Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Newton's Kitten

Nothing requires the architect's care more than the due proportions of buildings. - Vituvius

Was Issac Newton a genius for making separate entrances for his cat and kitten? Some might argue that he was insane.

When Goldilocks tested the bears’ chairs and beds for comfort was she was looking for more than the softness of the cushions? Papa Bear’s bed was too big but Baby Bear’s crib was just right and she was off to sleep!

Size and proportion are important to functional comfort. Le Corbusier’s Modulor which is the foundation of much of our standardization is based on an ideal European man. All the rest of us, which may amount to 99% of the world’s population, have to simply manage the best we can. So all the short, tall, thin or fat people, we either fall in line with the Modulor man or adjust. This is particularly difficult if you are a small human being - a child. A toddler or a kindergartner is a special age when they need to explore and understand the world around us. With their limited resources they are prone to accidents and can really do without the added man-made obstacles caused by insensitive planning.
I am witness to this daily struggle against differently scaled objects. My four year old has to prop herself on a pile of cushions to reach our dining table. A big damper to her big child ego. Also a precarious situation of balancing whilst punching her teenage brother on the ear!
I have tried to help her the best I can. When placing switch boards in our new house I kept in mind that she cannot reach the standard five feet height. By placing them a foot lower than the usual I have empowered her to be independent and contribute to our energy saving ways.
And I bought her a small plastic stool that she can carry around the house to reach those out-of-reach areas. “Mommy. What are you cooking?” she asks standing tall beside me (on her handy stool), craning her neck to look into the pan. She can help me dust the shelves, put away her clothes and peep out of the windows.
These are all the adult places she can reach. 
But which is her favourite place in the house? 
She loves sitting under the table. That’s her home. She can put up bed sheet curtains and place her soft toys on cushions on the floor. The whole house scales down to the four legs of the table and is more her size. This is her comfort zone.
Her single bed is crammed with soft toys. When she sleeps she needs just 1’ x 3’ out of the 3’6” x 7’ bed. The rest becomes a vast emptiness that scares her at night. Her little friends help fill up that void and act like tiny security men watching over her.
Emperors and kings found scale and proportions a handy tool with which to lord over their subjects. Enormous statues exalted their might and made others look like mere mortals. Children feel the same way when faced with a huge front door or a large deep arm chair. The might of the Adults is evident and they are lost. A small side door is what they are looking for to escape to freedom.
So returning to Newton’s cats. The brilliant scientist cut out a hole in the door for his cat because it constant comings and goings were disrupting his optical experiments. His genius mind also realized that the big hole with its velvet flap would be too big and heavy for her tiny kittens so he made a smaller one for them. He knew the importance of scale and proportion especially for little ones.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Beast Named Architecture

Found this musing in a long forgotten diary. I am skeptical of labeling it a poem because of technical errors in its construction...
Anyway, I believe these minor details will be overlooked when you understand that this was written by a first year B.Arch student. Those  were tough times. I see it with my students and sympathize.

 Miles to go before I sleep,
but time and tide wait for no man.

The mysteries of the world, and architecture
grow and multiply before I can
grasp the tail of the creature
and sweep myself into its bowels.
I want to learn the language
and here I am, grappling with the vowels!

Doors that once led out
are slamming shut.
The enchanted woods of knowledge
whisper enticements but
the steep rocky road
winds long and far.

With my limp,
I am praying for a car.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Be Kind and Dance

So much said about kindness..
No act of kindness is ever wasted. We rise by lifting others. Never look down on anybody unless you are helping him up. Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear & the blind can see.
But in this brutal world it is so difficult to give without expectation and receive without hesitation. 
Someone extends a helping hand and we either pull back in fear of the strings attached or fabricate those strings in our mind so that it is easier for our ego to accept the kindness.
After all would we ourselves help another being without reason? 
Image result for kindnessGive without regret. Impossible for the fractured souls of the modern world. Isn't kindness a sign of weakness? How can you go around performing selfless acts when you need to be ruthless to move ahead in this world?
We blame it on society when we know the reason is within. And we cast the whole of human kind in the same mould. Such a pity.
So.... should we be dancing?
Life Vest Inside are talking about Dancing for Kindness and people all over the world are ready to move to the groove. Should we be doing it? I guess so...maybe we should. The hesitant soul needs retraining and Dance could a first step toward kindness. That's because when you dance:
1. You need to leave your inhibitions to get your body to move in rhythm
2. You need to keep in step with the others, be one part of the whole mob
3. You need to accept the joy it gives to be with others and radiate that joy to those who surround you.
4. You need to be kind...to your mistakes and those of others
Mahdibagh Youth Club in Nagpur is going to be a part of the world wide flash mob of kindness on November 13th. We started off the kindness training with an rangoli event on Diwali. Some amazing entries. Here's the link.
One last thought. Does it end with one dance. How do we move from there? Hope the music plays on and we remember the steps till next year.
Dance, Tango Argentino, Tango, Music, Rhythm, Feet

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bamboo- the Wondergrass

While our students spent two days at the bamboo machaan-making workshop with Shweta Bhattad of the Gram art project at Paradsinga village, I mulled over the celebrity status of this humble material. It is a grass after all! So why celebrate the 6th World Bamboo Day on 18 September?

World Bamboo Day was declared by the Thai Royal Forest Department on 18 September 2009 in Bangkok, during the 8th World Bamboo Congress held at the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel. The aim- to alter the image of bamboo as a poor man's material and bring it into the main stream especially in the developed world.

The scientists at  University of Pittsburgh are testing several varieties of bamboo for their strength and  mechanical properties. By standardizing these tests they aim to see that bamboo is safely used in construction.These tests also reveal the true strength and flexibility of this material. In fact some varieties are comparable to steel in their strength to weight ratio. Prof. Madhumita Roy's research on permanent bamboo buildings at Jadavpur University, West Bengal is also worth mentioning. 

Bamboo building workshops are helping to forward age old building techniques to the new generation and are also experimenting with other revolutionary methods. Auroville Green Practises Workshops feature various programs related to bamboo construction. '

The Maharashtra State Bamboo Development Board was set up this month as part of the National Bamboo Mission at last bringing credibility to the numerous bamboo workers in the state. 
Nagpur has the appropriate weather and a huge potential for bamboo constructions. The government really needs to boost its growth and use so as to ease pressure from our forests.

This wondergrass has come a long way from being recognizable only as panda food to becoming the poster boy of future sustainable building construction. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Building Building Models

 Models are a beneficial tool to teach and understand architecture. And they are such FUN to make! With the advent of computer graphics this art is losing its importance in the field and sadly in education too.

I noticed many cringed faces in class when I announced that the design brief will include a to-scale model.

Haven't you noticed that its so much easier to pass the time scribbling on a sheet than actually putting your hands to use and building something. 

Cutting, pasting and measuring are daunting tasks to many. FEVICOL and THERMOCOL prove to be a deadly combination, leading to sticky hands and snow covered hair.

But once made, a model enables the student to actually visualize spaces, forms, scale and all the rest of the architectural jargon.
2D pops up into shape and makes the imagining so much easier. The rough CONCEPT model encourages experimentation. Blocks can be twisted, turned, cut and extruded. The results are amazing!

Once the final drawings are ready then a refined PRESENTATION model is prepared. This tool can simplify communication. Many a shivering first year has been saved by his model during the final review when words and reasoning have failed him!

The Arts University Bournemouth, U.K. offers a 3 year B.A.(Hons.) course in Model Making. How interesting! Design-skills.org gives some good advice for students.

Happy Model-Making!