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Documenter as a Protagonist: The philosophy or the underlying currents of the documentation
Building up an information base for the purpose of application or for the sake of posterity is equally important. Documentations are of many types and may have different purposes, most essential being to generate an objective record for future reference. In many ways, a documenter is a protagonist of his/her own volition and time. Unlike the protagonists of theatre world, the documenters assume a journalistic role. Thus, here the sense is not of a hero but that of a spokesperson. At least, I would like to think of myself as a protagonist of this kind. I believe, documenters do not speculate change, rather, they assume its inevitability while considering the value of what is there in their own time and they document. Equally so, the protagonist or a documenter does not or should not have a face. This brings about certain objectivity in the products of documentation. The role of documentation is crucial in the building up historical accounts. In my case it is a miniscule effort and I strongly feel that a lot more needs to be done as ours are truly the changing times where the factors of change are too many and too powerful to be ignored. The rate at which things, objects, gestures, architecture, traditions, heritage and such are transforming or disappearing is mindboggling. To build up documentations and the narratives followed by research is the call of the time and foster it is a societal responsibility.
My documentation is a conscious effort to critically look at and understand the world round me; the world that consist of people, society, built and natural environment and the products that define the essence of society’s existence. Being an architect has helped me see the world from several viewpoints and these have resulted in tacit as well as obvious relationships and comparisons in the documentation. It is the ground reality that I have recorded to make sense of the happenings and the physicality of the world. Mine is an incomplete or a part time effort due to the primary academic responsibilities. This documentation consists of measured drawings, photography, students’ work and my own art explorations.
Drawing and photography are central to the visual expression of my documentation. To me, to measure draw is an essential beginning in understanding the people and their life in the context of built environment. It is an act of participation in an unknown world of architecture and people, history and society and above all, the art of building as such. In many ways, I see myself personally continuing the tradition of measured drawing in the School of Architecture at CEPT. I see documentation as a necessity and an obligation of an academic. It has much to do with personal growth and satisfaction of being directly connected to the education and the profession. Though the Colonial and the Modern architecture in the Indian context have been my areas of research and documentation, my focus has been traditional building types its completeness, their settlement context and how people use spaces in them.
Photography can be a sort of precursor and a tool of reconnaissance to most kind of serious or targeted research. It can also be a standalone body of work. It has helped me to construct a mental map of the variety and value of what exists and where it exists in the Indian built environments. It has helped me to connect architecture with the society and its tangible as well as intangible socio-cultural products. Over a period, my documentation has grown and several themes have emerged. Consequently; in this exhibition, architecture, conservation, resources, lifestyle, events and the aspects of teaching/learning have been explored through the photo images. Transforming public spaces, behaviours and some aspects of architecture can be seen in it
Students' work of a course on Basic Design training that I have developed is a record of my exercises given to them and their response to the same. Thus, imparting Basic Design training at the School of Architecture, CEPT University has been my one of my main jobs and I have been at it from 1981 to 2008. While developing this course I have taken it to a level that has been much appreciated by the students and the school alike. Engaging students in the world of architecture and design and presenting to them the vast scope through their own work has been my task. It has been my preoccupation and a passion. What have been stressed the most are the issues of heurism, exploration, transformation, alternatives and the notion of perfection. I do not teach, rather, I show how to learn.
Artistic expressions are important to architects and they do become a preoccupation of architects. It certainly has become mine. Catching the moments and visuals that have presented themselves, abstraction, finding new meaning and developing aesthetic sense have guided my limited art photography. Primarily, it has helped me being alert to the visual phenomenon. Conducting these activities ‘as well as one can without a compromise’ has been my joy. My research and writing have been anchored in these activities. At times, research topics and areas have come from them and at other times I have attempted them especially for the topic.
Though the documentation or what is in this exhibition is not exclusively architectural, it deals with the built environment, people and behavioural aspects. I guess it may leave sheen of an architect’s perceptions. There are sections which are purely architectural and they are important to introduce students of architecture and people at large to this great human endeavour, architecture. In the ‘Perceptions’ below I have given a quick glance at my life (as a common man) to facilitate a story of us all to consciously match with the ‘live exhibition’ i.e. life around us that has been and is going on in the stories that we personally weave.
Philosophy and Approach
The poser: Though the objectivity in documentation is of prime importance, I suppose, most documenters would have some concerns or underpinning from which the activity commences and gets nurtured. ‘Images and Imprints’ was a label I gave to my work in and around 1990. Images that I saw that would become imprints soon or the ones that were already the imprints of a bygone era resulted in a simple question: "what is changing or is liable to change?" After a few years, came up my traditionalist poser "PACE or SPEED?" I am much aware and alert about this axiom. In a sense, this documentation has been alluding to the aspects of PACE. Ambiguous as it is, this question helps me clarify issues in many instances. Vanishing crafts, objects, architecture, processes, social protocols and such reveal a modifying world. It has much to do with the notions of change and development where the rapidly changing urban scenario tends to push our sense of judgement about the same.
There developed another poser in tandem to the one above and this one dealt with time in the context of different places/regions. Here, the assumption is that the psychological time does not move at a universal pace for every place and person, this forms another crux of my belief/documentation. The perceptions of places or different living environments define an exclusive time of that place and of those people. When one visits certain far off people and places, monuments and dilapidated buildings, they seem to peer at you from their own time (frame) or they seem to transport the onlookers in to their time. A sense of wonder or enigma arises out of this psycho-temporal play ending up in: 'wow, your time is so different from mine'. Perception of natural environments is also specific to a given place. A particular tree or a clump of some trees of a given place cannot be displaced from their original location and placed elsewhere without losing their significance inherent to the place. Meaning of landscape emerges from these local perceptions. The very natal connection with the landscape further defines the time of the mind and a sense of place.
Here, the notion of place is neither physical nor location-fixed but rather defined by the spirit or the ethos of it. There are correlations of this spirit irrespective of geographic locations. They demonstrate that it has sustained psychological space of the human mass of a given place defining something intangible. Tangible is what they do to generate this spirit. In this sense; things, objects, songs, art, celebrations, foods, fabrics, garments, and above all architecture represent the gamut of the tangible. The spirit, ethos and the mechanisms define the intangible.
Whether to call this approach traditional or modern has not been my concern. Yes, it is an approach in which the protagonist pauses and asks, "Are we doing alright?", "Are we going too fast?" "What are our measures?" "Where is our rhythm?", however, without speculating the change. One may ask, "Is it possible?" I am aware of the inherent paradox and the dual nature of the propositions I have made. It has not deterred me from seeing, observing, contextualizing and documenting. In the process I have found correlations to explore and spell out the ubiquitous axiom "Indian unity in diversity". In fact, in the other places that I have visited and scantily documented, I have seen a pattern similar to India emerging in Asia.
Especially in India, there are different times operating simultaneously; consequently some sections of the society are operating in the medieval time wrap, many are struggling to come out of it while retaining most characteristics of the bygone eras, some are in the pseudo-colonial stance and some pose in the modern frame. The physical and the social realities consist of different modernities and traditionalities. The title of the book "What time is this place?"(Kevin Lynch) comes handy while grasping these varied expressions, here, in visual terms. It is not just grasping; there are contextual comparisons of Indian built environments to those of other places that bring about the deeper overtones of the phrase. "What time is this place?" is a generic question embedded in the idea and the paradigm of development and thereby the fore mentioned theme, "Pace or Speed?"
The way we perceive things and the world around us has something to do with the conditions and the degree of affluence of our time. It marks a benchmark of how the world was or is. Recently, a question was posed to the graduate students, 120 of them; "which are the two most important inventions?" the answer was; "ipad and ipod". At my age, my answer would be; "Hawaiian sleepers and Vespa scooter"! Now, here is a gap in the perceptions of age groups that are 40 years apart. In the same breath if I were to lay out the perceptions of my time of the sixties, the pad and the pod generation would be shocked out of its wits. In sixties it took two years to buy a scooter and there were two major brands of cars in India that took five to seven years to be obtained; an X-ray was bad news and one had to go to a public hospital to get one done. Indeed, we have come a long way. This is why I feel it is important to know and understand the past that has just gone by. Not a grave matter of history but rather as a plain and simple proposition; a look back in the immediate past of about 40 years and a closer inspection of it. This can be through different media and they would bring us to the same conclusion.