Reflections on Swanzal Kak Kapoor's talk, "Architecture as Resonant Value "
If you glance perfunctorily through the work of SAKA as a practice, it will be difficult to trace a language of commonality that constitutes an oeuvre, understood as a singular arc that constructs the image or shape of a practice. Every project seems to be authored or designed by varied sensibilities and desires.
The practice seems to frame a programme for architecture as a participant within a larger process of change. It evolves solutions in engagement and conversation, with client, site, material, collaborators. Each project takes on languages that are emergent and accommodating rather than preconceived. The easy navigation between aesthetic expressions, material and scales seems a deliberate denial of the fetishtic translation of style, material, or even design method as ideology.
In her presentation at the KRVIA encounters, Swanzal presented projects of varied scales, described by her as “Reviving a forest (as part of a citizens’ movement), restoring an 80 year old home into a historically charged space, the creation of a recycling station that seeks to transform the ways in which citizens harness waste and a contemporary home in Coorg that belongs to a place. “This way of describing the projects as action and verb, seems also deliberate.
She also spoke of every work always in collaboration-as a larger collective project referring to a “we” that went beyond the architectural team.
For instance, the self-initiated project of the Aravalli restoration, spanned acts of collaborative design between experts on ecology, landscape architects, graphic designers and citizens.
The value of a project like this, lies not only in the “beauty of resolution and design” that responds to place but the feelings of ownership and belonging that it engenders, in new patterns of everyday life and celebration that emerge from it.
This is “design as an offering” within the world, and architecture as a part of a collective effort to make better futures. Even in the restoration of the 80-year old home at Dharmaj, into a home stay, there is a larger project of engaging the community, or making space for collective memory, and association, through the introduction of a public program and festival as well as the assembling of an expertise and capacities for future restorations.
There have been rare instances where other creators of the work find mention within the presentations that architects make of buildings. Swanzal constantly spoke of and for a collective team naming her collaborators, from landscape designers, exhibition designers, graphic designers, contractors, clients, craftsmen, friends and citizens as the makers of the project.
Very often, beyond the very material objects, or buildings, the projects imagined modes of participation, collective design and decision making. The architectural project engaged with the design of competitions, festivals, walks, resource and capacity building, etc.
Even in the recycling station, a demonstration of the ethics and aesthetics of recycling as material, opens up to communicative graphics and as part of a larger replicable systemic programme.
She spoke of the projects as a social program, and action, as an idea of a life beyond the making of an object. Towards this intent, strategies of engagement and participation become a crucial part of the design process to engender what she referred to as belonging, or wholeness in her talk.
This in itself is a way of speaking about the architectural project, that is antithetical to a legacy of architectural thinking that valorises what she with humour calls the ‘uncle’ of modernism with its paternalism, its certainty of authority, authorship and the primacy of the object.
In the crises of our times, Swanzal’s presentation suggests that architecture must become a resonant value, in empathy and in communication with the world and its possible futures in what she calls “ ever widening circles of responsibility”.
Some questions regarding the discipline emerge from the talk. What becomes of authorship- the fiercely guarded claim of professional expertise, and domains of authority of the architect in these encounters?
If we imagine this as practice- architecture as resonant value, what will become the core skills of the discipline? How therefore must architecture be taught and learned?