As you start architecture studies, on your very first day at a college there is a question that is going to be asked to you at least once – ‘Why did you choose architecture?’

And you, being a newbie, are going to pore over whatever you think architecture is, in your answer, with a spoon full of your future dreams and serve it with some big words that you see architects use, thinking that it is going to be acceptable if not impressive. But not many answers are accepted, nor is this going to be the last time you will be asked this question. So redo it better next time.

After answering a few times it occurred to me that the actual question is – ‘What is your perspective about architecture?’

The answer to this question always keeps changing as architecture changes your perspective with every design created, every observation made, and every idea concocted. Over time this question becomes a reminder of how far you have come in the journey with architecture.

Architecture changes you in many ways like any other profession changes its pursuer. Among increasing tolerance towards criticism and redos or taking perfect dimensions with just eyes; what makes architecture stand out is its ability to change the way of seeing and feeling things.

Reading the scene

Architecture teaches us not just to see the scene in front of us but to read it.

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Chor bazar market _© Gargi Patil

Take a street market as an example. At first glance, it is a place to buy and sell. A bustling space infested with a crowd, mud, with a mixture of all smells, and an unchoreographed orchestra of noises. But after a few years in architecture, it becomes a knowledge hub for human behavior.

Not just a market but any public space is like an open book of behavior, normal habits, usual actions and reactions, and the cultural values of the people within that area. Architecture teaches not only to notice the observation but to see the reasons behind them and find a pattern.

 Designing for people

The way a community shapes its public and community spaces, in the same way, public and community spaces also shape the community. Take the example of the ‘para’. It is a traditional sitting platform around the tree in Indian villages. This simple space becomes a village meeting venue, event space. Over time it also became an area for the elderly to gather in the evening. There they tell stories to children and teach them. This simple structure has its roots so deep in Indian tradition that in the cities where this structure is rare, people tend to find similar spaces to gather in the evening.

Like many other species on the earth human beings tend to live in a group. Being part of a community is its need for growth. Tall compounds for security. Concrete finished entrance plazas with no protection from sun, no trees or seating areas to reduce unwanted crowd and encroachment. Street devoid of the footpath to reduce disturbance from pedestrians to vehicular traffic. All these designs may look like practical solutions at first glance. They avoid unwanted complications and help to run things smoothly. 

But cutting people from the equation turns that area into a deserted waste space. An increasing number of such spaces turn the city into a mere block of a concrete jungle, A place for transports but not for humans.

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Highline Bridge _© Iwan Baan

Adding community spaces and public spaces between cracks and veins of the concrete jungle helps bring it back to life. Take the Highline Bridge as an example. The once old and abandoned bridge, infested with wildly grown grass and shrubs is now one of the most cherished public spaces in overcrowded New York City.

 Reading behind the façade

Even though architecture involves designing for people, there is a huge difference between what common people see as architecture and what architecture exactly is. Usually, architecture is seen as designing an eye-catching, well-functioning, sculpture-like structure. The glass-clad artificially ventilated skyscrapers in different shapes tend to catch more public interest. It’s not that they are not functional or wrongly designed. It’s just that they are not always among the best as an architectural design.

Still remember the confusion when I learned that Burj Khalifa is an engineering marvel and not an architectural marvel. This confusion was cleared when I came across a gem while pursuing architecture: The ‘Kanchanjunga Apartments’.

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Kanchanjunga Apartments by Charles Correa_© www.archdaily.com

While Kanchanjunga Apartments cannot be compared to Burj Khalifa in height, it’s still a 28-story skyscraper. Interestingly what makes this structure a famous architectural design is its planning and not its façade. It may look like any other modern building from the outside but from inside its planning is based on the architecture of a traditional Indian bungalow. It is a modern interpretation of traditional planning in response to the climatic conditions in Mumbai.

Thinking back to the question – ‘What is your perspective about architecture?’

My answer still keeps changing as architecture changes me every time. But in my opinion, architecture doesn’t just change its pursuer. Architecture affects everything around it. Then it might include people, society, culture, environment, or a habitat around it. All in all, architecture always brings change with it. But whenever used correctly architecture has shown its strength in not only changing but also in shaping society. Like a great architect once said:

 “At its most vital, architecture is an agent of change, to invent tomorrow – that is its finest function.” Charles Correa

References

Cilento, K. (2009). The New York High Line officially open. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/24362/the-new-york-high-line-officially-open

www.archdaily.com. (n.d.). Charles Correa Associates | Photographer | ArchDaily. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/photographer/charles-correa-associates#:~:text=Perhaps%20more%20than%20anything%20else  [Accessed 9 May 2021]. 

Author

Gargi is an Architect by degree and a tinker by heart. As a recent graduate, she is yet to find out what alley of architecture she would like to explore further in her life. Writing is a tool for her to analyze and discuss her exploration.

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