KAA Update

KAA Update

Akhilesh Mohan

Akhilesh Mohan, KRVIA M.Arch Urban Design Alumni, will be making a presentation on Circular Economy- A Design Rethinking approach at IFAT India on the 29th of September, 2022.


Cities account for 85% of global GDP and consume more than 75% of natural resources. Seen highly inculcating the take-make dispose culture cities underwent a massive climate adverse environmental degradation affecting them socio-economically. Post the Paris Climate accord, the global cities underwent a systemic change while adopting the idea of sustainable planning models for an inclusive & equitable development. 

The panel focusses on answering 3 major areas of concern:

1. How to eliminate waste and pollution through responsible design and city resource management?

2. How to close the material loop through effective value chain planning?

3. How design thinking contributes to the policy intel that help solve the post-consumer plastic issue in the country? 


The event is being organised by Ms. Messe Munchen India Pvt. ltd. 
















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Scales of Resilience

KRVIA Blog

‘Scales of Resilience’

Amruta Sali I 2nd Yr. M.Arch (UD) I KRVIA 

Now, more than ever, with the early effects of climate change, cities need to understand the creation of environments that help communities survive and thrive in the context of change. The intent of the talk was to discuss different strategies for resilience. WRT, founded by Ian McHarg 60 years ago, James  Stickley explained the firm’s approach to resilience and their ethos. Their process involves a community driven approach and ecological planning.

 

 

They identified various aspects of resilience-social equity, mobility, ecology+green infrastructure, public health+open space and economic vitality. Stickley discussed various projects situated across the USA, especially within ecological sensitive areas as seen through these aspects. It demonstrated how resilience strategies differ as per context and depending on critical issues. For instance, strategies for flood prone areas will differ from areas which are frequently affected by cyclones. Strategies opted by WRT were discussed at different scales and typologies. It was noted that there is a necessity to operate across scales to understand interdependencies that will contribute to resilience.   

 

 

The talk led to an interesting  discussion on different ideas of resilience. The idea of resilience is different for the global north cities-which was explained by James, whereas the idea has a different dynamics in the global south. Most Indian cities also need to look at heritage as a tool for creating resilient cities. In the desperation to be modern, communities are forgetting or ignoring traditional practices that have helped them survive so far.Stickley’s talk was about an interdisciplinary approach across the world to understand the challenges cities are facing and what resilient strategies cities are adopting and implementing. The conversations led to the kindling of new and deeper understandings of what resilience means to different communities.

 

 

Encounters: Thinking with the Exhibition

KRVIA Encounters

Dr. Kaiwan Mehta

As an architectural researcher and thinker, one encountered and worked with the exhibition as a mode of expression of one’s research content and material as well as thought processes. The task of the researcher or theorist shifted from the natural mode of writing to the special format of the exhibition – as a three-dimensional and spatial composition of the text, the image, the thoughts, and the processes. The role of the curator was a default one, rather than the one adopted or self-anointed. The role as a researcher or a theorist remained primary and the exhibition a way of thinking and reprocessing. Discussing certain important moments through exhibitions in the past few years, one will explore what is means to be an architectural thinker in the contemporary world/India.

 

Kaiwan Mehta PhD
Architect, Academic, and Researcher
Author: Alice in Bhuleshwar: Navigating a Mumbai Neighbourhood (Yoda Press. New Delhi: 2009); The Architecture of I M Kadri (Niyogi Books. New Delhi: 2016)
(A view from ‘Ornament: Design Debates Indianness’ curated by Kaiwan Mehta as part of a larger exhibition on 100 years of Bauhaus curated by Hans Christ and Iris Dressler at WKV, Stuttgart (4 May to 23 September, 2018), titled 50 Years after “50 Years of the Bauhaus 1968”)

DEAN – Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, SVKM’s NMIMS (deemed to be) University

Managing Editor – DOMUS India (Spenta Multimedia)

Former associations:
Professor (Adjunct) and Chair of Doctoral Programme (Faculty of Architecture): CEPT University.
Jury Chairman: Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart, Germany) 2015-2017 & 2017-2019.
Charles Correa Chair professor (June – November 2017)

Other previous associations – Jnanapravaha (Mumbai) as Course Director – Art, Criticism and Theory & Course Tutor – Indian Aesthetics (2007 – 2016); ISDI – Parsons Mumbai as Director – Academic Affairs (2013-2014) & Arbour: Research Initiatives in Architecture as co-founder and director (2010-2013)

First Year Design Studio 2021-22

First Year Architectural Design Studio

This was a two weeks long exercise in exploring the spatial and narrative qualities of drawings as immersive experiences.

The students walked their neighborhoods and identified spaces that they encountered around their own homes.These were spaces, that held distinctive atmospheres and intensities.

 

They then explored and expressed their experiences of these spaces as large drawings within their homes. The drawing had to occupy a space of 8ft X8ft X8ft to ensure that the scale would entail an encounter or mixing of the “real” space and the space of the drawing. They developed the drawings with paper folds and extensions to allow for multiple layers and textures to be built.

‘The Public Thing’

KRVIA Blog

‘The Public Thing’

Hussain Indorewala | Field/works Provocations and Propositions Undergraduate Thesis 2017-2022

On 24th September 2020, the Bombay High Court initiated a sou moto Public Interest Litigation (PIL) following the partial collapse of a 36 year old illegal building in Bhiwandi. The collapse had resulted in the loss of 38 lives, mostly low-income labourers. In its February 2022 judgement, the court concluded that the main cause of this tragic state of affairs in Mumbai is the rampant encroachment of “valuable government land,” enabled by rules and policies that confer a “premium illegality in favour of the encroachers” by gifting them government land in the form of tenements. This, the Court argued, is nothing but legalizing encroachments on prime public lands, making a mockery of the “public trust doctrine.”

 

The doctrine of public trust is rooted in Roman law and English Common Law. The doctrine asserts the affirmative protective duty of government in dealing with properties meant for public use. In other words, it serves to limit the alienation of public property. While in the narrow sense, the argument of the High Court is valid – slum rehabilitation does divert public land for private use – a consistent application of this doctrine would turn the city upside down.

 

For instance, is the monetization of public land (and thereby its alienation into private hands) to generate public revenue a ‘mockery’ of the doctrine? Is the transfer of a mass transit system financed by public investment into private hands for operation a ‘mockery’ of the doctrine? Is the transfer of leasehold land meant for a publicly designated purpose into private property meant for commercial exploitation a ‘mockery’ of the doctrine? Those who know Mumbai well will recognize these specific cases: BKC, Metro, and Mills.

 

The concept of ‘public’ is therefore more often than not a case of rationalization masquerading as rationality. But the question I wish to whinge about here is not one of ideology or justice, but of semantics. The ‘public’ is a very difficult word, full of contested meanings, not only in its general rhetorical use, but also in disciplines such as political philosophy, jurisprudence, and economics. The term came into English from the Latin publicus that itself had a range of meanings – ‘of the people’, ‘of the state’, ‘general’, ‘vulgar’ – and was perhaps a combination of Old Latin pubes (adult) and poplicus (people). In political thought, it found expression in the writing of the Roman philosopher Cicero’s De republica that defined the nature of commonwealth: the res publica (or ‘the public thing’) as the res populi (‘the people’s state’). In this work, res publica indicates the institutional arrangements and ways of life that protect and pursue the good of everyone. Subsequently, the adoption of the term ‘public’ in English in the 15th century was in the sense of ‘pertaining to the people at large’ as well as ‘open to all in the community.’ 

 

Most significantly, the term is used in contrast to ‘private’ which draws from its Latin root privare or to ‘deprive’ others, and therefore suggests privilege in critical usage, but also, when used in the sense of voluntary withdrawal, it suggests independence; or protection from community encroachment, as in privacy. The term ‘private’ used in conjunction with ‘property’ found its justification in the early classical liberal arguments where private property was explicated as human labour embodied in objects – these arguments were concerned with preventing the appropriation of the fruits of labour of individuals by the community or the state. 

 

Traces of these earlier meanings persist in most contemporary debates and controversies over the terms ‘public’ and ‘private.’ In what follows, I discuss some of the undertones of the ‘public’ in its various uses.

The public as the state.

When speaking of social actors, ‘public’ most commonly indicates the state, in the sense of the means employed (state action) as well as the ends (for reasons of state). Here the term is distinguished from ‘private enterprise’, ‘private activity’, or ‘markets’ and typically the conflation of the public with the state accompanies the conflation of the market with society. In contemporary use, development ideology advocates both state withdrawal (disinvestment, privatization) as well as state intervention (public purpose, public interest). The key operational concept that justifies this paradoxical use is efficiency. For instance, the handing over of Mumbai’s traditionally public-run bus service and its assets to private contractors for operations is rationalized as a means to achieve better cost recovery to reduce public expenditure; while simultaneously freeway construction is undertaken at enormous public expense, on public land, and through state action to eventually benefit private automobile users. The substitution of the term ‘public’ with the ‘state’ is typical in the language of pro-market critics who are concerned with bureaucratic inefficiency and graft; similarly, ‘regulation’ and ‘planning’ evoke social engineering schemes that are based on technocratic hubris and the coercive power of the state – that despite well-meaning intentions end up doing more harm than good. This perspective draws from neoclassical economic theory that faults state intervention for dampening entrepreneurial initiative and imposing burdens on the economy. The exception here is the concept of ‘public goods’ – that are technically defined as non-rivalrous and non-excludable goods that perforce cannot be profitably provided through the market. In contrast to the neoclassical view, critics of pro-market policies typically substitute the ‘state’ with ‘public’ in their advocacy of government intervention and social welfare. 

The public as the social

The contemporary scepticism of the extended scope of government in economic and political affairs can be traced back to classical liberalism, and to the basic philosophical question: are human beings social animals who strive for individuality, or are they individuals in nature who form social contracts with one another? In other words, is society prior to individuals, or are individuals prior to society? From the individualist conception, one strand of thinking insists that freedom consists in removal of impediments (negative liberty) while another calls for developing capacities to function as productive members of society (positive liberty). The former therefore posits a minimal role for non-voluntary institutions while the latter envisions a more expansive role for non-voluntary institutions insofar as they foster individual capabilities. Collectivists on the other hand take for granted a community in a political relationship, whose sustenance depends on collective projects and collective action. This advocacy is based on the view that social rationality expressed through collective processes has a greater moral value than market rationality that is driven by the pursuit of private gain. The public domain stands for more than simply the particular interests of the members that compose it – rather it insists that people have a relational obligation to each other, and ought to care about affairs that concern them in common.

The Public as the general

Very often, ‘public’ is a shorthand for general, that stands in contrast to particular. The shift in meaning is significant since here the general stands for the whole (everyone in society) and therefore evokes an undifferentiated collectivity as opposed to interests of specific groups. This is the sense in which the term ‘public space’ or ‘public right of way’ is used – a resource that in theory is for everyone. The concept becomes clearer in reference to, say, the Metro system in Mumbai, which is hailed as a ‘public transport’ project, but in the sense of mass transit (that transports many people at once) rather than a universal public service (that provides affordable mass transit as an essential right). In the context of extreme social inequality, universal access is indispensable to the poor, but unjustifiable to elites. Consequently ‘public’ interventions are acceptable insofar as they can be captured by better-off groups. The policy of handing over ‘public’ parks to local NGOs and resident groups for ‘care taking’ is a handy example of elite capture. 

The Public as the popular

An alternative to the general-particular framing is the notion of public as popular – in contrast to the special – which invokes social class as the key referent. In positive usage, the public is the site of community, social action and popular culture. The city is produced collectively, and the public realm is where identity, assertion and enterprise find their best expression. On the other hand, this usage can also be pejorative, in the sense that what is public is ordinary, the domain of the riff-raff, or a sign of the unworthy – as something that must be escaped from rather than fostered. Even in situations where public services and systems function well, a conspicuous withdrawal from the ‘public’ serves as an index of status and prestige. In our context, where the basic infrastructure and services are plagued by official apathy and neglect, the public seems to be the last refuge of the wretched. The state of basic health and primary education in the city serve as an illustration: surveys on healthcare indicate that low-income households chose public healthcare out of economic compulsion rather than choice. Since de-industrialization, a large section of the city’s population now relies on the urban public realm for shelter, livelihood and services, accentuating elite anxieties about ‘urban problems’, which in turn have made the public arena more vulnerable to privatization and renewal. 

Urban Practitioners- Context and Challenges

KRVIA Blog

Urban Practitioners- Context and Challenges

Anand Wadwekar | Associate Professor at SPA, Bhopal I KRVIA Masters Thesis Publication 

In 1972, when Manual Castells wrote ‘The Urban Question, he referred to the term “urban” as the ideological apprehension of the collective reproduction of labor power in capitalist societies. Since then, cities have changed to a complex agglomeration of densities and information. A contemporary city is no more an entity in space and time but a dispersed mass of ‘enclaved’ identities where heterogeneities interact to form urbanism of multiple and contested cultures. Indian cities are increasingly working in parts and parcels since the intrusion of global communication networks. From the urban theory viewpoint, a patchwork city is a process happening on a world scale; the fragmented remnants now act as building blocks of the city. The principle of continuity is based no longer on ‘artifact’ but on the networks that articulate and flow through and the background surrounding them.

Indian cities are full of diversities and contrasts where urban practice can’t be seen in isolation from research. In India, the city became part of the discourse on urban life, livability, and experience only after the post-liberalization period. With exposure to different cultures across the globe through media, the city became the central object for understanding our cultural and political positioning in the context of an interconnected world. We need to rethink the emerging difference between urbanization and urbanism in this background. On one side, urbanization was accepted as both a process and a result of the city’s geographic expansion of economic activities coupled with population increase. On the other hand, imported urbanism has become a newfound obsession of the state in which the city is evaluated with global expectations of living, experience, resilience, and inclusivity. As urban practitioners, we need to decode the city through the layers of both urbanization and urbanism to reposition our thinking and responses in today’s times.

To situate ourselves, we shall look into the following domains; political, social, environmental, and technological imaginations of the city. First, the ‘urban’ politics has come a long way after India’s policy change in accordance with decentralization, disinvestment, and liberalization. The governance model was centered mainly on systematically consolidated municipalities, fiscal powers to the local government, and infrastructure maintenance. Whereas in contemporary times, the city image, branding, and urban spectacles further added to the complexity of the governance. Along with it came projects focusing on infrastructure, beautification, mobility shifts, and a pan-city ‘net’ of services. Urban practitioners need to weave this change in practice and redraft the city’s global and local aspirations.

Second, the social dimension has taken a new turn; Castells’s network society imagined in 1996 has become a reality. According to Castells, networks constitute the unique social morphology of our societies. The city has transformed into an abstract space of personalized networks where association and interaction are ubiquitous and continuous. This has essentially placed an urban artifact into a maze of information flows. In times like these, the built environment will further go through a significant transformation where ubiquity will be the key to making urban space dynamic and expanding. Ubiquity also means continuous data consumption, and urban practitioners need to imbibe ways and techniques to include data as a critical driver of both design and research. Along with data consumption, cities will also be   data producers. The born-digital data[1]* will drive how strategies are devised and how localities receive design and infrastructure services. The unbundling of infrastructure creates a distinct urban form that is scattered, splintered, and spread across the area of the city, especially the periphery. As these dispersed forms get connected by network flows, they become an essential carrier of raw data, which then gets consumed by the city. The flow, control, speed, and direction of the information will be critical dimensions of city planning and design, and urban designers need to place them in the right frame.

[1] Born-digital records are records that have been natively created in digital format (rather than digitised from paper records)

Thirdly, the environmental dimension is now more critical than ever before. The rapid growth in the South Asian continent created weak, unsustainable urban systems and networks and, therefore, more vulnerable to stresses and disruptions in the environment and ecological processes induced by climate change. These vulnerabilities over time have been identified as hydrological, socio-economic, livelihood, and socio-political. Because of their continuous exposure to climate change events, marginalized communities face the most acute shocks due to inequality and asymmetrical power in our operative and governance systems. Urban practitioners shall create conditions of possibilities in the networks and flows of a system in a most transformative and adaptive way.

Climate change will alter the atmosphere, built, and physical environment. It will have a wide-ranging impact on socio-economics, political and human aspects of urban form, and not the least, the economy. Most of the time, the already distressed, marginalized, and poor communities are forced to occupy hostile and environmentally vulnerable places in the city for habitation, which makes them more exposed to the disaster risks. With approximately 68% of the population living in poverty, India needs to spatially address how the urban poor will survive the increased risks of climate change events. The role of urban design as a practice at this juncture has to go beyond mere buildings and spaces and shall encompass the designing of resilient systems where multiple urban actors are at play.

Currently, the climate change discourse in urban design is limited to landscape urbanism and green infrastructure ideas, and it will need to go beyond these dimensions. Urban designers will have to switch to a new lingua-franca of urbanism and environmental change. Energy poverty, risk resilience, adaptive design, transformative design, and water-sensitive urbanism will have to be included in the design vocabulary and how designs are conceptualized and communicated. A climate-resilient plan of a city is a must for any city in India if it has to provide sustainable life and urbanism. Urban practitioners will need to reorient the design towards a new idea of a ‘public’- a climate-conscious society. 

Fifth, the technology dimension is emerging as the base of how cities are imagined and projected. Information and communication technology (ICT), Internet of things (IoT), Sensors, Geospatial technology, Artificial intelligence (AI), Blockchain have emerged in the recent past as tools to tackle the problems of control, monitoring, and realization of various conditions generated by the complex urban environment. The ever-growing dependence only on technology to solve urban infrastructure problems is creating a new idea of a city-a technocratic one. The reality of cities as human agglomeration is slowly being drifted away and reduced to a technological problem. Urban practitioners need to advocate the human aspects of the city and urban form. The challenge is to intertwine the technology and the humane dimension of urbanism.

On the other hand, challenges, too, are constantly evolving. A few of the important ones are climate change, data-centric design thinking, and unbundling of infrastructure. As the city is now a system of networks and flows, city design must become more about how creatively we engage with these challenges through urban system design.

The city’s discourse is now mainly centered around how climate responsive our approach is. Urban Design will need to extend its disciplinary boundaries beyond the designing of the place and establish how the system adapts to the changes in the environment. Floods, Heat Island Effect, groundwater depletion, and loss of vegetation cover will not remain only environmental problems but will need a  response through resilient urban feedback systems like water sensitive urbanism, the circularity of design, and most importantly, the ability of a design to recombine with new expanse and unbundling of infrastructure.

This brings us to another critical role of urban design as an infrastructure switch, essentially acting as an interface between service infrastructure and urban form. The recent global focus on mobility and related technology in cities has created a city on the move experience. Urbanism has become all about movement in space and the ubiquity of engagements. Mobility plans of cities are not about connectivity but also design experience and clubbing it with a new urban identity. After the metro rail insertions, the city has drastically changed the way places are experienced, imagined, and portrayed. The bicycle plan for cities has brought much-needed haptic engagement with the street and buildings. The role of urban designers in such a context becomes that of visualizers, along with skillfully weaving the urban fabric with transit experiences. The infrastructure switch here will need to be mediated by urban design via combinations of multiscalar, multilevel interventions of clusters of buildings. Such switches are the spaces for collective actions. The movement in the city is also through walking. The experience of walking and its rebranding in contemporary urbanism has made city streets the core of healthy city discourse. Walkability in different urban conditions tells us how urban form gets shaped by it. Reengagement of the built edge with the street due to walkability also reminds us about slow life, which we need to reclaim. Urban practitioners, through their design projects and interventions, should advocate the need for slow life for creative dialogue with the city.

In the fast-paced technological domain in city planning, urban designers also need to reiterate the need to keep intangibles in the city at the core of urban thinking and values. As we are moving toward more advanced ways of mapping urbanism, there is a threat of losing what constitutes urban experiences, such as the sense of place, smellscape, soundscape, etc. If our cities are to be made inclusive in a real sense, it is the embeddedness of intangibles in everyday urbanism which we need to knit into the imaginations of our cities. As technocratic urbanism in contemporary times is seen as a solution to urban issues, the place for informality, ordinary, and subaltern in the ‘urban’ needs to be strengthened for a diverse city.

Cities are no more merely the assemblage of urbanized masses; instead, they have become intense and concentrated fields of networks and flows of various entities. The flow of people and the network of the systems are now building blocks of the city. This is evident from the changes in the cities we have been experiencing, especially in the transportation plan, internet of things, heterotopic spaces, cloud urbanism, etc., which dictates how urban form is shaped. The challenge is to trace and track the spatial changes triggered by such elements and integrate them into the design.

The south Asian continent is characteristic of urban informality, and cities in this continent cannot be imagined without the juxtaposition of the formal-informal urban systems. Given the high population density in the Indian city, it is natural that any urban intervention will have to nurture these two parallels. Placing informality as an essential trait of Indian urbanism is one of the complex challenges for urban designers and practitioners. The description of the complex systems can be summarized meaningfully by quoting urbanist Kim Dovey, –“the forms through which urban informality emerges, infiltrates and insinuates itself into and around the formal city.”. Urban practitioners will need to lessen the control on the formal city to let the informal system percolate into it. The city’s success lies in the coexistence of formal, informal, and grey systems. The rejection of the binary ( formal-informal, legal-illegal) is the first step toward a just city.

As we move towards refinding the meaning of urban, we will come across the multiple actors in the city. The contexts and challenges can become interchangeable. Urban practitioners will have to rethink their design approaches, research tools, and disciplinary boundaries at that juncture. The restructuring of the world’s urbanization patterns in the recent past has given rise to different planetary urbanism, which now centers on the global south. The emergence of a new city in the global south will decide the future course of what constitutes the ‘urban.’ Practitioners will need to reimagine the city’s problems in new contexts. These contexts will vary from climate change to placelessness, from adaptation to increased polarization, and from ecological awakening to planetary systems of resilience. 

Encounters: Amritsar; Recovering heritage of a City – Towards Charting a New Narrative

KRVIA Encounters

Gurmeet S. Rai

KRVIA Encounters: Amritsar; Recovering heritage of a City – Towards Charting a New Narrative
Gurmeet S Rai’s (Founding Director and Principal Conservation Architect –
Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (India) Pvt Ltd) engagement had been in preparing the nomination dossier for the Golden temple, preparing a cultural tourism development plan, conservation and revitalisation plan for the Gobindgarh fort, leading to urban level strategy for the city as part of the HRIDAY program

KRVIA ELECTIVE | Pop Culture and Semiotics: Multi-Disciplinary Discourse

KRVIA Blog

KRVIA ELECTIVE | Pop Culture and Semiotics: Multi-Disciplinary Discourse

Faculty: Manoj Parmar

We live in a world in which aspects of post-modernity are in constant tension with aspects of modernity and pre-modern existence. A world that is both industrial and postindustrial, in which many of the qualities that characterized modernity i: e the speeding up of time and compression of space that resulted in part from urbanization, industrialization, and automation, have become a question of conflict in post-modernity alongside and in relation to virtual technologies and the flows of capital, information, and media in the era of globalization.

The postmodern is distinguished by the idea that there is not one but many truths and that the notions of truth are culturally and historically relative constructions. In a postmodern world where old uncertainties are undermined and identities are fragmented, the way forward for those working with popular culture has become less clear. In such condition, the KRVIA elective tries to locate the pop culture tendencies in our everyday life and identifies its influences in our built environment.

Chair | Text Credit: Shreya Sai Iyer

The chair which has been performing a major function of allowing a space to sit has been a part of pop culture for a long time. It makes a random appearance and seamlessly fades into the background in an instant. Different kinds of chairs have been famous in pop culture through their ownership or usages.

The iron throne from the famous drama series game of thrones has been iconic since its debut. There are various copies and installations of the throne which are placed to use it as a promotion tactic for the series or an event following the series as a theme. Similarly other chairs such as the square captain’s chair from star trek or the egg chair used in MIB can be recognized without any context around it and are hence used as marketing schemes in the form of pop arts for photo ops.

An object of all seriousness such as an electric chair can be used as a form of pop art and be circulated free for all to consume. Andy Warhol’s Electric chair is one such example.

Image Credit: Author

This machine used for the cruelest death penalties is transformed into pop art which can be seen in houses of various people or as phone wallpapers open for all to consume and to interpret it in their own ways. The chair dome by pop artist Tadashi Kawamata is another pop installation made up of different chairs that is consumed by people in a way different from the object’s original function.

The installation is used as a scenic backdrop and as a pavilion-like structure by the people around. It seems interesting and appalling to people as the shape of the structure is that of a dome but it is made out of materials which one wouldn’t generally see a dome constructed of making it an element of surprise. Shelter by LIKE architects is another such project in which a group of chairs have been put together to form a pavilion which looks like a shelter.

The pavilion provides a shelter from the sun for kids to play around. It also peaks the interest of people due to its unique configuration and the shadows it gives when the sun shines on it. The Urchin pavilion by CODA is another such pavilion which peaks the viewers attention and also provides a public space for gathering and interactions.

Through pop culture objects as mundane as a chair become sensational or trendy. They lose their initial meaning but transform into something much more eye-catching and give back to the society.

Lens  | Text & Image Credit: Suprangya Singh

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Image Credit: Author

A physically and metaphorically transparent object, present anywhere from spectacles to our phones and laptops to telescopes to our own eye, lenses are a part of our every visual experience. Its pellucid nature fails to camouflage in the space set up by pop artists, presented at a farfetched scale to repeating more than usual, it exists synonymously yet dissimilar with the inspired. Its configuration is changed to fit in a new space, play a queer function, bear a strange meaning and at the same time appear as a symbol.

Image Credit: Author

Image Credit: Author

Folks all the around the globe are seeking lens as an art or an engineering tool, customizing its movement. Through the artistic lens, lenses are seen as an interruptive entity as in interacting in a non-existing way. ILLUSION LENS centered at the rooftop of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower sitting in the Japanese city of Tokyo, was envisioned by a French artist Vincent Leroy to strip the watchers away from the noise and activity of the bustling city and introduce a fragmented vision of the city through a geodesic ball bringing the feeling of contemplation.    

From the reflections of the ever-changing peaceful sky to the dooms of what lies within it, let’s just say it is or was not all sunshine and wine for the commercial building 20 Fenchurch Street situated in London. Preaching for the sky while possessing a concave shape on one side, the building has melted cars, burned the sidewalks and has gotten very low reflexive response from the public. Handling the wrath of the environment is hard for every element on this planet but this structural poetry has launching fatal rays straight towards the locals and their assets leaving no other choice to the commonwealth and getting tagged as the “ugliest British building”.

Bringing the graph up from an unfortunate drop, it is now the engineering and space sector demonstrating how to catch the incoming and make use of it. Concave elements have been a significant part of space aeronautics for almost as long as we have stayed curious about our solar system, from rockets to satellites to telescopes all possess this tool. The gigantic Aperture spherical telescope in proprietorship of the Chinese is signal catching device which helps its space station garner informative and educational figures on what is beyond us to explore.

The reoccurrence of this shape, function, purpose has evolved and reinvented from sectors to sectors in the society, at the same time finding meaning with the context has only become harder. On one hand we are progressing as a community in the art and technology sector but exceptions like the British building shows a completely distant perspective to usage of the existing. Is finding the meaning in every little thing a thing of the past or are we just being judgmental towards the new ironies in the growing age? If the function of the same object to be repeated everywhere it is in existence? The answer foes not remain a simple yes or no, it is asking us how much freedom are we ready to give to the newer meanings to be bread and birthed.

The Balloon | Text Credit: Ananya Joshi Iyer

The first balloons were made by Michael Faraday in 1824, to use in his laboratory. Rubber and foil balloons grew increasingly popular in the 20th century for celebrations in the United States, and even in East Asia as sky lanterns during festivals. The balloon has predominantly been recognized as an icon for celebration, for joyful occasions. However, its recent transformation by artists breaks down this notion and makes one question not only the act of celebration, but what it is that we are celebrating, that we are protecting.

Made in 1988, one of Jeff Koons’ earliest works, Rabbit, is a sculpture that at first glance, seems to evoke a sense of nostalgia and childlike innocence, referencing Disney or even Lewis Caroll’s works. But when one continues to observe its facelessness, its shiny steel appearance, it almost radiates a sinister side to it, and we start thinking of alien life, the Playboy bunny or even some of Marcel Duchamp’s works. What appears to be a carrot in its mouth even seems like a politician holding a microphone.

Then in 2008, when Koons placed his infamous balloon sculptures inside the historical Palace of Versailles, many argued that he contaminated the history of the site. But was the existing history really one to be celebrated? Must we celebrate Louis XIV who impoverished his nation to build this establishment? Must we celebrate the notorious Marie Antoinette?

Koons mocks this institution and what it stands for. The decision to place these whimsical objects in such a historically significant site could be seen as a casual gesture, but the way it makes viewers question not only its placement, but also the importance of the context itself, is where I feel Koons succeeded.

As part of Kurt Perschke’s RedBall Project that began in 2001, viewers all over the world witness a large red inflatable balloon awkwardly placed at landmarks across their cities. Perschke used the object to create such encounters in their everyday spaces, and aimed to create not only a sense of curiosity about the art itself, but also made viewers a part of the installation when it led them to wonder where else it would ‘fit in’, creating multiple identities for the object.

I interpreted the RedBall Project in two ways; one, that Perschke draws public attention to existing landmarks, giving them a new identity, perhaps even reiterating their existence to viewers. Alternatively, he could be mocking their importance, like Koons, by awkwardly inserting an alien object that almost overpowers the existing structure and becomes the center of attention. Also, the very fact that this mere ball travels all over the world and inserts itself into these attractions makes us believe that it is more powerful than these stationary, unchanged so-called landmarks.

2007, Hans Hemmert created German

As part of the Art Festival, TRACK, in Belgium in 2012, a floating balloon with the city’s public arts center complex atop a huge boulder, was created by Ahmet Ogüt, titled, ‘Castle of Vooruit’.  It was an ode to an artwork by surrealist painter Rene Magritte. At first glance, we feel that the balloon has been used to blur the boundaries between logic (the real) and the illogical (the fictional). But the decision to use the art center instead of the castle makes a statement about the accessibility of such spaces to the public. He successfully creates a tension between the past and the present by questioning their celebrated history.

Thus the balloon, that we often regard simply as a childish, whimsical object used for frivolous celebrations detaches from stereotypes and questions the authenticity of the new contexts that it latches into. Artists have successfully created works that have made viewers an important part of their works, who with their own history and imagination, can discover as well as fracture the many meanings.

Spork in the art

Forks and spoons, mundane everyday objects no one bats an eye to, found on every person’s dinner table. They have been linked with food since the early days of cutlery. Earlier seen as items used by the nobles to eat food in an orderly and clean manner. Now they have spread all across the globe. Cutlery in the old times was highly decorated with intricate carvings and ornamentation. During the modern era artists interpreted cutlery as more of an utility item than a luxury item. They designed cutlery to be as functional and cheap as possible, coming up with the sleek metal design to also look futuristic. Cutlery was also used by pop culture in various ways.

Andy Warhol famously took the idea of modern utility to the extreme by combining all the different utensils into one design to create the “Warhol Cutlery”. By removing anything unnecessary, the utensils are presented more like tools to be used. In this piece cutlery is looked upon as a tool to eat food and not a standard of eating.

Claes Oldenburg who was known for playing with scales and proportions of an object also used cutlery as a subject. The spoonbridge in Minneapolis is a sculpture of a giant spoon laying over a stream with a cherry on its head. This plays with the relation between the art and the viewer where the art is present as a larger than life object changing the perspective of the viewer. The cherry is related to the vegetation in the park it sits in. The spoon has become a staple icon in the city. A similar piece was erected of a fork called the ‘Leaning Fork with Meatball and Spaghetti II’. A large fork leans against a wall with a meatball with spaghetti on it. There’s a stark difference in how these two sculptures are presented. The spoon gently sits on the ground almost blending in with the nearby landscape and holding a cherry, while the fork is upright with a meatball stuck to it which sticks out like a sore thumb. The spoon is seen as a harmless, gentle object, while the fork is viewed as a more dangerous object.

Artists also explored cutlery as a material. Matt Bartik bends spoons and forks to create sculptures. He created a cutlery stand made up of forks and spoons as satire to show the various ways of using different materials. Edible cutlery was also explored by some artist flipping the narrative on its head, when the tools used to eat are eaten themselves. The role of cutlery on the dinner tale has not changed but its meaning has been explored and challenged by pop culture over the years to create new ways of viewing and eating.

Image Credit: Manoj Parmar Architects

Encounters: Transforming the Human City

KRVIA Encounters

Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros

Dr. Nikos A. Salingaros is Professor of Mathematics and Architecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio. An internationally recognized Architectural Theorist and Urbanist, he holds a doctorate in Mathematical Physics from Stony Brook University, New York.
Salingaros published research on Algebras, Electromagnetic Fields, and Thermonuclear Fusion before turning to Architecture and Urbanism.
His publications include the books Algorithmic Sustainable Design, Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction, A Theory of Architecture, Principles of Urban Structure, and Unified Architectural Theory, plus numerous scientific articles. He co-authored with Michael Mehaffy the books Design for a Living Planet, and A New Pattern Language for Growing Regions. He is editor of many professional journals covering
architecture, design, and urbanism. He collaborated with the visionary
architect Christopher Alexander in editing the four-volume The Nature
of Order. Salingaros won the 2019 Stockholm Cultural Award for
Architecture, and shared the 2018 Clem Labine Traditional Building
Award with Michael Mehaffy.