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The Crafting of Architecture by Shamita Chaudhry

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

Marleau Ponty once said, ‘Our own body is in the world as the heart is in the organism: it keeps the visible spectacle constantly alive , it breathes life into it and sustains it inwardly…’

Each person that walks the surface of the earth is the centre of his own cosmos. He views the world that surrounds him as he traverses distances and explores new territory, enveloping him, consuming him, and takes it all in, storing it in some distant corner of his mind. The classical 5 senses actively interacting with the world help him form his own opinions and perceptions of the world.

The job of the architect is to create the world he inhabits, to design the experience of a place such that it is memorable for each and everyone who visits it, to break out of his cosmos and design selflessly for one and all. The final product of this design reflects not those who will eventually inhabit it, but the soul of its architect.

A good architect is sensual, sexual, erotic and sensitive to his surroundings. His senses are easily aroused and his buildings reflect this characteristic trait in the best manner possible. He thinks like a seductress in action(excuse the unintended gendering of my words), constantly thinking of the occupants of his building and how he must produce a work of art that will have a similar impact on them as it does on him.

His building invigorates, rejuvenates the sprit and uplifts the soul. An experience like this is hardly one to forget.

An architect’s sense is an acquired taste, just like learning how to truly appreciate a glass of red wine. It requires having the ability to pick the right raw materials, choosing the most appropriate colours, not too jarring, deciding what proportions will sit perfectly, understanding the effect of light, dark, shade etc. And in the end his building is not about how it looks, but how the space he has designed feels. What impact does it have on an occupant or a visitor? Does this experience get embodied in him forever?

The thought of memorable experience takes me back to a restaurant I visited recently, in Quebec city. The memory is still fresh and I remember it quite vividly in my mind and it feels like it will stay that way forever. I remember walking down this narrow market street on a hill, looking at the same overpriced stuff in each shop, brightly painted sign boards, their desperate attempts to draw in tourists to buy their titbits. Walking down this narrow street, searching with hungry eyes for a place to catch some very late breakfast, we came to a halt at tourists in the middle of the street. It felt open, though it was enclosed by the steep face of the hillside on one side and the usual boutiques on the other, the street cutting through a path of its own along the boutiques.

Creepers crawling up the wire fence that encased the rocks, wild bushes dispersed all around, bright lanterns hanging loose over our heads, this place had a strange edibility to it. An altar, green with patina very effortlessly sat in the centre, its delicate skeletal frame adding romance to the already sweet air. Amidst all the hustle of the crowd passing by, a street musician gently plucked the strings of his harp, lost in his own world, creating soft beautiful music, entrancing all those who cared to stop and listen for a second. The restaurant that I mentioned, opened out their patio, small enough to hold about 3 tables, to this beautiful little patch of joy. The patio seemed to merge into the wilderness in every way possible. Be it the grey slate under our feet that merged into the gravel, the little canvas umbrellas that stretched over our heads, the bright pink and orange terracotta pots that hung like bells at the entrance or the wine that I was sipping, the experience of sitting in that patio, looking out blankly at nothing, was surreal. I smelt the wild trees that surrounded me, mixed with the subtle metallic hint of wine, the soft melody of the harp. The earthiness of terracotta and slate extended itself not only to the ambience of the restaurant, but almost to the food as well. My eyes were comfortable with what they saw and for once were not in a hurry to look around. The cool shade that we sat in, secluded from the rest of the world brought me to a point where it was just me and my thoughts and that’s when the power of great architecture struck me.

Great architecture, is one that very effortlessly merges the built into the natural, so beautifully outdoors, one that allows a person to feel unified with nature, that leaves an impact on one’s psyche so significant that the thought of comfort or nature or home, takes you back to that place. For eventually, that is where man is destined to be, not surrounded by concrete and toxic gases, but back to nature. My words do no justice to how this space made me feel. It rejuvenated my tired body and brought me at peace with the world. It made me look outwards and inwards all at the same time.

I unfortunately don’t know who was responsible for this wonderful intervention amidst the tirades of built blocks, but he did a spectacular job of making me halt for a moment in life, to not think about my goals and aspirations or where I have to be in the next hour, it stopped me blank in my fast paced life and I feel that this is what the craft of architecture is truly about.

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