The unique role that
emotion, memory, and familiarity play in defining a place and its resulting
resistance to change.
For me, everything begins with
walking down a street. The street is perhaps the best avenue (pun intended) to
exploration of what exists, what works and what doesn’t in the smallest module and
the most basic level of what is called a community. Here, receptive to
observation and interpretation, is the open book of people, place and time. I
would go as far as to say that the street serves to describe (and to a minor
extent, define) the lifestyle and culture of a society. Perhaps it may serve me
well to write a thesis on the street itself, but this essay has other aspirations.
Behavior of people
in public and on the street is an assured way to read into why a place is as it
is, and why it continues to remain so. The
street is representative of a culture. One
significant aspect of culture is its resistance to change. A culture
develops over a long period of time, transcending generations and fleeting fads,
in a series of overlapping layers. Repetition of the same kinds of behavior
promotes the resultant appearance of a certain defining characteristic and aesthetic
of a place. These spaces grow organically, in response to need. It can thus be
said that they have been ‘designed’ subconsciously, without a predetermined
thought process. The only process has been that of time and evolution. Very rarely
are cities conceived in whole; in fact, a single gesture forming or dictating
the shape of a city is next to impossible. A designer may provide an outline,
but cities and cultures grow and evolve on their own over time; they may resist
outside intervention, but are never stagnant.
What dictates this evolution? What
brings about an inertia that resists intervention and change? How can
architecture introduce controlled change in the behaviour of people? Further,
how can designers create a scenario that invites positive and revolutionary
change in a place?
Cities, like humans, experience inertia
by falling into a mould created with time and experience. As much as we try to deny
it, the fact remains that we are creatures of habit. Most of our daily acts are
dictated by routine, and most of our life-decisions are influenced by
expectation. On a larger scale, this dictum is mirrored by the spaces we
inhabit. Humans seek comfort in familiarity, and spaces in a certain context
are designed as a dream which is comfortable by virtue of its predictability.
It is simply easier to create something that produces a known, albeit imperfect
result, than to experiment with something new which may result in disaster.
This is what sustains a certain behaviour and expectation of a place. However,
we need to realize that there is a flip side to this assumption: what is
unpredictable, and thus uncontrollable, need not always be negative. Many of
the greatest results are brought about by accident. These serendipitous
accidents can be brought into consciousness and channelized to produce
desirable change. This is the job of architects.
is a backdrop to life. The role of architecture and its impact on behavior are
commonly undermined, and perhaps this fact can be used to benefit design. Only
invisible intervention works towards real change. This is because change must
be introduced subtly and gradually. Any disturbance to current behavior and
lifestyle is perceived as a threat to the self, especially in vulnerable cultures
where impact of foreign entities is becoming rapidly incumbent. Designers
commonly make the mistake of distancing themselves from the spaces they design,
the mistake of ‘playing God.’ This furthers the notion of designing with an end
product in mind as opposed to an open-ended search. Many users interpret this
as a cause of their extinction, because it voids the existence of current
themes, attitudes and behaviors that do not fit into this ‘rosy picture.’ To
know a place, one must live in it, use it as a ‘user’ would. Only in this
manner is it possible to understand the dynamics and impulses of a place. Not
through case studies, generalizations or prejudice. Every place is unique, as
it should be. Every place must be studied as if it were the first and only one
of its kind. Not all revolutions need be radical. The best ones rarely are.
discourse warrants a larger canvas and a more detailed explanation. For our
purposes, it should suffice that what exists is deep-rooted, and resistant to
change. Intervention is a question of trial-and-error, because there is no
definite answer, only a series of experiments. Armed with observation and
imagination, I believe it is possible, though difficult, to transform a locale
through workable solutions. This process need not be tedious if the existing
culture and attitudes of people are understood and celebrated whilst bringing
about meaningful change in a place. Architecture, after all, is the play of
spaces. It need not be as rigid as the materials used in buildings. Architecture,
too, can be evolutionary… and revolutionary.
all begins with parking your car and taking the risk of walking down the