The Takshila Lecture on Architecture and Society is delivered by an eminent professional / academician that addresses the growing disparity between the practice and pedagogy of Architecture in India, and the realities of our social, cultural and economic contexts. The lecture and the following dialogue aim to challenge the status- quo with a conviction that an open and honest conversation on the state of practice will instigate positive change.
The 2022 Takshila Lecture on Architecture and Society was delivered by Rupali Gupte at Arthshila Ahmedabad on October 16th, 2022.
The following text is a written essay of the lecture delivered by Rupali Gupte at Arthshila Ahmedabad on October 16th, 2022
“Of Corrosions, Continuums, Refractions, Seepages and Entanglements: Towards an Architecture of Life”
1. The Many Ways of Imagining Space
House as a Continuum
Strokes of different densities and intensities, short wavering lines, long thin ones, bursts of sprightly lines, dots and pochés made from rice paste mixed with acrylic paint, form force fields that gently sway on a canvas prepared with mud and paint, to create a tableau. At the lower left corner of the painting is a house made with ephemeral material, drawn with thin delicate lines, showing the logic of its construction. This is a wattle and daub structure made with bundling together branches of the karvi plant that flowers once in eight years. The forest dwellers forage it but also worship it as the ‘karvi devta, the god of karvi’. The impermanence of the house in the drawing is further reinforced with the agility of the birds and animals around that seem to be in a ballet with the winds blowing through. The path that emerges from this house is thin, about shoulder width of the stick figure walking along it and a little more consolidated than the brown mucky terrain around but porous enough to let the water percolate through it. The central space is occupied by a lake in which turtles, crocodiles, snakes and shoals of fish swim gracefully in tandem with the rhythmic movement of its waters. The house is small and occupies a very small part of the painting but the home – it seems is much larger, encompassing the entire landscape. This house appears ephemeral, made with the same intensity of the landscape around, suggesting that it will soon become one with it, only to be rebuilt for a continued inhabitation. The idea of the home here seems to adhere to ideas of impermanence, incompleteness, imperfection and a lack of private property. On the right side is another completely different house. It is the house of the colonial forest officer. The lines in the painting here become bolder, darker, thicker, suggesting more robust materials and a degree of permanence. The materials themselves do not seem to breathe, requiring definitive openings in the form of windows cut into solid walls. The house seems separate from its surroundings, self-contained, reinforcing ideas of permanence, completeness, perfection and a sense of private property. On the terrace of the house is the colonial officer surveying the landscape with his cartographic gaze. This same epistemic thinking is also at work, creating a dam on the lake, in which the community is rendered as construction labour. The sun, the mythological mother, occupies the upper right corner watching this transformation. The painting is made by Dinesh Barap, a young artist who resides inside the Borivali National Park in Mumbai in the Navpada settlement. It deploys the art of Warli painting he has learnt from his grandmother. While the painting follows the narrative turn1 that Warli painting has taken from its basic an iconic visual form, used in sacred paintings, made during marriages and other rituals, it also shows two divergent epistemes of knowledge and ways of thinking of space. The colonial house professes a container idea of space that reinforces notions of private property, while the Warli house is part of a spatial continuum, where inside and outside, public and private, built and unbuilt coalesce to produce a spatial imagination that challenges the former. (Fig 1)
 Yashodhara Dalmia (1998: 35) writes about how “in the 1970s the entire tradition of the Warli area was transformed to suit the needs of individual artists’ own expression. This required a radical alteration in consciousness, and the catalyst was brown paper and white paint. Released from the ritual needs of wall paintings, the painters and more specifically Jivya Soma Mashe began to paint lively scenes of human activity in fields, forests and at home”. Jivya Soma Mashe had in many ways initiated the narrative turn in Warli painting.
When we were curating the exhibition ‘When is Space’ Conversations in Contemporary Architecture in India at the Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur in 2018, we invited 30 spatial practitioners including architects, artists, planners and others to present their expositions on the production of space. Being located in Jaipur and in Jawahar Kala Kendra, the curation set these 30 practices in an anachronistic encounter with two other contextual spatial provocations: one on the city-making principles of Sawai Jai Singh, the 18th century city builder and the second on the typological experiments of Charles Correa, the architect of Jawahar Kala Kendra. Two rooms were set up as provocations through which each of the 30 practices could rethink their own spatial arguments. The Jaipur room as it was called was created through an assemblage of drawings from the City Palace Archive, models from the Jantar Mantar the astronomical laboratory of Jai Singh, the portfolio of Swinton Jacob, the PWD officer who was commissioned by Jai Singh to make drawings of the buildings in Jaipur and several other material evidences from the archives of Sir JJ College of Architecture, which showed how Swinton Jacob’s portfolio influenced architectural thinking. In the exhibition we asked, “how were all those sophisticated buildings in Jaipur made”? What were the drawings that produced these buildings? We found two drawings in the City Palace Archive that gave us an insight into this. One drawing was that of the Manoharpur Palace. This drawing we realised, is a working drawing, from the various marks and annotations we saw on it. Some annotations were instructions to workers with specifications of the kind of mortar mixes and the costs involved in transportation.
Others were poems and notes on the proportioning system. The drawing itself was a combination of plan and elevation views with annotations for entry points, movement, trees, ornaments etc. This was more like a script, which could be interpreted in multiple ways. Here the architect was not a singular individual but a plethora of people who contributed to the making of the building through a distributive logic. The singular figure of the modern architect was yet to be born. Here space is imagined using the logic of the narrative painting as continuous, imagining spatial flows; sequential, choreographing movement, as synoptic, where the ground is lifted to reveal the diagram of spatial types (in this case the idea of nestling spaces). (Fig 2)
The second drawing is that of the Madhavendra Palace in the Nahargarh fort in Jaipur. At first glance the drawing seems to be drawn through an orthographic logic. However one soon realises that the drawing is square in proportion, as opposed to the actual building which is rectangular and that in the drawing, the X and Y axes are not at the same scale. There is another logic operating here, which is not a cartographic one. It is a diagram, where the communication is a set of rules that the co-producers of the building have set up for themselves. Here the imagination of space seems to be produced through an understanding of an architectural type consisting of multiple aggregations of a unit space, each unit composed of smaller spaces around an open court for each queen, separated by secret movement corridors for the king to traverse, no wider than the width of the king himself. Here body, pleasure, event and space refract and come together in unstable ways, to produce a spatial imagination that has multiple continuously re-forming referents. (Fig 3)
Drawings from Swinton Jacob’s Portfolio
In stark contrast to the above two methods of imagining space were the drawings produced by Swinton Jacob. In 1867 Swinton Jacob was appointed as the chief engineer of the Public Works Department of the state of Jaipur in Rajasthan, where he continued service until his retirement in 1911. Under the patronage of the Maharaja of Jaipur he produced six large volumes titled ‘Jeypore Portfolio of Architectural Details’ (Fig 4). These volumes compiled more than six hundred drawings of architectural elements from a range of buildings in north India consisting of temples, mosques, tombs and forts. The drawings were not organised as building types but instead under the subheadings, ‘Copings and Plinths’ in one volume, ‘Arches’ in another and ‘Brackets’ in yet another. In a preface to one of the editions, Swinton Jacob mentioned that the Portfolio had been compiled, “with the hope that the drawings may help those who may be called upon to design buildings in the future, and who wish to profit by the past”. In however reading the buildings through its ornaments and elements, Swinton Jacob was setting the stage for a stylistic reading of architecture. This was in consonance with other stylistic readings such as those of James Ferguson whose periodisation of architecture in ‘The History of Indian and Eastern Architecture’, first published in 1876, produced a similar reading. This led to an architectural pastiche, where the spatial organisation came from modern, often capitalist logics prevailing in the West, with a mix of ornaments and elements that could be thrown together at the fancy of the architect. In the last few volumes an entire building came to be documented. This, henceforth became the norm for ‘scientifically documenting architectural buildings and their ornaments’. In the exhibition ‘When is Space’, we had plates from Swinton Jacob’s portfolio, juxtaposed against its copies, produced by Kanvinde and Reubens as students of architecture and later principals of Sir J.J. College of Architecture (Fig 5). This archival material of the copies of Swinton Jacob’s portfolio by its erstwhile students, Kanvinde and Reubens, obtained from the Sir. J.J. College Archives and Prof Mustansir Dalvi, shows an academic exercise of ‘perfecting the drawing methods’ but in turn producing a mimetic pedagogical exercise, bereft of any critical thinking. This method of documentation has now insidiously become the default mode of drawing that is reproduced in all colleges of architecture, through what are called ‘Related Study Programmes’ or other names to that effect. Besides producing a stylistic way of thinking of architecture, this method of drawing also consolidated the modern figure of the architect. The architect was now in control of the drawings as accurate blueprints, and all those who would produce the buildings from a reading of these drawings would be relegated as construction labour, with little or no agency in the process of design. Moreover, the spatial imagination that the orthographic mode of drawing produced, was dictated by standards and norms. These standards produced an efficient template through which to organise space. This standardisation would not allow the imagination of secret corridors, pleasure pavilions or follies to sully its scientific rationality (Fig 6). No longer were the imaginations refracted in multiple ways, suffused by a thick narrative or a script-based thinking. They became deterministic.
2. The Many Ways of Producing Space
The Porous House
Two year old Sharan rides his tricycle through the porous house of Jankiben and her ailing husband, across the bridge, spanning between the two wings, overlooking the narrow courtyard of the Poonawala Chawl2 , a working class building in Mumbai (Fig 7). On the bridge, Dominique sits in a chair reading a newspaper, oblivious to Shanta and Durga, who are fighting over the use of the common toilets. Reshma calls out to her daughter playing with her friends on a large trunk on the mid-landing of the staircase. No one remembers who put the trunk there. It has become collective property, like the multitude of other orphaned furniture around. The corridor widens into a balcony, where Rahima sits with her crutches watching the street for hours on end. Jankiben’s husband has been bed-ridden for more than three years. He lies on a cot in the multi-purpose front room. In Jankiben’s house, the shutter of the kitchen cabinet is peculiar. Like a Duchampian door it toggles between its day and night positions to secure the house at night. Jankiben has managed to get this architectural detail executed with the help of a carpenter she has known for many years. This saves her money as she does not have to pay for two shutters but also keeps her home open through the day, allowing the passage of breeze and passers-by who keep a watch on her and her husband (Fig 8). In the absence of monetized social security, visitors who keep tabs on the old couple help fill the gap. Poonawala Chawl acts like one big house.
 The Chawl is a particular type that evolved in urban Mumbai twice in its historical development. The first, when the trading community from the hinterland was invited by the British East India Company to settle around the harbour, to facilitate trading. Erstwhile orchards were converted into urban housing to accommodate these traders. The urban form that evolved consisted of two-room tenements strung along a common corridor, often sharing toilets. The second instance was when the cotton textile mills were set up in Mumbai and many of the traders became mill owners. They built chawls to accommodate the migrant labourers who came from the hinterlands.
The House Within Multiple Layers
Naseem’s house is located on Lamington road in Mumbai, a very busy market street. It forms the first layer of a dense palimpsest of inhabitations. The second layer consists of shops, which sell computer peripherals, all connected by an internal intercom system. When some shops are too small to maintain an inventory, they store empty boxes to appear as if they do and use the intercom system to procure the goods from a neighbouring shop for a small mark-up fee. The third layer is made of ‘one-foot’ shops embedded in the walls of the building who pay rent to the shop behind, in turn complementing them. The fourth layer is the series of vendors on the pavement. At night their shops are tethered to a post or a manhole, others are watched over by the homeless who sleep on the pavement with some items kept in homes such as Naseem’s for a small fee (Fig 9). The map of the city shows a single line between the street and the building in which Naseem lives (Fig 10). However on the ground this line corrodes, blurs and thickens to create a dense network of relationships (Fig 11).
The Incremental House
Sunita Sutaar had a relatively well-paying job as a manager in a company located in the industrial belt of Bhandup–Mulund. Her husband, now deceased, also worked in one of the industries in this belt. As a young couple they could not afford to buy a house in the formal market. They managed to get a room instead in Safiya Begum Chawl, a slum cluster that was consolidated and plotted informally by some people in Bhandup. Sunita and her husband incrementally kept upgrading their house as and when their resources permitted them. The family themselves repaired the floor, rebuilt the walls, fixed the roof, made the furniture, before starting to live there (Fig 12). Later in 1989 they built an extra space for the kitchen by carving into a part of the mountain abutting the house. They also got water supply at the same time after a protracted struggle by the community with the Municipal Corporation. In 1999 the family wanted to shift to an apartment as it was seen as upward mobility but her husband fell ill and passed away. Sunita’s salary at that time was equal to the monthly instalments she would have to pay to repay the loan whereas she had to support her children with that. She gave up the idea of a flat and continued living here. In 2000 she got some money from her husband’s insurance and used it to renovate the house.
Meanwhile in the same year, as part of World Banks’s Slum Sanitation Project, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai had taken up a large sanitation project in 300 self-built settlements of Mumbai. NGOs and contractors were invited to bid for these projects. Many of those who won the bids, built large toilets in these places, which eventually broke down because of a lack of maintenance (Fig 13). Seema Redkar was a municipal officer who worked with the Solid Waste Department of the Municipality. She found this hidden clause for providing individual toilets in the slum houses, in one of the World Bank guidelines. She thought it was interesting and very relevant. The other NGOs and contractors in charge of the project were not interested in this approach as it did not make money for them. They were interested in building large toilet buildings, which tick the right boxes in the funding report cards and make for images that can be readily published. Convinced by this model, Seema approached several self-built settlements. Safiya Begum Chawl took up the idea. Here several members got involved in mobilising the community and involving themselves in the process of building the toilets. Seema Redkar worked with local contractors. They laid the pipes to connect to a large septic tank under the municipal road (Fig 14). Different people based on their resources built the toilets at different times. Some houses were very small and did not have a place to build the toilets inside. This is when the community got together and found land in the interstitial spaces in the streets just outside their houses. Though these toilets were outside they were still designated to one household (Fig 15). Some toilets defied standards and were located in balconies, verandas and other places, with sanitation pipes reworked accordingly (Fig 16). When this project was undertaken, the prevalent regulations did not permit this improvement. The funds were mobilised from a local MLA and the project was later regularised. Sunita was one of the first persons to get an individual toilet in her house with Seema Redkar’s efforts. She employed a local mason to build the interior space of the toilet and connect it to the lines laid by the Municipal Corporation. She reworked the kitchen to make place for the toilet inside. This is an instance of a house produced incrementally, through mobilising various forces operating in the city. Here standards of architectural space, the size of toilets, rooms, kitchens are reimagined and tactically reworked to make the housing inhabitable. It also challenges the idea of property as homes merge with each other and get completed through their relationships with neighbours. In contrast to this spatial manifestation are the Slum Rehabilitation projects which are made possible by doing a favour to builders for providing ‘free housing’ by relaxing norms of light and ventilation to maximise the development potential of the plot. The compensation model provides a fixed square metre space to ‘eligible’ slum dwellers, evicting those who are not able to produce the requisite paperwork. The built-form has absolutely no transactional capacities and works with stringent ideas of private property, where the resultant type severs all relationships that the earlier form had afforded (Fig 17). Further the increase in maintenance costs due to a resource intensive form, brings about a soft eviction as people are not able to afford this in the long run. The built-form also creates very high social segregation between the ‘sale’ and the ‘rehab’ building in an attempt to invisibilise the rehab building, in order to market the sale building to an upper middle class gentry.
The Backpack House
Shaheedabegam moved into her prefabricated house in Toilkai at the outskirts of Dhaka in Bangladesh, with her family in June 2021. It is a two and half storey house with 5 bedrooms, a living-dining space, kitchen and four verandas. They call it an ‘Arai Tala Bari’ (two and a half floor house). The verandas open towards potato cultivation lands. The plinth is elevated on cement posts and measures 3’-6’’ from the ground (Fig 18-21). The house was assembled piece by piece in Shaheedabegam’s front yard by expert carpenters from Baligaon. The upper floors are accessed by wooden stairs. The door frames are thin and not more than an inch in width, with a decorated slug designed in places where the hinge has to be installed. This also makes the houses lighter (Fig 22). After a year and a half, the house is still unfinished. The family wants more decorations on the façade, which are available as a kit of parts in the local markets. The settlement pattern of Shaheedabegam’s village, Toilkai, is of a ‘Dig-Elevate-Dwell’ type. Before the houses are built, the land has to be prepared by digging around it and elevating the centre, to ensure that it does not flood, at the same time preparing the ground to take the excess water. Shaheedabegam’s family moved to this place from the floodplains of Munshiganj, where the land had got inundated and it was impossible to live there anymore. That is when they shifted parts of their house to this new land and extended it, making a bigger house.
Not far from Shaheedabegam’s house is the ghorer haat, the house market, where they make prefabricated houses (Fig 23). These houses the carpenters claim can be transported to any part of the country on a truck or a trawler. They say, “If you make a permanent house deeply rooted into the ground, it cannot be moved. But this house can be moved from one place to another when the land changes”. One can buy the house in parts or modules. If anyone faces a financial crisis they can also sell a part of the house or sell the whole house and buy a cheaper one. According to the carpenters, if the land remains intact this house can stand for a hundred years. This kind of house has been known to have moved around 7 to 8 times with the shifting land conditions of the Bengal Delta. Many of these houses are assembled in settlements on the top of mounds. Others along water edges or land prone to heavy flooding are built on high stilts (Fig 24). The houses are made with wooden frames and tin infills. The wood used for the frames is Nigerian and is called Loha Kath. The wood used for the floor is called Kori Kath. The entire assembly is designed so that the houses are easy to assemble and dismantle. These houses can be found in different sizes. Single houses without verandahs are priced at 3 lakh takas, a der tala house with a verandah is priced at 5.5lakh takas, an Arai tala house can be 18 lakh takas.
This tradition of tin-wood houses has been around for more than 100 years. But the practice of making prefabricated houses on stilts has mushroomed locally in the last three decades in different parts of Munshiganj as a response to shifting conditions of climate change. Production of space here has responded to the climate crisis, wetnesses, seepages, shifting land water relationships and property demarcations through an entire economic and cultural ecology involving a range of actors and agencies. Architects if they want a role to play in society will need to insert themselves into such active social ecologies.
3. Spaces with Trips and Kicks
The Subdivided Shop
Pradeep has a shop for repairing sound-mixers in Lamington Road. He had seen the transition from locally manufactured sound devices to inexpensive ones that came from China. Lately he had noted it was becoming more and more difficult to find faults in the mother boards as the components were becoming smaller and smaller. He would spend an entire week finding faults. He would find six faults and then the seventh would be difficult to find, making his entire week’s work worthless. However he said he really enjoyed the process and so continued to do this work.
Pradeep’s friends often advised him to sell his shop, which was located in a prime locality in Mumbai. One gentleman from the Marwadi community, known for their financial skills, walked him through the maths, which proved how futile it was for him to retain his shop and his business. The figures showed he would live a much more comfortable retired life on the interest he would get from the bank if he sold his shop. However Pradeep could not bear the thought of stopping his work, which he enjoyed very much. Instead, to offset the costs, he divided his shop into two parts and struck a partnership deal with his friends Adrian and Raymond Naronha, who had a shop in the same building. The friends had a wholesale and retail shop selling public address systems including amplifiers, speakers and microphones, on the first floor of the same building but needed extra space to maintain an active stock. They had run out of space in their own premises but did not have money to rent another space. Instead they made Pradeep a partner in their business, offering a share of their profits. The half space that Pradeep created from the division of his shop, became an extension of their friends’ first floor enterprise. A helper would be sent to fetch items from the storage every time a customer arrived at the shop above. Pradeep was assigned an added responsibility of keeping a watch on the storage space. Pradeep installed a small surveillance device made of a rear view mirror from his old bicycle, to watch the goods being ferried in and out of the place (Fig 25).
Pradeep also shared a part of the shop with his daughter who ran a business of supplying machines for currency note-counting, fake note detection and paper shredders. These machines were made in China. She acquired them through vendors from the Mumbai port. Though she did not keep any of the supplies in his shop, her inventory was painted on its wooden shutters with her contact number displayed in bold, visible letters. Pradeep’s own shop consisted of a table, a chair, a cupboard where he kept his tools that he swore he would never share with anyone and a collection of Gods who adorned his walls.
Though Pradeep’s subdivision and subsequent renting gave him an additional income and freed up some of his time, Pradeep couldn’t stop repairing. He now started repairing all kinds of devices around him. He first added a series of supports for his lower back to the chair in his shop. This he said made his chair, ergonomically one of the most comfortable chairs in the world. Similarly Pradeep modified his watch that had a white dial and white hands with a contrasting dial that would allow him to read the time clearly. He complained that with advancing age his eyes were failing him. Nobody he argued made geriatric friendly watches (Fig 26). Later he started making pens for himself. It all started when Pradeep realised that he was losing his pens as random strangers would borrow them at banks and other places he visited. He therefore decided to make ‘pens in disguise’ so that people would not register them as pens. He started making pens from pieces of acrylic sheets lying around in the shop. These sheets would be used as fillers in the sound mixers and would be cut into odd shapes. Pradeep now started using these odd shaped pieces to make his pens. He took one triangular piece and started bending it with careful application of heat from a hair dryer. He later scored it to insert a refill and added a spring that would allow him to click the pen open and shut like other pens. He started making a series of iterations of these; pens made from brass pipes, pens that jingled, short pens, tall pens, the list went on. He soon had a museum of pens that he proudly displayed to friends around. Pradeep kept a book of ideas with him, where he constantly kept noting and sketching (Fig 27).
The Anthropomorphic Shop
Rakesh was fascinated by LED lights that came from China and flooded the markets in India. Tiny mirchi lights as they were called, lights that danced rhythmically, lights shaped as flowers, the sheer variety excited him. His father was a tailor who ran his business from a small shop on Lamington Road. His father was ageing and wished Rakesh would take over his business. But Rakesh had no interest in tailoring. Instead his fascination drove him to open a business selling LED lights. He convinced his father to allow him to run his business from his space in Lamington Road. Once every four months Rakesh would go to China and bring back a container full of LED lights. Rakesh had grown up watching the famous Indian Superstar Amitabh Bacchan in the movie ‘Yaarana’ singing on stage wearing a light suit, “saara zamana, hasino ka deewana’. This whole world; is crazy about beautiful women”. In the early days, Rakesh asked his tailor father to stitch him a suit made of lights and would walk around Lamington Road with his light suit to advertise his wares (Fig 28).
In all the above cases one finds that architectural space is constantly produced through multiple forces. The first and second stories of the Poonawala Chawl and the building on Lamington Road show how people produce social space through multiple negotiations and relationships. The story of Sunita Sutaar shows how space is produced through incremental logics as and when the resources are available. Spaces ‘settle’ slowly. These incremental logics are incomprehensible by standard design processes in studios, which follow a linear trajectory (starting from the client, having a clear plot, a budget, a concept, design drawings, municipal drawings, working drawings, building on site, supervision and handover). The fourth and fifth stories show how space is produced through enjoyment, through trips and kicks that people engage themselves in, in living their lives. Here space does not get produced through utilitarian logics or even consumptive logics of leisure. It is produced through sheer pleasure and moments of joy.
4. How Do We Validate Space?
The philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1991) speaks of the inextricable relationship between society and space. Architects often think of space as a container. But Lefebvre reminds us that space is a produced entity. He speaks of three kinds of spaces. The first is the space, which the human senses perceive. He calls this perceived space. The next is one that we conceive and represent. That is the abstract space of the architects and planners, as they make drawings and plans. The third is the lived space, the space that is produced by practice. We saw in the first section on ‘Many Ways of Imagining Space’ how our modes of conceiving space have shifted. We take the orthographic drawings that we now produce in architects’ offices and in institutions as the given. These are normative tools that students must learn to master unquestioningly. However we have noted how these tools often take away logics of thinking through ideas of continuums between inside and outside, the idiosyncrasies of inhabitations of space, of joys and pleasures of occupancy.
In the second section we also saw the multiple logics of producing space, in thick relational ways through multiple social networks that people produce, through a process of settling, where people build incrementally as and when they have resources, through a process of enjoyment, as trips and kicks and occupancies that can be idiosyncratic, emanating from strange desires.
How do we then validate space? What is good architecture? Good architecture, we argue, is one that is cognisant of the multiple ways in which space is produced. We propose three conceptual terms through which to think of ways in which to evaluate architecture.
Architecture of Transactional Capacities
The psychologist James Gibson uses the term ‘affordance’, referring to the properties of a given environment that offer actionable possibilities to an animal (Gibson 1979). For example, while the form of a chair affords one sitting on it; the form of a tall pole does not. It may nevertheless afford one to lean against it. In the case of the Poonawala chawl we saw how the common corridors, bridges that extended the movement, the porous tenements and the shutter details that facilitate this porosity all create affordances for a form of sociality where, in the absence of state sponsored social security people watch out for each other. Similarly in the case of the building on Lamington Road, the five layers of space, invisible on a map, produce the multiple social relationships that constitute the dynamics of urbanity. As opposed to this are the spaces of urban renewal that create hard edges, where the built-form lacks transactional capacities.
This affordance of urban form produces a transactional possibility where human beings are not only able to derive utility (of buying, selling, inspecting, etc), but also pleasure, safety, security, care, etc. Moreover, the urban form also impacts transactions between human beings – they are able to watch, meet, talk, exchange, etc with each other. The affordance of urban form is its ‘transactional capacity’ (Gupte & Shetty 2015) – the capacity to allow flows of bodies, commodities, ideas, money through it: higher the flow, higher the transactional capacity. A higher transactional capacity means higher accommodation of densities, higher activities, increased diversity, better security, safety and care. One can then use “transactional capacities” to validate urban form or even articulate the aim of the spatial professions – to increase transactional capacities (Fig 29).
Architecture of Settling
Settling is a process by which city form evolves (Gupte & Shetty 2015). As opposed to completion and permanence, it grows incrementally. The built form here is seen as produced through a series of economic, political, social, ecological flows, as a continuum of the landscape and the city. For example, in the story of Sunita Sutaar, while the large NGOs navigated the flows of international funding, making large toilet buildings in the slums, which eventually broke down, lower level Municipal staff, navigated the field, facilitating the building of individual toilets in people’s houses via small contractors and working out the municipal systems of approvals. The resultant spaces were much more dignified allowing for slow consolidation into habitable spaces for living. This had to be achieved in many ways through non-standard and innovative designs. In cases where the houses were very small, people got together to assign spaces in the street for people’s individual toilets. Multiple people donated tiles so that these toilets sometimes became beautiful bricolages that had come together through incremental logics. Here again standard ideas of beauty that have accrued over years of consumptive practices, publicised through architectural journals and systems of awards fail to comprehend their aesthetic registers. The Wabi Sabi aesthetic from East Asia perhaps comes closest in drawing on the tenets of the poetic and the beautiful as imperfect, impermanent and incomplete (Koren 1994). They depart from modern sensibilities in their tolerance of and comfort in ambiguity and contradiction. While modernism believes in the ideas of perfection, purity, the everlasting, universal and prototypes, Wabi Sabi aspires towards imperfection, corrosion and contamination, the seasonal, and the idiosyncratic (Koren 1994). Other aesthetic registers in South Asia have also produced this sensibility through the continuous process of repair and retrofit, in cases such as, the traditions of raffugiri, patchwork and quilt making, in repairing and recycling fabrics as well as the making and remaking of homes through a continuous process of renewal. These aesthetic forms have also come through intensive social processes and flows as opposed to purely decorative needs. For example the raffugiri tradition in Kashmir came from the excessive taxation on shawls levied in the region, during the Afghan rule. To evade these taxes people made shawls of smaller sizes and employed expert raffugars to piece these together. Ever since raffugars have also been employed in darning expensive fabrics. There is a saying in the region that only the raffugars and God know where the repair has taken place. Similarly architectural spaces were designed to be in a continuous state of repair. The houses of the Warli tribe in Maharashtra are made such that they are renewed completely over periods of time, but also in parts, replacing individual beams/columns in tandem with the natural processes of decaying and ageing in nature. Sunita Sutaar’s case also shows how her house was built incrementally as and when she had resources. She kept aspiring to nicer spaces and kept improving her house in the process. The term ‘settling’ becomes important for architects to rethink modern design processes of making finished, completed works, which only benefit a handful of propertied people.
Trips, Kicks and an Architecture of Enjoyment
Trips and Kicks are practices that go beyond the acts of routine (Gupte & Shetty 2015). People in the city have trips of different kinds—collecting strange objects, behaving like spies, writing stories, achieving mundane targets, dismantling machines, trying to walk across five countries, building absurd devices and making strange spaces. These practices are not useful to produce grand conceptualisations of cities and are often discarded as stray individual preoccupations. While some of these obsessions are related to earning and occupations, others are simply “useless”. Everyone seems to have a trip that one lives with and for. Trips seem to provide individuals with their energy. Such energies cumulatively produce a city. In many ways the city seems to be a madhouse and madness seems to be running it. Transactional Spaces discussed above are also often not simply utilitarian to facilitate transactions. These are often instances of dreams trying to take shape and aspirations trying to get worked out. They are often quirky, erotic, sedimented and absurd. They are unique to particular cities. It is through them that cities settle. Settling here is a process through which people come to terms with each other’s lives. It is not a process in which contradictions get resolved; instead, through settling, contradictions are able to co-exist. Settling is a continuous process, which keeps the city in a perpetual state of becoming. During this process, the transactional spaces get layered further, or change, or disappear. The logic of this transformation is often incremental, sporadic and based on parameters that are beyond the detection of empirical methods. The ‘shutter detail’ in Poonawala chawl or the ‘subdivided shop’ of Pradeep in Lamington Road, the ‘pen in disguise’, the ‘ergonomic chair’, the ‘geriatric-friendly watch’, are all spaces and objects that come from trips and kicks that people engage in. These are often idiosyncratic and defy learnt aesthetic registers. In ‘Poetics of Space’, Gaston Bachelard (1994) examines the coordinates of the spaces we love. These he claims are spaces with not only, “a protective value which can be a positive one but also an imagined value. Such a space that has been seized upon by the imagination cannot remain an indifferent space subject to the measures and estimates of the surveyor. This space has been lived in, not in its positivity, but with all the partiality of the imagination” (Bachelard 1994). Spaces with trips and kicks are fraught with imagination. Their capability of affording joy holds them high on a scale for evaluating good architecture.
5. How Do We Practice Space?
Rethinking the Architectural Studio
As pointed out earlier, the architectural drawings we make in the studio are not more than 150 years old. Similarly, the architectural studio and the way it is organised currently has also evolved historically. Today most studios are planned as corporate entities with a studio proprietor and a bunch of employees who follow orders, often at the whims and fancies of the architect. The architectural projects themselves come from one’s own upper class and caste networks. The design process follows a linear trajectory < client < plot < budget < concept < municipal drawings < working drawings < site supervision < handover (Fig 30). But many of the cases discussed earlier show that space is often produced very differently without lending itself to this sequence. In India 95% of the people do not employ the services of the architect. While architects often blame people for not recognising their potential, one perhaps needs to self-reflect on the structural logic of the studio and its ambitions. Professional Ethics taught in architecture schools and built into professional codes reinforce an ethic, where the client needs to be saved from the contractor who is ready to cheat you. A close look at the curriculums of architecture schools across the country show that humanities is less than 10% of the syllabus but an even closer look at what is taught under the subject reveals that it is not even humanities but an outdated history of periodisation set up by the colonial education system (Fig 31). This lack of training carries forward into the profession, where we see a disjuncture between the ethics of the profession and ethics of humanity. We often hear people speak of reforming educational institutions but one often does not hear the reverse – questioning of the architectural studio itself that reproduces a form of class based, caste ignorant and consumptive society through the spaces it produces.
If one looks at the built environment around, produced by architects, whose signatures are required on all approval drawings, one finds an insidious reproduction of social injustice. For example, if we see some of the so-called luxury housing projects being produced in Mumbai today, one finds inhumane spaces such as servants’ rooms, no larger than the size of a toilet, with no light and ventilation and clubbed with other utilities like lifts and electrical rooms (Fig 32). Similarly architects have been signing on approval drawings for Slum Rehabilitation projects that relax norms of light and ventilation and create a highly alienating built space that is detrimental to the physical and mental health of its inhabitants.
One may argue that these are ‘developers’ projects and architects have very little to do with these. But if we go by the ArchDaily archive, which is a crowd-sourced data-base of contemporary projects, uploaded by architects themselves, so perhaps it is safe to say these are the ones the architecture community is proud of, one sees that from a cohort of 616 projects, over 11 years across India, more than 50% buildings are private houses, 10% are from the health and education sector (family economy sinks), 10% are cultural spaces, 1% are industrial projects and so on (Fig 33). Moreover 98% projects are funded by private capital. Mainstream architects actually affect a minuscule fraction of the inhabitation needs of the masses.
In order to redeem this situation as architects we need to recalibrate ourselves from the ethics of the profession to ethics of humanity. We need to move away from merely thinking of space as a container, to understanding space as socially produced. Here funding logics of the project, organisational logics of the studio, relationship between the architect and the staff and the relationship between the architect and the client / society all would need to be re-evaluated. Here Edward Soja’s formulation of Spatial Justice (Soja, 2010) becomes important for architects to think from. Soja says it is important to “emphasize explicitly on the spatiality of justice and injustice not just in the city but also at all geographical scales”. He further reminds us that “critical spatial thinking hinges around three principles: a. The ontological spatiality of being – that we are all spatial as well as social and temporal beings b. The social production of spatiality (space is socially produced and therefore can be socially changed c. The socio-spatial dialectic (the spatial shapes the social as much as the social shapes the spatial) Due to this intrinsic relationship between the spatial and the social he notes how all disciplines including archaeology, poetry, religious studies, literary criticism, legal studies and accounting have started recognising and applying a critical spatial perspective. Architecture and Planning become all the more important because these disciplines are spatial to begin with. While Soja as a geographer identifies, locational and spatial discrimination with respect to class, race and gender, exclusionary zoning, institutionalised residential segregation as well as core-periphery spatial structures of privilege from local to global space, in his purview of spatial justice, this paper identifies other evaluatory frameworks to understand the coordinates of spatial justice. Architecture seen through the frameworks of transactional capacities, settling, and trips, kicks and enjoyment, registers spaces as corrosions, refractions, seepages and entanglements with the force fields produced by urban processes and social relationships. As opposed to seeing spaces as empty containers, these processes give clues to creating multiple affordances, to increase transactional capacities – these being higher accommodation of densities, higher activities, increased diversity, better security, safety and care; and higher possibilities for poetic imaginations. In doing so these ideas intersect with the writings of other urban scholars who promote an assemblage urbanism, where the politics of making, inhabiting and living are deep entanglements enmeshed within contemporary urban conditions, aspiring to make changes from within, rather than from utopian demands that a universal modernity aspired to but failed miserably. We also argue that to achieve this the very modality of the architecture studio needs to shift. We need to build a longue durée practice that is curious about life and living, innovate on funding mechanisms, work with organisational structures that foster curiosity and an egalitarian work ethic within the studio, building relationships with clients that interrogate life with them, but also look at our projects not as the ‘property’ of clients alone but as custodians of the environment and a socio-cultural life beyond that amounts to a spatial justice at multiple scales. We need to shift the objective of the studio from the design of containers to the design of life.
- Bachelard, Gaston. 1994. Poetics of Space, translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Dalmia, Yashodhara. 1998. Jivya Soma Mashe, A Sense of Self in Other Masters Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India (ed) Jyotindra Jain. New Delhi: Crafts Museum and The Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports Corporation of India Ltd.
- Gibson, James. 1979. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Gupte, Rupali & Prasad Shetty. 2015. It takes so much for a city to happen, The Social Commons, Citizens in Shade, Aliens in the Sun. New York: Eflux
- Koren, Leonard. 1994. Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press.
- Soja, Edward. 2010. Seeking Spatial Justice. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press
About Rupali Gupte
Rupali Gupte is an architect and urbanist who works across architecture, art and urban studies. She is one of the founder members of the School of Environment and Architecture and a Professor at the institute. She is a partner at the BARD Studio, Mumbai and a co-founder of the urban research network, CRIT. Rupali has studied architecture (B-Arch, Mumbai University) and urban design (M-Arch, Cornell University).
She has recently been a senior research fellow at the University of Brighton. Her work includes research on South Asian architecture and urbanism with a focus on urban culture, housing, urban form, tactical practices and gender and space. This work crosses disciplinary boundaries and takes different forms – writings, drawings, mixed-media works, storytelling, teaching, walks, curation and spatial interventions. Her works have been shown at several places including the 56th Venice Biennale, X Sao Paulo Biennale of Architecture, 1st Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, MACBA, Barcelona, MAAT Museum, Lisbon, Project 88, Devi Art Foundation, Mumbai Art Room, among others.