Bijoy Ramachandran, The Speaker
Architect and urban designer Bijoy Ramachandran is the co-founding partner at HundredHands, a multi-disciplinary design studio based in Bangalore established in 2003. Having worked on a wide variety of projects ranging from café interiors to apartment buildings and hotels, the studio’s design approach is rooted in focusing on urban context through the medium of scale, character, spatial and visual impact, and the remaking of the public domain.
In this 17-minute TED Talk held at the College of Engineering in Kerala in 2017, titled “Architecture: An Ultra – Sensory Narrative”, Ramachandran’s talk revolves around answering the question that several people seem to have, “What Happened to Architecture?”. His talk is largely based on Juhani Pallasmaa’s “The Eyes of The Skin”, and he keeps referring back to the concepts in the book during the course of his talk.
An Architecture of the Senses
Ramachandran explains that architecture should inherently engage all our senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Sight cannot and should not be given priority, as is it cannot capture the holistic experience of being in a space. Especially in the context of India, architecture must not be isolated from its surroundings, and creating a closed-off built space separated from the environment is equivalent to rejecting the country’s rich history, culture, urban environment, and the people whom it is made for. Ramachandran uses examples of art by Matisse and Klimt to highlight that just as great art can engage all our senses, great architecture has the capability to do that as well. The works of legendary architects like B.V. Doshi, F.L. Wright, and Peter Zumthor reflect this understanding of creating architecture that heightens the sensory experiences of those within the space.
Bijoy Ramachandran :In Praise of Shadows
During meditation and such moments, with the lack of sense of sight, our other senses are automatically heightened. Ramachandran explains that during certain events, for instance, listening to a symphony, or embracing a loved one, one’s eyes were automatically close to wholly absorb the experience from other senses. He uses Caravaggio’s art to showcase how the interplay of light and shadows can induce strong emotions in the viewer. Architecture, he believes, holds the power to do the same. Akbar’s Tomb in Sikandra illustrates this idea in a powerful manner – the transition from the embellished, bejeweled, and bright entrance into the dark and bare-walled tomb stripped of any ornamentation is immensely moving.
Beyond the Frame
Visualizing architecture through the means of a frame, like a photograph, forcibly limits its potential and meaning. Ramachandran explains that artists have rebelled against the idea of a frame and illustrated how art cannot be held within the flat and orthogonal confines of a frame by experimenting with the concepts of scale, dimensions, depth, and perspective. He draws parallels between art and architecture to explain how the concept of framing is applied to architecture – which is through the passage of time. Ramachandran emphasizes the idea that ‘change’ and the eventual juxtaposition of old and new is an integral part of the architecture. He then takes the audience through various notable works of architecture like Salk Institute by Louis Kahn and IIM Bangalore by Vastu Shilpa Consultants.
Art has always been subjective; we view art through the lens of our personal life, experiences, and memories. A singular piece of art can mean completely different things to different people, and that is the beauty of art – to have the power to induce starkly different emotions in the viewers. Using the example of Alvar Aalto‘s ‘Summerhouse on Muuratsalo’ in Finland, Ramachandran explains that Aalto built the summerhouse in reminiscence of his time in Italy, and the brick façade and the small blue-tiled window which represented the Mediterranean to him, were physical manifestations of his memories and experience of Italy.
Takeaways From The Talk of Bijoy Ramachandran
Bijoy Ramachandran’s TED talk gave his audience insight into his design philosophies and thought process as an architect. He believes that architects should be very mindful of their design – the building should be sensitive to its context and respectful of its surroundings and inhabitants. He believes that architecture should be aspirational – that it should go beyond the purpose of utility, and be a multi-sensorial experience for people that aims to have an overall positive impact.
“A profound design process eventually makes the patron, the architect, and every occasional visitor in the building a slightly better human being.” – Juhani Pallasma
The talk was informative and very engaging, and it introduced the audience to different perspectives of approaching the design process. The talk deeply resonated with me, and it will be a very educational and interesting TED Talk for both the architecture and non-architecture communities.