collective, of scientists, poets, makers, and everyday people, in order to bring it back into some sort of control. At the moment, I think is this headlong flight into disaster. I think that the politics of the cities, particularly cities like this with the populations going like this, [if they] do not get that political change in place, then it is like Mad Max.
N: But if I look at it, it is quite simple in a way, that the Indian State spent a fortune in the 1970s, initiating a place with fantastic architecture, which they called the Indian Institutes of Management, and I presume the purpose of that was to cultivate a group of people, who would say, “We take responsibility for managing our environment, our politics, our country.” And here we are, sitting right in the middle of it, I am wondering, is there something that can be done? Can there something that institutions like this can do that speak more to the city? Is that something that is possible? Because it requires institutions at a certain scale, to bring these ‘siloed’ activities together. So much of what we heard yesterday, was these guys here, have a map that those guys need, and the sort of cross-disciplinary activities that are required to make that sort of thing happen.
I personally know of one profession that is absolutely fantastic at that. They are not experts in anything, but they know a lot about making people co-ordinate together, they are called architects. I am just wondering what role there would be for architects to think of themselves as being able to manage and lead in that process. I could not think of a better profession to do it.
P: I have a sense that something as simple as water will cause the change. I mean, I think when you double the population of the city, and you do not have the resources to do it, like water, and food, I think that is going to be the game changer. And I have said [this] before, there is a wonderful Biennale exhibition down in Kochi, down south, and a woman installation artist had a big scroll of paper, and she was recording the history of water, and she got to the point where she said, “Now the water-barons are controlling the world, you know? And they are pulling out big icebergs from the South Pole and selling them to countries, what have you.” I do not think that is such a romantic vision. I think it is actually a real issue, and I think it will be the real issues that make everyone turn to architects, and say, “What do we do now?” I think you are right, there is a certain
chipping away effect that is going on at the moment, but without that base knowledge that we are talking about, there is no way in the world we can facilitate understanding when it is needed.
So we, as in Richard and myself, passed onto our kids, I am sure that Madhura passed it on; I am sure that you passed on, and likewise, and hopefully there will be a… But I think it is the voices, as Richard said, the voices that are in politics, and they are short term voices: they are here four years and that is it. That is not really a voice…
N: But my sense is that sometimes architects have lost the skill that they had at the beginning of the twentieth century, which is, if you think of someone like Ferriss in New York, or Corbusier, and it is something I felt today looking at the student work, and them saying, “That is not possible, I do not think that is possible.” And I thought, “Draw it! Just draw it, whether it is possible or not. And make a really clear drawing of it.” Because if you make a really clear drawing of something; take the issue of water in the city. Somebody, an architect, with the skills of an architect, could make drawings of water in the city, in a way that nobody else could. They would make it much more apparent, make it much more evident.
P: In my last year at school, we used to have an architect, Harry Seidler, making public comments in the paper on the second or third page. So he had such a profile and architects in general had such a profile, that they were socially shifting awareness, you know, within the community. Who would listen to an architect now? The whole profile of architectural integrity, understanding and direction has been lost probably [due] to the economic structure of countries today. They do not contribute a lot to that [or] to politics. So, in Corbusier’s day, people were aware of structure, they were aware of formality and the way it worked. And they, they supported it by and large. These days, they support someone like Mark Zuckerburg, who is thirty years old, gets paid a hundred thousand dollars for attending a lecture.
B: Do you want to take some questions now?
N: Yes, please. Can we have some questions from the floor?
M: Some lights… Could we have some lights, up in the audience? So we could see who we are talking to.
R: There you are!
N: Now, who would like to ask a question, or to respond to some of the comments?
I think we have been peppering you with opinions all evening, or all week. And this is payback time.
Audience member 1: So basically, I was really interested to know what the findings were, what the study was like, with respect to that one wall of the University that we are speaking of just now, and what seemed to be the best option at this point in time that has been waiting to hear?
M: I think we need to see this whole exercise as a broader process of thinking, rather than a solution for an edge, and I feel, also looking back, that the exercise was probably a bit too limiting: that we limited it to one edge. But I think the principle that comes out of it, is a) that this is a privileged enclave, that this is public land, belonging to a public institution, which is in fact, used in a private way. That there needs to be methods, either physical, architectural or just managerial, allowing more people to come and use this. And that the method that seemed to come out of this exercise, which was a kind of gentler way to handle it – a blurring of the edges, and then giving to the community of what really belongs to the public at large.
So I will not say that was one solution. I would say there is a way of thinking about such institutions, of which I believe there are many in India, which occupy large tracts of land in contexts which are really crowded, is that these are privileged places, which owe something to society, and that you do not destroy the line in the process of doing so: but you open the line so that people can breathe. That principle is what was clearly understood and the process of doing so, in this instance, was a more diplomatic one, with blurring the edges, but as Niall said, perhaps we should have investigated the more radical one of just opening up as well.
N: I think one question that came out of that, I will take your question after, one question that came out of that, which is a question for everybody as a practicing architect in the room is, what happens when a client of yours says, “I want to make this a gated enclave” or “I do not want to allow a right of way through here” or “What responsibility does the practicing architect have to the city at large, in terms of connectivity, but also social justice, inclusivity and so on?” Are you someone who says, “Yes I have a different set of values myself, but in this case, I am afraid I will have to do as you say” or is part of your vocation, of your profession to make a stand on issues like that? And I think that is an important question that was asked of everybody in the group – to make a judgment call themselves on that thing. And however it falls out, then to say “Is the first part of design the ethical question?” I think that was an interesting aspect of the conversation.
You have a question?
Audience member 2: I think that, what is also important is that like in the past few decades all of you have also worked under people who do not perhaps exist in the era in which students of today’s times are studying in. And also what has happened is that, over the past few decades, the architect has somehow lost his position in what he or she feels as what he should dictate and what a city should take; how the city should grow. But eventually, what is happening is that, like post-globalisation and in the current scenario of neo-liberalisation, what is happening is that, the production of the cities is no longer on the hands of the citizen, it is in the hands of corporations, or in the authoritarian state, where there is the question of land which comes in. Whether it is a school you are producing, or whether it is housing you are producing, the architect has lost his position within the forces who decide what has to be produced in a city; whether it is tall concrete towers, or whether it is thinking about an architecture which can understand the lay of the land and hence build accordingly.
The question what I want to ask you is since the architect has lost his position [and] I also see that everyone talks about the bird, the story of the bird, but no one wants to become the bird, because till now, there is, as even Richard mentioned, till now, I have not seen a single politically driven architecture practice in the city, and that has a lot to do in the ways in which institutions, as you said, institutions of management, even institutions of higher learning, they train us not to become people who live the city, but people who consume the city, which is why, the architect also feels that he is helpless.
What I also think is that, instead of asking for a new practice, or instead of talking about the new practice, the architect also has to resolve his own role, after a point of time, and to be politically conscious as being a citizen in the city. I think that when that happens, the meaning of practice changes, as you had mentioned: like maybe thirty years ago, if you had not started your own practice, and sort of imagined what an alternative practice could be, which sort of brings the power back to the citizen, it is because, eventually, when citizens do dictate the terms of the city, you have a very different landscape to what could have been today. So instead of trying to formulate practices, I think the debate should be focused around how can the architect become a part of the grass roots level groups in the city or, political groups in the city, to make that change. At least in my experience, I have not seen a politically driven architecture practice yet.
N: But my first question back to you- you say that you have not had the training, and so on, and so on, but I just listened to you, and thought, couldn’t you be that person?
N: And if you put your hand up, and said, “I am going to be that person, how many people around the room would go, “I will join you”? I mean, in a sense, these scenes, these activities with these people who we said we learned from, and so on, they emerge out of rooms like this. They emerge out of groups like you going… That is why I asked the question earlier on, from Rick, what loose set of conversations, what lecture were you all at, when you thought, “Oh yeah, we will start that conversation.” I mean, you sound to me like somebody who is really interested in that. And I bet there are other people, you know, people who we have spoken to over the last week, who would be interested in that. And there are people who were speaking last night, who would be dying to hear from you.
M: Civic evangelists.
N: It is not that difficult to start the scene.
R: I think a lot of it would have to do with us then working with our locales: where we actually live, and spend time with our families, and interact with the kids- our kids and the kids from schools, and actually playing a role there. And of course some of them might be in the centre of the city as well, but you know, I think that architects should be incredibly effective in that sort of a situation.
N: There was a great story last night, wasn’t there about the guy who goes, “Hey! How does your lake have kingfishers and pelicans?” And he goes, “Well, ‘cause I asked!” And you could ask. And then this is the story he was telling and more and more of these lakes now are being cleaned. He is actually paying attention to his locale, and if everybody else sees that there is one locale that by pushing, and pushing, becomes more interesting and better than others, pretty soon, the chain reaction starts to occur.
M: Activism is now, in all spheres of life, becoming such an important way of changing the world. Probably the last step we can take when you are pushed against the wall. And architects as you said, like other professions, all other walks of life, need to become activists.
R: Both New Zealand, and Australia have severe bush fire problems. I mean, when things go up, they go up and they are almost uncontrollable. Even the little bird doing its bit, it is a tough situation. But if you drive through New Zealand, and their National Parks, you will often see, a sign- a little sign, that says, “It takes one bright spark.” In other words, don’t throw your cigarette butt out, don’t throw your match out. But it takes one bright spark. And that can have incredible ramifications.
N: Do you have a question for him? You are like the man at the auction who raised his arm and then the other bloke…
M: Now you have to ask one.
R: He’s not buying.
N: Anybody else? Let us have one last really good question.
Audience Member 3: Good evening. I am sorry, I was not a part of your workshop here, I just came for the talk this evening. I saw a few of your projects and lots of wonderful discussions on architecture and stuff like that. And I think we got to the interesting bit by the end of it: socio-economic impacts of architecture in India today. So I would like for you to hopefully translate what you feel about India. Let us take music as a comparison, is it harmonious or melodic? And, do you think the West really understands us?
P: Tough question. Look, I think, India thirty years ago was incredible – completely self sustainable, you know, from production, to working together, to enabling, to looking after grandparents, and looking after mentally disabled – incredibly complete society. But like the rest of the world, we have all headed off on this chase towards something that we cannot really see. But it looks good. So, I think there are many other countries that have dismantled their systems well before India, probably to their detriment. And one can still see the culture, and one can still see the fabric, and the whole network of India, but it is becoming more and more difficult to see. And you have got to ask yourself the question, is that a good thing, or is that a bad thing?
Because I think at the bottom of all this, is the whole issue of are we going in the right direction, or are we not? We can do beautiful little buildings, and we can talk about all that sort of stuff but, 20 million people in ten years time; it is the same size as Australia. Well, almost. And, you know, we are struggling. So I think there is a capability by India more than any other country, actually, to survive the crisis, but not if they continue to chase what other countries are chasing. That is my personal opinion.
R: I gave a talk a couple of nights ago, now I have lost track of time. But I put up five different quotes to do with sustainability. And the last one, was political and ethical, and I think it really applies to that, and it is a poem stroke prose. Should I read it again? By a man called H. Dhlomo, a poet from South Africa in the time of Apartheid. He died in 1950- something. Stutch and I were over at Johannesburg about to give a talk at the University, and we were sort of kicking the dust outside waiting, and we looked at the paving, that was there, and embedded in that paving, carved, were the following words,
“Why do I sap my powers in singing songs of nature’s beauty, or untroubled bloodless things? When I should break like thunder on the wrongs that bind humanity in chains of maddening stings. And never will I sing again, unless my songs, and deeds chained souls will help redress.”
N: And I am going to answer, in a sense the question that you asked was what our reflection on India was, how we see India and its role in the world.
Audience member 3: If I rephrase it, I said, does the West, the West as in people outside of the chaos, actually understand the chaos. I am not from Bangalore, I think it is chaotic as hell. I live in a much smaller, much more beautiful town, but no one understands it, because it is a direct impact of socio- economic growth, and people not knowing what to do with it. And so, do people from outside actually get it? And is it wrong?
N: I mean, it is difficult to speak about people from outside without speaking about your personal perspective on it. Because how else can you talk about it? But my sense about living in a city like London, and looking across and seeing a place like India, is that there is always that issue about “otherness”, about its separation, and difference, and we had a very funny conversation last night about people who come to India to “ find themselves” well the sense of people coming from elsewhere, looking for some idea, some romantic idea of what India is and, I must say, I came to India for the first time with my students, late last year, knowing actually relatively little about the country. And, the first thing I felt when I came here, we were in Jaipur for four or five days, was that, it felt as though all of the issues that I as an architect am dealing with on a small song school in Cambridge, when I get into a tuk-tuk in Jaipur, and there are all of these people, and there is all of this poverty and the scale of it is absolutely extraordinary. And it is just a fragment of the problem I am seeing. I am seeing a tiny line through that problem.
And that sense, that the wave of modernism is actually here and now, was very strong for me. People talk about China being a developing economy, but China is a command economy, and it will deal with its problems through mechanisms that China has, that India does not have. Just in terms of social justice, the amount of stuff that has to be done to get people to a base level of equity, requires an input of resources that means the whole issue about ecology, about the environment, about social justice, about wealth and so on are so overwhelming here that it is countries like here, and Brazil, that are writing history at the moment. The rest of us are watching. And I do think we see that the world is being forged here, not elsewhere.
And the solutions to the problems that you as a group of people are actually far more relevant than the kind of stuff that I could talk to you about from my experience in the UK. And I think, more relevant than America, or China, because I think that the problems of a democracy wrestling with equity on a continental scale, and with issues of economy, ecology, social justice. There are very few countries in the world that you would say are so in the thick of it, as India is at the moment.
It is telling that we were going to go to New Delhi, but the pollution was so bad, that my students just would not go there. They said, “We are not going to visit there.” We went to Chandigarh, and I thought it was very strange to go to Chandigarh, from Jaipur, and to see the attempt of a western group of architects and engineers, to impose a model onto the life world of that place. And I found that this junction of their vision of what a modern city would be like, and the experience of Jaipur, extremely difficult to co-ordinate. I wanted to go back to Jaipur, because there you felt, it was happening, you can feel it, driving through the traffic on a tuk-tuk on an evening, you can feel history being made.
M: So, if I get you right, your question is whether people from outside the chaos can understand the chaos?
Audience member 3: Are they actually projecting what they feel is right? I understand the basics of human habitation, or shelter…
M: Yeah, but, my response to you would be, can people inside the chaos understand the chaos? And, the answer would be no: to both. And yes, to both. Because there are certain things that you can see from inside, far better than we can, and there are certain things which become clearer to the person who is seeing in for the first time, or with fresh eyes. So I think, the solution lies in that exchange. That is why, there are thirty people in the Masterclass. There is an exchange of ideas, which is from these eyes from different directions that you see these things.
N: Something that I noticed, and I am from Ireland, which is a very tiny country but does have certain things in common with India. But one of the extraordinary things about Ireland, is that everybody, when they study at university, goes abroad. Of the thirty five people in my year who qualified, thirty four of them went abroad. And twenty eight of them came back. And it has an extraordinary impact on the society, because they are going to countries around the world and learning lessons from those other countries, and coming back. Whether it is opening a coffee bar, or changing the water structure of the city, they come back, with lessons learned, and a sense of perspective, and I wondered the extent of which for people who are at the level of students, or recent graduates in India, whether that perspective on the world, or that expectation that you would live elsewhere, and come back, and renew your own society, is part of your culture.
Audience member 3: Yes. It is wonderful to explore the world, travel the world, and understand it. But I think personally that learning is completely intrinsic in person. Yes, ideation is wonderful, discussing, bouncing ideas off each other, but at the end of the day, we can probably influence a small group of people, and they will go on to
influence a greater group of people. But what is happening at the moment, I think the world is, if I may offer my own perspective and thoughts about it, I think the world is moving forward, like you said, and India is just finding its way. And maybe a city or two would have to die.
N: Maybe a city or two would what?
Audience member 3: Would have to perish.
N: Thank you, are we finished? Thank you very much.
We have to thank a bunch of people. It would be great if you guys just had the patience to hear me out. This workshop has been almost a year in the making. Of course, first and foremost, I would like to thank my gang here, Chirag of course, who is now going to be called, “Swami Yellow ji” and Femina, wonderful Femina, Sunitha, my wonderful wife, Sandeep and Manoj who run Architecture Paradigm, and were partners with Vimal. We need all of us together to do something like this. And of course, I have to thank Richard and Peter. Those few days in Australia, Sandy and I were fortunate that we were able to go, and I am glad that we were able to do this, bring you closer to home, to get more of our friends, and students to spend time with you, because, it changed our lives, and I hope it has that impact on them. It is wonderful for us, in an almost selfish way to organize this, so that we get to spend time with you – having dinner, and having chats, and its wonderful. Thanks so much, Richard and Peter.
Madhura and I met by chance at a workshop, and that was when I knew, that we have to get him to Bangalore. I called him, and he said yes immediately. Thanks Madhura for that, for your hospitality in Colombo, for bringing Jennifer here, who is such a wonderful, positive force. Wonderful coming, both of you together, and spending time with us, the whole gang- I know you have a whole bunch of holidays coming up, and this is at a great cost, but thanks for coming.
And Niall, what can I say, you have just blown us away with this presentation you made. I saw you in Melbourne, and I am still reeling from that one, now I have another here. Thanks for coming, and thanks for agreeing to sort of, you know have this conversation. It was illuminating.
Just a few more: I would like to thank Dean Narasimhan, and the team at IIM, Ramesh, Suresh, Sanjay, Anil and Shivakumar in the Projects Department. They got all of these drawings, which we mutilated over the past one week. Naveen Bharati, he is just giving his thesis tomorrow and we just told him he has just thrown six years of his PhD down the toilet, because now he is going to become an architect again, after listening to Niall. So, thanks Naveen for everything.
And Ruturaj, thanks for coming, and spending time with us, with documenting all of this. Lindsay of course, from Australia, who put us together in the first place, introduced me to Niall, so thanks Lindsay. Professor Gurdev from Navrachana University, four students from Baroda are part of the workshop, we had four of them last time. So thanks for this support. And then the three the presentations during the workshop, Mohan Rao, wonderful landscape architect, Ravichandar and Ashwin Mahesh, who were here yesterday, Shabnam Virmani, the great film maker, poet, and singer,
Premjit, my brother, who made the film on Doshi. I also have to thank Vrinda and Nidhi, who have been amazing. I hope I have not forgotten anyone. Thanks all of you for coming. Thanks to the participants, for really sort of spending three nights in a row, working. Thanks a lot for that. We have really enjoyed it. We hope to do it again really soon. And thanks for coming this evening ♦
GALLERY: Photographs from The Bangalore Workshop 2018: