Monday, May 16, 2016

The craft of writing and its relevance for architects - Sujith.G.S



Architecture is a reflection of the social, cultural and economic fabric of any society, concerning predominantly with the built environment and the allied aspects which influence human progression. From the initial practitioners to the organized profession of architecture, architects have evolved continuously, embracing multiple mediums for communicating their ideas and concepts and ultimately getting these manifested in a tangible reality. Drawings and other means of graphical representation form the core faculty for architects, yet other media are equally significant.

In today’s globalised world, newer technologies, processes and systems are opening up various avenues for exploration, with the architect having to master these varied modes of representation and communication, to stay relevant. In this context, writing forms an integral part of any architect’s skill set, which is unfortunately getting neglected in today’s digital world.

Writing on architecture is relevant to thinking on the state of the practice, to analyze and develop theoretical positions, without which architecture becomes a mere problem solving exercise, failing to elevate and substantiate its larger role in transforming the society. However, there is very little serious writing on architecture in the country, reflecting to a large extent the changing priorities of our globalised world, with its fascination for glitz and glamour. Also, writing is nowadays reduced to mere fanciful descriptions glorifying the aesthetic elements in a project, with the majority of the projects featured being of an opulent nature. These are often deceptively simplistic and are taken by the public as well as the younger generation of architects to be the relevant aspect of any design. This lack of a critical perspective is gradually eroding the qualitative base of the profession, slowly directing the discussions and deliberations away from the core issues and concerns of our built environments.

In such a context, what is the relevance of writing in today’s environment, when there is an overdose of fanciful images? We have all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words and this is especially pertinent for architects who predominantly communicate through drawings and images. However, even for a regular feature on a project, the written word is equally relevant. Images alone will not always communicate the intent behind a design, on how a design has evolved, what the unique constraints and challenges were for the particular site and program. For a deeper understanding of a project, one has to move beyond the seductive imagery and understand the myriad layers that make up a project, right from the regional context in which a project is sited, it's response to that context, or lack of it and how the design has been shaped by the specific features of the site, the role of the client in evolving the building program - all these cannot be fathomed from the beautiful photographs of a project alone. These have to be put down in words in a clear and interesting manner, bringing out the underlying narratives which have shaped the design and which will help one understand the logic behind it, leading to a critical evaluation of the project.

Writing as a craft has the power to elevate a design to a different plane, adding a lot more depth and meaning to it. These need not be through long complex monologues, but can ideally be expressed through a few well crafted sentences. Such a narrative will open up the design to a lot of people who may never get the chance to experience the space in person. The experiential side of the spaces, which is not always understood from images alone, can be brought out – the quality of space, of light and shadows, volumetric compositions and massing, silence, the ambient mood, visual axis and frames, edges, relation to landscape and nature...all these, if elucidated through a few well crafted sentences, can transport one to the actual space and design, even if it is physically not possible to visit the project. This will go a long way, especially for students and architects, apart from the general public, who would want to study and analyze the designs in various international contexts, but are not able to go visit each and every space.

In the study of architectural history also, the written word has an important role to play, bringing out the nuances of the structures which were built at various periods in history, establishing their contextual, social and cultural relevance. They are further relevant in documenting our rich architectural traditions. These studies are an important aspect of design pedagogy and practice, opening up the minds to how our built fabrics have evolved over time and contributed in shaping the respective societies. Such a historical perspective is also essential for one to understand the present state of the architectural discourse around us.

In the practice of architecture, the ability to communicate in a clear, concise manner is one which needs to be rigorously cultivated and developed. In today's technologically advanced world, our haptic faculties are slowly getting eroded. We are over dependent on the ever evolving newer forms of communication like texting, whatsapping etc, which has contributed in a gradual decline of our ability to write in a legible, coherent manner.

Yet, it is important that as architects, we have the basic writing skills to compose and draft decent content. As a professional, writing forms an integral means of communication - you have to write letters and emails to clients, vendors, consultants etc, apart from preparing project reports, presentations and publication materials. One regularly comes across poorly written emails on a daily basis from student architects and young architects, who would be looking for an internship position or for a job opening. Even before you take a look at the attached resume and portfolio, the first impression is subconsciously formed based on the quality of the email and the few lines that has been written. It simply shows that one did not place enough importance to take the help of someone well versed in language and writing, and is an indirect reflection of one's lack of professionalism and attention to detail.

Legibility of communication in today's professional world is of paramount importance. The written word, through emails, letters, reports, specifications etc is very important in clarifying and taking forward a project. Right from the initial communications with a client, to sending across your quotation and terms of engagement, to subsequent stages in the design evolution where you have to communicate the intent and concepts behind the design and convince the clients, to the construction stage of a project when you will be interacting with multiple consultants, vendors and contractors; streams of communication, both oral and written are equally decisive. As an architect, one has to master these various forms of communication, each with their own individual rules of engagement.

Writing is also about thinking – it makes you think about the issue at hand and helps in clarifying the thought process. The what, why, how and when is often made clear in ones own mind by a process of writing. Increasingly, research is becoming an integral part of the architectural discourse and practice. All of the mature practices have a constant interest in research and analysis. It can be purely architectural or can be a lot more interdisciplinary, encompassing the worlds of art, culture, urbanism, sociology etc, all of which have significance in the globalised world we live in. The rapid pace of change in today’s world calls for greater conversations and dialogues to understand the present as well as to postulate the future of the profession. These call for a constant introspection into the state of the architecture practice across various forums and media, which will substantiate and evolve a new direction for the architecture practice in the country.

SUJITH.G.S

This is an article that has appeared in 'Unsettld', the Student publication of Avani Institute of Design, published along with the Avani Annual Exhibition.


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SUJITH.G.S is an architect and writer, with a passion for travelling, experiencing cultures, studying vernacular architecture as well as contemporary currents, which form the basis for his writing and blogging. You can contact him at ar.sujithgs@gmail.com


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