August 23, 2012
When one comes across the words Bangladesh and architecture, the image of monumental Louis Kahn’s building in Dacca immediately comes to mind. This little school by Anna Heringer of Austria and Eike Roswag of Germany which received the Aga Khan Award of Architecture in 2007 may not be able to reach such heights of poetic monumentality but may be able to impart a much richer legacy for the well-being of millions. The school was considered a model for future development of high design quality achieved with traditional local materials like bamboo, mud and even fabrics for Saris with the involvement of the community.
These words from the Jury of The Aga Khan Award for Architecture are worth quoting.
“This joyous and elegant two-storey primary school in rural Bangladesh
has emerged from a deep understanding of local materials and a
heart-felt connection to the local community. Its innovation lies in
the adaptation of traditional methods and materials of construction to
create light-filled celebratory spaces as well as informal spaces for
children. Earthbound materials such as loam and straw are combined
with lighter elements like bamboo sticks and nylon lashing to shape a
built form that addresses sustainability in construction in an
exemplary manner. The design solution may not be replicable in other
parts of the Islamic world, as local conditions vary, but the approach
– which allows new design solutions to emerge from an in-depth
knowledge of the local context and ways of building – clearly provides
a fresh and hopeful model for sustainable building globally. The final
result of this heroic volunteer effort is a building that creates
beautiful, meaningful and humane collective spaces for learning, so
enriching the lives of the children it serves.”
The architects describe the two- storey structure as being ‘hand-made by local craftsmen, pupils and teachers together with a European team of Architects, craftsmen and students.’
The ground floor is made of thick mud walls, with organically shaped cave-like spaces to the rear of each of three classrooms, while the upper floor is a porous, latticed space in bamboo.
The aim of the school project was to improve existing building techniques, maintaining sustainability by utilising local potential and strengthening regional identity. The architects note: ‘We are convinced that architecture means more than just satisfying a need for shelter, For us architecture and building is closely linked with the creation of identity and self-confidence. This is the basis for sustainable and forward-looking development.’
An excellent link from MoMa for this project
The contents and photos are attributed to AD of November/December 2007,with the title “Made in India”
June 22, 2011
Westbury Farm is one of the hidden treasures of Milton Keynes. This ancient rambling farm has provided a shelter for many artists for more than 30 years and has also become a resting place for either insitu ‘installations’, unfinished, unsuccessful or experimental works which could not reach the desired standards or intended destination by the artists occupying the farm.
The following abstract comes from a case study for Westbury Farm carried out by The Price’s Regeneration Trust.
“Westbury Farm is a 17th century timber framed farmhouse with brick infill and is Grade II listed. Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) compulsory purchased the farm and farmhouse for development purposes with the intention to develop the site out as part of the masterplan for the new town of Milton Keynes. The farmhouse and land surrounding it today remain undeveloped in the south-west of Milton Keynes and are now in the ownership of the successor of MKDC, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).
MKDC were approached by the Silbury Group, an artist led not for profit organisation, to lease the farmhouse for use as artist studios. MKDC at the time were keen to promote art in Milton Keynes so to encourage artists to move to the new town, and the provision of artist studios at Westbury Farm was seen as an important step in achieving this aspiration.
HCA has continued the arrangement which sees the farmhouse occupied rather than left vacant and vulnerable, resulting in reduced security and general holding costs while ensuring that the farmhouse remains in good condition.
Leasing the farmhouse to the Silbury Group has meant that any problems in regards to repairs and general maintenance requirements are reported to the HCA as and when they arise, preventing repair and maintenance issues escalating in terms of cost and scale as a result of such issues not being identified quickly enough. All of these benefits deliver value for money in the interests of the tax payer, as well as resulting in a sustainable temporary use for the farmhouse that benefits the local community.
A disposal strategy for the farmhouse will be identified when the land surrounding the farmhouse comes forward for development. As the farmhouse has been well maintained then it is unlikely that there will be any conservation deficit, making the asset more attractive to potential purchasers.”
The activity shown in the lawn infront of the farm is a weekend Raku Workshop which took place earlier this month.
Some of the ‘left-over’ works are constant reminders of artists who lived and worked here in the past and their works are only recognizable by their distinct styles.
Quiz: Below is the out come of most of the Raku day. Can you hazard a guess as to which part of the table houses the handiwork of a ‘cranky’ architect?
The picturesque Cotswold can hardly fail to remind most of us of picture postcards, chocolate boxes and soft schmaltzy classical music but it would be tragic to ignore the vernacular and even worse to turn up the nose at genuine attempt to build modern buildings in these delightful environments.
It may be worth saying a word or two about this generous architect/teacher and now also a Royal Gold Medal winner for 2008, who has influenced hundreds of young architects to carry on the best traditions of a very special ‘romantic pragmatist’ branch of expressionist modern architecture in this country for last half of the 20th century. Calling him ‘collective architectural Dad’ to me is an apt description.
Kenneth Frampton said that Ted produced “.. an architecture of Resistance” and that in his work ” .. both landscape and materiality work together to secure the uniqueness of any prevalent and continuing sense of place”
In my humble view this early project from his office encapsulates the gist of the quotation above.
These plans are attributable to Architectural Design, February 1968. It is hoped that the younger architecture enthusiasts could observe that the humble approach to create this subtle and sensitive environment does not use any ‘tight rope tricks’ and yet produces an ageless building which can not fail to enrich all the senses of viewers and users for a long long time to come.
The three buildings in dark lines were the existing structures. The main house was converted to a common room, dining room, kitchen and offices; a malt house is now a library; and the barn now houses the conference rooms.
The cross section (left to right) Roof forming cloister round the courtyard; Section through the new main residential block, cloister run next to the boundary wall at the back; Cross section through barn and conference room.
Top left. The old malt house now a library opposite, the old house now connected to the new long housing wing.Bottom right. The footpath passes between the conference rooms on right and new bedrooms on left and leads to the staff houses at the far end of the site. Note the use of insitu concrete and concrete blocks with simple stained timber and stone walls and roofs.The new residential wing turns at right angles and reaches the river, enclosing the communal space and separating the staff quarters. The end elevation of this new bedroom block helps to define the river’s edge.
Top left. Conference centre with cloister link with residential block; Bottom right. As you leave the village, all you see is the back of the old house and the stone boundary wall forming cloisters behind the residential block. This was my second visit to see the building after about 30 years and I almost missed the building because it was so well merged in its surroundings.
The second architect I would like to draw your attention to is Kamil Khan Mumtaz. A Pakistani, British trained architect, who has been working in Lahore, Pakistan since late 60s. He has been involved with Aga Khan Award of Architecture, has also led several architectural juries. He has made tremendous contributions to architectural education in Pakistan in his own modest manner.
While studying at Architectural Association in London in early 60s, Kamil was no doubt, fully exposed to the modernist thinking of that era. In tropical department at AA, Dr. Konigsburger and Rory Fonseca were there to impart the best knowledge about designing for comfort in tropical climates. Kamil also worked with Keith Critchlow and Buckminister Fuller in Ghana for a while.
On his return to Pakistan he started his practice with all the current design influences and produced some work using modern 20th century influences. It soon became apparent to him that that all his western training and appreciation of modernist principals were at odds with the local building and cultural traditions and to make meaningful architectural progress in these environments required a reappraisal of all he has learned.
Like Laurie Baker, he was fully conversant with the sustainable approach to built forms rooted in local traditions. Laurie Baker’s professional work adhered to his own brand of Quaker humanism. Kamil’s faith in Islam is influenced by Sufism, a much gentler, tolerant and almost secular approach despised by the hardcore intolerant Islamic wing causing the current disquiet throughout the world.
Laurie Baker’s was born brought up and trained in a different cultural and religious world away from India. This may have sharpened his powers of perceiving, assessing the prevailing conditions and needs in his adapted homeland and then using his humanity and talents to directly contribute to built environment which absorbed essence of prevailing cultural conditions, materials and building techniques. The resulting buildings were not afraid to introduce new materials like reinforced concrete where appropriate but never lost sight of affordability, always responded to social and climatic conditions.
Kamil Khan Mumtaz was born and grew up on the sub-continent, surrounded by some of the best examples of traditional craftsmanship, vernacular and civic architecture from pre-Mogul to British era. His professional training abroad, in his view, almost put him off course and he was forced to make some ‘mid-way corrections’ to his professional progress to return to a point where his work was ‘seamlessly’ connected to the centuries of of traditions. The factor which is starting to separate him from Laurie and others is his understanding and sincere belief in Islam and Sufism which is shaping his new work wherever enlightened and like minded clients allow.
Islam and its rich heritage offers him a framework to bridge the gap between alien western culture on one side and prevailing lack of continuity and cultural relevance in local architectural world on the other. He is striving hard to regain the understanding of the past where religion, culture and building forms and techniques were in harmony.
I have been aware of his high standards of architectural output for a while, particularly his interest in indigenous approach, trying to keep alive or revive the building traditions that continue to suffer and deteriorate in Pakistan. This is not an easy balance to strike if your clients have differing expectations and ambitions, which are sufficient reasons for Kamil to politely decline such projects.
I had the pleasure of meeting Kamil in Lahore a few months ago, when he very kindly accompanied me to show some of his building projects currently under construction.
I am going to show you the photographs I took there and apart from few descriptions I hope to use his own words abstracted from his writing or interviews (in italics).
The sensibilities of the architect are moulded by his academic training. He is sensitised to the role of “function” and of “pure aesthetics” of sensible form, but not to that of religion as a factor in the design process. Thus it is only in deference to a valued client’s sensibilities, or as a cultural metaphor rather than as religious symbol; that the average architect may be persuaded to incorporate some token reference to traditional forms into his otherwise “modern” designs.
I have been able to evoke the delights of discovering the hidden paradise with internal patios and fountains.
I have learned to work within the framework of a new discipline of symmetries, proportions, and rhythms which reflect the cosmic order and perfect balance underlying the apparent chaos of the universe
An architecture based on appropriate technology will fail to convey its message unless it also employs a language that is appropriate and meaningful in the context of a specific culture
…within these same environments the opportunities have also existed for architecture to act as a catalyst in promoting a meaningful debate which addresses issues which should be central to the discourse of architecture in these environments: Architecture can play this role by positing strategies for urban development in the context of high rates of population growth, high rates of urbanisation, and persistent poverty; by exploring the validity of urban forms and morphologies which have evolved over the millennia in this particular geographic context; by imaginatively exploiting available material resources and skills and developing appropriate technologies; by designing buildings which are responsive to the climate of their region; by developing an architectural vocabulary which is meaningful to the people and relevant to their culture and history; by creating relationships of spaces and buildings which are sensitive to prevailing social values and norms; and by clarifying the issues in the current debate on modernity and tradition in these societies.
It will be rude of me to question any of these admirable and sensible thoughts, but in all honesty I feel that Kamil may well be fighting a rearguard battle in some cases. In Lahore I saw and observed local builders and their donkeys using bamboo scaffolding, constructing very advanced modern road networks with flyovers and bridges, using pre-stressed/pre cast concrete elements of spans large enough to put the most advanced western contractors to shame.
I also saw the construction of humble dwellings for the people who were displaced from the slums where these huge roads are being built. They can only afford to buy tiny plots of land and are forced to build 2-3 storey houses for large families or often for partial letting to make ends meet.
There was no surprise to know that without fail all of these structures were using a mixture of reinforced concrete walls/columns, floor slabs and stairs to save and gain precious inches of floor space and heights.
This self-help mode of construction is well understood by all local builders and also becomes an ideal vehicle for reflecting success and ambitions of the proud owners. This often results in creating excellent stage set ‘parody’ of large upper class houses locally and in Abu Dhabi, decorated with colourful ceramic tiles and rendered surfaces and recessed lights in concrete slabs.
There is another potential pitfall of creating a schism in building new religious/civic structures and large houses for fairly well off clients in a ‘sustainable’ manner while the business of mass affordable housing is left to the self correcting Darwinian principles.
However, on balance, I wish Kamil Khan Mumtaz best wishes and luck in the world. He has already started a debate and highlighted the issues which are crucial for the well being and future of architecture and has produced many exemplary buildings to prove his points. His efforts have already introduced many craftsman to the lost art of traditional building materials and techniques. May this long continue and multiply.
Kamil Khan Mumtaz Architects site here;