10 theses on architecture
a Wikipedia explains Postmodern architecture 'as an international style the first examples of which are generally cited as being from the 1950s, but did not become a movement until the late 1970s and continues to influence present-day architecture. Postmodernity in architecture is said to be heralded by the return of "wit, ornament and reference" to architecture in response to the formalism of the International Style of modernism.' We would like to add to this the fact that architecture, which is usually a place for habitation or work, in order to assume a personality of its own, can be overburdened with references to multiple styles. A building may look kitschy, patchy, peculiar and, in contrast, can even be very, very faceless and plain with no references to styles from the past, let alone to the patterns of reductive modernist modes.
b Taking our cue from 'the hidden geometry of the Taj Mahal,' as is explicated by Cecil Balmond, in a recent interview, we would like to say that all creatively designed and built architectures should have a hidden agenda, a secret diagram to be more than just plain habitable space, to go beyond mere graceful design or structure. Balmond deepens our knowledge on this when he elucidates that the Taj 'is based on the cubic form and the square and the partitioning of the square into thirds, which turns it into what is called a nine-square problem.' He has taken these concepts into a contemporary digital format, both into a 2D square and 3D cube where the gridding is a series of algorithms that are leading to amazing forms in his current research. 'We hope to publish this research from the studio next year,' Balmond concluded.
c Reading architecture as text is fine as long as it is mostly about reading certain features to decode/interpret them in a manner other semiotic systems are made to yield meaning. Building is about creation of space which affects our perception of spatiotemporal reality through environmental and psychic variables that go to creating the 'total' experience, reading it as text may seem reductive, as such inadequate. As we often encounter a sense of displacement inside Mughal architectures, where historical time is overturned to create a built environment which establishes a tie with nature through the use of light and a regular flow of water as well as spatial matrices connected to complex geometry, we feel that architecture, especially those that serve the purpose of the kings,
or used as courts or mass prayer, is mostly about an elaboration on the idea of the Heaven. With such constructions, experientiality precedes all other considerations.
d Some buildings admit of 'advance reading or interpretation' as is the ritual architecture like the Qa'ba. Besides being the holiest place in Islam, it is a form that is related to phenomena that are deemed important throughout history for their geo-social significance. It is celestially aligned and one wall of its cubic structure runs parallel to the line connected to winter solstice sunset and the summer solstice sunrise, while the other side of the building faces towards the horizon where the bright star Canopus rises.1 However, everyday architecture too should connect to things that lie beyond mere structural, spatial or compositional diagram, or else building would simply become mired in the technical processes only. It was the postmodernists who reintroduced colour and symbolism to architecture in America, which certainly was an important step, but whether it could revert back to what is organic and ensures revivification of the days of socially-culturally embedded building processes in opposition to industrial building is an issue that one cannot afford to lose sight of.
e 'The house is a machine for living in,' Le Corbusier's audacious claim made in his famous collection of essays 'Toward an Architecture', gives us a reason to pause and think twice about the rise of the French-style 'materialism' (or 'matter-realism' as it takes no heed of psycho-social forces that are active in the realm of knowledge and the social lithosphere) that easily married the English style industrialism to give birth to what Aldous Huxley referred to as the 'Brave New World' where architecture mimicked the triumphs of the Industrial Revolution exiting the social-spiritual domain it once was a part of. Since the early twentieth century avant-garde had inked the entire landscape of knowledge and cultural production in Europe, their architecture entered the industrial age, which we now feel compelled to extensively mimic.
f Modern architecture is ideologically loaded, so much so that it sees all other architecture reflecting certain ideology and a 'fixed' set of beliefs. On the contrary, a greater portion of past architectures carries the imprint of the civilizational surge towards transcendence or a strong urge to be in sync with nature. As for the humble abodes connected to social buildings, those which remain outside the ambit of civilizational game plan are mostly about experientiality translated into the process of integration/assimilation – an organic method of building, dwelling which expands on the same concept of negotiating nature while operating as builders.
g The German modernist master, Mies van der Rohe, at the onset of his career, during the 1920s, exteriorized a tendency which saw 'dialectical exchanges between proclassical and anticlassical concepts and ideas.' The continued dialogue between the newplasticism and neoclassicism, one which is evident in the neoclassical country houses he built, has been lost to the proclivities to a more reductive, formal configuration in his later period.
h It is through repetition that the International Style becomes internationally recognizable style, as all styles under such generalized rubric are actually the result of a slavery to forms already established by their progenitors who had developed a new understanding of form or should one say the 'volumetric language' that produces architecture as it enters its final stage of the actual deed of construction.
i Mies's dematerialized 'skin and bone buildings' are said to be of a quality which is 'an image of immanence that cannot be interpreted by subjective, aesthetic means, but can only be constructed as universal, mathematically abstract means of expression.' However, by ensuring 'disappearance' of the aesthetic from the architectural world, did he not plunge into a zonality of abstraction, turning buildings into formal designs? And where does the 'metahistorical category of universal lawfulness', Mies's interpretation of construction – which he emphasized a lot following his mentor Berlage2 – lead us to? The effacement of references to the world outside? Therefore, a question arises: does the process of 'elementary form giving', to quote Mies once again, as part of the constructivist process-oriented method, degenerate into a scheme that strives to achieve formal rigour, as is the case with many a modern abstract painting?
j Modern architecture derives from the modern Russian Constructivist art, only in the sense that paintings and sculptures too, at that point in time, became a means to leave the social-spiritual sphere in search of an elemental language of expression. To turn architecture into a decoration-free, sever, reductive visual code, is the work of the new men, whom Nietzsche termed 'right-angled in body and soul', as has been employed by Ludwig Hilberseimer in connection to Mies's Office Building.
- Bryan E Penprase, The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilizations, Springer, USA 2010.
- Hendrik Petrus Berlage, was a prominent Dutch architect. Born in Amsterdam on February 21, 1856, he died in The Hague on August 12,1934.
The mud city of Shibam
Located in the southeast of Yemen at the heart of the Wadi Hadramawt – an oasis extending 300 kilometers across the southern section of the country – the city of Shibam, or Shibam Hadhramawt, like a palimpsest, evolved out of intermittent constructions and reconstructions over the last 1700 years. The first known inscription about the city dates from the 3rd century AD, when it was the capital of the Hadramawt Kingdom. Situated on an elevated piece of ground in the river floodplain that is about half a kilometer long, it consists of towering mud-brick houses.
Though in no way comparable to the inhuman scale of buildings in Manhatten, it is often called 'the oldest skyscraper city in the world' or 'the Manhattan of the desert'. Shibam is one of the oldest and best examples of urban planning based on the principle of dense concentration of buildings and vertical construction.
Though the city has been in existence for an estimated 1,700 years, most of the city's houses originate from the 16th century. Many have been rebuilt numerous times in the last few centuries. The geographic constraints of the site and of the exterior mud wall have limited outward urban expansion. The city consequently has developed vertically, culminating in a dense urban fabric of about 500 houses that are five to six stories in height with a few rising to eight stories.
Shibam was first settled as a result of ancient incense trade routes. It prospered as the capital of the Hadramawt for centuries under Islamic rule. Sections of the Great Mosque, the main congregational mosque of the city, date to the rule of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the ninth century. The mud brick material used for housing limits its horizontal expression, houses in Shibam are rebuilt over the centuries on their stone foundation. A majority of Shibam's housing stock is 100 to 200 years old. The House of Jarhum, the longest standing house in the settlement, is close to 400 years old.
Even though the town is perched on high ground in the floodplain, Shibam remains at risk of great damage from floods resulting from heavy seasonal rains. To protect the buildings from rain and erosion, the walls must be routinely maintained by applying fresh layers of mud. Residents whitewash the rooftops and the upper and lower exterior façades of the houses with a protective covering of crushed gypsum or limestone to prevent water damage.
Source: Archinet and Wikipedia
PHOTO : INTERNET
Fritz Neumeyer, The Artless World: Mies van der Rohe on the Building Art. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 1991.