Architecture – Through the Eyes of an Academician

Architecture – what better way to express our ideas and thoughts through a meaningful display of structures that dwell in their own glory? I remember the painting by Anselm Kiefer (1981) which depicts the so-called Mosaic Hall of the New Reich Chancellery, the largest completed project in Berlin by Adolf Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, and one of the few realizations of Hitler’s plan to rebuild Berlin as the world capital, Germania. Although demolished after the war, having been badly damaged in the Battle of Berlin in 1945, Kiefer has painted the room as a ruin as if it had survived, reminding us of the temporary power of Reich, its pompous aspirations for domination and permanence and the ambiguous role of architecture as propaganda and testament.

At SVS School of Architecture, we insist the same from the students, not just art and painting of the visualized architectural design. But more importantly, we give emphasis on the way the drawings are prepared; the way the detailing is done; the way the drawings become more representational; and the way in which true architecture can be viewed in its fullest glory through these sheets. We also strongly believe in developing the interpersonal skills of each and every one of the student to ensure they are ready to step into the professional field after their graduation.

Architecture has grown leaps and bounds within our country and globally as well. Gone are the days when the clients were clinging on to the local consultants to design a villa or an apartment; gone are the days when domestic brands were portraying their monopoly; gone are the days where one-consultant-does-everything. In the aftermath of globalization and signing of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1947, every trade has had been promoted internationally including the practice of architecture. Hilary French, Professor of Design at Bath School of Art and Design, London rightly says, “Architecture is not considered as self-sufficient profession anymore but a multidisciplinary, multi-skilled and multidirectional profession”. The students of architecture do not study just architecture and arts but their focus is more into diverse fields of engineering, sociology, business and economics etc so as to become a multi-disciplined, multi-skilled and multidirectional professionals. The academic curriculum of our school at SVS sets the focus right for the students – Building Systems [Mechanical Engineering], Structure & Materials [Civil Engineering], Design Methods & Practice [Business & Economics], Urban Design Planning & Landscape [Geography & Political Science], Sociocultural Studies [Sociology & Psychology], Literary Studies [Anthropology], Architectural & Art History [History], Computer Aided Design [Computer Science]. We strongly focus on one compelling fact that architectural education should ensure that all graduates have knowledge and ability in architectural design, including technical systems and requirements as well as consideration of health, safety and environmental balance.

One major problem that the enterprising students of architecture face during their course of study is the inability to relate structural design to their architectural design. Although, in architectural design studio, there is a need to enable maximum creativity through the knowledge of all disciplines involved, there has always been an apparent separation between design studio and structure courses and a lack of time to teach statically undefined structural systems that are more complex than simple beams and columns. To bridge this gap, we at SVS SOA adopt a “transdisciplinary approach” to architectural design studios, where design studio, structures courses and theory are brought under one umbrella and not as isolated disciplines. By doing this, we have been able to enhance learner participation and creation of new knowledge among the students. This also generates a unity of intellectual frameworks beyond the interdisciplinary perspectives. The Result? The students become knowledge producer and the teacher becomes an interactive learning designer.

In our technological age, when so many of us are on the social networking sites, and many of these experiences are predominantly virtual, the role architecture can play in the experience of real time situations is increasingly curious. I would personally like to explain this by taking an example of a Cancer Care Center. These buildings must carry a weight of seriousness due to the circumstances of the people who arrive in there to be treated; the spaces treating their anxiety, their emotions, and their psychological and physiological well-being. At the same time, the architect should also balance this seriousness through provision of social, spiritual and emotional needs as part of his/her design thinking. Creating a five-sense space within the cancer care center can be one such option. Making the patients walk through different tactile surfaces can be another option. Adding up social spaces like library or spiritual centers will go a long way in healing them and keeping them at peace. “The noblest architecture can sometimes do less for us than a siesta or an aspirin. Even if we could spend the rest of our lives in the Villa Rotunda or the Glass House, we would still often be in a bad mood”, points out Alain de Botton in ‘The Architecture of Happiness’. The societal and contextual consciousness and analysis that are inculcated within the minds of the students through appropriate studies and interaction enable them to produce better architectural designs.

We are living in a homogenized environment. In the name of “adaptive reuse”, train stations have become shopping malls, shopping malls have become town squares, churches have become pubs and crèches, schools have become community centers, homes have become offices and universities are moving online. Aesthetics have been stretched to encapsulate so many uses that we find it hard to distinguish one building’s use from its neighbor’s. We have deviated from appreciating the architecture of a building to notice only when the buildings are exceptionally big, exceptionally ugly or exceptionally beautiful.

Architecture faces many challenges in the future. Though technology is there to offer endless opportunities, we need to understand how architecture affects us. What types of buildings and spaces do we need in the future? How do we deal with interior spaces that offer endless change? What will be the role of architecture? Buildings change over time and so do out attitudes towards them. To annotate this, think about a hospital. A hospital once used to be a familiar piece of urban infrastructure exuding both civic and spiritual meaning is now an industrial mega-structure that lack atmosphere and emotion. Architectural education should be focusing on the aforesaid concepts as well. Architectural Critique can be one of the courses where the students critically analyze their peers’ design and transfer knowledge which in turn helps everyone to appreciate the architecture of the building.

The students are also needed to introspect themselves and start learning to develop a meaningful conversation with their design thinking process [you read it right – conversation with their design thinking process]. Consciousness about society and the scale of impact of their design on the society should be explored at every stage of the design process through meaningful iterations and feasible design rationale.  This helps in creating architectural emotion and further changes the way we experience spaces.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Champa H S completed her B.Arch from University Visveswaraya college of Engineering, Bangalore.  She has two masters to her credit from Delhi and Mysore University in ‘Ecology n Environment and ‘Urban Design’.  During the centenary year of Mysore University Champa got awarded for her Ph.D. with the title “REFURBISHING THE IDENTITY OF A CITY IN TRANSITION: An Urban Design Intervention into Development Paradigms of Mysuru”.

Dr Champa has worked in Bangalore, Goa and Kerala before setting up her own independent practice based out of Mysore and has completed many Resorts, Residences, hotels, Institutions etc.  Dr Champa has served as ‘Principal’ at School of Design, University of Mysore before moving on a teaching assignment at Birla Institute of Technology, UAE.  Presently she is the Director at SVS School of Architecture, Coimbatore.  She has presented and published many papers in International and National conferences and Journals.

 

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