Light and shade, logic and creativity, efficiency and emotions- any architectural project involves creating a fine balance between contrasting elements. When it comes to designing a house that is to become a ‘home’, there are more added abstract elements like aspirations, memories and symbols that need to come in to the architectural process.
In a description about a low cost housing project in Africa, an experiment was done where each owner was asked to decorate a small area on front facade of their row house. A team of architects went around with a set of questions, trying to find out why each one decorated the way they did, and answers were illuminating. One answered ‘I painted it yellow because I had a tin of yellow paint left’ , and one person said ‘I painted it pink because it reminds me of my sister whom I have not seen for years’. This is interesting, as these are aspects that an architect would never think of.
One carries memories along for years, and over time they often turn into visual symbols- the colour pink in this case. These visual symbols are also about aspirations, to reach a level that is understood as a measure of success and often manifests into a ‘form’. The form could be a house with a large porch, a Benz car, a certain building material associated with richness.
The concept of a home is also one which moves beyond physical spaces to experiences. For instance, for someone who grew up in Goa in a house with large verandahs, rain was always experienced as water rolling down the sloping roof in sheets, which could be enjoyed sitting in the verandah. For such a person, ‘home’ would be that experience which you cannot have in a building with punched windows or with deep sunshades over windows. People often cry when they leave a house or even a flat, even if they are moving in to a better place- it is not about the comforts of the place they are leaving, but about the memories attached to that place that they are going to miss. Here a ‘space’ becomes a ‘place’, and a ‘house’ becomes a ‘home’.
Hence it becomes important to respect those images in the mind while designing for an individual, all the more in the case of a house, and to capture them in a subtle way so as to create that link with these images.
That is a difficult task for an architect, especially when a client forces his visual imagery on the designer without analyzing the logic behind. These memories or images always belong to the past whereas what an architect would design belongs to future. This creates dilemma in the process of design and constraint on creativity. The skill of the designer lies in transforming that imagery and using it as a stepping stone in the creative process.
In the contemporary world of architecture, we have been exposed to minimalism and most of us strive to achieve that. We design as a process of elimination, removing unwanted elements till what remains is pristine and pure. But our way of life and our culture is about rituals, festivities and faith, colors and light, and a vibrancy that may appear almost chaotic for outsiders but with strong underlying order for us. We have to strike balance between the science and faith, logic and sentiments, and the baggage of memories that we carry along. We could therefore look at ‘absorption’ and not ‘elimination’.
The vibrancy and energy of a cricket ground in Mumbai is very different from the order and discipline of a tennis match at Wimbledon. It is extremely difficult to capture that spontaneous vibrancy of street or a market place in a planned environment, but we should try and set up context for that energy to grow in the spaces over years. Ageing of the buildings is a most interesting process, and creating those nooks and corners to absorb memories and make it richer over every passing day could help in creating a sense of homecoming.
We are sometimes asked- ‘Why do you call it a ‘building’ when it is already built?’ Because the process of building memories in to the built space is an ongoing process, it never stops, houses remain collection of memories that continue to build over the years forming a unique image for the occupant.