Architecture has the ability to touch the lives of all people. It needs to be human and can be used to improve people’s lives. But, there can be only good architecture and bad architecture. Regardless of what architecture style it follows, a good design alone becomes timeless. One of the major characteristics of "good architecture" is that each time you encounter it, it will give a unique feeling and experience. It will be suitable for the present and will be able to adapt to changes in the future. This blog, precisely speaks about such qualities of good architecture design and its importance for the future.
List of Contents
1. Who does Good Architecture serve?
Today, global architecture also seems to be filled with “starchitects”, who specialize exclusively in mega projects for the elite around the world, while, more than 150 million people around the world are homeless. The penetration of architects in the housing market is considerably small. In the US, less than one per cent of the houses are designed by architects, and this number would be lower in India. On the contrary, many discussions have taken place about how architecture may be utilised to improve society by providing affordable housing, enhancing public healthcare, and fostering social solidarity. This leads to the question of ‘Whom does the profession serve?’. Good design, in my opinion, should be used for the benefit of all people, regardless of their social or economic background. To quote an example, we had designed 1500 houses for fishermen in tsunami-affected Tarangambadi (Tranquebar) 15 years ago. We tried to customize each house by allowing them to choose different options as per their respective needs.
Quoting from the book titled "Architects and Post-Disaster Housing: A Comparative Study in South India by Dr.Gertrud Tauber "We were lucky that this architect(Dr. Benny Kuriakose) worked on our project. Many things are well done. However, there are some things that could have been done much better. For example, the orientation of the bathroom and the toilet. They should not face the neighbour's house. We had to build high compound walls. And there is the quality of construction which is, in some cases, poor; better of course than in many other villages that we saw, however, not always satisfying. Who I would like to build my house? I would call this architect again if he would like to plan a single small house. I would tell him about the toilet and the quality. But I think he goes for big projects in cities only. So, I would call the mason."
2. Loss of Architectural Identity
In my opinion, Ronchamp Chapel, Pompidou Centre and the Padmanabhapuram Palace Complex are timeless designs. I have seen the Padmanabhapuram Palace for at least 300 times and it has been a great inspiration for me. I feel special emotions every time I visit it.
With that being the case, “No man steps in the same river twice” as Heraclitus once said, is very apt in this context. But, the world of architecture has seen several trends, where all buildings of that era would exhibit few similar elements. One such is Brutalist architecture emerged in the 1950s. The word “brutal” means cruelty. There were some who said that it symbolizes urban decay, while others defined it to be ghastly. The movement died down in the west in the 1980s, but that was not the case in India. We are able to see various projects following Brutalism. According to me, it is not as bad as we think.
I happened to see the renovated Barbican Centre in London, which is considered to be one of the best examples of Brutalist Architecture. I feel that Brutalism has undergone many changes, and the world is also not what it used to be. Nowadays, we can see plenty of skyscrapers, which look more or less the same whether they are in Mumbai, Jakarta, Frankfurt or Latin America. The photo below shows the skyscrapers in Hong Kong taken from Wetland Park, which is on the outskirts of the city. Many Indian cities are not very different themselves.
3. The Upswing of Concrete and Steel
In 1979, a professor told our class on the first day of college that we are going to design concrete buildings that last for 750 years. Similarly, in 1972, the famous architectural magazine "Architecture Review" carried an article called "Flat Roof Scandal". It is based on a study saying that one-third of the flat-roofed RCC buildings in the UK are leaking. So, because of that, one question I regularly ask when giving speeches or seminars is “how long will the concrete buildings last?”. Nobody says that they will last for more than 75 years. Evidently, the photos below show an engineering college on the verge of closing down because of the failure of concrete.
The image shows a building along a beautiful riverside with breath taking views. The openings will be covered with glass completely, with hardly any towards the waterfront. This is what is called an “architectural folly”. If concrete buildings last only for 75 years, then why do we construct them?. Did you know that numerous buildings from the 50s and 60s are being demolished in Europe, USA, etc? The interesting fact to note is that these buildings are not demolished for structural reasons; rather they are demolished because they have become outdated.
4. What is Good Architecture Design?
But, our old method of construction using brick, earth, lime and timber lasts for more than 100 years. With the ever-increasing glass facades, and concrete jungles, it is very important to bring nature into buildings. Good natural ventilation is necessary for all buildings. The buildings shall be protected from direct sunlight by having overhangs, verandahs and courtyards rather than depending on artificial methods of air-conditioning. Further, trees have the ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and they can lock it within their fibres. When timber is allowed to decay or burn, the harmful carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. Consequently, if more and more timber is used in buildings, then it is good for the environment as it leads to a reduction of carbon dioxide emission into the atmosphere.
For example, HoHo Tower, a 24 storied building is taking shape in Vienna. Once completed, it will be the tallest timber building in the world. As much as 76 per cent of the building is built with timber. It will house a hotel, a restaurant, many apartments and offices. Protective coatings have been given on top of the exposed timber elements. Caroline Palfy, Managing Director of the Real Estate company Cetus Bau development said, "I keep getting asked whether our timber resources are jeopardized by the current timber boom in the construction industry. In Austria, forests produce 30 million cubic metres of timber a year, of which 26 million cubic metres are logged. The remaining 4 million cubic metres remain in the forest, to continually increase timber stocks. In other words, 1 cubic metre of wood grows back every second and thus the timber used for the entire HoHo Vienna project will have grown back in our country's forests in only one hour and 17 minutes." (Taken from: https://www.hoho-wien.at/en/ecology/).
Likewise, we have been labelled as a practice doing vernacular architecture or a practice doing conservation of buildings. Conservation has always been a major part of our company. At the same time, our new constructions have a touch of traditional architecture, and use a lot of natural materials like stone, timber, etc. The use of concrete is generally kept to a minimum. Everything we do has to be sustainable from the environmental, social and economic points of view. Timber is the most sustainable building material in the world.
Thus, timber and its by products will become more common as a building material. I have been using timber extensively for almost three decades. Timber can be recycled, and it can be grown again. We have so much wasteland available, where trees can be grown. I am not one to support the cutting down of forests for construction. But, the need of the hour is to use more and more timber in our new buildings, without cutting down forests, thereby reversing global warming and climate change which is happening today.
Architecture is a product of creativity. We should do great quality work for architecture to be timeless. It is important to question what's happening in the architecture field now and not just be sound observers. With all that is said and done, the footprints of buildings on the environment can be reduced by good design. The developers and the investors should make a profit, but that should not be the sole purpose of architecture and construction. It is the responsibility of the professionals to see both ends are met. Therefore, good architecture is one that has a unique identity of its own based on the climate, materials, and the people of the region.