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Maic Voi. o No.

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Book Reviews
Christian: Portuguese Catholic, Protestant,
Anglican, Scots Presbyterian, Armenian;
Jewish; Muslim: Sunni, Shia, Bohra; Jain;
Chinese Buddhist; Parsi (and even a shrine
to Communism!) dotting the area cheek-
by-jowl is a study in inclusivity, even though
dark memories of sectarian violence do
underlie the citys collective recall.
Still, the quirky, chaotic, creatively hyper,
and lovable city comes alive and nothing
illustrates this better than the two fragments
I have chosen, one from the visual and the
other from the verbal narrative:
Tis is from an oce wall used as a bill-
board, one of Taylors best:
Te sun goes around the earth once in a
year K.C. Paul.
Note: Tere is no life on the Mars, because
Mars is not stationary as the earth, in the
space. K.C. Paul.
K.C. Paul, 12/2/3 Circular 6th Bye Lane,
Howrah 711104, India
Alongside this condent astrophysical
announcement with its inviting contact
details of the freelance scientist promoting
light and learning, I shall put an account of
a Christmas celebration in 1780, printed in
Hickeys Bengal Gazette:
CALCUTTA: Intelligence from the
Christmas ball. Monday last being
Christmas day, the Morning was ushered
in with ring of Guns. A breakfast
was given by the Honble Governor at
the Court house, and at noon a most
sumptuous dinner at which were present
many persons of Distinction, several Royal
salutes were rd from the Grand battery
at the Loll diggy, every one of which was
washd down with Lumba Piallahs of Loll
Shrub, and the evening concluded with a
ball, cheerd and enlivened by the grand
illumination and an excellent band of
Music.
Tat about sums up the soul of the feisty
city which could actually name a lane after its
famous chef, Karim Baksh. Taylor and Dass
book serves to preserve images of an age long
after its physical monuments have all but
disintegrated. In that sense it is a valuable
piece of documentation and well worth
owning by all those who feel a connection
with Kolkata.
Neelum Saran Gour
Space for Engagement: Te Indian
Artplace and a Habitational Approach to
Architecture, by Himanshu Burte. Seagull
Books, Calcutta, 2008. Hardbound, 340
pages. ` 950.
Architects are or have become more and
more visual and have forgotten that this
tyranny of the eye has led them farther from
their initial cause which is designing spaces
and places with people in mind. Te message
that comes out clearly in the book by
Himanshu Burte is a reminder that thinking
of people and equity of space would together
help the cause of architecture. Te book
which is a studied attempt at a critique of
artplaces, points out how the connection
between architecture, protocol, and practice
would make artplaces truly interactive
public spaces, bringing architecture closer
to people and the culture of a place, rather
than being obsessed with image-making.
Bernard Tsctumi contested the popular
notion that architecture is a reection of
culture, by claiming that in fact it shapes and
kickstarts cultures. Burtes engaging critique
strengthens the argument with a greater
concern for habitation.
A theoretical or even thematic book is a
rare event in the scene of Indian architecture,
where architects read little of theory and
more of building regulations and by-laws.
Tere is hardly any text to which the
community refers, philosophically speaking,
besides the development plan regulations,
standards, and technological manuals, albeit
of great importance for the profession.
However, it is encouraging to note that
there are also a few schools of architecture
where serious-minded faculty and students,
although small in number, read, analyse,
and discuss interdisciplinary approaches to
comprehend the idea of architecture anew,
often by actively participating in social and
cultural issues even at times as activists. But
the discipline of architecture continues to
debate whether it is merely an art and craft
(or the business thereof!) of building or
whether in fact it goes beyond the built form
thus touching other sensibilities, culture and
habitation.
Burtes critique of artplaces must
therefore be welcomed by all academia, who
believe this multifaceted and rich discipline
of architecture to be potentially a social and
cultural event. In his elaborate introduction
Burte explains that he wanted to focus on
artplaces because an artplace articulates
private utterances to the larger agenda of
public life. Te fact that architecture does
or can inuence the encounter between the
individual and the institution is at the heart
of this book.
Te book is divided into 13 chapters,
presented in three sections, well
complemented by footnotes, photographs,
sketches, and references from history,
psychology, philosophy, and architecture.
Te rst section deals with the concept of
engagement and wholesome habitation;
the second addresses issues of occupiability,
penetrability, legibility, sociability, and
possessability, which he calls aordances
based on the concept developed by
psychologist James J. Gibson; while the third
section is a critique of some of the existing
artplaces in India. Te three parts of the
argument present how and why architecture
needs to be oriented towards the objective
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of creating engagement between the place
and the habitation; how it could be more
responsive to the texture of habitational
actions and expectations involved in the
experience of dwelling; and nally a proposal
for a framework of concepts to map spatial
responsiveness to habitation. In the dialectics
between space and habitation the author
discusses governmental minimalism,
impoverished utilitarianism, lack of real
standards, failure of the profession to create
an information infrastructure for itself in
the country, personality of artplaces, and
institutions that teach the arts and their role.
He laments that the architecture of artplaces
is of a piece with the overblown rhetoric of
governmental cultural events.
If we look back into history, places
of worship in this country have acted as
artplaces/culture-spaces/social-places/fusion-
places. Teir locations in small towns have
been based on a strong sense of logic. Tey
have a feel for people and attempt to bring
all castes and economic strata together. I
am reminded of the Poorvas Devi temple
at Vengurla, Konkan, which is located at a
street junction and is extremely engaging,
bringing one and all into its sabhamandapa
(assembly hall), which becomes a wonderful
performing arts place. Tere are several
examples of larger and more formal temples
all over the country, where people came
together not for a cup of tea, but for an
entirely dierent purpose. Te author refers
to some of the examples of temples in the
south. Te arts too were seen in a way that
connected spirituality and everyday deeds.
Modernism and colonialism in this
country brought in a dierent, so-called
rational, perspective and the cities that
have been shaped since then have had an
entirely dierent modernist agenda, often
very tough to get over when dealing with
the bureaucracy in this country. However,
in this 21st century, India continues to have
tribal, rural, urban, and metropolitan divides
both physically and socio-culturally that
separate societies from each other. Art and
art-crafts have been treated dierently for
their nuances in the public realm. Burte,
recognizing this, primarily focuses on
urban contemporary artplaces that include
performing arts centres, theatres, teaching
institutions, museums, art galleries, as also
some bazaar places. His concern is more for
the public spaces that make these institutions
rather than the technological or other
utilitarian issues of artplaces. Such spaces
include streets, courtyards, lobbies, cafes, set
back spaces, rather than interiors of galleries
and theatres. He recognizes that the students
coming to art schools are from varied local
backgrounds and have to rst get to know
the art processes, and hence art institutions
are an important threshold for artplaces. He
gives examples of engineers like Izenour, who
wrote volumes on the architecture of theatres,
going deeply into analysing technological
issues. And yet, it was the same Izenour,
who while criticizing a theatre designed by
Louis Kahn, had ridiculed Kahns honesty
of materials saying the same concrete eect
could have been achieved in a much simpler
and cheaper way!
But one ought to rst recognize that it is
not a building or a form, but rather a space,
that an architect-patron team should be
looking at for people and their interactive-
ness. It is this that can bring them closer to
the Indian ethos, which the author says was
well attempted by the pioneers of modernism
in India Kanvinde, Doshi, Stein, Correa,
Rewal, Baker, etc. He looks at some of their
works critically to point out issues related to
human scale with respect to its protocol
and fabric, and to suggest how these could
perhaps have been more eective if their
potential to make a culture had been looked
into more acutely. He recommends Prithvi
Teatre in Mumbai and Alliance Franaise in
Bengaluru as two ne examples of artplaces,
saying that a habitable and engaging
architecture can also be transactionally and
symbolically impressive. In doing so he
attempts to break away from form-conscious
architecture.
Christopher Alexander, whom Burte
quotes often in the book, has consistently
been working on themes such as
unselfconsciousness in architecture,
wholesomeness in architecture, and more
recently the Order of Nature Series. He
has attempted an alternative approach to
perceiving architecture and urban design
which has had a signicant impact on the
international community of architects. Once
at the NCPA Mumbai, I remember Charles
Correa remarking how the heart of the
campus the central court was completely
ruined by making it a parking lot when it
could well have been a wonderful courtyard
leading to all the three theatres and in the
process becoming more like a busy cultural
hub! In fact the three main theatres in the
campus have their entrances facing away
from each other! Burte proposes a more
methodological approach than the intuitive
followed by architects. He calls attention to
the concept of engagement with public space
or artplace, then suggests through drawings
and sketches how security issues, access,
landscape, orientation, etc. might be handled
systematically so as to use the potential of
the place to promote and sustain the cultural
activity for which it is originally conceived.
Taking a cue from Gaston Bachelards
Poetics of Space, Burte touches upon the
politics and poetics of space, and the poetics
of everyday dwelling.
Tis engaging critique that takes into
account various trends and movements
in world architecture, and their inuence
on each other in shaping agenda, is a
tough discourse and probably meant for
academia and researchers as much as for
those practising architects who do not look
at their practice as business alone. One gets
the feeling that perhaps if this book had
been condensed by further editing it might
have avoided some overlapping themes in
dierent chapters and would have achieved
better communication even with students.
Landscape architecture has come of age
and would demand much more specialized
treatment than perhaps recommended in the
solutions oered through the methodology
in the book. One may also have a completely
dierent individual perception of how these
spaces should shape than that proclaimed by
Burtes sketches, without necessarily having
any disagreement with the authors critique.
Tis is Burtes rst book and one looks
forward to further thematic books critiquing
the state of architecture in this country from
this articulate writer, researcher, and thinker.
One must also compliment Seagull Books
for their courageous eort of bringing out a
well-studied book on architecture that is not
merely visual.
Narendra Dengle
Book Reviews