Dakshina Chitra, this was the 3rd time I had been there. But what I see and what I feel as I move through the spaces has never been the same. Amidst the long verandas, green courtyards, complex sloped roof and building materials in their almost true form, we a group of students, professors and working architects attended the workshop taken by BK where sustainability and vernacular architecture were the main agenda of the lectures.
The workshop spanned over 3 days. The 1st day the classes were more of the interactive type. We started form the basics of architecture. What is architecture? Many architects and non-architects had put forth definitions for the same. All had the similar ideas with different perspective. ‘Commodity, Firmness and delight’ said Sir Henry Wootem and Le Corbusier had said ‘The masterly correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light’. But in all this nobody talks about the user and that’s where most of the architects fail in the design.
Then we went back in history, wondering how the 1st man made shelter would have looked like and how it evolved to what we see today. This brings me to one of the major topic of discussion, vernacular architecture. “Architecture without Architects” is what B. Rudofsky called it. There is no better way to put it. Building with local material or using the local building techniques or getting it done by the locals are only some of the features in vernacular architecture, but the major factor is that no trained architect or designer is involved in the planning or making process.
The architectural style of a country, a city, a town varies from each other as well as changes time to time. The root cause of these diverse features could be social economical, technological, climate related or cultural reasons. Theses were the next issues we discussed. Moving on we talked about the failures in architecture. For example, the usage of asbestos, which was once considered as a boon to construction industry, later had to be completely banned due to the health problems it caused. This was an example of how a technological advancement failed us. Also, we looked at some of the planning and rehabilitation project which affected the social and cultural life of people. Like developing housing for fishermen family away from the cost.
Later half of the day we spent doing a very interesting activity. All of us split into groups and sent to different functional building of Dakshina Chitra. We were asked to observe, infer and study the walling, roofing and other elements of the building. It was remarkable to see how the interplay of different materials and construction techniques were used throughout the campus. At the end of the day when each of us presented the information we collected and the inference we made, one thing we learned that is, “Sustainable architecture” is not a feature which came into picture in today world. It had always existed but nobody pointed it out. Sustainability of a build form depends on; what it is build with…how it is build.. how flexible in planning it is…how long can it last….etc. It is not just about having a rain water harvester or solar panels or being a platinum rated building.
The next couple of days we journeyed through the life of Laurie Baker and how he influenced BK’s. He also told us how he got into this field and how he reached where he is right now. BK had a long chat about his major project like the rehabilitation of the tsunami affected villages of Tharagumbadi and Chinakudi, the revitalization of Muziris, the introduction of way finding system in Muziris, Palliative care centre (a hospital which can be called home) etc. As he explained about each of his project we could see the passion and the dedication spent on each of them through every word he spoke.
Those 3 days spent in Dakshina Chitra got me thinking about how architecture affects people in different ways at different points of time. Whether you are the user who’s uses it, the designer who’s designed it, the labour who’s made it or a layman seeing it as he passes by, the impact it makes is never the same. Architecture is always changing, through the built and the unbuilt. It can never be frozen.