HomeExpertSpeakBeyond the Built, Ar. Neha Nair

Beyond the Built, Ar. Neha Nair

Ar. Neha Nair, Assistant Professor, Anant National University

‘Each style of architecture, when brought to the country, molded itself with the indigenous practices to produce a unique outcome. The beauty of these historic structures if often evaluated based on the impressions made by their façades. The fenestrations, of these historic structures act, as the primary participants in the process of façade making.  These voids on the external surface of the structures do not just functions as the face of the structure and serve the purpose of light and ventilation’, says Ar. Neha Nair, Assistant Professor, Anant National University


The Indian sub-continent has witnessed a gamut of architectural interventions. From embrassing architecture guided by the Hindu Vedic principles to an eclectic practice of Indo-Islamic and later Indo-Saracenic, the built fabric has modified and evolved. The one element which has been a spectator to these changes is the landscape which housed the built fabric as a part of itself. Architecture has always been a variable, while its context has been the constant.

Each style of architecture, when brought to the country, molded itself with the indigenous practices to produce a unique outcome. The beauty of these historic structures if often evaluated based on the impressions made by their façades. The fenestrations, of these historic structures act, as the primary participants in the process of façade making. These voids on the external surface of the structures do not just functions as the face of the structure and serve the purpose of light and ventilation. The time, scale and character of most of the historic buildings also celebrate the act of participating with the outside in an elaborate manner. The solid planes or walls create a space, as Lefebvre (1991) puts it ‘the lived space’.

But it is the absence of a part of this plane, the void, that gives the space the power of being habitable. The journey of human habitat has been from dark and void less caves to dark and artificially lit glass skyscrapers. It is in this journey we stumbled upon the magnificent historic monuments that left for us an entire narrative on the beauty and power of the voids.

One such instance in time is when Indo-Islamic architecture with its arches, helped frame the outside like a piece of art. These dramatic voids apart from satisfying their role as entryway or as inlets to light and wind, also framed the land beyond. The vastness of the site, where these monuments were located, was encased by these voids. It resulted in emphasising the natural beauty around and inviting it to be a part of the lived space. They empowered alien enclosures to participate with the natural setting they were introduced in.

Arches are often associated with a sense of pride, power and royalty (due to its deep rooted connection to the Mughal Empire). In their multiple forms, scale and proportions, arches offer the spaces that they are a part of, varied narratives and interpretations. The vast open arches, the ones with perforated opening, the ones with a combination of clear and perforated openings, all have a different view, a different accessibility and a different story from history to narrate. What better way to celebrate these humble voids, but emphasise their silhouette and highlight the beyond that they wish to celebrate with the observer.

In my opinion, immense power lies in these voids and is important that we celebrate these architectural frames. They act as the eyes of the buildings and how the eyes are said to be the windows to the soul, these magnificent openings act as the windows to the soul of these structures.

These photographs of various monuments located in various cities of India, emphasise the frame that these voids create. As popularly said, “it is in darkness that one appreciates light better’. Similarly, the dark foreground, being the building, looks out to the beyond, into the light, and helps create a conversation between the inside and all that is beyond the built.

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