Societal Responses to Architecture

The original article appeared here.

The city and its citizens have been having a horrid time for the last couple of months dealing with social, cultural and ethical issues. One such issue ended up causing a city wide shutdown called upon to protest and reflect on the incident and bring to public attention, the state of affairs in the urban space. Apart from the largely desolate roads and submissively blinking amber signals, what seemed to form a focal point was the presence of large nondescript nets covering the humongous glazed boxes we have been creating. All over the country and more so in Tier-I cities, commercial and high-tech industrial zones are seeing a surge in structures that are adorned with curtain walls and in several unfortunate occasions, colorful aluminum composite panels. What is even more shocking is that several such buildings have been credited a green rating in-spite of the massive heat islands their curtain walls create.

Unfortunately, with the way our economies and societies are shaped, curtain walls seem to be the largely popular choice for building envelopes given how they are an easy way to complete and later maintain the building. This only makes me reflect on how perhaps, the days of simple brick and concrete block walls, windows and sunshades and even simpler concepts like trombe walls are numbered, if not over. With that said, it is also important to highlight how that does not necessarily inhibit development of conventional construction materials into something that is more efficient, cost-effective and most importantly, sustainable. Sustainable with respect to how it was manufactured all the way to how it will eventually be reused and recycled.

The manner in which users of these glazed boxes understand societal dynamics could be a study in itself. Given how much care is taken by the owners and operators of such facades, it seems almost imperative for a mob or a small group of people to attack the building. It is almost a given that in our societal setup, mob mentality will undoubtedly target tall shiny glass! As mentioned before, this could really be a research in itself — how the aesthetical appearance of a building impacts the manner in which society perceives or rather, accepts it. A simple curtain wall facade, 6-7 stories high, versus a coherent concoction of glass and concrete might make all the difference in how such spaces would be accepted by people — users and observers. During days of unrest, the presence of the state flag on most buildings — an attempt to ward off stone throwing mobs, is undeniable and is anything but a sudden patriotic gesture. But, such actions only go on to show how we’ve created an architecture that doesn’t really incorporate an ‘actual’ urban dynamic. We’ve created spaces that don’t respond to anything but themselves. Imagine a day when, like Rahul Mehrotra said, curtain glazing vendors start offering nets with the glazing and in matching colors! Even though my observation today is just something that can be passed off as daily banter, I feel it highlights something that can’t be ignored. Why are we moving ahead with architecture that doesn’t really respond to the spaces and thresholds that govern a city or a society?

It is only a hope, that architecture in the city will eventually evolve into something that doesn’t just revolve around costs and rather, into a harmonious culmination that incorporates more than just physical contexts and dialogs.

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Dev Ambardekar

Architect, Photographer and Writer. Based out of Bangalore, India. tweet @DevAmbardekar