Ar. Yatin Pandya, Footprints E.A.R.T.H

Ar. Yatin Pandya, Footprints E.A.R.T.H

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‘As architects we are triply responsible. First by putting the manmade on the natural, we are altering the natural landscape and creating imbalance and therefore we have to be responsible to ensure harmony. Secondly the buildings last longer than us and therefore even our mistakes may perpetuate forever. Thirdly, building industry account for nearly 41% energy, 12% of land, quarter of water consumption and equally high proportion of pollutant’s creation. As architects we are called to take six basic decisions and the sum total of which is wholesome architecture’, says Ar. Yatin Pandya, Footprints E.A.R.T.H

What made you to get into this profession? Tell us some of the architectural marvels you liked the most? And why? What are the three projects you marvel from the time you started your practice.

Life is a journey and each meander provides newer nuances in life. Life thus becomes a sum total of accumulated experiences. Such is the case about my choice of architecture as a career. My upbringing in a joint family with eleven siblings of a clan meant constrained resources allocated to an individual. Scarce resources brought out the inner creativity to create so many things out of nothing. School vacations became the laboratories of such explorations. This was the initiation in engaging into creative aspects. Also, around the same time our family house was being designed through professional help of an architect and this made me aware about the existence and role of an architectural professional and raised interest in building activities. Third thing that always enticed me was the image of the exposed brick building, partly tucked within the green mounds and trees, which the School of architecture in Ahmedabad had created. It had imprinted in my mind the positive image of a learning and creative environment. All of these along with reduced choices of other career options due to my higher secondary grades sealed my choice of architecture as a career option.

While architecture is much more than art, it certainly is the most experiential form of art, as it is to be perceived dynamically and bonds chemistry with the perceiver. Thus, it is dynamic in nature through its kinaesthetic and constantly evolving response with the onlooker. The Step well of Adalaj, Kailash temple of Ellora, Mill owner’s association building in Ahmedabad are examples of such phenomena. Bilbao, Spain is an example of imposing art while Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudi is an intuitive art that stems from the logic of structure and properties of the material. The Pompidou centre is an interactive art through machine aesthetics and systematic logic. Building for the sake of art is questionable but art for the sake of building is admirable. Architecture of Kund with sculptural massing of steps and ever changing composition of light and shadows is one such example. Santiago Calatrava’s structures are art in material and engineering, while the jaali of Park hotel is a model of art in technology.

Making houses available to those who don’t have and that too at affordable prices is the greatest challenge before the country today. How an architect and his profession can help the nation in achieving the objective of ‘Housing for all’? Which alternative building material according to you is best suited for affordable housing in India.

As a profession, an architect has to make for social good. There are a number of ways in which an architect can help improve the society through professional intervention. For example, by creating affordable roof top ventilation system and solutions. We have been able to improve the quality of life in slums by providing effective light and ventilation, environmental comfort as well as economic savings. Similarly, in quarter settlements, economic opportunities were created and education facilities were added by using recycled waste materials as building components. In rural as well as urban areas, we have done affordable housing for poor congregants, to improve their lifestyle as well as living experience. Post-earthquake rehabilitation in rural areas was also an attempt, creating participatory habitats involving end-users in key design decisions. Also through architectural souvenirs, exhibitions designs as well as museum, cultural and heritage awareness was attempted. Thus, architects become agents of change and make a value addition through design.

In a country with 1.2 billion population, the number of world renowned Indian architects are very few. Why is it so? Has it something to do with our education system?What advice you want to give to the young architects of India?

In recent past, egos and esotericism have driven the design more, rather than contextual ethos and environmental conditions. Ego in terms of pre-conceived solutions rather than process evolved resolution. This has perpetuated a sense of indifference to its surroundings in terms of terrain, environment, cultural traditions or in fundamental terms the milieu, oblivious to its surrounding it fails to connect to the place and people and thereby the sense of belonging. Architects need to be responsible professionals and even though they work for individual clients, they need to be arbitrators for the societal collective good with responsible professionalism and holistic concern for culture, climate and construction. New generations can add value through design: to empower, be accessible and enhance the quality of life.

In your opinion, what should be the core of Green Construction’?

As architects we are triply responsible. First by putting the manmade on the natural we are altering the natural landscape and creating imbalance and therefore we have to be responsible to ensure harmony. Secondly the buildings last longer than us and therefore even our mistakes may perpetuate forever. Thirdly, building industry account for nearly 41% energy, 12% of land, quarter of water consumption and equally high proportion of pollutant’s creation.

As architects we are called to take six basic decisions and the sum total of which is wholesome architecture.

a) Sitting and location:  This refers to orientation, exposure and impact of natural forces. In hot arid zones of India orienting building with its longer faces to North-South compared to East-West can reduce solar radiation and energy demands to nearly half.

b) Form and Mass:  This has potential to benefit from mutual shading and scaling. As a thumb rule energy demands can be reduced in a building in hot-arid zone up to ten percent by optimising on volumes. By adding a floor it gets reduced to about twenty percent. It gets nearly halved by attaching the building from sides as well as stacking floors above.

c) Space organisation: As an effective environmental response, traditional buildings from hot arid regions have been compact, stacked, attached and interspersed with multiple courtyards to reduce heat gain. As against, Bungalows of the hot-humid zones have been extroverted with veranda like living spaces in the periphery to increase its transparency to breeze.

d) Elements of Space making:  This forms the essential syntax of the architecture and thereby it’s interactivity with external conditions. For example pavilion like structure with prominence of inclined roof form with absence of walls is the syntax of hot-humid climate. Conversely predominance of wall and subjugation of roof is the grammar of hot-arid climate zone.

e) Material and Construction techniques:  This is vital in setting forth the chemistry of building with external elements through its thermal coefficient, material properties and dynamics of its physics. If sunburnt clay block is taken as a unit of energy demand of material, cement is nearly ten times energy intensive, steel thirty times, PVC 120 times and aluminium 160 times.

f) Finishes and surface articulation:  Although seemingly micro, the skin rendering turns out to be the first aspect of building to negotiate with environmental conditions. Dark versus white or very light colour rendering with glossier surface can create up to five degree temperature difference within through its high reflectance value.

If only we understand the wider implications of these decisions we would be able to make informed choices and arrive at the resolutions, basically sustaining and could ensure larger societal good. Therefore it is not about the good or bad design but appropriate or inappropriate design. It is basic responsibility and fundamental criteria of any contextual design to optimize the resource and maximize the affectivity. Sustainability is therefore inherent dimension of any design, which stems from appropriateness to the milieu- the place, people and programme. Every project therefore common-sensically looked to create environmental comfort and functional efficiency through design and construction. Reduce, reuse, recycle and regenerate became integral to design and constructional decision. I remember, nearly four decades ago as a third year student my housing project design had water harvesting, passive cooling, alternative sanitation and edible landscaping aspects, even though naive. All the projects did have these fundamental concerns but it became the mainstay of the environmental sanitation institute project with earth berming, cut and fill of soil, mutual shading through massing, water harvesting and recycling, cavity wall and ferrocement construction as well as solar active applications. The informal settlement context of Manav Sadhana with routine of rag picking with inhabitants, recycling of waste into building component was indeed an apt direction of design to reduce waste pollution, empower poor through value addition processes as well as to improve housing through affordable and better performing housing material alternative.

You have been also teaching the profession in some colleges and universities around the world. Do you find any difference in teaching the profession in India and abroad, that is, in advanced countries? Do you suggest any improvement in our teaching method? What do you forecast for the years to come?

One story perhaps says it all. A pupil went to a Master to learn architecture. The master said to pupil that he needs first to learn Sculpting (Shilp Shastra) before he learns architecture because architecture is all about dynamic form, composition, visual balance, mass and materiality. So the pupil goes to another master to learn sculpting. The sculptor asks pupil to learn dance before learning sculpting as sculpting requires understanding of body forms, gestures, emotions, as well as visual dynamics. The pupil approaches now the dance master. Even dance master refers him to the music teacher as music being the pre requisite to dance because it entails compositions, rhythm, pauses, moods, emotions as well as atonement of senses. When pupil approaches music teacher he asks him to learn poetry prior to learning music. One needs to know lyrics, rhyming, stanzas, syntax structure, grammar, semantics, communications and emotions. The pupil finally reaches out to the poetry master. The poetry master has philosophical reply. He says how can one teach poetry? For poetry one has to live life. Poetry emerges from life and the day to day encounters…

Thus space making is mother of all arts. More importantly it is an all-encompassing phenomenon. It is about people, ways of life and the environment we live in.

In our system, I find there are signs of worry from multiple angles: 

Lack of apex body envisioning design education

For interior design as well as other allied design disciplines (other than architecture) there is no Governing body to envision, set direction and regulate design norms. As a result there is vast discrepancy in curriculum, content, time frame, conduct as well as even in definition of the courses being conducted.  For example there are courses on interior design being conducted from Three months to three years. Only in a single place it runs as five year course. This leaves quite ambiguous image of professionals and in turn builds distrust for the competence in society.

Issue of Numbers: Quality vs. Quantity

While architecture profession has established regulatory body and education is monitored, the sheer number is out beating the intentions and systems. Just to ponder on the fact; Forty year hence, in 2012, since establishment of council of architecture in 1972, the total accumulated registered architects over entire period of four decades, were about forty thousand, while today with over four hundred schools and eighty to two hundred students intake per year in each, every year we are producing forty thousand architects. This challenges the fundamental tenets of creative learning, demanding one to one rapport between teacher and student.

The issue of sudden influx of number also affects the dearth of quality teachers. As it is a professional course finding expert professionals willing to teach is as it is difficult. But, with sudden demand out of desperation to meet number of faculty as per the council norm, it has only worsened that practically any graduate gets hired for the job with no true fulfilment of competence let alone human qualities.

The number game casts its unhealthy shadow even in profession. With large outflow of professionals and limited job opportunities there is steep competition compromising on professional ethics as well as healthy practices. This boomerangs in eventually lowering the image of professionals in society, with doubts raised for their professional competence as well as integrity.

Patron’s changing perception: Indifference to design contribution

The rut of mediocre and below average designs have left patrons unimpressed with professional inputs or worthiness of hiring a professional and this is gradually but alarmingly building up sense of indifference for the architectural design services in the perception of the development patrons, who are increasingly seeking help of Project Management Consultancy (who in turn appoints architect for largely legality’s sake) rather than the design professional for his assumed worth and design contribution.

Myopic vision of education

There have hardly been any fundamental debates and discussions that evolve the vision of design education and which in turn shapes the content as well as conduct. Most countries, contrary to India, have appointed (rather than elected) body of professionals and educationist to define and refine the state of affairs of education periodically. The norms and guidelines evolve from such fundamental visions. Lack of such structure leave it to the wisdom (or lack of it) of group of individuals for immediate consumptions and temporal mindsets. For value based education there needs to be multi layered engagement in education not only about subject competence but inculcation of values for societal concerns, environmental obligations as well as ethical practices. We need to give value the currency rather than currency the value.

Timeless aesthetics, Socio-cultural appropriateness, Environmental sustainability, Economic affordability and Sufficiency of strength and performance have to be the holistic demands of design and design education has to prepare professional that can comprehensively contextualise the same for the given milieu of the place, people and the programme.

Who are the two people who influenced you the most as an architect in your professional career? How?

More than personalities their philosophy and products have interested me. There are numerous of them. Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion and Tugendhat House inspired me for cleanliness of their detailing, simplicity of composition yet dynamics of space perception, Ahmedabad Mill Owner’s Association building by Le Corbusier has inspired me for its kinaesthetic perception qualities, Sangath by Balkrishna Doshi interested me for its engaging spatial and volumetric experiences, solar passive responses and natural feel, the Pompidou center in Paris by Renzo Piano impressed me for the spontaneous activity and social interaction it could generate by inversing services, the Vietnam War Memorial has tremendously moved me emotionally through its philosophical interpretations and interactivity with onlookers. However, fifteenth century structure, Step well of Adalaj has been most enticing for me as an epitome of complete architecture that involves you physically as well as mentally through its rich spatial experiences, timelessness, dynamics of space over time, semiotics as well as environmental responses.

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