Villa Savoye

It’s a private residential house in the suburbs of Paris by Le Corbusier built in accordance with Modern International movement. How often do we hear this exact same line with changing specifics while defining an edifice?

This piece isn’t just about a structure designed by a famous architect because that has been done and written a million times by a million people. It is about putting together a theory of architecture with respect to its architect and the era it was built in. It’s about learning to perceive things and develop an eye for details which everybody so easily describes minimal. The word ‘minimal’ or ‘minimalism’ is not just about ‘less is more’. It’s about being efficient and aesthetic at the same time. Maybe it defies ornamentation but never beauty.

About the Savoye’s house, we know that it looks like a floating rectangular box with a horizontal band of windows encasing a spiral staircase. It follows the five points formula as stated by Corbusier. But inside this frame of sliding windows is an intricate volume that’s so carefully and proportionately intertwined with the required functions that the mind boggles. The floors aren’t just stacked and connected by vertical circulations, they are fluid in movement. One doesn’t feel the concept of a ground floor for public usage and first floor for private rooms. The bifurcation exists but the levels act like one. Not only is the spatial configuration in harmony from the inside but holds a transparent dialogue with its exterior as well. The merger of indoors and outdoors is through the terrace that opens from more than one room and leads to the roof with a ramp.

One of the many interesting things about Le Corbusier was how he could successfully convert his theories and words into designs. He believed in the Industrial Revolution, Modernist ideas and inventions that radically altered the speed of lives. He was a huge fan of the automobiles, airplanes and steam engines but when he stated ‘ A house is a machine to live in’, he didn’t mean walls devoid of sentiments. He tried to create spaces which function like technology : firmly, efficiently, elegantly and reliably. Even the ‘five points’ reinforce this idea with the strength of pilotis, flexibility of open plans and logicality of freedom from structural constraints. The architect didn’t formulate these points based on his version of philosophy but as a basic means of upgrading architecture as a progressive profession. Villa Savoye in its perfect rectangle infuses all these qualities within people, its own walls and with the surroundings.

Its ground floor has a curved wall that worked as the turning radius for the cars of those times. The living room and master bedroom open to the terrace which connects the house from the inside, increasing its communal behaviour. The curved walls on the roof aren’t arbitrarily placed but oppose sunlight to create shaded spaces. There’s an outdoor window through which a beautiful view of the Seine river is captured. This is again the simplistic attempt by Corbusier to connect the villa on a city level.

A signature Corb building is incomplete without the use of colors. This is evident and recurrent in all his projects irrespective of typology. Even here, he uses basic shades of blue and red for the interior and green for the outer curved wall in the ground floor to camouflage it with the surroundings. This escalates the belief of the white floating box.

Apart from all these details that Le Corbusier managed to arrange in this project, he also expresses his immense respect for golden symmetry, balance and rational context. The combination of these attributes and many more that Villa Savoye symbolizes were the result of his search for modern perfection.123456

THE TALE OF THE WESTERN SHORE

Everyone has Mughal gardens, houseboats and buying crafts on their list when they visit the summer capital of Kashmir, Srinagar. There’s a lot more that the city can offer if you really want to connect to it.

The city of Srinagar in Kashmir is a host to a freshwater urban lake, the Dal Lake. With a 15.5kms coastline and a 7.44kms longitudinal distance, it’s the second largest lake in the city. The shore road is marked with a large posh area of resident population interspersed with gardens and other recreational spaces like golf courses, hotels etc against the backdrop of Zabarwan hills. Activities like shikara (small boats) riding, houseboat stays are the major retreats of the lake.

This post gives an account of the waterborne community of Srinagar that lives humbly but rather shabbily in the Dal Lake. They have developed hamlets and floating gardens in the lake by reclaiming a major part of it. This has resulted in the shrinkage of the water area by around 40%. Boatmen residences are ill equipped houses with no drainage facilities resulting in the siltation and eutrophication of the lake.

The total population is more than 2 lakh, 7500 people live in the houseboats, 50,000 people in the hamlets. There are 775 houseboats, about 400 dunga boats, 4210 pucca houses and 3493 huts in and around the lake. 91% of these have an open drainage system and only 8.5% have proper drainage system.

The activities of Hanjis are threefold:

  • primary : cultivators, agricultural laborers, livestock, fishing
  • secondary : manufacturing, processing, construction
  • tertiary: trade and commerce, transport, communication

Having stated all of this, the best option for replenishment of the lake seems to be the removal of Hanjis and their settlements. But before that lets look at the spatial justice they provide to the society.

  • The entire revenue generation from the lake.
  • Accessibility into the lake.
  • Farming and selling lake products
  • Removing phyto planktons from the lake
  • In-lake markets
  • Providing the city, a unique community that dwells and sustains in water.

A critical decision has to be made with respect to the growth of Hanjis in Dal Lake along with providing them a decent habitation. There are both pros and cons of their settlement.

There’s a huge gap in living qualities and resilience between the people of eastern and western shores. This gap has to be carefully removed because the improvement of the western foreshore involves the grave issues of water management, sanitation, transportation, waterborne urban community and their interaction with the lake at all times.

Dal lake is a site with ample opportunities to benefit communities of the city. The huge expanse, if merged with public spaces, plazas and existing landmarks could prove as a lively interactive micro system within Srinagar. The Hanjis add uniqueness to the lake with their floating gardens. Equipped with proper connectivity and resources, they would grow to be an important aspect. The lake is in dire need of physical and visual linkage. These ideas reinforce and suitably modify the culture, tradition and usage of the lake with the city.

 

 

 

Neighbourhood of the Bridges

The thought of Kashmir pops up instant images of Dal Lake, Shikara rides, beautiful mountains, adjoining hill stations and Mughal gardens. Amidst all of this is rooted the deeper heritage of the valley. The settlement now known as the old town or the downtown, started alongside the river Jehlum. It is connected to the other riverfront by means of seven bridges, each at a distance of a few hundred meters from each other.

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The old structures forming the skyline along the river bridges include typologies inherent to the very culture of the city, ranging from vernacular houses, commercial shops, handicraft and traders’ small showrooms to historic monuments like mosques, shrines and tombs.

A quick walk along the neighborhood of bridges exemplifies significant examples of the above typologies. One would not feel bored at any point whatsoever. Small lanes and three to four storied structures on both sides increases enclosure and more so since it’s so rich and native in behavior. It’s hard not to notice the brick and wood textures blended in harmony.

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Monotony here is broken by identity. The fact that every typology screams it belongs where it stands, speaks volumes of its ingenuity and finesse. A place should always own up to its heritage and every other corner of this neighborhood upholds that signage. Since the lanes are narrow, one feels connected to the sides at all times, every other cross lane leads to the next bridge. The seven are bended in a U-shaped form surrounding one of the ghats of the valley.

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Entrance to Shah-e-Hamdan
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Side view of woodwork in the shrine
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Silhoutte of the shrine

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Budshah Tomb

Jehlum has definitely lost its charm due to extreme siltation and no riverfronts are present to enhance walks alongside it. Every mirror has a dark side and here it’s the fact that the grace of the city has been treated shabbily. People are unaware of the elegance that surrounds them. But for all those people who love traditional crafts and heritage walks, it’s a must to see this part of the valley.

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Craft shops

A steady walk would not take more than three hours to cover all the bridges, surrounding neighborhoods and monuments.

 

THE UNIFICATION AND TRANSITION ELEMENTS IN THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF GARLI

Garli, a sister village of Paragpur and a notified heritage site gained architectural importance during the time of Sood family rule. These were merchants who did trade with the British. Hence, this 2 km stretch has an amalgam of various features of Indian architecture. But even with such a mixture, the building typologies don’t vaguely disperse away from each other.

There is a clear, but subtle transition in the built fabric. Fortunately, the new structures aren’t off track from the existing themes. On a day’s tour, my group took note of this transition by documenting some basic structures in the village. These are both residences and public buildings like schools, dispensaries, guest houses, etc.

There are certain commonalities in all these typologies based on the following factors:

Planning Elements

Structural Elements

Material Elements

The planning features are suited to the climate of Garli, there are Mughal architecture elements of courtyard planning. These are used differently in residences as vegetable gardens, in schools as open teaching areas and dispensary as parking. Again, thick natural vegetation is maintained, deforestation is avoided which promotes the green character of the village. Courtyards are accompanied with extended porches and colonnaded walkways, with modest brick barrel vaults. The columns and roof details mark a clear differentiation between old and new structures. Wooden posts with metal plates and bases with joint mechanism contrasts the plastered brick columns. Rafters used were also made of wood, but there is no clarity in putting up the pieces in older ones.

Another features that binds Garli together are its windows, which are maximized in every corner as a row or protrusions. This depicts the Rajasthani styled windows with semi-hexagonal extruded bays and chajjas. Along with the facade, the roof projects the beautiful dormer windows, typical in the region of Shimla. The planning and spatial organization is centered around the courtyard and in a row in all typologies.

Another structural element that unifies the heritage of the village is the use of various types of arches. The doors have semi-circular, trefoil and multi foil arches, with bold piers, bases, capitals, and entablature topped by beautiful cornices. Segmental arches are used in lintels also. These are made out of bricks with different patterns. These patterns, including the famous ‘brick jali’ adorn certain walls also, much evident in the Yatri Niwas of the village. Niches, for keeping lighted ornaments are recessed at several instances too.

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GOING SOLO IN THE CITY BETWEEN CONTINENTS

I had thought about it in those history classes, when I saw the slides showing Haghia Sophia and Selimeye mosque. Constant reading on the city and following its photographers on instagram became very common. And, as if it was just meant to be, I somehow managed to leave alone. But the night before my flight, I felt this strange impulse filled with fear. I was scared, good scared, but nervous. I had me doubting myself. This would have been my first time, a chance to cross one more thing off the list.

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With these thoughts in mind, I took off. At that height, I could infuse some sense into my puzzled mind. I could make out the reasons of initiating the trip. A stop over, a connecting flight, changing companions, changing languages, I’d held my calm. Just 45 minutes before landing, I could make out the map as we headed from water to land. The map that I’d googled a thousand times, the map I tried to read on the travel guide books.

It clicked, it hit me spontaneously that soon I’ll be down there and there’s no way I can feel that I can’t do it alone.

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My first solo trip in the city between continents.

This piece is a juxtaposition of my first and last day in Istanbul. The distinction I felt as I walked those streets to the hostel. The way I felt about being a part of that crowd, it wasn’t fear. It was conquest.

My first steps in the city were totally confused, nobody understood English, nobody knew the lane in my direction map and I just stood outside the metro station for two minutes figuring which street to take.

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With a 24hour travel fatigue and 20kg suitcase, I wandered for sometime till luckily I found a salesman who guided me to the hostel, Galata West. In a very cozy room for 3 other people, I managed to complete all the formalities and went straight to bed. The next day had to be another adventure.

I woke up, not knowing how the next two weeks are going to shape. As soon as I went to the terrace kitchen for breakfast (5th floor), I could see the skyline that I was a part of.

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Never have I hurried my meal to see what waited ahead. Like a clichéd tourist with a travel guide in one hand and city map in another, I started my day.

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My first stop had to be Ayasofia. All the time while walking beneath that dome, I just looked up. It was one of those moments when I sensed the culture I was a part of.

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In the days to come, I got adjusted to walking those steep sloped streets, taking the tramways without using maps, learnt Turkish language basics. It became quite a habit walking on the Galata bridge every morning when fishermen are in full swing with their rods. After a few days, I didn’t feel like a tourist and that feeling was priceless.

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At nights, the terrace always had gatherings of hostellers. Everybody would chit chat and I could see additions and subtractions every night. The introvert inside me made me hesitant on the first night, they all seemed so strange. But, there grew such atmosphere of relief and understanding every passing day. People had quit their jobs to travel, they were volunteering and traveling, studying but traveling, old yet traveling. All of them were curious, curious to know each other, to know about each other’s home country, cultures and lifestyle. I remember this room mate of mine telling me constantly, ” we travelers should never say goodbye, we might meet again, maybe in your country, maybe in my country or maybe in some other country.”

Two weeks, and I’d been all over the city, from the established tourist spots to those hidden local treasures. Within two weeks, I knew I’ve lived it the way I wanted to. On the last day, I walked on the bridge one last time, I sat near the jetty for almost an hour, smiling as I looked at the water. With some fish and fries as the last meal of the day, I felt a sense of achievement.

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I know people travel every day, it really isn’t big a deal but I needed a proof that all my fear had vanished. I needed one feeling of satisfaction, that in my heart there is always a little more courage for bigger steps.

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Re-evolution in architecture

They could be spoken together, as one, or differentiated on the basis of literal scrutiny. Evolution and revolution. These two words are distinct in understanding. Evolution is gradual, prolonged and ever happening. There can be no substantial difference in a shorter period of time. Revolution is sudden, it changes scenarios rapidly. But these act simultaneously. Evolution of courage and awareness in Indians brought a revolution of independence from the British. Collaboration of these terms are the pillars of development for architecture also. But the relationship gets slightly revamped.

Architecture is a discipline that has juxtaposed these bordering words. It has evolved over eras and revolutionized the society. It was the cause, and it put up the effects. The Bauhaus was eroded by internationalism which got beneath post-modernism. Adding to the attributes, evolution is considered to be irreversible due to its extended span. Similarly, we’ve seen the chronology of architecture ranging from the prehistory to structural expressionism. But who is to say that this advancement never took a step back for further evolutions. Neoclassicism was that chapter of the timeline that was formed by retreating back to classicism. Even today, we could see buildings reflecting a reverse evolution. This is the beauty of architecture. It has been so unique and refined at all its stages that evolving, what was in the past, could be revolutionary as well.

Equally important are the impacts of architecture. Its impacts on a society, a culture, a school of thought, on people and his surroundings. For example, LIKs Assembly building in Dhaka insinuated a sense of democracy in the people of Bangladesh. Gehry’s Guggenheim took modernism to a next level, Zaha’s parametric designs speak out grandeur as much as Didi Contractor’s vernacular building practices do. Every type is a reflection of thoughts and a contribution towards evolution. Speaking about architecture in the context of ecology, its contribution although critical and mandatory seems to be lost in the shadows of splendor. We are more concerned as how it looks rather than how it functions. Indigenous practices have a tremendous capacity of revolutionizing the construction techniques. Climate and native materials should be carefully studied. For instance, the Druk white lotus school in Ladakh has been so carefully designed with respect to the site climate and the available materials. The entire orientation and fenestrations have been designed in a similar way. It makes a very clear point to the people who want to change the building styles of Ladakh. Many other eminent architects have made such similar contributions. Tadao Ando, the self learned Japanese architect has been practicing on the lines of critical regionalism too. Shigeru Ban, is the name take takes paper tube construction famous. His works reflect the words of Philip Johnson, “All architecture is shelter.” The innovation he brought to our profession has made it possible to look beyond concrete and glass. The cardboard tubes are waterproof, fireproof and strong enough, with these he has been able to provide shelter to millions of people who suffered impromptu homelessness. Ken Yeang, the architect who has been named as one of the persons who could save the planet, has combined our profession wholly with ecology. Famous for his notion, he considers himself as an ecologist first and second an architect.

All these people and countless others are penetrating through the closed box to rise to an equation where our profession is equivalent to healing our planet. Architecture is mingled in the yarn of its social consequences. It is revolutionary when it addresses to its people warmly. Georges Bataille , the French intellectual states that ‘ Architecture not only reflects the politics of an epoch, but also has a marked influence on the social’. The debates over architecture and politics of a society is based on semantic readings. For instance, F.L Wright and Vincent Scully couldn’t manage to relate these aspects, neither could Aldo Rossi, but still they persisted in an attempt to define the architecture of democracy. Their claim had internal inconsistencies because a single architectural era couldn’t define the political context. Classical architecture was shared by Greek democracy and Italian Fascism. This refers to the fact that architecture is not dominated or ruled by politics, it simply changes its metaphysical form to what the society demands. Pyramids, once a symbol of dictatorship now stands as emblems of strength and grandeur.

People are envisioned as the creatures upholding the society and the self, modifying from time to time in order to survive. So do the buildings that we create. The mainframe remains the same but its allegorical meaning changes gradually as it evolves based on the status quo. But that doesn’t mean that they do not represent the times to which they belong. It’s a dialogue that works either ways. Architecture has had a unique way of associating and communicating to its time. And that should be the mantra too.

For its Fall season of Architecture events 2015, The Royal Academy’s working theme was Architecture and Freedom, where Patrick Schumacher posits that ‘completing work in countries like China, Azerbaijan, Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya, especially if it’s a cultural project, should be viewed as a potential boon to human rights and not overt support of injustice’. We have a power of delivering freedom by putting it up as a silent language in front of the people. The perusal of Louis Sullivan’s quote ‘ Form follows Function’, has a much deeper connotation. Form refers to the extravaganza we see today, the cliché that higher is better for a city to be put on a map, that tedious shapes would become famous. Functioning should be such that it directs us towards the motto of the building. Like, building democracy, ending regimes, considering the dying planet ecology, pondering on a new world free of mundane conventions and routine planning. A space should speak for itself, a user should be able to understand it in the one way designed. It should respect the constraints posed to it, be it financial, regionalist, ecological or psychological. There are enough evidences when mere monitory reasons were the cause of the failure of a project, like the much debated Tokyo National Stadium. The blame game didn’t hold solutions for either party. But the issue leads us to the rising problems of perplexity in our profession.

These conundrums are the steps in our growth. The focus is on the result of our evolution until now. Let not these difficulties stop us from moving towards the greater aspects that architecture provides. The theories and the perceptions have led us till here. The critical analysis will repeatedly take us to the exact place from where we started. We hold a power in our progress, a power of revolution through evolution. Evolution, that is constant and the one which is gradual. The one that can influence the society, the politics, the psychologies, the eras, the histories and the prospects. Let’s combine the past, the present and the future to dissolve how we evolved and build notions on the imagery of a re-evolution.

 

Mill Owner’s House, Le Corbusier

 

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Front façade

Mill Owners House locally known as Atma house, is another edifice by Le Corbusier. It is located on the Ashram Road in Navrangpora, Ahmedabad.

Geometry has a crucial play in three dimensional compositions. This is the inherent feature of this structure. The approaches are twofold. A pivoted door entrance to the ground floor and a ramped way to the first floor. The ramp especially, ignites a very welcoming experience. There is a staircase too emanating outside the main structure. Its elements provide the necessary verticality to the entrance. The movement at the front is thus bifurcated and office spaces are distinguished from the exhibition ones.

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Protruded staircase

Brise soleil frames are attributed here too, though angled at 45 degrees. There is a clear 100mm gap between these frames and the main structure.

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Very minimal elements adorn the spaces inside, discrete but still united. Corb has kept them restricted to function only, a touch of the Bauhaus. Interiors dwell in concrete with colors at certain places. Rusty red and vibrant yellow are juxtaposed with the grey. Even the furniture like the benches are designed by the architect out of concrete.

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Interior compositions with concrete benches

 

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The first floor characterizes a small hall and a dog legged staircase reaching to a mezzanine level. The stairs again have no railings. The hall has a hyperbolically curved wall and a concave roof, with openings above from the terrace. This is the only source of light. The curved walls further enhance the acoustics inside.

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Hall interior

 

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Staircase to the mezzanine level

The mezzanine floor takes us to the terrace through a straight flight of steps where there are alternate sunny and shady spots.

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Straight flight from mezzanine level

 

A broken lift, coffered but sloped slab (maybe for water harvesting) and a chimney are the elements on the terrace. There are doors for balcony views of the hall below and the view of the Sabarmati riverfront.

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Coffered slab

 

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Lift cased in concrete adjoining the chimney tower

 

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View of the hall from terrace balconies