Friday, December 26, 2008

rab ne bana di jodi . zoom. remember the titans

the easiness of the film in the beginning was shocking for me. none of the hyper camerawork, loud background score, overtreated stuff of dhoom or even the sickly sweetness of dilwale or mohabbatein. instead all everyday sweetness and silences of lonely breakfast tables and scooter rides in the inner city of amritsar. and in the first half the film was complex as hell about movies and identification with them – so much more so than the self indulgent screech of om shanti om. that scene where he talks to the mannequin was fantastic. shah rukh khan is back to being my favourite khan; and the new girl is lovely. nice film even though in the second half it does get completely sentimental and yash raj and they ‘rab dikhta hain’ too much.

on christmas day superhero comedy ‘zoom’. stupid badly made not very funny film in which tim allen plays faded superhero called upon to train a new breed of superkids as they prepare to save the planet.

how come in all hollywood sports real life inspired dramas the world so easily falls into nice slots predecided by cookie cutters. real people are turned into stereotypes with such ease. or is it the other way around? is everyone in america turned into stereotypes thorugh rigourous training in high school locker rooms and suburban houses? as an important aside, also can denzel washington stop looking so self important and smug?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

the irla nallah

coincidentally at the same time as the housing seminar there were demolitions along the edge of the nallah near the school to make way for some gardens. 

prosthetic homes

Houses. They are the machines we live in, but they are also the machines we dream in. Not only do they cater to our everyday existence but they are also vehicles through which we become more than what we are. They are the clothes we wear to ‘become’’ someone who we want to be- that ideal person whose persona we want to inhabit. Homes are the vehicles for our dreams. Embedded within the way we make them are idealizations- utopian apparitions without tangibility. They are the ghosts from an ideal future we imagine for ourselves.

We could, if we choose, to dismiss these are merely seductive mirages – untruthful and therefore dangerous. But without them what do we have? Are these mirages untrue or do they instead represent for us something very real- something that we feel everyday constantly and want to transform, to change?

It is unfortunate when in the city the home is merely seen as a result of the compulsions of efficiency. More people in less area makes economic sense. Governmental and non governmental agencies bend over backwards to prove the logic of density and economy. The home is merely a unit within this humongous spreadsheet. Where then lie love, desire, longing, eroticism, loss? Or are these only meant for those who can afford them? Without these aren’t we all lost?

The mediation with desire can only happen through what we can shape in the tangible. There is a ‘here and now’ to desire and can be found in the objects we make, the systems we put in place, the ideologies we espouse.

Architecture is one such artifact. Clumsy, heavy, expensive and permanent. In the shaping of it we make ourselves anew. The relationship between these tangible concrete objects and the ephemeral space of desire is far from easy. They affect each other constantly in a flux of movements and eddies. To read architecture is to be able to navigate these waters and make them legible.

The home has often been looked at as a refuge from the outside. It is supposed to imagine the outside threatening. But in the city perhaps we need to relook at this imagination. Is the house merely a reaction to the dangers that the city poses or is it also a way to navigate the city. Does it also make its own city in the way it chooses to engage with it. In between the ‘home’- and when I say this- it is not only the single family home I speak of- but also all spaces where we define oneness outside of the public- where domain is defined within which a comfort is imagined whether that is of a Community, neighbourhood. Locality, religion, caste, work. The relationship that each makes with the ‘other’ is what defines the home.

Let us perhaps examine how we live. It seems like although sometimes we let this game of numbers defeat us, more often we resist. Our desires pull us out of the grid and make us transform it, break it, reconfigure it. In these deviations we make our space with our colonization. An invasion that breaks the boundaries of an imposed order, the house is a place for freedom.

We play out our freedom out through our bodies. Houses might be something we wear- prostheses - to complete our incomplete selves. This incompleteness is perpetual in a city where stability is non-existent. What if the home – that ideal of repose – was never stationary but in fact perpetually moving and shifting- a dynamic conception that evolves as our relationship with the city evolves. The home as prosthesis helps us inscribe our identities in the city.

Prosthetics can be permanent or temporary. As far as prosthetics go they are worn as much to enable an act, (like scissors that transform the hand into a cutting device) or to play-act like the fake teeth worn for giving a friend a scare. In that sense they can be serve both a utlilitarian and an oneiric function. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive. To be able to excavate the imagination of the home then it is imperative to look closely around us, to turn a fine eye towards the way in which we arrange our furniture, the knick-knacks we keep on our showcases, the way In which we use the home. In these objects, in their form, the references they make, the languages they speak lie our homes.

There is no simple arithmetical relationship between desire and architecture. The map is complex and the excavation of these vectors would need different tools. Psychoanalysis’s uses indirect tools and methods to reach into our subconscious and pull these out. Ink blot tests, Rorschach tests, the state of hypnosis, dreams allow us to access what lies beneath. The work of the surrealists explored these to uncover the truth. Perhaps there are many clues here for us to understand the home as prosthetics that we wear to reconstruct ourselves.

Prosthetic homes are messily assembled around us using everything we can get our hands on. As our resources and our relationship with the city transform so do these assemblages.

When a migrant enters the city the home is for him only a foothold- a place to sleep at night, he finds a home in interstices or in arrangements that do not strain his resources but provide him with the basic needs through which he finds place in the city. Sometimes these are resources that are shared with many like him- shared beds, cooking arrangements. Informal systems are wedged into the formal structure of city. Let us also look at the spaces where there recent migrants are provided space – the hostel space for young men who come to the city from small towns where every room has in it fragments of the home town and the position of the mirror on the wall is the first image he sees everyday of himself in the city. 

This relationship with the idea of dwelling changes as he becomes acclimatized to the throng of the urban. The space transforms from being merely a resting place at night to also being a resource to earn some money. A shop is opened up if the home is on a main road, or is subdivided and sublet; the space of the home also becomes at certain times of the day a workspace- embroidery, the making of papads. These conflations of living and work are not contradictions- they don’t exist as different.

Perhaps here it is important to note that it would be futile to reduce the complexity of the act of making to merely the staking of a claim in the city by those who belong to the fringes of society. The transformation of the ocean into a sea view, or of the home into a designer showpiece is also a relationship that has been made. It is still a prostheses worn around the body to replace missing limbs or to enable an action. 

The assemblage of the home thus helps us transform the city into what we want it to be. Nature, other people and communities are let in forms that are carefully strategised. our relationships with the other are shaped by the way we make our homes. This making is propelled by desire. By helping us construct our relationships with the world- known and unknown.. the universe / nature / mankind / civilization it allows us to ‘become’. 

11 ideas regarding the home and housing

we are holding this seminar is to attempt to map the terrain between two competing discourses- the discourse on the house and the discourse around housing.

Around the house we have created a myth of safety and security. This leads to us talking about it terms of removal from the city. Engagement with the city takes the form of high walls that keep the outside out. The logical outcome of this kind of imagination can be seen in the rise of high end residential enclaves where all kinds of ‘others’ are kept out- thee include people who belong to other communities or class or even people who eat non-vegetarian food. Marketing brochures for housing colonies clearly spell out these needs.

On the other hand there is the imagination of housing- which sees individual desire and aspiration subservient to a so-called economic logic of efficiency. More people in less area makes economic sense- or so it is assumed. The horrific sra buildings being built all over the city stand testimony to this.

This seminar is an attempt to be able to create a language or to describe a terrain in between these through which we can articulate concerns, processes and methodologies to address questions regarding housing that emerge from this particular context- the city of Mumbai. At the KRVIA we have tried to attempt many ways of engaging with these ideas in the design studio, the research and design cell and many other courses. To be able to place these attempts within a framework we have attempted to create a matrix of terms and ideas. These are tendencies that we see within the school’s work. Each of these is naturally not mutually exclusive but instead connects to others in a rhizome like pattern making constellations of concepts.

 I shall be briefly explaining these terms and the way we have defined them for the purpose of the seminar and the ‘reflections’ issue this year.

  1. Hearth

The idealized home. The ancestral home. Native place. This is the space for the individual/ family to feel safe and comfortable. The family home has undergone many transformations with the change in the economy and Urbanisation. No longer are they stable structures within which generations have lived. Families have fragmented and scattered- yet these formations are nto completely random. There are patterns within which the school has tried to excavate and unpack.

  1. Object

In the history of architectural thought the house has often been the ideal site for experimentation in form By lending itself to exploration of the semantic and phenomenological. The relationship of these experiments to the tropes of domesticity is complex and often these experiments throw up great challegnges and opportunities to reconfigure the home.

  1. Tradition

It is self evident that History has much to teach us as architects. This learning has to go far beyond merely being a romantic return to an idealized past. Studying traditional architecture and processes of creating housing can teach us about responses that lie within our context. They can provide us indigenous references for responses to local factors of culture, climate and geography to create housing.

  1. Typology

This type is generated through a complex collision of forces emerging through time, activity and usage and the particular characteristics of a place. These typologies need to be studied to be able to discern the relationship of architectural form to specific contexts. Within the type lie multiple and innumerable possibilities that can morph to differing individual needs.

  1. The other

Most architecture is shaped by mainstream imaginations of the city. Often these leave out and marginalize the needs of those who lie outside the realm of the ‘normal’- yet these so-called “deviants” are majority of the population. Migrant labour - Young men and women who come to the city for work or studying, old men and women who are sent out to the periphery to commune with nature and individuals with special needs- all have to find space to live outside or in the interstices of the city. In much work that the school has carried out we have tried to uncover the particularities of these forms of inhabitation to validate and create them.

  1. Process

Although it has been one of the banes of architectural discourse it is apparent that it is impossible to imagine the separation of form/space from the socio-economic frameworks that created them. Especially in the case of housing where the product is ever changing to meet new circumstances it is important that the housing project is seen as a continuous process that does not end with the buying and selling of the house but continues as the home is inhabited, colonized, transformed. A holistic vision of housing is thus essential.

  1. Resource

In the city the house provides a foothold for survival for the migrant. It is the resource that is manipulated by the inhabitant to navigate the terrain of the city. It can provide social networks and economic opportunities by becoming a beauty parlor or a typing institute. This resource keeps transforming its role as the relationship of the inhabitant to the city changes.

  1. High Density

There is no escaping the fact that the city is a space that attracts people to come and work. Naturally this leads to densities of incredible proportions. Without an architectural imagination that is able to provide within these high densities livable spaces we are left with the endless grid of concrete that sra rehousing projects demonstrate so vividly in different parts of the city. One of the challenges that the school has tried to address is the provision of infrastructures and facilities while also catering to the density of housing inevitable within the context of Mumbai.

  1. Pre-fab

The machine has created opportunities for us to be able to meet the challenge of rapid urbanisation. Processes of mass production can speeden processes of construction and housing delivery that earlier took a very long time. The danger is of course homogeneity and sameness. However these technologies, if used intelligently can be very useful in meeting the ever increasing demand of the needs in the city.

  1. Machine

This was le corbusier’s metaphor for the house- a machine to live in. this tended to disembody the imagination of the house as an independent machine within which everyday life found its place. The results of this disembodiment are all around us. However the machine can still be conceived of differently. If the machine is to enable actions to survive in the city- it can be re-imagined differently- perhaps what it produces and how It produces it can be reconceived. And If the machine is an extension of the body how can we not love it like a loved one? And grieve when it falls apart.

  1. Desire

The home is also a ‘desiring machine’. The home is a space which transforms thorugh the act of inhabitation. these transformations are shaped by the way the inhabitants imagine themselves as families, communities, city dwellers, individuals. The house is a heavy clumsy expensive assemblage through which they attempt this transformation. These attempts need to be understood rather than summarily dismissed. 

post after a long time. books/movies/prayoga/annuals

its been a long time on the blog since i posted anything about the books and movies i saw recently. so here is a list of the few that i did. ‘divisedaro’ michael ondaatje’s novel about three people separated in their teens is all right and readable enough. but the second half when he digresses into a story set in the past with a french writer and his friendship with a thief’s family seems too forced and muddled. i have no idea what he was trying here. then there was lots of action american style in elmore leonard’s ‘split images’. evil rich playboy loves killing people and sardonic detective unwillingly traps him. john mclane is older now and belongs to an earlier generation of brawn without brain. so the evil techie commies better watch out even if they are corporate turncoats from the us defence services. i absolutely loved ‘die hard 4’ with its ridiculour situations stupid plot and bad acting. and ‘invincible’ was just a silly true sports story of a middle aged man making it big in the philadelphia football team. so that’s that.

but then there was also the prayoga event with two mani kaul films. ‘before me eyes’ where the landscape of kashmir is truly hypnotic and ‘mati manas’ a long meditation on clay. in the question answer session he spoke of making movies like music. where every note in the middle is the whole raag; and of immersing himself in the making. he spoke beautifully.

Later kuntal, mukul and me drove around the trident to Colaba causeway. Somehow although everything seems normal in the air there seems to be still the thickness of the aftermath . along the way we see sings that speak of the spirit of mumbai again.. as sunil said- the anger of the upper middle classes- when in doubt hold a candle.. of that does not work- hold hands! :) 

at the same time in college the annual workshops were on. and though i was not a part of any of them being too busy with other madness, sonal was delighted with the music workshop with komkali kalapini. the other workshops were jhelum paranjape’s odissi dance workshop and the third gopi desai and theater. very different from anything we have done for a long time- and thank god for that. we need a change sometimes.

the annual lecture series this year was on ‘the home and housing’. i shall post the brief soon. s k das showed some his work and jasbeer sahwney spoke of learning from manhattan after we showed the school’s work on housing in the morning. 

at the opening of the exhibition i met tons of ex-students that made me very happy. its strange how much i miss them when i see them.

including pottu who is back slimmer and sexier than ever. 

and later the “talent” night was as raucous as ever- but this time we might actually have a rock band that can play.