Did you ever find yourself checking out the interiors of a restaurant while your friends were busy drooling on the menu? Or have you felt the desire to explain the intricate thread of thoughts behind a design to an amateur who waves away a marvel as just ordinary?

Well, if you lived through that, then welcome aboard on the journey through architecture!

Architecture has been often gauged as an art of magnificent creations and that’s what first sparked my interest in the profession. With my Le Corbusier Spectacles and Picasso spirit, my knowledge though was just limited to a commoner’s perspective, befitting to its literal definition of balance between art and science. Nonetheless, evolving with it, did I continue to perceive it the same way?

Neuroscience suggests that our visualization of spaces is directly related to the method our eyes are upskilled to see them. This indeed could be a direct sway of our culture, vocation, or cognitive abilities. Be it the historic time of Greeks, who mastered optical illusions in their facades, or contemporary legends like Zaha Hadid that carved a new panache to building visualization, architecture never stopped to flabbergast the world, because architects never stopped to envisage. 

What made me so explicit on choosing the field despite my limited comprehension was perhaps the same spirit of uniqueness, ocular magnificence, a sense of empowerment, and of course who didn’t want to be Michael Angelo to the Vatican!

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Captivating architecture of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome Source: Cherry, N. (2013). St. Peters, Rome.

Through my journey to becoming an architect, I found the manner we architects perceive spaces quite intriguing. Set aside a non-professional, have you ever observed how each of us architects has a diverse sense of judgment to spaces? Isn’t it creatively fascinating that the same design problem in our studio project could receive a great many vivid interventions, of how we could find flaws in a building that we idolized at the genesis of our growth and how there is no definitive to perfect and imperfect architecture?

When it falls onto spatial perception, our evaluation is a function of our philosophies that develop from theories of various practitioners, scholars, and sometimes our own experiences. While our learning begins with a fundamental grasp of design principles, color theory, anthropometrics, ergonomics, it eventually layers with other facets like user and sensory experiences. 

Through the course of our pedagogy, we are tutored not only to imagine a three-dimensional setting but become sensitive to various aspects like psychology, sociology, economics, cultural studies, and ecology. We learn not only to create a space, but we develop the ability to design a functional and responsive space. Ready with our Pritzker prize speech, we all have imagined being accredited someday for the demonstrable splendour of our work, have found ourselves brainstorming hard to carve wonders out of steel, glass, and concrete. 

But what became slightly disturbing for me was the idea of how through the definition and appreciation method we might have slackened the spirit of architecture to a visual art only because the architecture I fell in love with had a social conscience too!

Exploring Architecture as a Social Art

Architecture was to be people-centric, a social art. It indubitably addressed aesthetics, but never above the priority of core ethics of community engagement and facilitation. It’s hard denying, but the timeless validation of any project ranging from an urban scale to a public square has resulted from its ability to establish a sense of belonging and equitably shared benefits with its community. 

Architecture has a strong influence on imparting a vocabulary to a city, speaking for who they are, their cultures, and contributes to the variety of living we celebrate. My journey might have begun with recognizing architecture through the intricacy of details carved till nuances, yet, it transformed to an understanding of the simplest touch that mirrors life and makes it worthy of living for each one of us.

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An Instagrammable street in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Source: Melisa, (June 16,2020).16 Incredible things to do in Chefchaouen-The Blue Pearl of Morocco.[Online]Available at: https://parenthoodandpassports.com/things-to-do-in-chefchaouen-blue-pearl-of-morocco. [ Accessed 3 April,2021]
I stand unaware of the Chinese architects who created the Pagodas but seeing the structures in unison, I cherish the cultural identity that it depicts. Exploring the streets of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, one is amazed by the unique sense of a city it portrays collectively. I see the skyscrapers of America, and it fills me with a thrill to explore the view from the top floors of those. I read, explored, and got bewitched with the variety, richness, and contextual awareness of that architecture. However, what we observe predominantly today is a homogenized, mass-produced, technology-centered construction system that has cut out life in structure to mere neutralized spaces and restrained access of good architecture to specific sections of society. 

Despite appreciation for the glass towers of Dubai, when I see an alike in the traditional fabric of an Indian city, it comes across as an eyesore, an ugly patch of growth that stands out in an unappreciative manner. A witty professor of ours would often quote “how good design didn’t work like a department store that we pick and put in our project whatever we liked on Pinterest!”. And so I ask myself, have we as architects failed to uphold the characteristics of our cities? Has architecture evolved with technological advancements or overpowered by it?

The good part of such questioning is that it clarifies a vision of the kind of architecture we want to practice. I stand inspired by numerous projects where architecture promotes social engagements, uplifts the underserved, erases segregation, brings inclusivity, and gives citizens a sense of pride in their hometowns.

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Conversion of Kathputli colony in Delhi from a squatter settlement into a rehabilitated community exemplary on tackling social issues through architecture. Source: Kedia,A.(2016).From Squatters of Threat to Homes of Hope.[Online].Available at: http://berkeleyprize.org/competition/essay/2016/winning-essays/ayushman-kedia-essay. [Accessed 3 April,2020]

Recognizing Architectural values

Architecture helped our fraternity become more observant of our surroundings. It drove our recognition to not only the texture of exterior facades but the taste of life carried on the inside. It made us sensitive to the impacts of a naturally lit, actively engaged, passively surveilled, and socially interactive space upon the physical and mental well-being of a user. It taught us to assess the design of a space from the need and responses of a child to the elderly and extend the balance of these sensible relations with ecology. 

And such became the most inspiring manner in which architecture affected me, its constant evolution and careful consideration. I found it to affiliate creativity to demands at hand. I rectified my definition of visualizing the society in my world to aid communities in building a world they desire to live in.            

Architecture has consistently responded to the essentials of its time. In the modern world where global concerns of affordable housing, social integration, inclusivity, infrastructural opportunities are in such demand, we architects have to redraft our ideals from becoming star architects to better and innovative architects, progressing on an affordable, equitable, and attainable scheme. 

I have discovered in architecture the strength to remind humanity of who they are or manipulate them into being someone different. It imparted to me the wisdom to accept being an accomplice to what my city lives in tomorrow. Its true spirit imbibed in me a conscience to not reduce it from a vocation of service to an alliance of profit and case of necessity to a matter of luxury. 

I have learned from architecture, that whatever our outlook or philosophy, at no point should our design marginalize the benefits, suppress cultural and ethnic representations, or justify the unsustainable. At no junction should we kill the soul of a space. How has architecture changed your perception?

Author

Umber, an architecture undergrad at Jamia Millia, chooses to view architecture from the lens of social art, admiring its ability to shape communal lives and respond to its needs. She aspires to travel and pen down cultural richness, capturing the essence of who we are as a global community.

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