EP 283 . 11 Oct 23
Frank Owen Gehry, a Canadian-born American architect and designer once said, “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness”. How can we long for timelessness in architecture if the place itself keeps changing? 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. TDB has been actively running Architecture competition for under graduate students since 2016. It is conceptualised by Mindspace Architects and Rohan Builders.
This year, the program is to redesign the existing Badami archaeological museum, in Karnataka. Submission deadline is 9th Oct 2023. More details on thedrawingboard.in
In this second episode, “An insert into the history” (which is also the theme of the competition), I have a Prof. Durganand Balsavar. I interviewed him back in episode 249 in the last year’s TDB theme of designing a “Memorial for Charles Correa”. We spoke about intangible architecture.
A quick introduction about Prof. Balsavar. He has been faculty for India Studios of Bartlett, Helsinki School of Architecture and involved in diverse cultural contexts – the Chandigarh Lab, IUAV Venice, Auckland, Indonesia, Nepal. He founded Artes-ROOTS Collaborative, which has been involved in an environment-appropriate architecture as a community participatory process.
(Generated by AI, please expect some glitches)
So why don’t we sort of set the ball rolling by giving a larger context that if we look at Indian history and culture, how can one incorporate architectural elements that reflect the diverse narrative that the country has? And especially in a project like designing a museum, right? If one has to sort of systematically think about it, what could be the key principles on which this can be thought?
I think that’s thank you first for the invitation and opportunity to be on this platform today. And dialogue, always a pleasure dialoguing with you. We’ve done it in the past. Yeah, it’s and the idea I think this idea of history is coming back again in various ways for various reasons. And maybe in this 1 hour briefly we can touch upon a few, though there would be many other reasons. I was I’ll go back to a recent two or three weeks ago and I just came back yesterday. I was in a school of architecture in La. And where a similar situation came in the context of technologies which are rapidly changing our society.
And when technologies rapidly change, I think this idea of history we need to go back and look at in terms of what does it mean to us? Is it relevant? Is it not relevant? In what way is it relevant? And I think those are the questions that this new initiative or I don’t call it competition what Mindspace and Moe have done. It’s really an initiative. It’s an imagination competition. I see more accidental or incidental to a larger idea of thinking about something. And so in this edition, what has happened and which is very interesting is that it is providing an opportunity to reexamine what do we mean by a museum? Because our notion of history itself is being questioned. So traditionally, museum has meant something of the past. Traditionally, museum has meant you collect some sculptures and artifacts and you display it in some way. Those are traditional, conventional ways.
But I think today, with the kind of technologies and many of them which I was fortunate to even be invited to the Hollywood studios and I was looking at some of the latest technologies there the metaverse, the augmented reality. And then you realize that we have come to a moment where this compartmentalization that we have done seems to be disappeared. And so we have compartmentalized something of the past, compartmentalized something of the future. Now, what I’ve always found fascinating about the Indian subcontinent it may be existing in other places also, but in the Indian subcontinent, where I am more familiar, I find that we don’t have that kind of a concept of history as past. But we keep looking at history as past. For us, these are living histories. So in the morning, I can meet somebody from the fourth century. I can have lunch with somebody from the 12th century and I can have dinner with someone who’s talking 50 years later.
So really this happens in a single day. But because we compartmentalize the mind and don’t look at experience, we think we are now on this date, whichever the date this is some 25th or whatever and whatever is past of it, we put it as history, as if it’s past. It is not past. It’s living right now. It’s living right now. And that livingness means that our relationship to history cannot be past, present, future. It cannot be. These are all coexisting.
They are all simultaneously living not only with another person meeting. But I would say each identity itself is carrying this multiplicity. Now, from a modern idea, we may call this confusion. We may call this contradiction. We call this lack of clarity. We give all negative terms. But when I was in La. This time when I was looking at it, I said we have just simply given negative terms because we have put history in something as a past without recognizing that it is still relevant today.
So everything doesn’t mean that let’s say if a new iPhone came and I didn’t let’s say now this is more for an argument, I didn’t need those new features that came. My present iPhone doesn’t become outdated and past because I needed for a certain set of things which it’s fulfilling more than required. In fact, the present one itself, I have not fully understood it and they brought something new and then they say that so which makes me look past. Now, these kind of psychological issues need a more scientific and empirical calm observation. And I think a competition like this that talks of an archaeological museum provides an opportunity now for young architect and students to re examine this kind of history, which exists probably only in I don’t say only because I’m sure if we go to other places it will be there. But definitely exists in India where we need to be a little more broader perspective. Have a little more broader perspective to say 300 BC exists even today. If I go into a temple or a shrine and I pray that is 300 BC, that is 3000 BC.
So that coexists. Whereas in very, very developed societies, if there is something like that, I would say that this idea of faith is questioned. Faith is seen as superstition, faith is seen as but that came from a certain privileging of the word over action. It came over certain notions of what we thought was science. And today scientists itself are coming to say that maybe life is an illusion. So I think we are at a very interesting point in history. Also an extremely challenging point. From the point of view of artificial intelligence, from a point of view of understanding what is this human being? And from a point of view that we have just come out of an experience of three years of a pandemic which never happened on the planet before.
So I think in that context, if we start looking at what is a museum first and then what do we mean by archaeological? So I have created in La now I created a new term which the architect are discussing and liked it. I said let’s discuss the archaeology of the know. Let’s not discuss the archaeology of the past. And they liked it because I said then we are really going to look at how can we make MetaWars and AI more meaningful? Otherwise it’s just the technology takes over and then we are playing with a technology then how that technology or software is programmed, generates the product. So I think that aspect needs to be reexamined. Now, whether it will or will not are the forces of what’s happening too strong for any discussion like this? That’s a separate story. But one still has the mind space to imagine it or mind space to kind of look at it. So I think this is more how I would look at the idea of history as something very fluid, something so it’s not fact.
The fact and the interpretation changes. Fact is this is a temple or this is made in stone. That’s all. Beyond that, if we say it has this interpretation and this king did this and the from that inscription, this has happened, those are all interpretations which can be revisited and may change. For instance, now in South India we have found Kiladi. The whole history of India may change if we excavate it further. So otherwise we have all this notion that it was Mohindar, it was Lothal, they came in a certain now everything changes. They have found the highest number of Roman coins close to my home on the planet.
So imagine that they’re finding close to my home in Vedantangal and in this region, Roman coins more than even what are found in Italy. It has a certain new implication. But in our history we are never discussing that. So the fact that the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, I’m extending it as a speculation. The Chinese were all here more than 3000, 4000 years ago itself means what is a traditional culture? For instance, they tell me madurai traditional, madurai house or traditional the wood came from Burma and China. Like globalization today, how did it become traditional? So we start drawing regions as if something is traditional. We draw regions as if something was created in itself. Actually, everything on this planet has got created out of cultural dialogue.
It has got created out of one zone talking to another zone, talking to another zone that Stitching has created. So globalization did not happen in 1990. It happened 5000 years ago. But we globalization as if it happened 1990. So I think these are the areas which I would look forward if the young architect or students can engage with not just designing some space and saying these are the artifacts kept there. You go and have a look. And there is a large Led screen which plays something and you listen to something. I mean, that’s good if it is done.
But that’s only a starting point. There are much more that needs to do. And I think the site chosen by architect Moe and his team and the program that they’ve evolved when they spoke to me, I just thought was fascinating, because this is what it opens. This is just one of the ideas. I’m sure the other Jurors and others will have many more ideas. But from my point, I saw this as one of the promise of this kind of a competition.
Great. So can we safely say that the key principle will be just embracing the continuum? It’s a continuum and time can be one axis to look at how this thing can be designed or how to think about museums in general. Is that safe to say?
Yes. I would concur with that in principle that it is about recognizing a continuum. But I may problematize or complicate it a little more by saying that that continuum doesn’t have a pattern because when we use the word continuum, again, it goes to history, it goes to second BC. And certain paths that evolve. But let’s say those paths were not there. Something random happened and something else came in and then something else again random happened. So even assessing the continuum becomes a little complex. We can make a continuum in time.
We can say, fifth century, this happened. 7th century this happened, then there’s a continuum. But in terms of ideas, there’s no continuum.
But wouldn’t it be too abstract to comprehend then like for the end user, for the end visitor, for the architect, it will be too abstract, right? Or is that.
Was I am actually taking the conversation to exactly what I had raised in La. Right now in those schools, what is tending to happen is let’s say, and this is not to evaluate right and wrong. I’m just saying yeah, what is technology doing right now? So somebody there was one student who presented on memory and he presented on human memory and computer memory and MetaWars memory. Now, in my opinion, the word memory should not be used in relationship to a computer or metawers at all. Why? Now, let me I’m questioning fundamentally why I’m putting something in a box. So I call a folder, I put it in a box, I open it. I open this folder, a word doc. After three days, it has not changed.
Still the same. That’s not memory. That is storage. Now, if we look at human memory, human memory doesn’t do that. It changes. I forget something. I remember something in another way. So memory is never static.
But maybe some uncle says when you are in third standard, you shouted because it was dark. Now you don’t remember it. Some uncle has told you that goes as a static memory because you don’t remember it as an active memory. So we will remember, oh, that uncle said this, oh, it must have happened. And then slowly I start believing it. It becomes part of a static memory. And then I build up a continuum of events which may not have happened that way. So the dynamism of human memory is really the freedom of our human life versus fact.
So fact need not be so abstract. So the museum part can have a sculpture, can have some artifact, can have somewhat those are the facts that doesn’t become abstract, that gives a grounding, that gives a reference. But the reality to make the entire reality reduced to some small facts is the issues. Because the other day we were taken to an observatory. So I stood there and we were just looking into the cosmos. We’re looking into the sky, we’re looking at various paths. Then you realize you become insignificant and just ten minutes before, the manner in which you reach there, what you did, that ticket, that whole sequence was so significant, and ten minutes later, you look into this vast cosmos. They’re talking some billion light years away, they’re talking this, then you realize and they show hardly.
You can see the planet Earth in that whole thing. Then imagine in that if you have to see yourself in that, it’s impossible. But because the center of those emotions are where I am, it became so serious for me. But in the larger context that history may be even negligible, may be insignificant, it’s not really insignificant. I am just bringing relative terms to reexamine the abstract and the real, or what we are calling real. So, of course, the fact that there is, let’s say, the quality of sculpture there, or the discovery of structure in Badami, that’s real. I won’t abstract it. And when we say it is real, it is mesmerizing to see that they imagined carving out of a rock, which means they didn’t build, they subtracted the didn’t build.
If we think of house or construction, we think something is being built. You take a stone place, another stone, we think of addition and building addition. Now imagine monolith rock cut caves. On the surface of the cave is these sculptures, which have all certain meanings, whether we agree with those meanings or not, are separate. The have certain cultural meanings, and the meanings meant that that sculpture, if it had to have 15 mudras, like the Shiva sculpture, which has ten or 15 mudras, each mudra is conveying something that had to be conveyed to the pilgrim who comes there now in that act of making it. Even if one hand is carved wrongly or differently from what they wanted, that cave needs to be abandoned. There is no correction to a crock cut monolith. So imagine the kind of dedication, imagine the kind of spirit with which a construction is being done.
And then you begin to see, where do we stand in front of something? Is that past? Can we do it today or tomorrow? Can L t or, you know, I’m not I shouldn’t take names of any, but can the best archaeological company come now and man made carve it and show it to us? Or do we have to scan and do a CNC cutting and all those things? Okay, fine, but I’m just saying that this was man made or human made. They were carving it. It had to be precise. And when one stands there and observes that sculpture, one realizes that this is medicinal. Now, this is medicinal because unless one had a deeper understanding of the human body, the human mind, the organs, you cannot carve that. So it is medicinal. There is a source of ayurveda and understanding of the medicinal value of plants also, versus the human being. The you have a cosmic ocean done there, which means they are really trying to search for making sense of the world around us.
It is not some carving in the are trying to so it becomes a laboratory, it becomes an experiential laboratory of understanding all the elements which have come on this planet in a way that even today we don’t know how it has come, where has water come from, but that water is there. Where did this rock come from? Where did the human material come from? So how does one excavate or understand these relationships within that topography, within cycles of rain, within cycles of how human beings live? And then say we need to see how life becomes meaningful. So that archaeological museum then has to as a very complex task on and I don’t want to complicate it for the students or the young architects, but I’m just saying that that is the possibility that there is no boundary now. That is the possibility. So at one level just to bring the pragmatic, I don’t want to be confused. I am not sure how to handle the abstract or the cosmos. So fine, there can be different artifacts, their name, this is in the fifth century, in the 7th century. This is the carving done.
That itself is incredible. But if we get down to the root and we get down to what this is because each time I go to the badami site, I am amazed at the depth of thinking. I am amazed at how they’ve understood the relationship of water and a human settlement then at that time and how they’ve understood the strategic location of where to situate a town. Why not 20 meters away, why not 400 meters away? Why there? And those are all coming from something incidental like the rock outcrop becoming part, supporting the fort at the same time. Because the rock and the hill create a sense of awe, it can become a shrine. So there are multiple meanings hidden in a single settlement. And it is not just rock cut or it is not just temple. It is also strategic that if someone is to invade, they need to know how to support it without constructing.
So it’s sustainability. You don’t have to build a huge fort all around and all that kind of a thing. Because now the rock outgrowth which is existing is also looking at notion of defense, it’s also looking at trade in terms of where the trade route is. Which means at various levels this settlement works regional level interrelationship to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. So it’s not just that lake. And then it gets embedded in mythologies. Where the problem comes is when we make a mythology literal and see as if it was happening in my apartment. Then we say how can you know such a mythology work? Mythologies are meant to be kept abstract, meant to kept floating, not made literal as if it was my neighbor and working in my apartment.
The minute we do it, there will be a contradiction. And that is the power of a mythology, that it resists the literal. But today, because we want the literal, because technology is driving us towards the literal, we take a mythology and make it literal, as if that son was my neighbor. And then there was two demons who are also on the first floor, could be also. But all this, what will happen is it won’t work. But if it is kept at the level of, let’s say certain patterns in nature, hidden patterns in nature being personified in the mythology and that hidden pattern becoming the source of urban planning, then I think we will understand the value of badam. Otherwise we are going to go there and see factually 6th century, this person attacked, that person came back. This one.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong in it. That is one layer, very important layer. And perhaps the first layer, first layer, but beneath that layer, the next layer of observation on how it was constructed, how it was imagined, why it was constructed that way with multiple possibilities. That doesn’t mean that that history didn’t have contradiction, that history didn’t have caste system, that history didn’t have disparity, that history didn’t have war, it had all this, it had disease, everything. Because that’s the human condition. So within that human condition, so one is not keeping that human condition aside to glorify the past one. We are not doing that. We look at that also.
But besides that, I think more so for designers or architects or any creative philosopher, I think, trying to delve into what are the real possibilities of enrichment and inhabitation. I think that is what is the source of a project like this. And from the context, from the water, from the way in which construction has happened materiality, the crafts that the communities are evoking, I think this combination provides many possibilities to the students who wish to take on this project. So it is not a limiting project. It is really then each 1 may choose. Each 1 may choose. It’s not that everything has to be incorporated within that museum, but at one level appears very defined, at another level is actually full of possibilities. This is how I see this.
Yeah, it’s so amazing. In fact, I remember two things. One, I’ll just have a random plug. I remember interviewing anupama hoskare who’s a puppeteer. And in our conversation I said that in India we really don’t have as many museum as probably the west has now. Yeah, I’m generalizing too much, but generally the density of museums is quite different. To which he said very beautiful, which I still remember is that Kedar, we are a living museum. We really are not time bound as to oh, this was the past, this was the present.
We are living with Kabir, we are living with Tukaram. We are living with these people all day. Shivaji is everywhere. So there’s no boundary as such. So I remember that. And the last thing which you mentioned about possibilities of designing something, I think there’s a very beautiful talk by Shekhar Kapoor on Ted, I believe, and he mentioned that when you’re making a film, it’s obviously economical, but it’s political, it’s psychological. There are many different facets while you’re creating something.
I don’t want to give away too much, but will you be judging on how interesting the new insight is? Like, as we said, the facts, the topology and those can be the first layer of understanding. But will there be deeper layers of understanding which will probably give more weightage? Is there anything which is more tactical?
Question no. I think the issue of weightage and all that will come from the kind of collaboration and communication that we have in the presentations and with the jury. We’re not prejudging it because if we prejudge, it will mean that we know all solutions possible on this site beautiful, which we don’t. So there would be certain responses which may surprise us completely. And that becomes the source to reflect back on how an assessment is being made. And even that assessment is temporary. That assessment is not permanent, but for the sake of time, there is a competition. So assessment is being made, but it’s temporary because we ourselves may design a building and one year later feel I could have improved and done this two years later feel, no, it was the right solution.
It came out so well. So assessment itself, like history, is very fluid. But nonetheless, there are certain parameters of how one has understood topography, how one has respected the river, how one has understood the community. There’s climate change. So how is one responding to climate change and sustainability without overdoing also? So how does one do it in a more like if one looks at the existing precinct of Badami itself, you find that a single design gesture is addressing multiple aspects. What you mentioned about filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor, I would have another interpretation. I’ve never heard him what he said I feel political, economical, social, cultural don’t exist. We create it and we create it.
And because we created, we struggle to sit and define and then say what is the relationship between one? It’s like we have a last vast landscape and then we build a drum and sit inside the drum. And that is called political. Somebody else goes and sits inside another drum and calls it social. The we ask how do we relate to one another? The drum itself we created in the first place. So I think I do not try to look at those drums in the beginning. While it is necessary for conversation in action, it inhibits and confuses. In action is always synthetic. It’s never in a drum.
But we are acting in drums now, in those pillows for a certain comfort level, to feel that everything got integrated. So things which are uncomfortable, uncertain are kept outside the drum always, never discussed. So that’s the problem I’m finding in a lot of dialogue and conversation that is happening nowadays. Because within the drum, if I speak, everything looks harmonious, nice. Then you wonder why is the city so unbearable? Why is the traffic unbearable? If we had all the solutions with such a beautiful understanding of water cities, where is it going wrong? So I think the silos created and then discussing an ideal situation within the silo is the root of a lot of the confusions in whether one is designing a museum or urban planning. Because we talk beautiful city and we talk all these, but we don’t look at the social condition, we don’t look at can every citizen coming into the city buy a home? We don’t ask that question. But we’re talking beautiful city. So I think these are the contradictions.
I won’t say contradiction. These are the problems, actually. So I don’t look at combining how political meets economic meets social. Of course, these are rigorous disciplines of study. We respect it. People do PhDs in it. There’s deep research in it. We respect it.
But let us also at the same time recognize it’s our own creation.
It is a creation or a platform for us to be able to communicate. But then the risk comes where the language becomes more important than the action. When in reality language is a smaller subset to action. Language cannot address all aspects. There are intangibles, there are unknowns which our language finds difficult to even say or speak. But if I create the silo of language and then the political, social one limits one’s OWN’s life. And I think this project tests that barrier. It tests it.
How a student responds or is really up to each student then or how even jury or other architects respond is up to each. But to me, I saw this as so I didn’t see this as a settlement of the past. Of course it’s in the fifth century or earlier or something. I saw it as a set of potential ideas for a city to be built tomorrow. And so I think there are lots of other kind of learnings and lessons from it. So I really would see it in that way. And that other thing on this living reality and living museum I would fully agree with because that’s almost a similar tone in which I’m but that doesn’t mean we don’t need a museum. So though museum came from fossilizing the past as an institution, so our culture rarely fossilized the past.
So the museum came with colonization. The museum came when the British were here because they saw something different. Today we have adopted the museum. But probably we’re still uncomfortable on what is a museum in India. Then we say there are no museums because we feel, why should there be a museum? Or if it is there, there’s not enough effort put into it. So I think. We’re still, in a way questioning that history culturally that we have not yet fully clarified. And at one level, I think it’s the strength of the culture that we don’t clarify this compartmentalization, but allow it to coexist and grow.
But the issue is how do we give reverence to it so that we don’t again make the same mistakes that were made in history? Of dismissing yeah, of dismissing or don’t make similar mistakes. And you find that there’s such a wonderful whoever the architect was at Badami taking decisions on how artificial water lake has to be constructed so that everyone has water and it is cyclic. Now, these are eternal or these are really urban principles for any time. We cannot say fifth century, but many cities or new towns built today are having a water problem, are having a water shortage. So I think these are the areas where a conversation should begin between if we are making a museum, the museum should become an architect repository of human learning. So it is not just some artifact kept in history, but it is also the fact that how to live on this planet was sensed at that time with very rudimentary technology. No iPhone, no Internet, nothing. They were able to map the sun, they were able to map the routes, they were able to lay out a town.
They were able to see that everyone gets water and food and they were able to develop some of the best crafts and creativity. So I think that kind of challenge how they did and the structural understanding of rock as a material. And then of course, I think architect Mohe in his introduction, beautifully presents the experience of the walking. And I think that’s another aspect. So there are several layers and coexisting. So I think your question or the two incidents that you mentioned completely are in harmony or resonate with what this.
Project, in fact, do you feel I don’t know, I’m little digressing. Before we again come back to Badami, I’ve seen as a culture, it’s good that we are kind of comfortable with the past and the present and just shuttling between. But we have certain notion of romanticizing the past. Right? And you have a special interest in alternate histories. So I wanted to just understand that if history is told by rulers, then how can one really keep going back in time and how much can someone go back in time to understand and then build a context around this museum or around this architecture?
I think that’s both a significant question and a complex question. When I have discussed alternative histories, the reason that has been raised is more so that an open mind is kept when engaging with artifact of the past, if it is of the past. So what happens is that even in Badami, one will look at it. There will be five historians giving five different interpretations to each structure, even today. So it is very complex to suggest whether this historian is more appropriate or that historian is more appropriate because they are also coming with their own understanding of the past, their own context. So in the absence of very clear recorded data, when there is an investigation happening, of course the investigation is scientific, the investigation is empirical, but it is still open to interpretation till something else gets found. And that is why, like, for instance, I was mentioning the discovery of kiledi or in Tamil Nadu the discovery of maybe Roman coins in Tamil Nadu right now. Now, those discoveries make us recalibrate how we have understood history.
They make us recalibrate. So while at one level it is very factual, at another level, the degree or level to which we have information can change the entire interpretation of that very act because it’s built on several speculations as well. The people don’t exist. It could be a building in ruin. And from that we are doing a reading. And any reading, as much as it may be accurate, has the risk of misreading also. And that is the only reason one calls for an alternate history also. The other point that you brought about if it is about a perception then the same history that was visualized by, let’s say, a king and the family of a king would be very different from a history that was experienced by a farmer.
In terms of the same history will change now because 1 may have been more privileged, another may have been fighting for survival in the same context, the same things are happening when they say let me describe this city. I say it’s almost impossible to describe the city because if Mumbai has 24 million citizens suppose there are 24 million Mumbais but we want to say one Mumbai, there can never be one Mumbai because what we are experiencing of the city and I am saying this is what Mumbai is, is my perception may be shared by six friends but it cannot be that 24 million are thinking about Mumbai in the same way or know the city in the same way. So we can never know the city but for the sake of finiteness, for the sake of anchor, for the sake of stability we say this is Mumbai then I know the familiarity of the road from the airport to my home and to a new restaurant or some and that becomes the familiarity of how I describe Mumbai. So this is how I would try to look at it because when we generate it in words, when we try to limit it, we reduce the understanding of it and then we call that history. But if it was layered, that means this history was understood from the point of view of a farm, was understood from the point of view of the dispossessed, was understood from the point of view of a ruler, from an invader, from someone who was victimized as colonized. I think all these histories start changing to give us a broader idea. What can history mean? So it is not as simple as we want to make it appear. At the same time, we cannot make it so complex that it doesn’t allow any communication in reality.
It can get that complex that it can break down communication which is happening in our present world today. But I think that then starts not acknowledging the fact that there is a sense of community. There’s a sense of interdependence, there’s a sense of camaraderie. There’s a sense of relationship through which certain ideas of existing on this planet evolve. So otherwise I can be a kingdom unto myself, sit and rule myself. And that’s fine. But there is the need for collaboration communication which generates a certain response which also enriches our identity. And I think that is what reflects in badami, right? That kind of communion.
But I started off with Frank Gehry and he spoke about like like then how do we arrive at timelessness again in the same context? Because then I don’t know whether it will become too tactical in nature but something concrete has to be displayed at a particular time and location. Right. So what can be that intangible which creates the timelessness? Or is it tangible?
Again, this question has various interpretations because the word tangible timeless itself can have several interpretations.
It’s kind of inception like layers and layers.
Yes, it can. But let’s say to simplify it as an idea on where this dialogue comes on something that is something that is now, whether people want to agree or not is a separate issue but something that is deeper and constant and something that is ephemeral and keeps on changing. So the desire for human timelessness has come from that desire and that desire has come for timelessness not from an idea of time. If one looks at that’s what we call it timeless. Now, if we go to Varanasi varanasi is considered to be a city where time does not exist. Only if time does not exist can I enter the water and wash my sins. Because sins exist only in time. Imperfection exists only in time.
Yeah. Now this is just imagine that they are conceiving of a city where there is no time. So they have created whether one agrees with it. You are within the religion, not within our separate issues. We are just looking at it almost with an anthropological sense that there is a city where there is no time existing and therefore there’s a deity called Kalabhairab and who some say he’s the king of time. Okay? But actually the writings show that that God doesn’t exist in time at all. Which then means that if one moves towards understanding the meaning of something or the spirit of something and even that spirit can be interpreted differently because our five senses are changing. But let’s assume that one is interpreting the spirit of something for a simple thing.
I ask several of my students this I’ve been asking now for the last 35 years of my teaching. I ask my students, if you go to an old Kerala home, the Nalakat, or you go to an old heritage or old home dwelling in the Poles in Ahmedabad, and you enter through that semi open space and you walk in, at what point do you feel an element of surprise and that you’ve arrived in the home? Most of them say the open courtyard. Okay? So they’ve come to the open courtyard. There’s an element of happiness. There’s an element of celebration. When you old Kerala home, you walk in the rooms, dark rooms, and suddenly you come into this courtyard. So I said, now, why is it that so many of us are celebrating that courtyard? Nobody said the front door or no one said that column, which I’m celebrating now, that is giving us an intuition of what the timeless can be. And it gives us the intuition of the timeless for the simple reason that then I ask even I ask those residents, they’re living for centuries there.
Is this an outside inside your home, or is this an inside of your home which is showing the outside? Let us say, how do you judge this? Because if it rains heavily, the rain is coming right in the middle of my home, which I can’t imagine in a Mumbai apartment. I would say there’s a serious problem. Mumbai apartment rain came in the middle of my home, pouring rain. But imagine that for centuries, we found that as a fabulous way of living, that there was a plant there. It was pouring rain in the middle of my home. Maybe there was a small shrine. And so I would go out into the courtyard, but it was inside my home. Now, that discovery gives us probably an intuition of the timeless.
So instead of linking an idea of what is timeless, this is time bound, and then again, trying to objectify it to fit a computer technology, I would say rather that reflecting on those human experiences. Why is it that almost everyone, almost everyone, the minute we go to the seashore and look into the horizon, we feel a sense of freedom? Why is it that when a cricket match is happening, and every time the batsman scores a century, he looks up into the sky? He doesn’t look down and say, god is there, looks up into the sky. Now, these are happening intuitively. These are happening structured by what 1 may call a deeper psychological structure, a deeper structure of the mind. And that when we are in touch with we call timeless. So language may not be able to easily access that area, and we may reduce or we may it’s like I enter a silent room and suddenly say, see how beautiful this silence is? I think we will kill it. So that’s the problem of language also that when we use time or timeless, so it is said, but like mythology is kept in the intuition zone, it is not brought into the definition zone. It’s kept at the intuition.
It gives a suggestion of what it can be and it is left at that point. But we need experiences. Like yesterday there was a presentation I was making in Shanghai and so what I thought I should do is make the presentation as empirical as possible. But you cannot escape the aspect of the intangible or the spiritual or the reverential when we are discussing these things. But I tried to avoid that and there were three Chinese professors who raised a question and said don’t you think this is actually spiritual and the existence of God? I didn’t expect that. And I said one can use those words. But when we use those words, we forget that that word is an intuition of the existence of God because it is not God. But when we make the word itself as important as what it is trying to stand for, I think then the problem comes, then we get confused.
But if we realize that the word is only an indicator, it’s like an arrow saying this way, that doesn’t mean that is the way it is only indicating. Then we will be more humble about the word we use. We will be more aware that the word is futile in front of what it stands for. The word is insipid in what it stands for because what it stands for is so vast. I can use the word horizon, but that word is when I’m actually at the shore and looking at an unknown ocean or into the galaxy and saying horizon. And that word is minuscule. In fact, I’ll wonder why even I use the word. So that is where I think when Frankerian or I assume they use it with that sense of intuition.
I can tell you I had the opportunity to walk through the concert hall designed by Gary in La. And I hope to write about it. I think that what one reads about it what one does and one actually there. It’s an indescribable experience. The light coming, the sound, what is happening. Almost anything we describe seems to reduce or make less the real experience of being there. So the word timeless, these are all words for providing us an intuition rather than standing for something. They are indicators, correct? That’s how I would see it.
Yeah. It’s so, so fascinating. And I resonate at so many levels because the intuition is the right word. I can’t explain it as beautifully as you can, but I somehow get that. And that’s why I understand that intuition is an important piece. And the beautiful part of, again, Indian context is that like we say, right, RamHi NAMhe. So it’s just to personify or to make it, I don’t know, comprehendable probably. But otherwise it’s very sublime.
Or yeah, it’s fascinating. So sir, obviously we can keep going on on this intangible and art insert into the history. I wanted to just come to a bit tactical questions in the context of.
The competition as well.
So Badami is known for its cave temples and rocket architecture, right? Any ideas that what elements can be incorporated in the storytelling and especially as like an educational experience, right? Because finally museums, at least according to me, it’s changing now with your conversation. But it helps to take the narrative forward, especially to the modern world. Any ideas and thoughts around it? Like what these maybe it’s good that.
You raised this question and maybe it may help to kind of connect the pragmatic with what we see as intangible. They’re not two different things, they’re the same things. And again, because of words, we make it appear two different things. Now, let’s say in the life of someone like I know it can get controversial also, but let’s say in the life of someone like Gandhiji. Now, to talk about freedom, he says let’s take cotton and I’ll weave it on a charka for talking self reliance. So suppose we did a dialogue on the notion of freedom and talk of why we should be free, the inner soul. And that’s one part. But as an act, it is so simple, actually and profound at the same time.
Take dandi march. He did not create huge corporation of salt which has 7000 branches around the world to tell the British one hand of salt he took. But see how it shook the whole idea of making salt and reliance, self reliance. So I think those kind of gestures inhabitations gestures of the most pragmatic. And that’s what Bada means, the most pragmatic. And if it is done in a simple direct way, topography, the rock is there, the topography means that’s how I climb. But that’s how also the water flows. Like in many civilizations, when they were building on a mountain, what they used to do was they would sit and observe goats running up the hill.
The minute they watch the goat running up the hill, they know that that is the best road to be made in that way because anything which was more steep, they’ll have a problem with the road. So a lot of this comes from very simple observations of how to make a path to go up with a certain relative. So in Badami, that idea of topography, that idea of something above on a mountain, something below, the fact that there is a kind of a container called water and how that water kind of collects itself every year and that the water level is never constant, the water level keeps moving up and down. So how do you develop a settlement where it can actually relate to water which is a moving level and then in that establish certain nodes or centers? It could be a temple, it could be a shrine, it could be a Jane temple. But establish that which is little more permanent and not as fluid as the water which is moving down evaporating. So there is something which is moving there’s, something which is more solid, something which is the carved out. And so it is topography, it is water. It is how the mountain can bring shade at the same time become part of a fort.
It is how the settlement then comes and very sensitively stops where the water is and then the manner in which the hearts of those steps are made on the either side. So I think the present location which has been given for the archaeological museum is a wonderful location because it really flows with that topography. So it’s not a flat museum that will happen. One will have to understand levels, one will have to understand flow of water, one will have to understand the different elements that already exist on the site. And then if this is situated there, what will the relationship be of that element? Which means that when that element comes in, let’s say the archaeological museum, it will also inspire a certain evolution of that settlement for the future. It is not a static thing, it is a growing thing, as you mentioned the continuum. So it means it cannot be something that is only looking at the past and the artifact. Ideally it will have to say that if it came there.
How does the craft community staying there feel? Our lives have become better. Interesting.
Sorry, go ahead.
Since the theme is an insert into the history and as you mentioned in the beginning, technology will play a different role. Right. We are living in this tech world. So any thoughts around utilizing say, virtual reality or enhancing the overall visitor experience with these museums? Again in the context of archaeological right. You have any thoughts around that?
I would say already several museums have begun doing it. I mean, there’s also this Bang GOG experience museum which is traveling. So several museums are now doing it in very interesting ways. There’s a museum in Rome which is doing it where they, through a consensus of various historians, have reconstructed Rome in different phases of its history.
So second century, 6th century, 14th century. Each time the city was changing and different so they reconstructed it. And that allows the young student or the scholar to actually go back and inhabit a twelveTH century city. That’s the power of AI or the meta verse that at least at the level of imagination, in the virtual condition, it can allow us to inhabit experience, see the city. In fact, I was told, and that has to be verified in the reconstruction of the Notre Dame church in Paris, several video games were taken because those video games had mapped the church very closely. So to see the detail, they had to actually go to a video game and come back with it. And now what is happening is that it means that the line between an archaeology museum and a video game is very thin. So one can be archaeological, but it can allow for an interactive video game also now.
So I think that line has to be rediscovered now, or can be rediscovered because so much more information, awareness, conversation, discussion can now happen in a more lively, interactive way, rather than a very static object with a small nameplate below. I think now it can become even more lively. It can come like there are some museums where if one maps the QR code as one is walking, the conversation happens on what that is. So I think these are all the new possibilities. It doesn’t have to be static. So one goes back with a new experience and each time one comes to that museum, one gets a different experience.
Yeah, once we accept time to be an important parameter, then everything becomes very dynamic. Sir, like last two questions is we can’t go without the word sustainability, especially in the current time. So what role would sustainability play in the design of, say, Badami Archaeological Museum or any museum for that matter? Because the whole idea of sustainability is to go lean, but we are packaging and then thinking about sustainability. Post it. So any thoughts, because yeah, you have any thoughts?
Settlements like Badami and few others, or even maybe the Amdawar poles and these settlements, Jaipur, they have emerged and have been designed through a natural direct response to the conditions, energy condition, community condition, climate. The more direct it is, the more sustainable it is. Because when it is direct, what tends to happen is that the energy footprint naturally is much lesser than something that is overdesigned in the name of comfort. So I am not saying that it should not be done, I’m not going on a reverse of what technology is doing, but those simple gestures, north, south, east, west, movement of the sun, how water reflects the manner in which construction is made. If we look at Badami, it is very difficult to even identify a material which was not from the site. If one wants to imagine, it can look like the just emerged from the site, it was not constructed and in rock cut monolith that much more, it is there that where is the material? One is only removed material and if you have removed material from a large rock, you have actually created material because you’ve removed that. So I think those are really lessons of sustainability, that we are not running through an additive process and then creating a climatic condition, a microclimate with the water and all the biodiversity there, and mud used for the homes, lime used where it is cool all the time. So one doesn’t need air conditioners, one doesn’t need all these other energy footprints that the modern city needs may not be required here.
So these are all the questions that can be raised. I’m not saying that no air conditioning, no light, no, I’m not getting into that. But I’m saying that these are a set of possibilities available to an architect.
So in fact, I will just call out to all the students that don’t listen to me now because I’m not an architectural student, but all I would do is just let it be nicely for as long as it can and that’s it. Right? There’s no museum, there’s nothing you’re building or I don’t know. Building is also wrong word. You’re creating a setup where this piece can just stay as it is for a longer duration without really creating anything. Okay, so last question is that and this is more of, again, just going broad, is that any other museums that you have studied or been part of which people can reference or something which, as you said, like video games in Notre Dame. So nationally, internationally, anything that will help?
There are actually quite a few museums. I’ll run through them quickly. One is the CSMVS Museum in Mumbai, which is not only about the artifact but also about a whole range of interactive initiatives. So there’s a dialogue. One comes there, it’s like an agora, it’s like a joke where you come in. So it’s not only person and artifact information, it is person and person. It’s gathering, it is conversation which becomes so the museum becomes a context for a larger cultural dialogue. Its meaning changes.
It’s not just for the archival of heritage elements or it becomes heritage artifacts. It becomes also for dialogue to understand it better. So that is one part. Then the Bao Daji Lad Museum is also structured very beautifully in terms of kind of creating this kind of a curiosity. So it’s not only the artifact but the curiosity. I would say the Chennai Museum in terms of artifacts is very rich. But they could look into the design, display, interactiveness. That’s an area which they are planning now to relook at because many of the government museum at that time did not fully maybe appreciate or understand the interactive nature of a museum and its possibilities.
So it was more like there’s just kept there with some title and we are expected to go around, see it and come. But today’s world, I think there’s new technologies, there’s interaction. There is a mobile which can have a QR code and have a conversation. So the Patna Museum, recently done by Maki and Opolis is also another I think Nalanda University is again coming up with a museum which is going to be interactive and go back into the past of what a university is about. There’s a museum at Lothal then Charles Kuria’s Art and Craft Museum in Delhi was one very interesting kind of a museum because the kind of spaces constructed also carried intuitions of history. So it was not just white room with lighting and the spaces itself began to activate. So that’s one way of looking at it. And then the LD Indology Museum on the nature of programs they hold and the kind of research facilities they provide that was designed by architect Vivi Doshi in Ahmedabad is an interesting point to look at.
And the way in which the archive was designed or the way in which the administration was placed, the way in which dialogue happened and the way in which the actual artifacts are displayed. I think there is a certain balance to it. And otherwise Bharat Bhavan comes across also as a wonderful precinct of responding to topographies and through a non building. So I think the are a lot there are many options. These are just five or seven options that I am Louvre internationally or there are many, many. And what I am pay does with the glass. But those are I’m not sure how well it sits in the site or not. I’m just kind of raising various ways of looking at it.
But I think architect Moi states it very well in saying would this museum like to state its presence or would this museum like to subdue itself? That you feel it was always there. You know what you are saying always there a part of it. So I think these are decisions that a young designer would need to take. Does it stand out or does it merge like the rest of Badami into the landscape and respect the topography? I think these are the broader questions. So we’ve asked both sides it’s for each choose what they feel should be the response and maybe add other aspects to the program as well.
Yeah, beautiful. In fact, I was listening to Mohesar’s brief video and if I was participating, I would love to be merging into the topography. It’s very beautiful. On that note, we can conclude this one. Thanks a lot, sir, for giving your time. It was really wonderful talking to you, as usual. Definitely would like to invite you again to speak about maybe generalist versus specialist. More of my favorite topic where I did one with ITU, chaudhary and Lisa Rath.
I think it will be a more philosophical and spiritual conversation. But thanks a lot once again for giving your time.
Thank you very much. Always a pleasure dialoguing with you and look forward to many more conversations. Thank you very much.