| ON PERCEPTION
22 November, 1996
- Email submittal by Kiran Keswani - Glucksburg, Germany
|How do we experience
What is it that we mean when we say the
architecture of the city or the
urban fabric or the planning of the city?
What are cities planned to be?
Why should we plan anything?
When we plan ahead, we perhaps have a goal in mind.
What is this goal, for architects, urban designers and city
Stepping up and stepping down
From one gallery to another.
Their goal is to make environments in which man can live in ways
better than he could in the early times when shelter meant only a roof over ones head, or
when taking shelter meant seeking protection inside a cave or getting under the tree
cover. Man sought to improve his living conditions. He sought shelter that was more
comfortable than the one he had before.
|From caves and trees, man moved to wattle and daub
huts and animal skin tents. Constantly striving towards improvisation to suit his changing
needs, he has today, shelter in the form of buildings in brick and concrete, that he has
named architecture; gardens and public plazas where he spends his leisure time, these
along with the buildings and the spaces between, he calls urban fabric. There are road
networks, that link buildings to each other, buildings to public plazas, that link living
areas to work areas, or living areas to educational areas, that link living areas to
|Man has first fragmented his lifestyle and living
spaces, then attempted to join it with roads. What he fragments, often stays fragmented
forever. Life for him is still a series of experiences which he sometimes can see as a
whole but often not. What was once upon a time harmonious living, is divided up into neat
compartments with supposedly greater efficiency. Today, we have intelligent buildings that
have automated functions. But, what is the sequence of experiences one can have within
these buildings? Does that matter or not at all? Are they experiences that satisfy human
nature or is it a contrived environment that is far removed from the real world?
Do experiences generated by this new architecture, by this new
urban design, by this new city planning still inspire man to think and to feel? Does it
make him grow, or does it strangulate his sense of being?
As an architect or urban designer, must one know all about space
and form and structure and nothing about life's experiences, about feeling, about nature?
How does an architect or urban designer know about all of life's experiences? Is it
possible for one man to know so much about life and what it has to offer, that he can
design for the rest of mankind? We live our lives through our daily experiences. Each of
us gathers a new set of experiences every day that are different from those of another of
our fellow beings. What we are is an outcome of the experiences we have had. And, what I
am, decides what I do.
|My needs are based on my experiences in life. How am
I to know what the needs are of all the people on this earth? Must not the people, all of
them, think sometimes about the links between the spaces we design for them and how these
affect their lives? Why should people accept what architects give them? Does an architect
know so much about life to take all decisions about living environments on his own?
Before asking people to share their experiences, I begin to think
about the experiences within different environments that I have had in recent times. How
do my surroundings affect me? What are the thought patterns that these environments
generate? There are images reproduced here in the form of sketches, that my mind captured,
at the plaza, on the
street, within a building, on the train or in the cathedral.
|Sometimes, of the human senses, it is the eyes that
over-ride the others. While the eyes see, visual images form in the mind. These images
come together. The mind derives meaning in their coming together. This meaning takes the
form of thought. So, a thought occurs. It is followed by another thought. Visual images
are the unbiased pictures seen through the viewfinder of the eye's camera. Thought
patterns arise but are completely individualistic. No two minds can have the same sequence
of thoughts, although the visual imagery registered in their minds could be the same.
Experiences in life make us think the way we do. Although two
people could see the same things at the same time, they might not always do so. If I walk
through a busy street, I see and remember. I walked through the street with you. What I
saw is different from what you did. We walk towards the Eiffel Tower. I see the
caricaturists on my right. You enjoy the river Seine on your left. I feel the arch above
us, that holds the bridge. You see the ornament on the bridge. We walk to the Pompidou
centre. I see the pipes and railings. You see the people on the escalators.
|If you see the river Seine, you may also see the
caricaturists the next moment. If you see the ornament on the bridge, you may also soon
feel the arch above us. If you see people on the Pompidou escalators, you may not miss the
pipes and railings. Time is a dimension to be considered too, is it not? Whilst walking,
what might be within the range of vision one moment, might not be, in the next. If you
don't feel the arch above us at this moment, in the next moment, we are not below the arch
anymore. Experiences are linked with time, aren't they? Especially it is, when two people
walk along a street, you experience in one moment the ornament on the bridge, and I, the
arch above. In the next moment, you cant feel the arch and I cant see the ornament. It was
only for the moment and that moment is now gone.
So, architectural experiences and experiences through cities are
related to time. They result in the formation of both visual images and thought patterns.
When we share our differing experiences with each other, we perhaps understand nature and
spaces better. A sharing of such experiences may bring about a more meaningful approach
towards the design of our environment. I would like to share here some of my own.
|It was not really my intention to write poems on
architecture. These are observations on the built environment that I put down in the
manner that came most naturally, as a stream of thoughts, sometimes disconnected. I think
we must sometimes accept the fact that our cities cannot be based on rigid plans because
our experiences of life are seldom so neatly or strictly planned. This is not to say that
I believe that we need not plan our cities. I think we very much ought to, but in a way
that can allow for linear as well as random happenings.
For example, in India, there is a lot that is fragmented and that
comes together randomly to form a whole which is so much more rich in nature than a
putting together in an orderly fashion, of uniform, standardized parts. My own concern for
evolving an urban fabric that is more responsive to our changing needs has driven me to
put down my thoughts in this random but natural manner. We must know if the design
processes we employ are the same as the thought processes we undergo whilst experiencing
these urban spaces that we design. We must know, is it not, which experiences we enjoy the
most, how these experiences may come about and if the urban designer must play a role in
making these happen, where must he begin?
Click on an image for an enlargement and accompanying poem.
Viewing the form
Above the riveting,
the nuts and bolts.
The fine detail of the steps
Sitting in the centre,
Each step up, you are
Into the structure more and more.
Then, the opening at the head of the stairs
Looking into the space below.
A bridge across space
No feeling of enclosure.
Stepping up and stepping down
From one gallery to another.
Space and movement
Space and people.
The silent, grim faces behind the information counter
Why so grim, in this happy light?
In the rear courtyard
To rest, to wait, to think.
The spray of the fountain
Offering itself to all.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Guides and their tourists
Finding their way in this cathedral.
The glimpse of the river
Before we come to the bridge