Encounters: Neil Klug

KRVIA Encounters

Neil Klug

A feasible policy instrument for Informal Settlement Upgrading in South Africa?

My PhD examines the role of planning instruments in the lack of efficacy in transforming the apartheid spatial structure. This presentation focuses on my third case study of the PhD, the implementation of the 2004 national Informal Settlement Upgrading Program (UISP) policy instrument, in the City of Johannesburg. The research indicates a need to reconceptualise how we view informal settlements and thereby the current instrument for upgrading them. Alternative approaches need to be based on a continuous pragmatic management approach as opposed to an unrealistic linear project-based approach resulting in some sort of imagined ‘formalised suburb’. The presentation will explore some of the reasons for this need to change approach and some of the alternatives.

Reflection on Ruturaj Parikh’s talk, “Thinking in Practice”

KRVIA Encounters

Reflections on Ruturaj Parikh's talk, "Thinking in Practice "

When we say we are ‘architects’ who do we really think we are? Is our existence as a ‘professional’ because of what we do or the way we think? Or does it emerge in the way we manifest our thoughts or think about our actions? Are we architects as beings or architects in becoming? The quest for our identity as professionals, trained as architects and the identity of our ‘self’ being architects has been a never ending one and probably we find ourselves all engaged towards the same inquiry. Does that make us a community? A community that is collectively in constant search for the meaning of our existence. A community that realises that our worlds are commonly tied by the questions of space, which through our individual practices, our thoughts and the ways we speak about it, characterizes, shapes and re-shapes it. Our quest may be similar but our methods stand apart. Are we then a sporadic community with each of us being nomadic, orienting and re-orienting ourselves with/within situations that are inherently in flux?

Ruturaj Parikh, co-founder of Studio Matter, outlines his reflections on his practice in his talk, ‘ Thinking in Practice’, as a part of the KRVIA Encounters. A practice, he believes may be an extension of the ‘self’ of the architect, however is more than just that single being who claims to be its proprietor. A practice he claims is built through the contributions of everyone in the office and is based on the ability to co-making decisions as a team. He believes that the architect cannot single-handedly impact the world, as opposed to what many end up believing but it is through a practice that intends on creating a ‘larger impact’ beyond ‘immediate projects and the benefitting of the clients, that the architect holds credibility. For Ruturaj and Maanasi, who choose to be only representatives of the practice, the processes around architectural production evolves from the simultaneity of the acts of making and thinking – where ‘making’ is seen as a way to extend their abilities to add value to the projects they work on, some of which are self-initiated and ‘thinking’ is seen as a way of reflecting upon their ways of working with form and contexts.

He outlines six principles which helps him look at his practice:

Authoring’ – The idea of the architect as an author is being someone who does not merely ‘write’ but instead develops the ‘ability to articulate projects’, through ‘multi-modal processes’ with a clear intent of making ‘strong arguments.’ Architecture, to him, therefore is beyond form and is more about ‘content’, that can make a ‘powerful’ statement not merely through stylistic means.

The Essential Idea’ – A quest towards arriving upon the core idea and its relevance through discussions, is a process that precedes the stage of conceptualisation at Studio Matter.

Context is underlay’ – As architects we ought to address the various forces that affect our project or are affected by our project. Ruturaj believes that we don’t need to ‘address these forces in their entirety’ but require to be conscious about the affect that they have on context (site, socio-political, socio-economic, cultural, availability of resources, etc.)

Discourse as Practice’ – Through initiatives like Think Matter, Folio, Frame Conclave, Inside, The Merit List, which are products of their curatorial practice, Studio Matter chooses to minimise their voices and work as managers/ facilitators, enablers, conveners and ‘sometimes’ as curators, with architects who have ‘pertinent thoughts and projects’ that they intend to share with a larger audience.

Process Driven practice’ – According to Ruturaj, the making of architecture is ‘effortful’ and while he refrains from occupying the position of an ‘expert’, he believes an architect must approach a piece of work from the position of someone who wants to learn and therefore would require to rigorously iterate form, that is simultaneously committed to the idea of ‘inhabitation, comfort and the delight when one approaches its spaces.’

Systems Thinking’ – every work for Studio Matter is considered to be a ‘continuity’. Therefore, for Ruturaj, thinking in systems, becomes key to the way the practice functions and produces work, where the work is quieter, more rigorous and at the same time, allows to be read in multiple ways.  The works may be simplistic in approach but finds its multiplicity in the way they understand the essence of the contexts within which they design and eventually build. He uses an example of a government housing project, the firm conceptualised for, which involved minimum intervention of the architect, who was responsible in initiating the idea and later let the process of iteration, incrementality, densification, adaptability, ambiguity and malleability, take over. It was the knowledge of the ‘ordinariness’ that allowed them to create and nurture a settlement not as a manicured one but one that eventually has the potential to grow. These processes can be seen not merely as the processes of design for a particular project alone but as being representative of how Studio Matter sees themselves as a practice. 

Studio Matter’s quest is consciously informed by their act of ‘self-reflection’, offset by the learnings they obtain through ‘making’, ‘thinking’, the ‘curation’ of architecture as ideas and their interaction with the architecture fraternity at large. For Ruturaj, then, the sense of a community or the collective of architects is defined by the need to be the ‘custodians of the built environment’, may it be in the processes of ideation, formulation, articulation, execution, implementation, building, curation, analysis, etc.

We may therefore be a sporadic community, with nomadic instincts of creating, but are in a state of perpetual unrest, colliding with ideas, images and many other beings, that co-exist within/ between the spaces we occupy.

 

Aishwarya Padmanabhan

Assistant Professor 

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Image Credit: Ruturaj Parikh