EP 282 . 04 Oct 23
BV. Doshi, once said, “A house is a grain, like a small sapling in the bio-diverse wild forest”. I wonder what a public space like a temple, a monument, museum, a park, an industrial zone, a 80 floor office tower or a man made landscape is? Lets explore more about architecture and history in this 3 part series called, “An insert into the history”.
This series is brought to you by, The Drawing Board, with whom I had partnered last year. The Drawing Board is an international architecture platform based in India where students can test their understanding and skills in shaping the way communities live and thrive while preserving local heritage. TDB has been actively running Architecture competition for under graduate students since 2016. It is conceptualised by Mindspace Architects and Rohan Builders.
We begin this series with Ar. Prashant Pole. Prashant has a long and illustrious career that has spanned over three decades. His journey started with Naksha Architects in Bengaluru. He established his own firm, Genesis Architects in 1994 and has worked on single residences, apartments, offices, hotels and institutional buildings. Over these years, he has also been a visiting faculty at MCE Hassan, BIT Bangalore, SIT Tumkur, and USD Mysore. Aside from teaching, he has also been evaluating architecture design as a juror at various architecture schools in and around Bengaluru. We’ll be discussing what goes into making a museum.
Generated by AI, please expect some glitches
As I started off with BV, Doshi’s quote, and also kind of the premise is the Drawing Board, and this year’s concept is also designing the Badami Archaeological Museum. I thought I’ll just start off by asking few questions around museum as such in a much more larger context, and then maybe a couple of questions in the end, narrowing down to the current theme of this year’s Drawing Board. So why don’t you start by saying, what’s a museum, according to you? At a practical level, at an empirical level, or at a philosophical level? Why do we need them? What’s a museum for you?
Okay, I’ll start with a slightly larger perspective in the context of how do we, especially in the subcontinent, view this term called history? And museums obviously are relics of history. In some ways it’s interesting because unlike the west, we straddle, if I were to use the word, at the same time, two, three different time zones, in the sense that in most Western civilizations, it’s been chronological. You had agriculture and you had industry, and now you have information and so on and so forth. And the tendency is to move from one to the other sequentially. One age finishes, another age starts and that finishes and then one more age starts and it continues like that. So it’s easier in a way to look at what comes from which past. And there is a tendency also to record it in that kind of chronological manner. Now, unlike that in our subcontinent, India and neighboring countries included, we have this unique opportunity or unique situation where the cities are at the same time in probably two time zones.
Prashant Pole [00:04:21]:
You have industry happening and you also have information happening. Most cities are like that today bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Bombay, all of them. But if you move 150 km away from the city and start moving into the hinterland you suddenly encounter a different time zone altogether and suddenly you realize that nothing has changed there. And you come across societies, people, sometimes technology and sometimes even day to day activities which look like they belong to a very distant past which is a very unique situation that we have. Hence our understanding or the way we look at history is a little different, I guess, because sometimes for us the history which is past, the present and sometimes the future all exist in the same time zone. Everything is happening simultaneously. So it’s very difficult sometimes to qualify something as history because for somebody it is present, for somebody it is right now happening exactly the way it used to happen. And for them that is reality.
Prashant Pole [00:05:23]:
For you, probably, the reality has changed and for somebody else it’s already AI and something else. If I go to the outskirts of Bangalore, 20 km away into the electronic city zone that’s a different world altogether and a different generation of people living in that space or in that world, if you want to call it that. It’s a very paradoxical situation in some ways to describe what is history in this context. What is history to whom? For somebody, history is present. For somebody, history is something which my grandfather did and for somebody it probably doesn’t even exist in their scope of imagination. In that context, how does one start looking at things which one would want to how do you say store or display or even how do you say archive in certain ways. So that is to me a very interesting situation that we are situated in some ways. The other thing which I find also interesting equally is the way that we document history.
Prashant Pole [00:06:18]:
Why museums and things like this are a little different in our context than they are in the Western context. One because and I blame this, I won’t say blame this I attribute all this to this whole thing called climate because I’m a very strong advocate of Korea’s statement when he said that form follows climate, not form follows function. So in that context, in the Western situation one finds that because of the climatic situation that they live in lot of time spent indoors, very little activities which happen outdoors especially in the months when you actually can’t move out. So the tendency to study, the tendency to do research, the tendency to do things because you are locked indoors most of the time leads to a certain degree of what you call expertise in certain fields of discipline. That is the reason why probably research and development and lot of original thinking which happens in that part of the world basically because there’s so much time spent mulling and brooding and researching things that creates this melio for recording which is very important. Then a scientific bent of mind or a logical bent of mind has this tendency to record. I mean, when you experiment something, you record how the experiment went and you make copious notes of it and you record why it failed and then you start the next experiment again. So this tendency to write down things and record things makes them, how do you say, much more adept at writing and recording history which is an extension of the same way of thinking, if you want to call it that.
Prashant Pole [00:07:59]:
So even when you go back a few hundred years back right down to when you’re in Rome and looking at the museums and looking at Michelangelo and people like that you’ll find letters written by him and that is recorded and all that is kept. Your artifacts and your archives are so well kept, basically because there’s a tendency to record these things in a very specific and in a very detailed manner, which leads to also, how do you say, an ease, with which then one can also start displaying them or even putting them in specific boxes, if one were to call it that. Again to digress from there and come back to the subcontinent. Ours has been more a history which is spoken by the word of knowledge. Reason being that we spend so much more time outdoors than indoors that this tendency to sit and do sit and do something for hours together, days together or months together is not in our system in some ways. Which is why, in a way, we become jack of all. And the tendency to stick to one thing and continuously keep doing that is probably not inbuilt in our system. We are not hardwired for it.
Prashant Pole [00:09:08]:
In some ways, it’s because of our tendency to move in and out so often your tendency to be outdoors is so much more higher that the indoors hardly captivates you. So to that extent, the lineage or the history of recording stuff is a little less in the subcontinent and stories and the word of mouth takes much more precedence. Yeah.
Sorry to interrupt, but do you see that as an exception or a common thing? Because if you see temples or monuments, they have been inscribed and there seems to be some sort of a legacy on that front as well.
Prashant Pole [00:09:52]:
There is true. You do that only with your public buildings where probably centuries of work goes into somehow capturing something which is the essence of that age. And there’s a lot of effort and time spent into that in that one piece or one work of magnificence, if you want one more to call it which records the history of a particular age or era. I was just coming to that. So the point was that because we have this tendency to, how do you say, storytelling and the act of passing information from generation to generation by word of mouth is our way of, how do you say, passing on our history to the next generation. So this tendency of writing it down and recording it and keeping it intact the way the rest of the world does is not something which we are that adept at. We are slowly getting there. It is not something which comes easily to us.
Prashant Pole [00:10:48]:
I have these two backgrounds from which my story comes. One is this background of the fact that museums in the Indian context are a little different basically because our histories are different. The way we look at history is different. And the two is the way we record history and the way we pass on information from one generation to the next is more verbatim or used to be at least more verbatim than what it has been for centuries in the west. The act of recording stuff and archiving stuff and categorizing it and putting it in a certain order. That is the second line. And the third line is this whole idea of what do we qualify as something which we need to display. Because, like I said, since we straddle different time zones at the same time what Fun finds as something as an artifact which would want to go into a showcase is somebody’s item of utility.
Prashant Pole [00:11:47]:
He’s still using it today. To that extent, it is difficult to qualify. What exactly do you want to display and why? There’s a little quagmire there in some ways. And the fourth thing which I think is important in some ways is that, again, relating it to the subcontinent in some ways is that a majority of our population being uneducated coming from villages and towns. The museum as a typology is something which they’re not used to. It is not something which is an everyday event in small towns and you find them mostly stone in the cities and there are two cities at the most, but nothing beyond that. Nothing which traverses or moves on into the other parts of the country. Which makes it interesting because to make a place welcome for people across such a diverse range of backgrounds people who can’t read sometimes.
Prashant Pole [00:12:49]:
People who come relatively illiterate. People who come from zones where you’re not affluent enough to even think something. This is not even there in your area, in your horizon of thinking, encounter building like this or a place like this. You don’t know what to do with it or you don’t even know whether I’m welcome in this place. So this whole idea of how do you make a type of building like this easily accessible to just about everybody who would want to be in that space? How do you make it welcome enough for everybody? Which I find my fourth issue with the museum, the idea of history, the idea of recording, the idea of what to record and the idea of is it an equitable space? Is it a space where anybody and everybody can be happy or be comfortable? So this is where my initial thoughts are. I’ll leave the next question to Cool. Cool.
No, it’s so fascinating. In fact, I’m going to repeat this. I interviewed anupama Hoskare. She’s a puppeteer from Dhatu. And even she mentioned the same thing that India has many Ramayanas and India has there’s no museum. It’s kind of we are living museum altogether. We are just living in the moment. And that’s why we can have like a Vincent van Gogh museum.
But I can hardly imagine a similar one for Kabir in India.
Prashant Pole [00:14:21]:
Exactly. That’s the point. Because it’s so much a verbal history passed on through more word of mouth than something which you pin on the wall. Correct.
Cool. Now, since you have started off with a premise of museum being a little different, set up in the Indian context, but whichever museums you have seen, are there any sort of special characteristics when it comes to museum architecture? Now, maybe we can take Indian context or even locals.
Prashant Pole [00:14:55]:
Also, this is interesting because there are two things with this museum typology. I mean, having visited a few museums myself, both here and abroad, the biggest thing that one finds with museums is that most of the time it is on your itinerary of seeing a particular town or city. And it’s one of the things that you do. It is not the only thing that you do. So you’re in a hurry most of the time. And because you are rushing through these places, the tendency to move from room to room and hall to hall and continuously grapple with so much of information that you have to kind of process sometimes paintings, sculptures, artifacts, this that so many other things is that after a certain point of time there is a huge amount of fatigue. I would say visual fatigue and also the fatigue of digesting copious amounts of information. So I think the key to most good museums, I think even across the world, even when encounters them in books and some visited, is the fact that when you get this areas for repose, an area where after a few halls or between halls or wherever else it is, there is some break, there is some reason to walk out.
Prashant Pole [00:16:14]:
I’m not saying walk out of the museum, but at least a space which is not a museum or a space where you see something else or a space where you don’t see something. Probably it’s landscape. Probably it’s a courtyard. Probably it’s an open to sky space or probably in our context, in a country like ours, an open to sky space or something, which allows for a break, which allows for you to digest what you just saw. Pause. For a certain time and then move on if you want to, or take in whatever that you need to see later, depending on how fast or how slow you want to do it. So I think the critical thing in most museums is that there are loads of information to be processed in a short period of time. And the tendency for people tend to run from hall to hall or move from hall to hall in a hurry because not everybody is interested in everything.
Prashant Pole [00:17:00]:
So sometimes you pick on the good things and sometimes you just move from space to space. But then at the end of it I remember it was in Florence, if I’m not wrong, and one was rushing through the Ufic gallery and there are three, four galleries there. And after a certain point, even a Michelangelo doesn’t interest you anymore because there is so much that you have seen that you say, Enough. So that fatigue of continuously processing information is, I think, a little too tiring after a certain point of time. And I think the best museums in the world. This is a global phenomenon which I think works across the board, irrespective of climatic conditions and regions where they’ve been built in, is the fact that museums which have these breakout spaces or museums which tend to allow people to move in to other areas within the museum tend to work better than museums where it is hall after hall after hall. That, I think, is a very important phenomenon in a museum. Typology now, the next question which museum, in my mind, kind of satisfies most of these parameters that I’ve been talking about? And I think undoubtedly and most people would agree I don’t think anything comes close to or even at least within the subcontinent anything comes as close to solving this quandary other than the Gandhi, Ashram and Ahmedabad.
Prashant Pole [00:18:30]:
Now, why I say that is, I say it from three points of view. Point number one, it’s a building which has no entry, no exit. You don’t encounter a door anywhere. Wow. So it doesn’t tell you when the museum started. You’re just walking through a path and you suddenly encounter a pavilion. You walk into the pavilion, and even before you realize you’re already seeing the museum. This arrival and this whole ease with which one walks into a building type like this, I think is the most beautiful thing that can happen.
Prashant Pole [00:19:07]:
One because I think it’s one of the rare or few museums that I’ve gone to where you could see villagers walking next to you, people from the villages dotis turbans, chewing pan, doing all kinds of stuff. And they’re as comfortable in that space as anybody else. I guess it is because the threshold is so subtle. What is out and what is in is so subtly defined that you don’t even realize when the barrier got broken. I think that is the first thing that the act of entering itself, I think is code of hat trick in that. The second part is this whole idea of, like I said, the act of moving through that space which then allows you to meander in a manner where most designers tend to control how people move through museums. There is a very sequential way by, say, hall one, then you arrows point hall two, then arrows point hall three. And there is a sequence in which you see the whole thing and get out.
Prashant Pole [00:20:10]:
There’s a thread which kind of unknowingly makes you walk through a museum in a certain manner. This is one of those rare cases where you choose where you want to go. So you come back to a veranda. You stand there, you gaze at the courtyard, you see some water lilies there. You sit there by yourself ponder over what you saw in hall number one. And you could choose to go to hall number two or forget it and go to hall number three. It’s still okay. So the point is the control of what you want to see has been passed on from the designer to the viewer.
Prashant Pole [00:20:45]:
Which I think is a very brilliant strategy in some ways because then it is not an exercise in control anymore. Because most museums, because of your CCTV cameras and the security angles that direct how people are supposed to move, where they will move, tend to keep circulation on a very tight leash so that you can track them. You know where people are going and you can track them. Okay, this fellow entered here. He must pass hall two. He must be in hall three. There is no way he can go to any other hall. Now, that doesn’t happen here.
Prashant Pole [00:21:21]:
I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but from a viewer perspective, I think it’s the best thing that can happen. The fact that it takes away this whole idea of fatigue because you finished a hall. You came out, you sat in that courtyard. There are views of the green beyond. Sometimes you see the river flowing by at a little lower level. You can walk up to it, come back again and start from somewhere else. Because, as I said, the building is so transparent in all directions that there is no fixed entry point in it. If I go towards the Sabramati, there is a pavilion which leads you towards Sabramathi.
Prashant Pole [00:21:51]:
You come towards the road. There’s another pavilion which leads you towards the road. So there is this ease with which one navigates through this space, and it’s a beautiful space to be in, pondering over the life of this one, who changed the destiny of this country in some ways. So I think as a museum typology, I think it is one of the most interesting museums one can think of within our subcontinent. I don’t think anybody has even come close to it till now. Awesome.
Just a couple of questions, as in one follow up on the earlier one where you mentioned about the fatigue which just gets created. In fact, I have almost similar parallel, especially in the Indian context, is like whenever you see museums in, say, like Amsterdam or someplace else, you have typically two languages maximum. It’s English or Dutch. Or English or French. And with like, you need at least three, right? Three, perhaps four also. So documenting them, sharing them with that articulate format also sometimes doesn’t happen. And that’s why people are not interested, maybe, so they just move away. So one of the factors could be that as well.
Is this safe to say?
Prashant Pole [00:23:04]:
Yeah, absolutely. I was coming to that as the next point, which is not from the Gandhi Ashram at Abdabad, but I came across this very unique museum in Shillong, of all places. It’s called the Don Bosco Museum, and it captures the history of all the seven states, the seven sisters, as they are called, arunachal Pradesh, Meghalayar, Mizoram, Kippura, Assam, all the seven sisters, the seven states of India, and the northeastern part, the various tribes, their cultures and this and that. What I found interesting there, and I think which ties in with what you are saying is the fact that we believe that everybody who comes to the museum can read it. Now, in our context, there is also this problem that if it is an open space like this, which you think everybody can walk into, it is Greek and Dutch to people who can’t read. So what I found interesting in this particular museum was there were so many other mediums by which one could experience what is being shown there. For example, if there is a showcase which is carrying all the musical instruments of the area which have been pinned up, there is also an audio pad there where you can put on a headphone and listen to the musical instruments being played. There is an audio format, there is a video format.
Prashant Pole [00:24:32]:
There’s, obviously, the visual that you are seeing most of the time, you can read stuff. So there’s multiple ways of experiencing something I think was absolutely fascinating. There are places where one can see a dance of the tribals happening on the screen, which is right as a part of the same hall, which is also showing the other things there. So one gets to see, because the other big quandary of a museum which Korea puts so beautifully in his book, is the fact that we take objects out of their context. The minute you bring it to a museum, a spinning wheel or anything else which otherwise in a house or any other setting would have been seen in a certain manner, suddenly is under spotlight in a showcase here. So the minute you objectify something like that, you lose the context of that object or you lose the context of how this particular thing sat in its melio. In some ways, what this museum was doing, and it did it so well, was when it was showing people, it was showing them in the setting in which they lived. So there were actually models of the entire community of the village with these people walking around, beautifully done models.
Prashant Pole [00:25:50]:
And in that context, then you see clothing, you see utensils, you see the things that they use for agriculture, you see the entire setting in which this object needs to be seen. Beautiful. I think that was a very interesting way of putting this across because that is the biggest problem in most museums is that when you see an object totally devoid of context as something which is pinned or stapled on the wall, your attachment to that object or your understanding of what that object is doing there is just that. It is something there on the wall which I saw and I went. But I don’t understand its context. I don’t understand where it came from, what it did. So be it a cooking utensil or a musical instrument or the clothes people wear or the houses they lived in or whatever else that one normally sees in museum. It is interesting when some way if you can bring a context of that particular object correct, so that is one and the second, if multiple senses or multiple sensory experience could be created where it is not just what I see, I can also hear something, I can also watch something.
Prashant Pole [00:27:06]:
There are multiple things happening at the same time. I think though, the museum was not a great design space per se, but the experience was interesting.
I want to double click on this small piece of Gandhi which you mentioned, the Gandhi ashram. Is it also because of the fact that Gandhi himself was a little minimalistic, not many positions. So is it because of the subject.
Prashant Pole [00:27:30]:
Itself that they obviously the subject matter contributes so much to the whole thing, the whole idea of simplicity, the whole idea of minimalism, the whole idea of materiality, because his ashram is right next door, which will also bring in the whole idea of context. And when he’s talking about vadani in some ways that how does one then start relating to the context of the place where this museum is being put up? And what clues or what cues does one take from that whole idea of how do you place a foreign entity like a museum in a context like Badami or a small town like that, where this typology doesn’t even exist? Is it just a building then? Or is it probably like the ashram is in some ways it is an experience to me, it’s not so much a building, it is an experience because it’s a very difficult building to photograph. Yeah, sorry. No.
So we’ll come back to the Badami Archaeological Museum thing but just like one last piece in designing a museum. So Gandhi ashram would be an exception. But I’m sure there are many museums where there are a lot of artifacts and lot of subjects which are there which needs to be probably controlled in a particular climate, in a particular temperature and so on and so forth. How does other parameters like sustainability and security or accessibility, what role do these play? If you can explain with some example or are there any guidelines or best practices as to if you have something which needs to be climate controlled then this is a better way as opposed to no.
Prashant Pole [00:29:14]:
Obviously most museums will end up having some part of their collection which requires private control depending on what kind of museum it is. Obviously if it is something to do with documents and old manuscripts and stuff like that which are probably damaged by humidity or excessive light and stuff like that. But then, like I said earlier, it is nice to identify what needs spaces like that and what can manage to be displayed in spaces which probably don’t require it. It is best taken case to case and handled in a manner where it allows, like I said, the variety in which you could see these objects. Some objects could be obviously clubbed together which require this kind of controlled environment, as one would call it, which would also then reduce the dependency of most of this mechanical ventilation and lighting systems to areas which require them. And one doesn’t apply that as a formula for the whole thing because then the experience of the whole thing then becomes kind of the sameness kind of sets in. So it would be interesting, or it would be nice to check out which portions of your museum need to do that and which portions of your museum can still manage to remove some objects which probably can be displayed in a much lesser controlled environment. So it also allows you to then play with the environment of the museum in some ways that I moved into something which was much more delicate and much more intricate and where I spend more time in a controlled environment.
Prashant Pole [00:30:52]:
But then when I move out, I also see other objects and artifacts which are displayed in a slightly more natural setting where probably the control is not so much. It also helps in building the variety in some ways.
Correct? And also, if I want to extend this further, speaking about Gandhi, I think he only mentioned about saying that any place to be built should be built within the material found in five kilometer radius. Being highly decentralized, I may. Be mistaking it. But I’ve heard many times, right, we can build spaces. In fact, there’s something called as 15 minutes cities, kind of a concept now emerging. So how true is that? And how do you kind of leverage these local materials or craftsmanship to create a distinct identity for the museum? And then to your earlier point, how do you categorize this? And then any thoughts around there? Yes, so that the context emerges.
Prashant Pole [00:31:52]:
Yeah, that’s an interesting point in some ways, which brings me to the next point, which talks about this whole idea of craft, right? Because, again, relating it back to the subcontinent. The whole idea of craft in the subcontinent is something which we all encounter all the time. Saying that any part of the country you walk into or any of the crafts that you normally end up seeing, you always encounter this situation. Saying that the last generation was doing this or this is the generation doing this, but their children are not going to do this anymore. That is a common thread of thought that you’ll hear across the country and related to most crafts, whether it is building crafts or weaving or whether it is painting or whether it is anything else. Now, the reason that mostly happens is basically because mostly the crafts in our country and this is again bringing back connections to what this museum needs to also be doing, is the fact that crafts are left to remain as crafts practiced the way they were practiced for centuries. Generation after generation, prides itself in doing the same thing. Now, the problem that creates is that as the context outside is changing, these society outside the towns and the villages and the cities are changing so rapidly that some of these crafts lose their importance or relevance, basically because the context outside is so different from when these crafts were practiced.
Prashant Pole [00:33:24]:
So the only way for a craft to survive or a craftsman to survive or an art to survive in that context would be that it has to evolve. Nobody doubts the skillfulness of a craft. But if that skill can evolve and do something more which is where I would even put it to you as a designer, saying that as a designer, if I’m working with a craftsperson, it makes sense that with the help of the craftsperson. A designer can evolve something out of that craft, which helps both. The crafts guy gets the advantage of having learned something more to do with his skill, which is much more probably current or much more in sync with what is happening around in terms of the kind of artifact being produced or the product being produced. And as a designer, it also helps you to work with somebody who’s that skillful, which otherwise you would never encounter. So whether it was building, I’m bringing it back to this idea of building and the whole story of the materiality and construction that you talked about sustainability anyway, talks about this whole idea of sourcing materials within a certain range, that your carbon footprint of bringing materials from far off places is that much reduced. One doesn’t deny that at all.
Prashant Pole [00:34:42]:
But the point there I’m trying to make is different. Saying that simply taking something which is there and saying, I’ll use it the way it is, is, I think, in a way, not doing justice to what those crafts actually mean. If the materials are found in a particular region and there are crafts, people are skilled artisans or people who work with those materials, it would be interesting or it would be nice to look at a situation where those crafts are made to do things which are not what they were earlier doing. There is an element of design involved which forces or educates the craftspeople to look at the same things that they were doing all these years a little differently, which then also makes that craft evolve and makes it, I would say, not lucrative, but at least a reason for somebody else to continue the legacy. Otherwise, people tend to rob these things simply because there is not enough. The economics don’t make sense simply because that craft is not selling as it used to, probably in your father’s time or grandfather’s time. So that is the next big thing which also comes to building construction and skills and skilled craftsmen and the whole idea of traditions which exist in the building industry in certain regions of the country if one has to. Use them and kind of see that they don’t die out or are given the right kind of patronage, if you want to use the word.
Prashant Pole [00:36:19]:
The best way to do is to get these people to collaborate with architects, designers, whoever can help them get their crafts and skills to evolve. That is an interesting proposition, because that will then look at this whole idea of how does one build in a situation like this with these issues that one is talking about.
I remember me talking to NAND Kishore Chaudhary from Jaipur Rugs, and I think they have done a really good job of clearly empowering the artisans and the craftsmen and still keeping their integrity or aesthetic sense alive. You have any examples of where it has been done in India or abroad, where the natural setup is being very elegantly and organically seen in the museum or any monument? I mean, monuments have historically we have seen those, but more in the modern age.
Prashant Pole [00:37:19]:
You’re talking about museums in the contemporary sense or materiality and construction in contemporary museum. Correct?
Prashant Pole [00:37:28]:
I don’t recall anything which is of that significance, which has been done currently, right now, which kind of captures the essence of these kind of things. But there are examples of projects which have not done so much in the museum typology, but otherwise in the other typologies in hotels and probably in resorts and in some public buildings. Some of these examples have been done successfully, but I don’t remember immediately recall anything that a museum has been done with the same kind of tennis where a certain craft or a certain traditional way of building has been put to test and kind of done much more logically in the current context.
Yeah. In terms of architecture and buildings, we can see many examples right. From the I think the Jaipur Girls School, which is quite famous on social media. But yeah, anyway, I visited that school.
Prashant Pole [00:38:31]:
Very recently, just about five, six months. Oh, nice. Okay.
And this year’s theme is to redesign the existing Badami Archaeological Museum.
Prashant Pole [00:38:43]:
I don’t want to give away or maybe give away any ideas, but generally I’m hoping that the undergrad students will be listening to this. How can they approach integrating this cultural diversity and also the historical significance, especially into design?
Prashant Pole [00:39:01]:
So you have any ideas? Any I don’t know how to put it, but you know what I mean.
Prashant Pole [00:39:07]:
Yeah, I know. It’s interesting because I’d taken my second year students this is 2016 to Madami. There is a small movie which we had made on Madhami. I’m sharing the link with you. You can put it up as part of this podcast if you want to. Sure. It’s a ten minute video or a small movie made on Badami where the students had gone to go and measure the place and document some of the things that they saw there. It was a 3D exercise.
Prashant Pole [00:39:37]:
I was there with them in Badami when it happened. Beautiful exercise. Second year students. So they’re just raw still in the course, and they did a fantastic job with the documentation and also the way they went about the whole thing. Badam is a very unique place in some ways, but it’s a very small town. It’s not a historically very significant town, but in the present context, it’s a very small town. And it’s one of those historical sites which is part of that circuit. When people travel to Hampi, Ayola Badani Patatal and stuff like that, but somehow not everybody goes to these places.
Prashant Pole [00:40:14]:
Hampi is the star there. So people go to Hampi most of the time, and they’re gone. Rarely do they move into the other areas. And this is one of those areas which I think people should visit. It’s a wonderful setting. The hill on one side, and the rocket caves, and going down to the lake, and then the settlement on the other side of the lake. It’s a pristine, beautiful setting. A town which hasn’t grown.
Prashant Pole [00:40:42]:
I’ve been seeing this town for almost 30, 40 years now. It’s not a town which has grown drastically. It’s still a very tiny and slippy kind of town, still retaining, like I said, its old history. In some ways. It’s a difficult setting in that sense, like I said, in the context of what I was saying earlier, to bring in this new type called museum into a setting like this, because apart from the visitors who will come and see it, there is a local population also to whom it belongs. How do they interpret this history in a way where it is part of their everyday life in some ways, and at the same time a visitor gets an overview of what this town was all about. And given that background, I think all the earlier threads of thought which I talked about were all, how do you say, links of talking about how one would look at this situating a project here. So this whole idea of since I was continuously referring to the country and the subtropical region, the whole idea of moving from hall to hall or moving through the idea of a museum, how does one then break and create spaces for pause was one of the ideas.
Prashant Pole [00:42:04]:
How does one one make this a democratic and easy to approach space? Because, like I said, the town is in close proximity. People are not, how do you say, so conversant with the typology called a museum and how easy it is for them to move and walk through this space and make it almost belong to them because it is such a small town that everybody within a five minute or ten minute walk will reach a museum. It is in the context of that that one has to look at. How does this museum then start belonging to the town in some ways, which also then means that one also has to look at activity in a slightly different context, because our tendency to look at buildings as types x is a hospital, Y is a museum, Z is a hotel, A is the office. We tend to categorize buildings by their names or by their typologies. And a typology is supposed to do only that. A hotel is only for people to go, stay, eat. Hospital is where you go when you’re unwell.
Prashant Pole [00:43:13]:
Office is where you go and work. So the activity defines the type of the building in some ways and we don’t, how do you say, think of spaces of occupation which could have multiple activities. It would be interesting to look at a museum in a context like Badami, where it is not only a place for display of artifacts and stuff like that, but it also in some ways engages with the fabric of the society that lives around there. Will people around in that area come and sit below a tree in front of a museum and have their daily chat? Will the Panchayat sit there and do their work while the museum is doing its own thing? No. So it would be interesting to see that. I wouldn’t want to call it a museum because I’m falling into the same trap. I’m calling it a museum if I don’t call it a museum, if I say this is a space for the village where in one place there are these artifacts for display, for visitors. And it’s like somebody who came to my house, and I have things to show, so somebody came to my village.
Prashant Pole [00:44:26]:
Yes, there are some things to show. They can see those things, but there are other things that happen in that space which belong to our daily activity. So there is a reason for people to be in that space most of the time, irrespective of whether they’re actually seeing those artifacts or not. So there is a constant engagement with that space of occupation. I won’t call it a museum. It’s a space for the village. It’s a space for the town where multiple things are happening, probably on the fringes or probably on the periphery, but they involve this activity of the museum in their space. And.
So, in fact, this reminded me of the Kanchanjanga Apartments by Charles Korea. I think I heard in some of the podcasts somewhere I had read about it. It’s just like a place which organically grows as people inhabit it. And these are kind of, I think, school of thought by Doshi or Korea. Am I understanding it correctly?
Prashant Pole [00:45:42]:
Yeah, there it is. Still one activity that is happening there. I mean, there it’s people living finally. Right. I’m slightly digressing from there because of today’s time and space in the sense that today this business of typology worked till probably about 2030 years back because, how do you say, as a legacy of the modern movement planning of cities was always based on this whole act of segregating the city into blocks which was supposed to do certain things. And in the process of segregating blocks, you also segregated activities. This is a school. This is a hospital.
Prashant Pole [00:46:23]:
This is an office. This is a factory. This is a playground. So the idea is that the tendency to categorize and how do you say put things in boxes is something which is a legacy which came out of planning of cities during the modernist times some 2030 years back as we have moved from where we were societies. And the time and space that we spend in most of these spaces now is so how do you say multidimensional in some ways? For example, the lockdown was a classic example where you didn’t know whether you’re staying in the space or working in the space or entertaining in the space. Right. You had your TVs on. Netflix was going on.
Prashant Pole [00:47:12]:
You’re also eating, somebody’s also cooking, somebody’s gardening, and you’re also living. It is exactly how cities are now. It is very difficult to get. Yes, the old type still exist. I mean, there are certain specialist types like hospitals, which you can’t easily break from that mold, but there are so many other things which are slowly kind of opening up. An office is no longer an office anymore because there’s 50% work from home and 50% office, and there are also cafeterias, and there are also breakout spaces and workout spaces and all kinds of spaces. The office plan has also drastically changed now because there is no such thing as I have to sit on my desk to work. I could take my laptop and work in the cafeteria, or I can take it to the garden and sit there, or I could sit anywhere and work.
Prashant Pole [00:47:56]:
So this whole business of an activity not defining a particular type of building has been around for some time now. But it’s time that some of these boxes, at least, if we can break sorry, no, go ahead. Yes. Especially in a context like what we’re talking about a place like Badani or a smaller town, not even a tire two city, just a small town in a place like that. If that building has to have meaning in a meliu that it exists, it can only happen if the villages embrace that building. In simpler words, the only act of occupation would be if people are there in, out or in the fringes of that building all the time, doing something else, going about their daily activities, doing something else altogether. But then those activities add to the value of what is already there and doesn’t make this an exclusive item with a compound wall and a gate, typically. Like how ASI does it? You put lawns on all side and then put a fence around it and say trespasses will be prosecuted.
Prashant Pole [00:49:10]:
Yeah. The minute you have done that, it’s the end of the story. Correct.
And it’s also funny because right now I’m in Singapore and I’m also interviewing Sherman Stave. I work in Property Guru, which is a real estate marketplace. And our CEO has been constantly talking about the same thing, where these kind of London, Hong Kong and Singapore, these kind of like highly dense metropolitan cities, they have a very rigid structure for roads and then cyclists and then pedestrian. And now they built this and now they are realizing maybe the negative side of it, and they’re saying they should be more inclusive. So maybe more pebble box. So cars go slow and then cars and cyclists can go together. There’s more empathy. It’s just going around in cycles, I believe.
But it’s like a very interesting pattern that is being observed here.
Prashant Pole [00:50:11]:
That would be my second clue in some ways, saying that not to look at this as an exclusive activity called a museum, break the box and look at it as something which, if it has to belong to the town, can the town lead up to this? Are there other areas in the town? Is there a town square? Is there a Pranchayat office? Is there something else in the town which also starts building up this story? Wow. In simpler words, should the artifacts be only in the museum? Can the artifacts also be part of the town somewhere? I won’t say artifacts per se. I’m saying interventions can interventions can also be part of the public space in other areas of the town which then slowly build up the story before it leads you to the museum. It becomes an act where you start owning up to your history. You start owning up to things which you value, which are there in front of you day in and day out. They’re not boxed up and put in a Dubai in the loft like how we do it at home. In this case, we put it in a Dubai and call it a museum. Right? If the story is also kind of made to weave into the fabric of that town, identifying places of interest, identify where people gather and why do they gather and what do they do there? Can the stories slowly start seeping in like a sieve into this entire fabric?
Superb. I agree 100% because one of my goals in life is to make invisible design. And that’s very rare phenomena because somehow the medium stands in the middle where you have to somehow make it more organic and more natural. But I just love the idea that you shared. Then one more point and then we’ll conclude with the last question is that then how would you look at sustainability, which has been a very important part based on your second clue? It becomes very evident that if you design it that way, then sustainability won’t be a real issue because it will just be a part of it. But otherwise, any attributes one can think about, especially keeping sustainability as a lens.
Prashant Pole [00:52:35]:
No, that’s sustainability the big word in everybody’s lexicon in some ways or other the right now. But I would like to take two steps back here. I would not want to talk about sustainability through the lens of materiality and construction and energy and local materials and all that. Finally, to me, finally, sustainability is about people. And if people and their livelihoods and their culture and the way they go about their lives if one can sustain that in a certain manner, then a lot of other things will automatically fall into we tend to look at a disease. We tend to look at the symptoms and try to solve the symptoms. But we rarely question what is the cause of the symptom. The medicines are always to take care of the symptoms.
Prashant Pole [00:53:36]:
To me, the sustainability story right now is a symptomatic problem saying that if I do this, it’ll work, if I do that, it’ll work, if I do that, it will work. But you rarely look at it from the perspective of finally, it is people who have to sustain I mean, we are sustaining this planet for whom it is a very, how do you say greedy a very self centered approach of saying that the planet needs to be sustained. For us as human beings, we are not worried, actually about any other species. We are sustaining it for us. If I carry that argument forward, we are sustaining it for us. It’s okay. But at least keep that discussion at the level of people and place and culture. Saying that if people have to sustain themselves first and foremost their livelihood, their sustainance, has to be sustained.
Prashant Pole [00:54:25]:
You can’t talk to somebody who’s got an empty stomach. Yeah. To me, the problem comes from there saying that if one has to sustain lifestyles, if one has to sustain crafts other things that we were talking about right now, one has to look at the larger picture in terms. Finally, how do people manage to live with a certain amount of dignity, a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of contributing something to society at whatever level, at whichever level they are? That to me, as a society in whole, if what one can achieve, then one has achieved sustainability at some other level altogether. The rest of it will automatically follow that then you’ll know what are the right things to do and what are the wrong things to do or what you shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. For example, I was just watching a zoom thing on blue zones in the world. The blue zones they have identified as people where people have lived beyond 80, 90, even 100. And not just because of longevity of life.
Prashant Pole [00:55:28]:
It is about the quality of life that they lead at that age. So you find people who are swimming at 95, who are cycling at 85, 90, who are doing all kinds of amazing stuff at that age. And one clue or one key thing that the guy is figuring out across different parts of the globe where he’s traveling is the fact that it is finally about community. It’s finally about building societies and communities where you belong, where you think you’re needed, where you think people will care for you, where you will care for people, where you will contribute in some ways. And that is in most cases the major reason why people tend to live longer. Because you think your life has got something more to offer than when you’re stuck in your own hole trying to figure out things for yourself. And that, I thought, was extremely interesting because then it automatically leads to a sustainable lifestyle. It means what you will eat and what you will drink and how the community behaves in a certain manner, what your common goals are, what your common interests are, how easy it is to appreciate somebody.
Prashant Pole [00:56:39]:
Your self validation improves because of that. There is so much that as an undercurrent then makes that society as a whole far more sustainable.
I remember my interview with BB. Dushi and with his elegant style he was nudging me to think like does the building come first or the culture? And I said together to which he said no. But unless you’re thinking about culture all the time, it won’t happen. That as your anchor point. And then building might come. But if the building is there and culture is not there, it won’t be sustainable anywhere.
Prashant Pole [00:57:20]:
Exactly. To me, this sustainability story, like I said, I see it a very symptomatic story. I don’t want to go there. I would rather look at it from an ethical perspective at a slightly larger level, to see that, I think, even as architects and as designers, I think our goal or our interest in this should be to look at, like I said, sustainable environment. An environment which will sustain a certain kind of occupancy, sustain a certain kind of because types are dying today. The idea of a type is passe in some ways because you go through the cities today, if there is one mall which is working for the last six months, within the next new mall which came in town, the whole crowd shifts there. So there are so many building types which have vanished. Theaters where people used to go in thousands before have vanished.
Prashant Pole [00:58:12]:
They become multiplexes. And the multiplexes from 200 now, they have brought it down to sitting capacities of 50 and 60 and exclusive. So a building type, like a theater or a marriage hall or there are so many building types which are simply vanishing in the cities within decades. The type of a particular building, or building for a particular type, I think, is very shortly going to be a thing of the past. One will have to look at how people occupy spaces and then start looking at what kind of environments in which then one goes back to the activity and not the type. In what environment would I want to live in what environment would I want to work? In what environment would I entertain myself? In what environment do I find leisure? If the focus goes back to activity, then it goes back to people and how people behave when they’re doing this or that or that will then define what kind of enclosures or what kind of environments we end up designing. Because the minute we put a tag to it saying that this is now an apartment, your head is already thinking you already know what to do with it.
But somehow there needs to be a I mean, otherwise it will be very abstract, right? Somehow there needs to be some sort of a circumference, some sort of a boundary to it.
Prashant Pole [00:59:37]:
It’s like posing a question. Design an apartment of 50 units with 20 units, one BHK, another 20 units of three bedroom living, dining and blah, blah, blah. See, once it becomes a numbers game, you have already removed the people out of the context. It becomes mathematics. This is the floor plate. This flow plate can accommodate so many flats and then into so many floors. It gives me so many apartments and so many of these. So many of these.
Prashant Pole [01:00:06]:
And your building is ready. You didn’t question, if 50 families have to live in this building, what kind of an environment would they live in? Who are these 50 families? Which is the background they come from. Which part of the city is this? What affordability lies in this particular area which all builders normally ask this question. But then the point is you don’t take those questions further. You can still design an environment in which 50 families can live a very how do you say fulfilling life. But that should be the question. How do I put 50 families in this space so that they lead a fulfilling life? Now, if that was the poser, then the story starts from somewhere else altogether.
Actually I’m feeling is typeca conversation. It generally lands up me in very introspective zone key like what are we doing, what are we?
Prashant Pole [01:01:08]:
Cool. Well this is interesting because I straddle two zones. There is a practice and there is also academics. I also teach, I’ve been teaching for quite some time now. We also have a school of architecture in Mysore called the Varia School of Architecture which is this podcast is part of that. I’m sorry, this video which I’ve sent you is part of their study because you are simultaneously in two zones. These questions sometimes come from students and you have to be, how do you say in that space and in that time to continuously be thinking these things. Because otherwise you can’t walk into a class and start a conversation if you are walking straight from the office because then the office is office works in a different kind of a time zone or a different kind of a space.
Prashant Pole [01:01:56]:
It’s not that these thoughts don’t come back here. It is interesting because of having a foot here and a foot there, which is you don’t know. Sometimes the school walks into the office and sometimes the office walks into the school and that continuous synergy is what makes this whole conversation interesting.
But doesn’t it happen that these not lofty but I would say very inspiring and fundamental first principle thinking questions are coming up and then sometimes we are practicing just to pay the bill. I mean not in our context but generally that happens, right?
Prashant Pole [01:02:39]:
Which is why I said sometimes the office comes to school, sometimes school goes to office. Sometimes ideas from school, a conversation in school with a student or something you once saw in a jury or something once on somebody’s table can be inspiring enough for you to come back to office and do something with it. It’s a back and forth. And these ideas continuously keep traveling this way and that way and it keeps your mind churning all the time because these are thoughts one would want to keep or one would want to be in that space all the time where one is continuously thinking about sometimes very basic things and sometimes not so basic things. But it’s a good space to be.
Yeah, I think that also builds a faculty of embracing that gray areas. Right. Because that’s the most difficult part.
Prashant Pole [01:03:29]:
So I would like to. Conclude with one last question. And it’s not like really, I mean, we can have the badami museum context, but you have given enough clues to sort of think about. But again, if I have to zoom out and abstract it out, any suggestions or any key areas of dwelling one can do if they want to specialize in designing museums especially. I mean, I don’t know whether there could be an architect or a profession which just does this. But suppose if there’s one student who generally wishes to make like I really wish to make bridges. So in this kind of thing, if there are people who would like to get into specialize in museum design, any key considerations just to articulate whatever you spoke so far?
Prashant Pole [01:04:25]:
I think in some ways it would be defeating my own argument by saying that one needs to specialize in this type called museum design. Because right now I’m propagating in exactly ulta thing saying that one needs to break the tie.
Yeah, but I know what you mean.
Prashant Pole [01:04:46]:
So what I would rather say is that in this space where one is dealing with this whole idea of publicness, of buildings, I would rather not call it a museum. I would say correct the whole idea of public space, the whole idea of space where people congregate in larger numbers to do other activities than what they normally do in their homes. Right? So the whole idea of public space design is an interesting space to be in as a designer, if you ask me that, that would be a far more fulfilling objective in terms of looking at how people occupy urban or public spaces in whatever menu that they live in. Could be a village, could be a town, could be a city. And in that space, then, how does one deal with activity, deal with historicity, deal with culture, deal with what certain communities do in a certain space which other communities will not do, what climate does to these activities, then? And that would be a lovely space to be in terms of understanding the need for public. One of the biggest conversations that is happening across everywhere is that cities are becoming so and so dense and so and so, how do you say, packed with activities of a certain kind that it has left very little space in the public domain. The public domain is slowly shrinking and has become so nonexistent in certain areas. There are no parks and playground for children.
Prashant Pole [01:06:12]:
They’re all stuck in front of their TVs. Theaters don’t exist anymore. Everything is packed into a mall. You shop there, you eat there, you watch your movies there. Everything happens. That is the only public space in the city now to recapture this space, to recapture this whole imagination of what is public space design, where museums exist, art galleries exist, eateries exist, theaters exist, shopping exists. What is this space in a city or a town, depending on its culture and climate, like all the other factors factored in what are these spaces or public spaces which would then make these things work. That is a lovely space for a designer to do, to recapture that space, to reimagine that space in some ways because people don’t congregate for what they used to congregate before.
Prashant Pole [01:07:02]:
There are the other reasons for which people congregate now. So can one imagine other reasons or other activities? I won’t go back to the type I would say what activities would then trigger people to get back out there and be part of a larger menu that as a designer I think is an extremely challenging space to be very brilliant. Cool.
I think we can end on this note.
Prashant Pole [01:07:30]:
Thanks a lot. Sorry, one more point which I missed somewhere along the way was this whole idea of because it is badami and because you asked me whether clues are to be given or not. So I’ll give you one more clue. There is this whole idea of interpreting time in the sense that because this is a place in some ways frozen in time, the tendency to build with the so called vernacular or the local methods of building or the local aesthetic or the local reinterpreting the local aesthetic in a marginal fashion so that it still belongs are tendencies which people fall into in the sense that it is easy to copy than to digress. Right. But I think it would be interesting to see a take which is of today, because in some ways, even if it is a society or a culture which is in some ways steeped in the past, it does not mean that they are not aware of what is happening in the rest of the world.
Especially with mobile now.
Prashant Pole [01:08:38]:
Yeah, with mobile and TV and all the gadgets that are available, no town or villager or city is disconnected with the rest of the world. So to that extent, information allows you an even access to everything. Now, with that as the background, I think as designers you can’t go back to that safe hole of saying that this was there and I kind of repeat it and I kind of marginally modify it so it still fits. I think it is also our duty to challenge some of these things at times. There are certain contexts where the fitting in is probably important, but there are also certain contexts where the contrast could be equally interesting.
But that’s a very private take. No, I wouldn’t say slippery slope, but a very tricky one because then you wish to have the contemporary or the time as today’s time and then balance it out. So I think that something lies in the middle because you don’t want to really have the cliche and also not make it very flat. As again like not having the same steel flyovers and glass buildings everywhere but at the same time.
Prashant Pole [01:10:02]:
It would be wrong to dwell in that safe cocoon of wanting to interpret history in a very safe and easy manner through style, through construction, through type, and through so many other things. It would be interesting to see if somebody challenges that in some ways and challenges in in a very sensitive and in a manner where you kind of juxtapose both these things together and create a dialogue which then allows people to then interpret it in so many ways. There is something there which is, yes, here and now. It is not built like it was built 500 years ago, and it sits in a milieu which is probably a few thousand years old. Perfectly all right. But can a dialogue be brought or put in place between these two objects or between these two environments which will make people appreciate the past as well as what is present? Beautiful.
I would like to conclude on this note, but just one small plug from my side as well, for those students who are listening till this end, is that I tried some mid Journey and AI tools and just tried to simulate a futuristic badami architecture. Thankfully, it at least got the rock cut caves and stuff like that, but it’s very sad. I’m going to put it on Instagram just as a teaser. But yeah, it’s very cliche, so stay away from that.
Prashant Pole [01:11:34]:
You can share this movie. It will be interesting. Yeah, definitely. I’ll do that. Okay. Lot of clues hidden in that also. Awesome. I’ll do that.
Prashant Pole [01:11:43]:
Definitely. Yes. Superb. Superb.
Okay, on that note, we’ll conclude thanks a lot, Prashant sir, for giving your time. It was really an enriching experience and lots of food for thought, lots of clues, and definitely a good repository of how to design public space I would rather call than a museum. It was wonderful having you.
Prashant Pole [01:12:10]:
Thank you so much.