Saturday, 5 December 2009

Garden under a Glass Cage

Architecture, Biodiversity and Aesthetics
(This paper, "Architecture and Biodiversity in India: A Context to Aesthetics in Our Times", was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004: Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture: Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala. This is Part 1 of the paper. There are no pictures/images/photographs of any models in this paper, for obvious reasons!)

Prologue: Way of Nature 

THE ATTRIBUTE TO DESIGN IN NATURE is cryptically described by Martin Jones, bio-archaeologist:
“In whole organisms, randomness structure is uncommon. Everything seems finely tuned by brutal rigours of natural selection. There are no spare limbs to be found and hardly any dispensable organs. This forced economy of organism design has always limited the use of bodily form as evolutionary timepiece" (The Molecular Hunt, Penguin 2002).
This is most relevant definition of design even for man-made objects or institutions. Nature – within and outside – is the first and the last guru, irrespective of the tools – arts, sciences, religions or trades. All wisdom and knowledge originate in the nature. It is time now for ‘Srishtiyoga’ – Reunion with Nature.
Garden under a Glass Cage…

We are thinking of architecture because at primary level it is everyone’s need – from a shelter to farming to damning a river. It has emerged as a most costly commodity not merely economically but also environmentally.

Architecture – good or bad – is concrete manifestation of abstract thought. Any thought is always abstract. Language, script or graphic is abstract. So also, sciences, philosophies or religions are abstract. We comprehend abstraction by our perception of reality. Art also is abstraction; it is surreal. A farmer is an artist, who works with elements on the canvas of soil, where thought and senses are unified in action as a way of life. He works at tremendous risk. His work is concrete and spiritual at the same time. We are not referring to industrialized farming.

Architecture is primarily a utility; its interpretations, however, are abstract and various. A thought involved in architecture is abstract; it may even be superstitious, whether it is scientific, philosophical, social, economic or religious, or legal such as, building bylaws or development control rules for cities and regions. The superstition may appear by way of imitation, reproduction, adoption or mass production. Architect is a thinking person, unless of course one is physically, mentally and spiritually involved in the construction, even if it may be a modest artefact, where thought is dispassionately tested in action. The word architect is variously to various occupations, for example, building a nation in politics, writing a constitution for a nation, or creating virtual reality on computer.

Buddhist religious thought, for example, we assume, is translated in its religious structures, such as, Stupa, Vihara and Chiatya. However we are not informed about any example of Buddhist secular architecture. Hence we presume that when Buddhist religion is a person’s way of life it’s a concrete form. Can we interpret any architectural edifice – secular, religious or monumental – of any time or place as a way of life? The archaeologists do that taking help of many disciplines, though with their perception. Or is Buddhism yet another brand for mass conversions in defiance of another brand? Or is Buddhism, in our times, merely an intellectual kick in discourses or at coffee-table-talk?

It is said that Vihara was derived from the tribal village halls or men's clubs, and cave ethos share with ‘Gotuls’ or youth dormitories of Muria Tribe. This has been the way of life of the tribal, even now. The tribal communities were, still are, republicans. Knowing such facts, now even vernacular architecture is acknowledged along with classical, historical, ancient or so-called modern architecture.

Zen Buddhism has enriched daily living in its expressions in gardening, painting, poetry, drama, Ikebana, Tokonoma and tea ceremony that are elements of architecture and planning. In India too there are innumerable such expressions. Call them customs, rituals, religion, or traditions or whatever you may. Undoubtedly they originate in and relate to Nature.

The industrial civilization emerged with the Mechanical–Industrial Revolution (generally called Industrial Revolution), in the West. It started mass production; so much so, that communities turned into a homogenized mass society, which took to monoculture. It also started many institutions. It has institutionalized almost every aspect of private and collective life of an individual and the society, and reduced their autonomy.

It took a few hundred years to build (!) Ajanta Ellora. Here we notice a remarkable consistency and diversity both in the edifices as they materialized over a long period of time. How was it made possible? It took a few decades to build Taj Mahal. Now it takes a few months to build a skyscraper or a township.

Today technology renders several buildings and building types obsolete before their building-life is over. The West now has developed “controlled demolition technology” to ground multimillion dollar worth new buildings in the heart of cities, with total disregard to environmental-energy-ecology cost. The large industrial establishments are decentralizing and shifting their manufacturing units to different places and countries. Technologies and products including those for modern buildings are abandoned. Some prove hazardous to health.

We are in state of flux than ever before. Whatever may cause this flux it is man-made. Where can we draw a line between that which is permanent, universal or timeless and that which is transient or temporary? Homo sapiens have not changed biologically ever since they appeared.

Are the architects merely going by conventions of the past, or by those set elsewhere? Do they comprehend the present and foresee the future? Are architects obliged to accept, follow, or imitate blindly or piously the architecture of the 20th century that originated in the West? It, of course, is a by-product of the Industrial Revolution. A 20th century “form-giver” aptly said, “House is a machine for living in”. Now the investors and profiteers, hand in hand with science and technology, after exploiting the resources of the earth, have turned their eyes on biology and biotechnology [2]

Biotechnology is now becoming the buzzword of the 21st century in the industrial society. It, of course, is motivated to investigate and exploit new avenues for profit and power. It is banking on genes of every kind of species of animals, insects, plants, including man, after defiling land, waters and air, and biotic and abiotic nature, and after causing extinction/ annihilation of fellow human beings. Biological diversity however is the lifeline for the survival of mankind.

Who shall be the next master to be the 21st century form-giver? Who shall write the guidebooks? What shall be the new slogan of 21st century? It may be perhaps, “Garden under a glass cage is a house for the clones” who will live at the command by remote control in New York, London, Paris, Brussels, and Tokyo… or New Delhi, Mumbai!
Presentation to this paper:
Man and Nature (Within and Outside)

To continue
1 Biodiversity: ‘Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources, including interallia, terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species; between species and the ecosystems.’ (Article 2 of the Convention of Biological Diversity, UNEP 1992)
2 Biotechnology: (a). Biotechnology is the application of biological organisms, systems or processes to manufacturing and service industries (Spinks, A. ‘Biotechnology’ report of a Joint Working Party, HMSO, London 1980).
(b) ‘Biotechnology is the art of manufacturing living forms as though they were machines’ (Stephan R. L., and Clark K. “Modern Errors and Ancient Virtues” in Ethics and Biotechnology, Eds. Anthony Dyson and John Harris, Routledge, London, 1994)
This paper was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004: Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture: Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala.
© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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