A busy bunch of people chatter over the table, seated at the center of a restaurant. They exchange family tales of the next big bash in town or their investment plans and business tactics. Even the sound of the cutlery gets drowned in their yapping.
Meanwhile, in a corner of the same restaurant, a group of architects murmured their thoughts and observances to each other. They noted cladding materials, light fixtures and even the crafted ceramics set on their table. They chose the corner spot to have a better vantage point, which allowed them to examine and ponder the interiors.
Some people have a natural eye for design. Others develop it. Still others don’t care. Whether we care or not, design affects all of our lives. Most of us inhabit spaces that are manicured. Our relationship with the immediate environment is thus mostly constructed. We are moulded by our milieu. It can be easy to ignore the effects of architecture on our day-to-day life because this is a field whose impact is not always on a tangible level. A good design may seem effortless, but it is certainly not casual. The effectiveness of a well-designed environment is often subtle, thus, by law, more pervasive.
People who undergo an architectural education are subjected to varied experiences and exercises which sharpen their eye for design and detail. Most of the students who step into an architectural studio for the first time come from the rigid norms of high school education. To absorb the possibilities of architecture, one must first unlearn much of what they have previously understood. This can be a daunting task, a bubble burst of sorts. Once you are equipped with the void that is necessary to learn something new, you allow knowledge to fill you up.
Challenges of an online education
When learning how to cognize spaces, it is important our senses are engaged. This engagement occurs when we are three-dimensionally present in the scene. Learning architecture on a screen in front of you does not offer a wholesome experience. Although we may understand that which is taught, our underlying senses are curtailed in the chambers of a virtual medium. The evocative quality of a space is felt only when we are a part of the space.
In the age of walkthroughs and simulations, it becomes easier to convey to the user of a space, the quality of the interaction they are likely to have with the designed environment. While several aspects that are essential to experiencing a place can be set up with the aid of software, sensorial experiences such as the smell of air or the warmth of light on our skin and perhaps a tactile interaction with the materials used, are not felt through an online platform.
By drawing a connection between our subject of study and a natural element, we can create an easier story to comprehend architecture. When we view art, we bring into the experience, our own associations. A great movie transports you to its realm and leaves you wondering although it is technically only “seen” on a two-dimensional surface. Memory is an important part of meaning. Online education similarly, can offer a greater sense of involvement to the individual who is using the medium, through the instruments of storytelling.
Architectural education opens one up to diversity in design, a knack to understand and create spaces. However, the need for “doing something different” can become obsessive. We are constantly told to “think out of the box” to produce new ideas. While this approach can result in work that is path-breaking, it can become another phrase for doing something hideous that garners attention.
The consequence can be a lack of authenticity. When everyone involved in a project allows their natural selves to shine through, wouldn’t it result in an abundance of eclectic ideas? After all, we are all composed of different experiences inherently. The story a space tells is an assimilation of these experiences expressed as diverse chapters.
The fact that celebrated architects such as FL Wright designed their trademark buildings at the latter stages of their career is a testament to their evolution as people, through years of varied experiences. Their education did not culminate in monumental success overnight; while ideas can seem like an epiphany, they are the outcome of extended periods of experimentation and underlying layers of stories.
The impact of architecture on our lives must go beyond creating something that “looks good”. Aesthetics is a key aspect of design, but we must understand the term in the context in which it was first coined. The first use of the term aesthetics is attributed to Alexander Baumgarten in 1735. In his book ‘Aesthetica’, he defined ‘Aesthetics’ as the ‘science of sensate cognition‘. Thus the measure of an ‘aesthetic building’ should be how engaging the spaces are, rather than only how visually appealing it looks. In the Indian context, we are surrounded by an environment of over-stimuli that are teeming with life. Yet, a majority of our buildings in modern times lack the lustre of their backdrop. Qualities of temperature and comfort seem to vaporise in the concrete urban jungle.
This is a practice, a discipline, one that requires an evolution of instinct which can then orchestrate work. The goal of architectural education must then be to develop a better instinct, which serves the larger purpose of living and being. Although there is knowledge of formulae and patterns required, architecture is not formulaic. When it does adopt a formula approach, the result is monotony, which is a bland spread of buildings on the rich canvas of earth.
Recognising the impact
As Juhani Pallasmaa wrote in ‘The Eyes of the Skin’, “Instead of creating mere objects of visual seduction, architecture relates, mediates and projects meanings. The ultimate meaning of any building is beyond architecture; it directs our consciousness back to the world and towards our own sense of self and being. Significant architecture makes us experiences ourselves as complete embodied and spiritual beings. In fact, this is the great function of all meaningful art.”
It is time to recognise the power and impact of architecture on our lives and strive to craft spaces that add value to our environment.
Pallasmaa, J. (1996). The eyes of the skin. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons publication
TEDx Talks. (2018). Architecture: An Ultra-sensory Narrative | Bijoy Ramachandran | TEDxCET. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eJcDWhsZHs [Accessed 04 August 2021].
TEDx Talks. (2019). What’s good architecture and why the world doesn’t need more star architects | Xi Zhang | TEDxZurich. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvnLV49DP2M [Accessed 03 August 2021].