Documentation of Jejuri

[Photoset on Flickr] These are the moments when Facebook comes in handy. I got a notification that one of my undergrad juniors had tagged me on a photo album. Generally when this happens my heart sinks as my retro ugly mug is broadcast to everyone on my current friends list (that’s why Tag Review rocks) but this time it was a pleasant surprise. Back in, what seems another lifetime, architecture college I led a team of my classmates in the Louis Kahn Trophy for the National Association of Schools of Architecture (NASA) annual conference. The brief is to document a historical structure in its entireity notably from the perspective of architectural drawings. This was seen as a way of creating architectural records for structures that potentially didn’t have any including laying them out from perspective of their historical, social, and cultural context.

Although Jejuri has tremendous significance among those living in Maharashtra, even the Wikipedia doesn’t have much information online let alone detailed architectural drawings. So you can imagine the enormity of our task when we picked Jejuri…in early 1998. As we expected, there were no drawings on record so we made couple of visits to the temple town, stayed for a week each time, and literally measured every square inch of the temple complex. We were the source of puzzlement and wonder among devotees who often mistook us for a film crew thanks to our large circular measuring tape and hippie-like tattered jeans. We brought those measurements along with thousands of sketches back to our college where, with the help of a large team of classmates, stayed overnight after college hours for more than a month creating these drawings. Of course, we receive no college credit for this work and was done purely for altruistic and architectural cred reasons.

There are many memories associated with this project that made me friends among my college mates that I wasn’t close to before and helped me learn many things about architecture and historic preservation. More importantly, the camaraderie that we enjoyed either during the visits to this rural part of Maharashtra or the long sleepless nights we spent in our studios listening to hard rock and old Hindi songs in equal measure crouched over the drawing boards was the thing I remember the most. Now, I regret being a teetotaler at the time.

Our efforts were rewarded in part that we won a special mention at the national level for our work; the first accolade for our 8-year-old college that led to several national trophies at subsequent NASA competitions.

Wedding at Bhubhaneshwar – Part Eight

Bhubhaneshwar, Konark, and Puri form a neat triangle in a travel itinerary (much like Mumbai, Pune, and Nashik but smaller) and can easily be visited in a day. But only if you manage your time well and are given strict time limits wherever you stop at. Given the famed Indian habit to linger and add to that, the different priorities of every individual in the 40+ tourist group and eagerness of the locals to show the best that the state has to offer within a span of 18 hours, you can imagine the frustration of the organizer. Ash’s dad was trying desperately to keep the schedule on track and apart from the occasional diversion and lingering, we seemed to do quite well. My dad is known to be a hard taskmaster and stickler for punctuality so the poor guests were being herded around from both sides. However, I don’t think they really minded it all that much; most of them were oblivious to any care and were throughly enjoying themselves.

Roads in OrissaAfter our brief stop at Pipili, we headed toward Orissa’s flagship monument, the Konark Temple. I must say that the roads are especially nice and even in the rural parts that we traveled through, we never experienced the moon surface-like experience that you normally associate with Indian roads. We passed along plenty of rice fields, flowing rivers, and villagers threshing grains on the roadside. Since I was seated right behind the driver, I indulged in what can be best described as windshield photography (perhaps I should start a Flickr group). We arrived at Konark at around noon and the crowds and profusion of commercial hawker stalls gave a fair indication of the popularity of the place; being a Sunday didn’t help either. All the vehicles were supposed to be parked a mile away and we could either walk it or take a rickshaw. Along with few people, I was game to walking while the majority choose the lazy rickshaw way. Well, they ended up missing the cool coconut water that we stopped for while walking through the bazaar. We joined our group near the entrance.

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RIP Laurie Baker

Laurie Baker, the British-born architect settled in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala died today at age 90. Known primarily for his work in designing low-cost housing by using local materials, he was a source of inspiration to all those architects who wished to return to their roots.

Laurie understood that the real architecture of India lay in the mud huts and not in the gleaming glass skyscrapers that we today associate with progress. He, along with Nari Gandhi and Gerard Da Cunha were role models for few of my classmates interested in vernacular architecture; so much so that one friend renamed herself [not legally though] ‘Gaurie.’

I could go on but Uma has a wonderful and extensive post on his life and works. Riot was lucky to have him as a neighbor and mourns his death. Yup! I too wish I lived in a house designed by Laurie. Abraham Thakran had the pleasure of knowing him personally and has written a personal tribute.

Google’s 3D University

Today the Build Your Campus in 3D Competition begins. This spring, you and your (presumably equally artistic) friends can honor your campus turf as you hone your 3D design skills just by modeling your school’s campus buildings in Google SketchUp, geo-reference them in Google Earth, and submit them through the competition website to earn lasting online glory. And the winners get a visit to Google, all expenses paid.

How I wish I was still in touch with my AutoCAD skills. Back in the days of architecture college, I was literally a baap of CAD and even made my second semester (early 1996) design using my self-taught skills of AutoCAD. Even until my third year, I was the only one using the computer to make architectural drawings for my working drawings and building technology classes. Certain Luddite-classmates of mine hated me for it and heck, even the external jury gave me a tough time on certain occasions. But now, most of them are way more competent than I and I haven’t drawn a line in AutoCAD after circa 2000.

Now only if I could, I would have modeled my university or at least part of it. I’m sure TAMU with its huge architecture student population and a topnotch visualization lab to boot will not miss me.

The Sri Mayapur Vedic Temple and Planetarium

“The Sri Mayapur Vedic Temple and Planetarium will be built in Mayapur in the province of West Bengal, India, and is expected to reach the height equivalent of 35 stories and making it only a smidgeon shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza” [source].

What makes this temple project interesting is that it will be built along with a planetarium. Mayapur is already known for being the headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON). The planetarium is supposed to be more than just a visual delight center but in fact purports to be a research base that would be staffed with ‘top level space researchers’.

I am not sure of this claim and if they would genuinely encourage scientific research. But as a structure, it is truly spectacular and eye-catching. As some folks on Digg and Reddit remarked, it looks something out of Star Wars. But for us who have seen truly remarkable temples in Thanjavur and Mahabalipuram, this traditional form of temple architecture is nothing new if not completely familiar. They are planning to complete the project by 2010 and if it is anything like the picture above, it should be a major tourist attraction.

Vaastu haunts a Charles Correa Design

You are well aware of my disdain for vaastu shastra and its spurious usage to justify superstitious beliefs. While in architecture school, I ‘studied’ vaastu for a while and found that it can be useful only in a limited scope and only when applied with full knowledge of the reasons for its use. But in application, vaastu practitioners prey upon the gullible public’s superstitious beliefs to impose their writ on designs of buildings, something they know nothing about.

The latest victim is the well-designed [by Charles Correa] Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. Although I don’t like the design too much primarily due to blatant use of symbolism [note the stupa roof] and typical Correa elements, it is at least different from the staid government buildings that were built post-Independence. The building now is in the center of a controversy as some MLAs are blaming vaastu of the building for killing their ilk. Yup! you cannot make this stuff up. I immediately thought of Gridiron when I read about a building killing off people. The only time a building kills its occupants is when the roofs falls on their head following an earthquake. But if you expect them to be laughed at, you are ignoring one of India’s primary pressure tactics – use of superstition and fear of death to pursue your cause. The government is actually giving their fears credence by thinking of corrective measures.

Their basis of fear – “sixteen legislators have died since Assembly sessions started being held in the building in August 1996.” So, sixteen people died in ten years. Big deal! The article clearly mentions that most of the deaths occured due to ill health and old age so I don’t understand how the poor building is to blame. They didn’t even die in the building. So by that logic, if the building was vaastu-equipped then everyone inside would be immortal. Heck, if I wanted to find a commonality among them, it could be anything from corruption to their beedi-smoking habit, which by the way are better things to take action against, if at all.

Help from Vedic Vaastu and Research Foundation at Indore was sought and expectedly, they said, “there existed many defects in the building leading to imbalance of energy and radiation of negativity” WTF! do ordinary people even understand or care what that means in layman terms? Probably not. Because it frankly means nothing. They might simply be scared because you tell them that if you don’t make changes, more will die regardless of the fact that they’ll keep dying even if changes are made. In fact, I have never seen a single report from so-called Vaastu professionals that has given a clean chit to any building. Why would they? It would deprive them of a paid assignment/consultancy.

Thankfully, some MLAs have expressed doubts about carrying out changes, which of course would be paid by the taxpayers money. For a change, a commie MLA had the only sane comment in the entire melee. Ramlakhan Sharma says, “Sarvadosh to party mein hai. They are making a fool of people. The Congress is no better, they join the bandwagon at times. What about the deaths of those who are not MLAs?” Yes, siree…what about those people?

The Art of Football

Football is not just 22 guys running crazily after a ball (my dad’s definition of football;he suggested giving them more balls to play with) but sometimes the occassion of the World Cup gives FIFA an opportunity to make a contribution to the art world. Artists from six FIFA confederations have submitted 15 works of art to the Official Art Poster Edition. You can either buy them online or ogle at them at your local art gallery.

I couldn’t locate one nearby but unfortunately, I chanced upon an exhibition at Decatur, GA. I have fond memories of the place where I spent many evenings either studying or just whiling away time. The art district of Decatur might be a weird place for soccer art but it sure is getting in the act by remixing one of the local art pieces by adding a ball to a local artist’s painting. “Gallery owner Shawn Vinson, shirted in England replica colors, said he had suggested on a stop by Franklin’s studio that she add a football to her composition” [source]. this is unprecedented in an otherwise football (American)-crazy southern state.

Resurgence of Libraries

With changing technology, libraries are fast evolving into places other than musty-smelling dens of worn out books. They can be pretty snazzy with the latest gadgetry designed by top architects and attracting hordes of people for reasons apart from reading books. And that is a good thing.

Soil Purifying Homes

Treetop houses that purify the soil that they stand on? Now, that is beyond sustainable.

High Rise Living

Santiago Calatrava is rumored to be constructing a corkscrew-style twisting skyscraper in Chicago downtown. At 115 stories, it can easily be the tallest building in the U.S. But as Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne pointed out recently, it would be the only kind designed for residences and not offices. Primarily all high rises all over the world are built as office skyscrapers, often with large anchor clients and rarely are such building advertised for residences. But as Otis White writing for Governing.com mentions that New York always has had people living in high rises albeit 10 to 45 stories tall. I will add Mumbai and Tokyo to that list.

Mumbai has its share of high rise residential buildings, mostly in South Mumbai and recently in suburbs like Powai and Goregaon. Kalpataru Developers in Mumbai have built or are building several residential high rises especially in the Parel Mills area. I worked for a brief time on one of their projects and although they are located in the middle of lower income class neighborhoods, they are attracting top dollar (rupee?). Space constraints in certain cities have always encouraged vertical growth especially if the city is bound by geographic limitations. But again as Otis writes, does this also herald a change in housing preferences? Are people now more willing to live in downtown cities and actually live several feet away from the ground? Living in a high rise always has denoted disconnection from the more natural elements of a settlement. But at the same time, dense city life has been considered more efficient and lends certain vibrancy to a settlement that no suburban community can match.

The New Mall

Malls have succeeded in gathering a wide variety of people in spite of the blatant commercial lure. Of course, not everyone in a mall is going to walk out with a significant purchase. If you remember the earlier days of Bombay’s first mall, Crossroads; the majority of visitors came to gaze at the new public space and gawk at the brand names, even the automobile elevator had a certain charm. Heck, some of them even finally bought something. Hanging out at a mall is actually as American as it can get but slowly things are changing. Malls don’t hold the same charm as they did few years back as people explore better options for people watching and more importantly, for the social experience.

I proposed a mixed-used redevelopment proposal for my final year design dissertation during my architecture days. Although a new concept that needed serious convincing, people couldn’t criticize its usability because it fulfilled an intrinsic human need of “a place to go out to”. Last I heard, an international airport is being planned just a few miles off the original site but the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) seems to have at least recognized the need to build “social places”.

Green open spaces, although sacrosanct to a city’s existence seem to have a difficult time in justifying its usability often due to lack of specific use. Mixed use development goes overboard and tries to fulfill everyone’s needs. Apart from passive social and cultural centers, nothing is more self-sustaining than a mall. But then again, who would want to spend their time in a maze of branded products that only seem to diminish your sense of existence and increase your appetite for unnecessary goods. And lack of land for the spreads that King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania and the Mall of America in Minnesota are, malls are not even a decent economic proposition. Presence of people in a shopping area lures more people who might even buy something is a marketing theory that lets Barnes and Nobles and Starbucks actually encourage people who don’t buy their products to linger around. Andrew Blum writes about new malls called lifecenters that enhance the social experience of a mall:

“Parking my rented Chevy in front of a big-box emporium called Barbeques Galore, I walked through the arched portals that decorate the marketplace entrance. Inside, there were restaurants and stores lining a winding and narrow outdoor pedestrian street that opened up onto a series of little plazas. Padded wicker chairs were strewn about in a studied, casual way, and a huge fieldstone fireplace had benches built into it for those cool desert nights. This was a delightful place for a Frappuccino.” [Desert Ridge Marketplace]

Now that would be a nice place to hang out even if you didn’t want to buy anything. Of course, you might be tempted to few times. He drives down the road to the Kierland Commons:

“The sidewalks were shaded from the sun by flowered trellises, and the streets narrowed at the corners to give pedestrians an implied right of way. An urban plaza with a good cafĂ© and a band shell provided a central gathering place. The promotional material for Kierland Commons boasts of a “unique urban village,” and a “pleasing, vibrant place where community takes shape and public life happens.” Indeed, as I stand around watching, a jazz singer draws an audience, stooping to serenade a passing bichon frisĂ©. The crowd coos. And, wait, the Phoenix Suns girls are here!”

These lifecenters are inspired by mixed-use development that tempts a wide spectrum of people to come out and frequent the public spaces, which in turn brings out more people. The festive atmosphere that these malls create can lend the sense of informality that the present malls lack, adding a little more personal touch to the social experience. You needn’t be intimidated by the glitz and glamour and instead be gradually lured into soaking in the festive atmosphere. But as the author rightly observes, these lifecenters might cross the threshold of being elitist. The ordinary middle class people might be intimidated with the environment if it is made too swank. The texture and feel of the place has to be simple and just right, enough not to force people to be their unnatural “prim-n-propah” selves. Public spaces are getting increasingly sparse and surprisingly, private entities are creating public spaces successfully.

Volcano Stadium

Josh Rubin at Cool Hunting points us to Paris based designers Jean-Marie Massaud and Daniel Pouzet of Studio Massaud. Designers who have jumped in a bigger than “2001 Space Odyssey cinematic jump” from luxury products to stadium design. The designers recently won a competition for a stadium designed to look like a Mexican volcano. The cloud-like structure on the top is made of stretched fabric to protect the spectators from the elements. It will also serve as a projection screen for advertisements. WMMNA adds: “The rest of the stadium disappear into a hollowed-out hill — or a volcano. The duo also plans to hide the parking inside the volcano. This way, when there is no match, the outside of the stadium becomes a big grassy park where families can picnic and players can train.” In an interview for Interior Design, the designers had a gem of a statement to describe their underlying inspiration:

“These days, architects and engineers tend to feel you must be able to see how a building works. For us, it’s the opposite — it’s better if you can’t understand how everything holds together. That’s the magic.”

Shored Up

shore temple mallalapuram

(via Kiruba and Visithra)

One of my favorite temples, the Shore Temple at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) purely for its fantastic location is safe after the latest tsunami attack. After visiting nearly 6-7 temples in Tamil Nadu as a part of my architecture study tour during my 2rd Year B.Arch, this temple remains my all-time favorite (although Thanjavur comes a close second as a functional temple). Listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage site, this temple stands in solitude against the slow ravaged of time and the sea. The sudden onrush of water didn’t deter this temple’s steadfastness. I am glad that future generations of architecture students will witness the same joyous experience that I did several years back.

I hope the Bas Relief and Pandav Rathas are safe too. Read the article at Hindu (via Kiruba)

FL Babloo

Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) or FL Babloo, as we in architecture colleges liked to call him, comes readily to mind if we think of a single man who revolutionized the built form. The early 20th century American architect paved the way for modernism in architecture and virtually stripped the embellishments that adorned the buildings of yore. In almost all architecture colleges, students are sharply divided between Wright and Corbu [Le Corbusier of Chandigarh fame] camps with the odd student for the new pioneers like Norman Foster and Santiago Calatrava. The designs they do are clearly a reflection of their inspiration and you can’t hide your loyalty for long. I was a secret member of the FLW camp although mostly my designs reflected the Corbu genre. The Fallingwater, arguably the most famous private residence in the world and the Guggenheim Museum, New York were my all time favorite buildings. I never imagined that I would be able to see both of them in my life.

Alpha totally won me over when she squeezed in a visit to FLW’s home during my brief visit to Chicago. I visited Guggenheim Museum two summers back but sadly couldn’t descend the famed ramp because of renovations. My brother, fully aware of my love for FLW’s work, arranged the trip to my Mecca — Fallingwater. FLW’s design philosophy centered around the open plan concept, the free flow of spaces, incorporating the natural elements of the site, centrality of the hearth in a home, horizontality of lines, and minimum details. Reminds you of Howard Roark from the Fountainhead? Well, Ayn Rand did in fact model the character after FLW – her contemporary and the novel does loosely follow the path of his life.

The beauty of his designs is in the lack of pseudo classical details like the arch, cornices, or domes that you see so abused by the Indian architect Hafeez Contractor. Visit Hiranandani Gardens in Powai, Bombay for a gaudy display of neoclassicism. It sure looks grand and impressive but you are fooled by the exterior arches and domes to find disappointing drab internal spaces. FLW didn’t believe in such deception. You are simply drawn into his creations from the outside and are not disappointed by the interiors. No offense to the people living there but it fails to impress the purist in me. Contrastingly, in FLW’s homes, the world outside looks charmingly similar from within as it did before you entered the house. FLW loved to stretch our imagination and technical capability of his era. Fallingwater is built on a waterfall when his client, Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. asked for a view of the falls. What better view than from the top, right? The house looks dynamically poised over the falls, like a diver waiting to take his dive. He designed a spiral ramp sloping all the way to the ground as a platform for viewing masterpieces when asked to design a museum, throwing all conventions of design astray. The result — a masterpiece much grander than the art it displays. Unfortunately his Mile High Skyscraper [self-explanatory] remains unbuilt to this day, not because of technical or structural problems but rather for the lack of will and ability to believe that this is indeed possible. He paid equal attention to the interior of a structure, not leaving it to minions, whom he thought would spoil the character of the built form. He smartly designed minimalist furniture that receded in the background and let the house hog the limelight. Form follows function — perfectly describes his credo. But he redefined it by fusing form and function and treating it as one simultaneous process. But that did not stop his designer chairs from being worth millions. I remember the tour guide at Chicago telling us that a certain chair was more in worth than the house itself. I found that a little hard to believe but knowing the legacy of FLW, it can be true.

I can literally give you a half-baked architecture lesson on his works but I will refrain from doing that. I am no expert and certainly not an authority qualified to even comment on his work (sense the awe there?). There is a ton of literature on the Internet which does a far better job that I ever can. I am listing some of them below:

I am putting up a photo album from my visits to his three structures. I hope you enjoy them as much I did. The dream house I wrote about, few weeks back was clearly an inspiration from Babloo’s work.

Living in Glasshouses

The sun streams right into your bedroom scattering the misty morning air. As you shake off your slumber grudgingly, your eyes take you right towards the mountains backlit by a glorious sun. The lethargy vanishes almost instantly; you are torn between running wildly over the water and snuggling back in your covers, enjoying the sunrise. As you look around, the visions of the natural world remain unobstructed; it is almost like waking up with nature.

Who wouldn’t want to wake up to such heavenly mornings? Actually some people, whom I am extremely envious of, do. The house is nestled high up on the mountains overlooking a serene lake. The house remains tantalizingly poised over the water edge, almost tipping over. The house is entirely shrouded in glass; almost diffusing with the surroundings leaving nothing to imagination to the prying eyes of the surrounding wilderness. There is no privacy, of course but then also there is no one around for miles. Civilization seems light years away. The house in itself does not appear to be a glaring eyesore but blends seamlessly with the roughly hewn granite. Beavers and raccoons might just mistake it as another rock on their way to the lake. Stretching horizontally, the house hugs the earth like a dear child not rising beyond the neighboring green friends.
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