Homo sapiens have been known to inhabit the planet for around 3.5 billion years. They’ve evolved a great deal from the stone age to the age of Artificial Intelligence. Even with such breakthrough developments, scientists have been unable to fathom the complexities of the human brain. But they’ve successfully established certain characteristics and behavioural patterns. For instance, over time, the brain gets accustomed to your daily routine to such an extent that it takes note of only the slightest changes in your mundane life.
Buildings, an indispensable part of this mundane life tend to be overlooked by the brain on grounds of repetition and monotony. Just look up from your phone or laptop, you’ll see the four walls and the roof you’ve grown under. Look out of your window, you’ll see the park you played in as a kid and the buildings where your friends live. We are practically surrounded by architecture, right from our house to our favourite coffee shop, from the badminton court in the sports complex to the hangout spot in front of the office or school.
The brain of an architect, however, is specifically wired to observe any physical environment they step into, visualising it in terms of plans, sections and elevations to discover something new every day in the same space they’ve known for years.
Have you ever counted the steps on a staircase or skipped tiles deliberately while walking? A student or practising architect will do you one better. With their knowledge of the average human anthropometry and reflexes, they won’t be fooled if the dimensions are even infinitesimally off. In a beautifully decorated room, it’s the painting not aligned properly that’ll catch their attention.
The kind of knack they develop for detail and precision is unparalleled. Irrespective of the scale, it is not just restricted to the buildings, but anything they may lay their eyes on, be it an insect crawling on their drawing sheet or an airplane flying over their head.
“Architecture is the mother of all arts” (William Ti)
A layman often believes that Architecture is simply the construction of a building. However, an amalgamation of countless disciplines like design, mathematics, and programming, it may be described as a social art or an artful science.
It’s only when you begin walking down the road of architectural education that you start picking up the crumbs you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. So, when you look at a building now, you begin deciphering the geographical context in terms of the contours of the site and the subsequent orientation of the building, the historical and social aspects through the very essence of the design. Earlier it was just about the aesthetics, but now you move a step ahead, analysing the entire structure from foundation to roof.
Through the five years of your education, you become the Jack of all trades to master this one.
“God is in the details” (Mies van der Rohe)
Everybody has read books at some point in their lives but they manage to intrigue only some because the intricacies of the settings and the features of the characters jump out at them, like a movie playing inside their heads.
Architecture is no different. Practically, we all live in a building that is a physical manifestation of architecture. But only a handful live and breathe architecture. They have the power to look beyond the four walls to discover the beams and columns, beyond the concrete to unearth the reinforcement.
As tourists, we tend to visit the monuments in the place we travel to, learn more about its history and culture. If you’ve ever been to the Qutub Complex in Delhi, you know the whys and hows of the minaret, but that knowledge is only skin deep. Take an architecture student with you. Subconsciously, he’ll look at the complex as a whole, considering how his reflexes have been developed.
One look at the cloisters surrounding a courtyard and he can tell you that it was a mosque, the mezzanine floor on end, the zanana, a space exclusively for women. On a closer look, the ‘kalashas’ and lotus motifs tell him that the site originally housed a Hindu structure whose fragments were reassembled to build the mosque. All the arches may look the same but he’ll identify the corbelled arches from the true ones.
The pandemic through the architectural lens
While the entire world was looking up to doctors to come up with a possible cure for the coronavirus, architects were coming up with design interventions to support the infrastructure the doctors would require to treat the patients, utilising existing infrastructure so that medical care could be extended to as many people in a short time.
Reimagining the functions of space also cut down on the construction costs accompanied by environmental degradation. The Railway Ministry suspended train services from the Anand Vihar Railway Station in Delhi to house trains serving as isolation centres. Railway coaches were converted into quarantine zones with each coach comprising 16 beds for the patients and the first cubicle reserved for the doctor.
Several sports facilities and stadiums were equipped to treat the patients, with Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium being one of the first.
Now, this was about providing for the immediate requirements. When the world came to a standstill, architects saw the bigger picture, imagining spaces that conform to the new normal, distancing the users physically, not socially.
Architects have come up with solutions for both private and public spaces, from multifunctional rooms and large balconies to making the city pedestrian-friendly and shifting public activities like shopping outdoors.
Social, Dwarka, India’s first covid response restaurant by Renesa Architecture and Interior Design Studio, features tables placed six feet apart and at different levels, optimising the usage of available space. Partitions have been used effectively to separate the users physically while allowing them to ‘Social’ with distancing.
As a student of architecture, you become aware of the finer nuances and become more observant of your surroundings. This when you begin realising your responsibilities as architects of not just space but also the future, quite literally and metaphorically. You learn to develop a holistic approach, providing solutions for current problems and are also prepared to counter new ones in the future. Ultimately, it’s you who gives concrete form to people’s dreams, beliefs and aspirations.
In the words of architect David Adjaye, “Buildings are deeply emotive structures which form our psyche. People think they’re just things that manoeuvre through, but the makeup of a person is influenced by the nature of spaces.”