01 ARCHITECTURE & SPIRITUALITY
Maslow’s hierarchy elucidates that buildings are constructed to fulfil the basic and foremost need of human beings, shelter. However, what if the presence of a building is to satiate more than just a physiological need? Can it serve a higher purpose? Self-actualization is when humanity attunes to the building and listens to its context. As architects and designers, while visualising a space, we are trained to analyse and scrutinise quantifiable elements like form, order and function. However while studying and investigating the influence of built architecture on the human experience, we often discuss the intangible, spiritual facets like poetics, connection, atmosphere and ethereal aspects of places. Arguably, space has an equally significant quantitative and qualitative effect on the user walking through it.
Juhani Pallasmaa in his book, The Eyes of the Skin, suggested a historical, anthropological context for focus on hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, and oral communication. The disconnect between a person and his/her surroundings that Pallasmaa refers to when he speaks of the “hegemony of the eye” (Pallasmaa 2005, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses) gives reason for a focus on the senses and their potentially profound impact on the spiritual experience. We must connect to the world and the world must connect to us. A building’s narrative and its perceived authenticity can be conveyed through many channels.
Louis I Kahn, always believed in designing buildings that have a soul. A presence that enhances the experience of the visitor, evoking a sense of wonder.
We have learnt through our scriptures that all matter is composed of five basic elements —panchamahabhutas — which inherit the properties of the earth (Prithvi), water (Jala), fire (Tejas), wind (Vayu) and space (akasha). The subtlest is space and the grossest is the earth with every perceptive sense. Thus when we study a built volume in conjecture with the five elements, we believe that it is behaving like a living organism itself. It articulates its own vocabulary, defines its own personality and inhales-exhales air. Vaastu Shastra’s entire belief grows on the foundation of treating the space as a living organism with distinct energies managed in discernible zones in interaction with the solar and geomagnetic vibrations. The planning of spaces used for definite functions is managed in accordance, in an effort to conceptualise architecture and space to be more than just a three-dimensional volume. Can space be an emotion, an escapade, a communication? Human life is a journey that begins with birth and continues as an exploration till death concluding with the body dissolving and returning to the five elements. Similarly, a space that engages in dialogue with the user, with the two entities, building and human coalescing as one, can be considered to add a spiritual dimension to architecture.
-Ar. Stuti Garg
02 IS THIS NEW VERSION OF CONCRETE GOING TO BE THE NEXT TREND?
Concrete is a material whose evolution has been nothing short of a spectacle. With its oldest use dating back to the Egyptian and Roman empire eras, today we see concrete becoming a trend. Used widely in elevations and interiors with equal gusto, the material has innumerable advantages over its contemporaries. To name a few: ease of maintenance, the lowest carbon footprint for a structure over its lifecycle, fire-rot-rust-mould resistance with unparalleled strength, durability, longevity and resilience. Concrete came into the limelight during the brutalist movement in the architectural design era wherein exposed bare building material celebrated the structural form eliminating the decorative elements. An architectural enthusiast would definitely be aware of Le Corbusier’s love affair with concrete, evident in a number of his nearly 75 projects, which began early. “Among its many qualities, concrete granted Le Corbusier the ability to realize his early design ideals, such as the necessity to link the machine age with classical architecture.” We are pushing the limits of concrete. Increasingly used in numerous projects as the star or in a combination with wood, marble and metals, concrete is now being interpreted as something much more than just a building construction material. This extrapolation of concrete has lead to the latest trending version: CRINKLE CONCRETE.
Recently used in one of our projects, the aesthetics of crinkle concrete are unmatched as the textural materiality is celebrated. Proven to be sustainable in humid, rainy, warm, cold or composite weather, the material proves to be a stellar option for facade and exteriors. The first use of Crinkle Concrete whether stained white, ground down to expose flecks of blue, or made to crinkle like paper, concrete is the star of the new Kennedy Centre expansion in D.C. One of the design elements that visitors will likely notice right away is the “CRINKLE CONCRETE” that lines the walls in several performance spaces. It’s a material developed by Steven Holl Architects specifically for the Kennedy Centre expansion. For the Reach, the architects looked for ways to use concrete—acoustically and aesthetically—that haven’t been tried before. ‘When you have two concrete parallel walls as we do in our rehearsal spaces and then in the Justice Forum [an intimate theatre space], parallel walls are really bad for acoustics. You get a condition called flutter echo, where you have two sound waves bouncing off two parallel hard surfaces. So we had to break that sound up. What we needed to do was create a random texture that would diffuse and break up the sound. That’s where we came up with crinkled concrete’- By Steven holl Architects.
– Ar. Rahul Ghosh & Ar. Stuti Garg
03Impact of Architecture on Educational Spaces.For quite a long time, the concept of a physical School didn’t exist, however, children still learned, teachers still taught. Observing the Gurukul concept followed in ancient India, students received holistic education in a sustainable and eco-friendly environment.
How will architecture play an integral role in children’s education? At present, architecture is a basic need for everyone, so why can’t we educate children or students and encourage the dissemination of knowledge through architecture? Architectural design for schools should be driven on a path that creates spaces that invigorate while simultaneously exuding a sense of calm in the students and teachers alike. The form and spaces in the school can be interpreted as meditation zones or as interactive zones which help to channelize energy. Way of play and hands-on activities can be inculcated in the design to offer a holistic and tactile experience to the child. Educational spaces should be calming, welcoming, and thought-provokingly dynamic. In the approach towards envisioning educational spaces, we should first sensitize our process towards children’s thoughts, and sentiments. Architectural elements in a building or volume like courtyards, structural members, and geometric forms can significantly contribute to imparting such emotions and feelings in the atmosphere of the institution.
Architecture can stimulate a student’s hesitant mind to be replaced by a conscious mode of mental scanning that is confident of its creative prowess and competencies. School should be a space where one learns, discusses, and interacts with other students and the environment gaining layers of exposure to understand oneself better. So, architects can emphasize through architecture, intellect development, and conceive volumes that facilitate cognitive evolution and encourage practical grasping of educational concepts. Kerri Ranney, Vice President of educational practice at Huckabee says “We need to be able to embrace that and prepare students for the types of work environments and companies they are going to be working for when they get out of school.
Why cannot we deviate from the mundane interactive four walls and a blackboard classroom concept? School is the platform delivering a different type of knowledge encompassing myriad theories and subjects. So school should be an amalgamation of all types of architecture. For instance, it can be like a museum, inspiring the visitors with their curations and the play of natural light. can be like a pedagogical exhibit that allows the visitor to grasp the knowledge at their pace and their discretion. So, can architects be more creative with their spaces that depict some version of dialogue, emotions & expressions? Imagine the story of a beautiful courtyard enveloping the classes with frugal landscape and indirect light penetrating that helps to enhance the geometry and the form of the building, creating a scenic play of light and shadow impart soulfulness at different angles and perspectives.
Judicious use of colours transform early learning environments into brighter yet soothing spaces that will encourage children to become conscious and stay curious of their surroundings.
Research suggests that there are considerable benefits from learning outdoors, that include improved creativity and reduced stress levels. According to leading architects designing educational institutions, outdoor learning environments are spaces that facilitate teaching — like a group of benches, an amphitheatre, or a partially covered workspace with amenities like Wi-Fi and supplies. Similar to classrooms, these outdoor spaces are designated for instruction, presentations, or independent and group work, but they provide a fresh perspective for students who spend most of the school days indoors. In the images below, at Annie Purl Elementary School, a public school in Georgetown, Texas, the outdoor classroom is a multipurpose space used for play, instruction, making, science experiments, and collaborative activities.
So, when we are designing for clients with ages ranging from 3 to 17 years, the onus lies with the architects and the educators to be empathetic and sensitive towards satiating curiosity and sparking wonder and inspiring ingenuity. Spaces should beckon young minds to believe in themselves and develop personalities that will go on to become future leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and even lawmakers. Crafting pedagogical spaces should be a collaborative process between the designer, educator and psychologist, for a holistic understanding of what an educational space entails and provides.
Doaba Public school, Parowal, is located in a remote village in Punjab, India. A 20-year-old school bus, which ended its permitted lifetime as a vehicle, had to undergo mandatory disposal. The bus was special to the school as it belonged to the first fleet of buses, which now has over 50 buses. The brief was to explore a possibility to reuse it in a way that it could once again be made useful to the school. A pavilion was developed, utilizing the outer structure of the bus and a triangular prismatic volume.
The roof of the bus was converted into a deck that was accessible with steps that also formed a small Open Air Theatre. The deck was inspired by the curiosity of kids and adults alike, focusing on how they felt to stand on top of a bus. The space might be small, but it interests the imagination of the people who gain spectacular views of the surrounding fields from standing over the deck.
In the image on the left, at Ecole Kenwood French Immersion School, as you see the stairwell has been transformed into a multipurpose space for lectures, presentations, collaboration, assembly, and socialization. While in the image on the right, at the British International School of Houston, the Agora uses the principle of transparency allowing younger students to observe the older students and anticipate their future and opportunities that await them. “Through visual transparency—by looking through a window into something interesting happening in a maker space, robotic lab, or a classroom—you’re creating a public conversation about teaching and learning,” says Stephen.
-Ar. Divya Parani & Ar. Stuti Garg