Having studied the Studio’s output, there is no doubt in my mind that these gifted architects are finely tuned to distilling the best of India in everything they do. I am certain that they choose the clients and projects carefully and work closely with their own craftsmen, with sufficient resources at hand, ensure that the finished products are a true synthesis of the best the country can offer.

This admiration did not rescue me from feeling slightly uneasy when confronted with their wonderful, intellectually teasing offering in V&A’s Cast Courts in among the Renaissance masterpieces.

The V&A’s brief to produce buildings representing refuge, shelter, contemplation and worship has been met and easily satisfied. Their miniaturised, compact, top lit world evokes visual images which can bring works of Bawa, Zumthor and Ando and many others within a touching distance.

What I found difficult to reconcile with was a direct comparison (as shown on  the video describing the exhibit) between the realities of this compact shack for eight souls made with found materials offering scant shelter from rain, cold and heat and the visual delights it exudes through the display. In this instance insertion of an extra word ‘survival’ could have made the brief more challenging and pertinent.

The placing of this ‘exhibit’ among the illustrious neighbours has to make you smile. Well framed views of David’s anatomy from within, give boost to Michelangelo’s efforts which he would have never dreamed of. Meanwhile, the frozen expressions on marble faces staring at this unexpected landing  look astounded after half a millennium of passive disdain.

I would love to travel back to 1465 on a ‘time machine’ to Florence Cathedral yard to rescue the huge Carrara marble block awaiting Michelangelo’s final conversion to David . I would then transport it to one of the passageways of Mumbai slums of early 21st Century and ask a needy family of eight people to do whatever they would like to do with this piece of marble to turn it into their home. The final results of their efforts (including working chisel marks) would than be exhibited in the Cast Courts of V&A Museum in the summer of 2010.

I am looking forward to a brilliant future for  Studio Mumbai and sincerely hope that some time in future they may also turn some of their energy and attention to living conditions of tradesmen working with them and the temporary dwellers  occupying tiny spaces around their studio in Mumbai.

See video made for the exhibition here;

http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/architecture/smallspaces/videos/Studio-Mumbai-Architects/index.html

Studio Mumbai Web Site

http://www.studiomumbai.com/

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You sometimes hear from architects in the developed world that they welcome a certain amount of constraints on design process in order for them to respond and tame these challenges to produce a project which is able to withstand intellectual and practical scrutiny. A perfectly understandable stance especially when their unborn creation with lavish budgets can easily be built in any one of thousands of shapes and forms capable of being dressed in hundreds of finishing materials. An exciting visual outcome would be a topic of discussions among peers and would consume pages of architectural press with seductive photographs for months.

I would like to draw your attention to a couple of contrasting situations in developing world where two architects fully conversant with the modern architectural conventions of developed countries decided  voluntarily to give it all up to start learning the indigenous techniques right from  scratch as a self imposed discipline with minimal resources.

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The first architect is Laurie Baker, a British born and trained architect who practiced in southern India for over 45 years.

Although, I have followed his work with great interest but never had pleasure of meeting him or seeing his work in India. The following words and scans of some of his work are taken from an article by an Indian architect Gauthum Bhatia who has written a lot about Laurie’s life and work.

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He produced a huge and varied body of work ranging from churches, schools, institutes and hospitals and low cost housing.

“And yet it is not the number of buildings that Laurie Baker has designed, nor the range of architectural commissions he has executed that sets him apart from any other architect in India. What makes Baker’s contribution unique is the remarkable way in which he has drawn creative sustenance from the environment in which he works, absorbing vernacular patterns of construction and individual styles of living to such a degree that he has been able to give back to his clients the comfort and ease of building that are firmly rooted in the culture of their region.

In each of the buildings Baker has designed, he has asserted the appropriateness of traditional construction in local conditions, adopting existing local technology to contemporary structures.

Recognition of Baker’s contribution to architecture has a singular timeliness today. It comes at a time when questioning conscience has provoked the developing world to look inwards, to solutions of its own making. Baker in India remains a lone protagonist, experimenting singly and quietly in a distant corner of the country and providing information on the causes and results of his numerous architectural interventions.

The idiom Baker has evolved to suit the particular problems of his clients in Kerala is not a formula applicable to all similar situations; and yet, from it stems an entire ideology of architectural practice, a pattern that is revolutionary in its simplicity and its contradiction of the accepted norms of architecture in contemporary India. Baker’s built work is an effective demonstration of his own strengths, his own interpretation of tradition, technology and lifestyle.”

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*“Baker sought to enrich the culture in which he participated by promoting simplicity and home-grown quality in his buildings. Seeing so many people living in poverty in the region and throughout India served also to amplify his emphasis on cost-conscious construction, one that encouraged local participation in development and craftsmanship – an ideal that the Mahatma expressed as the only means to revitalize and liberate an impoverished India. This drive for simplicity also stemmed from his Quaker faith, one that saw indulging in a deceitful facade as a way to fool the ‘Creator’ as quite pointless. Instead, Baker sought to provide the ‘right’ space for his clients and to avoid anything pretentious.

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Baker’s architectural method is one of improvisation, in which initial drawings have only an idealistic link to the final construction, with most of the accommodations and design choices being made on-site by the architect himself. Compartments for milk bottles near the doorstep, windowsills that double as bench surfaces, and a heavy emphasis on taking cues from the natural condition of the site are just some examples. His Quaker-instilled respect for nature lead him to let the idiosyncrasies of a site inform his architectural improvisations, rarely is a topography line marred or a tree uprooted. This saves construction cost as well, since working around difficult site conditions is much more cost-effective than clear-cutting. (“I think it’s a waste of money to level a well-moulded site”) Resistant to “high-technology” that addresses building environment issues by ignoring natural environment, at the Centre for Development Studies (Trivandrum, 1971) Baker created a cooling system by placing a high, latticed, brick wall near a pond that uses air pressure differences to draw cool air through the building. His responsiveness to never-identical site conditions quite obviously allowed for the variegation that permeates his work.”

*”Quoted from Wikipedia”

imgbaker07altWeblink to Baker’s site;

http://lauriebaker.net/work/work/baker-on-laurie-baker-architecture.html

Links to other Flickr pictures of Baker’swork;

http://www.flickr.com/photos/26357176@N05/2652802596/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/26357176@N05/2652802310/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/26357176@N05/2705577361/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/draconianrain/3003410474/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/suninindia2008/2507754349/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/suninindia2008/2508547186/