‘Minimalism is choice, it is an act of choosing honesty over ostentation, silence over loudness and vulnerability over arrogance. Knowing what is not needed is as important as knowing what is needed, if not more’, Ar. Shashirekha, Chief Architect, Space Studio Chennai
Minimalism began as an art movement post world war II. The trials and tribulations of a war over power and position, the meaningless sacrifice of precious human life over material possessions must have led the human mind to lose interest in the extravagant ornate renderings of materialism. The mind when it loses interest in an object quite naturally turns to another object that is already available or tends to create something new. Thus, was born an art movement sans frills. There must have been a moment when the mind embraced simplicity, truth, directness, straightforward functionality and minimal aesthetics over excessive embellishments and extra sensory vagaries in life. Minimalism began in the arts and extended to music, other visual arts finding its way into architectural expression of the art movement. Art always have and will always remain an integral part of architecture along with the planning and engineering challenges posed by the very nature of buildings. The dictionary defines architecture as “the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings” and “the complex or carefully designed structure of something”. Designing along with planning and resolving engineering challenges has been the basis for architectural practice from the very start of it.
Minimalism to me, as an architect, is a moment of truth, a direct perception of ‘what is’ as it is. The idea is to ‘go bare’, to stick to what is essential to convey the design idea, to be simple in ideation, to remain pure in the pursuit of design, to do away with those design elements that are not needed in bringing beauty to the built structure and to retain only that which is absolutely necessary. While minimalism is not against aesthetics the idea is to find a way to embrace minimal aesthetics and to convey the design intent in the most honest way possible. Geometric abstractions play a key role as a design element. The architect seeks to express through context specific spatial planning, minimal materiality, simpler choice of colors, a subtle interplay of light and shade, elementary forms expressed as geometric abstractions and the creation of essential human living condition in a given site setting. The site and its surrounding acts as a catalyst in deciding on design elements that blend seamlessly with its surrounding while being simplistically unique. Minimalism is choice, it is an act of choosing honesty over ostentation, silence over loudness and vulnerability over arrogance. Knowing what is not needed is as important as knowing what is needed, if not more. In Antoine de Saint- Exupery’s words,
“A designer knows
he has achieved perfection
not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is
nothing left to take away.”
Minimalism in architecture
Minimalism in architecture is a reflection of the minimal mindset of the architect. A simple mind seeks a simple form to express itself through the design of a building. The designer does not seek to stand out but to blend in seamlessly. The design intent is not to create a building that shocks but to create something that soothes. The choice of design elements is elementary in its very nature. Simple straight lines, basic geometric shapes are brought together in creative repetition to make for a minimal design of the building. Ornate renderings are dispensed with and are replaced by straight forward geometric patterns sometimes seen in abstraction. Minimal architecture is characterized by clean lines, clear geometry, a large sense of space, openness to the surrounding environment and minimal intervention by the designer. Materials are often left to reflect their natural characteristics rather than being polished to a sheen. Textures are intentionally rustic in nature. Exposed concrete, untreated wood, unpolished stones are opted for as material choices. ‘Form follows function’ essentially in an unassuming fashion.
Spiritual dimension of a space
Minimalism is more of a process of undoing than of ‘doing’. The idea is the same as what is proposed by yogis and mystiques about the mind and about meditation. The designer does away with what is not needed to retain what is essential. In that sense minimalist architecture does not leave much for one’s imagination or interpretation. The design is devoid of a sense of mystery but is rather left bare. What you see is what is there and what is there is the most realistic design depiction of the space as it is. The objective here is to understand the ‘SOUL OF A SPACE’ which adds a spiritual dimension to minimalism. When an architect learns to LISTEN to the site the space begins to whisper how it wishes to be shaped. To be able to capture the spirit of a space requires a mind that is alert, sensitive and honest in its search for simpler aesthetics.
Allow design to flow
“A design is not
something that you do
that flows through you.”
Creation happens not when the mind seeks to create but when the mind seeks to understand. It requires a simple, uncomplicated mind to genuinely seek to understand the planning and design challenges posed by the site and the spatial needs that are required to be fulfilled. When the mind learns to remain inquisitive and open to the nature of the design requirements the spaces arrange themselves in order in a manner best suited for the specific site location. The elementary design philosophy here is to allow design to flow in its natural order and succession.
Ease of construction
Minimalist architecture embraces simple straight lines, forms are repeated in a fundamental simplistic arrangement. The negation of convoluted shapes and complex compositions allows for ease of formwork and ease of construction. Material wastage is cut down to its barest minimal, formworks can be repeated thereby cutting down on the cost of constructions. The materials are often intentionally left rustic and in their natural characteristics. A minimalist structure offers ease of construction by doing away completely with complex and extravagant design elements.
Minimalism is sustainable
Minimalism by way of seeking simplicity can be the most sustainable design style. Here the use of locally available materials is often encouraged in the construction process, form works can be used in repetition as the patterns repeat themselves, exposing materials that can absorb weathering naturally leaves out the need for extensive surface treatments. Anything in excess works against sustainable principles. Minimalism by steering away from excess by its very nature becomes a sustainable model of design.
Amruth, a minimalist apartment
Amruth is a residential apartment at Ashok Nagar, Chennai. The floor plan is composed of overlapping squares and rectangles. The spaces flow into each other effortlessly thereby eliminating any wastage of space in circulation. The plan offers MORE USAGE PER SQUARE FOOTAGE. The elevation is composed of clear straight lines, limited or almost nullified use of colours, minimal material choices, basic geometric shapes held together in an elementary pattern sometimes seen in abstraction.
Can minimalism be boring
The repeated emphasis on simplicity and deliberate removal of ornamentation leads us to the contemplation on minimalist architecture turning inadvertently into boring structure. Anything put together complacently bears an equally measurable risk of turning into something boring even extensive ornamentation. True a minimalist structure is not purported to be awe inspiring nor is it meant to thrill or shock the onlooker. The idea is to create a careful balance using simple design elements and to arrive at an interesting visual that is honest thereby soothing.
“Simplicity, therefore becomes
the ultimate sophistication”