On Saturday 6th February 2021 School of Environment and Architecture (SEA) hosted its annual symposium titled Post Institution. The backdrop for the idea of post institution is the ripening of the infrastructure for autodidacts. A ripening fostered by the wide availability of internet services and devices -much like the proliferation of printed books a few centuries ago. The symposium comprised of four panel discussions on 1) emerging questions for pedagogy of housing, 2) new questions in visual culture and its pedagogy in architecture and arts, 3) new questions in the pedagogy of digital culture in architecture and humanities and 4) on new pedagogical questions and practices in the ecological thinking.
I will offer a very quick summary of that conversation for those who might be interested in the question of housing and cities.
For the housing panel, the school had invited Vishwanath Kashikar from CEPT University and Gautam Bhan from IIHS, from SEA it was Vastavikta Bhagat and myself.
The panelists were requested to respond to questions for the pedagogy of housing. The first question to which the panelists responded was ‘How to teach small, incremental, transient processes of housing?’
Gautam Bhan proposed to consider incrementality as a larger concept to look at urbanisation processes in India and Global South. Wether it is the large scale ‘corridor’ urbanism, large scale housing projects, or someone adding a new room to their house. There is a very crucial factor of time in every project. From there, Gautam, proposes to build archives of practices of incremental practices across all these scales to make sense of how incrementality gets mobilised in various aspects of urbanisation and urban living. These archives, Gautam argues, should then become the basis on which one can build a pedagogy of incremental urban and housing thinking.
Where as Vishwanath, coming from the position of a pedagogue of architecture, pondered upon how architecture schools usually consider thinking of larger design projects as the students passes from lower to higher semesters. Such a thinking does not make room for the pedagogy of housing as an incremental process.
The second question that the panelists responded to was ‘How to teach ‘Architectural Practice’ (main stream imagination of architectural practice -setting up a studio, working with tenders and contracts etc.) to students, especially to identify and work with incremental practices in cities?’
Gautam’s proposed here to train students to find their own practice, see how such a practice holds vis-a-vis other practices in the city, and how can one locate one’s practice among these practices. He also argued that institutions should offer space for students to identify and exercise their practice -especially for the students to garner confidence in one’s own modes of doing things. The schools can offer general methods to sharpen their practices. This would help students to develop their practice incrementally, not only that it would help the students to carry such sensibilities to architectural offices or any offices that they would go on to work with -with a hope of not changing the practice radically but to offer ‘acupuncture’ or small and incremental change to the practice of the office they are part of.
Vishwanath took a different entry point to the question where he was contemplating if it is possible to imagine an architectural practice which is ‘lean and nimble’ and which can be designed in a way that it is possible to undertake smaller and cheaper projects as opposed to relying only on elitist cliental to offer bigger projects or bigger fees? Vastavikta brought in the example of an architectural practice started by a recent alumni of SEA who have started a practice which is focused on repair, retrofitting and redevelopment of co-op housing stocks in Mumbai.
Lastly, on the question of ‘forms of housing’ was where slightly a broad set of ideas that emerged. Gautam argued to consider the larger ‘landscape’ or ‘structural understanding’ of urbanization, urban practices, that produce form. Vishwanath offered a provocation to ‘dilute’ the consideration of form and to ask ‘if form is a method or a product?’. My own thought on this has been that we need to consider the question of emergence in form -to consider form as changing. Prasad argued for a closer investigation of the idea of form, aesthetic as they are deeply embedded in social space. Which Rupali, adding further to that, argued that there is a relationship between housing form and the forms of lives it can afford. Lastly, Rohit Mujumdar proposed that to the questions of archives, incremental practices and form one needs to mobilise the idea of metaphor and analogy as entry points to both make sense and as entry points to work with them.
Note: I think, form and even object, have gained severely bad reputation and their understanding seems to be limited to the static idea of things. There is an assumption that in the thinking of form or of object one stops thinking of change,, transformation or emergence. In that light, usually, landscape is favoured over form -as a landscape thinking works best with the continuum idea of space. Of course, this is an interesting question to develop, there are plenty of notes in the previous paragraph and other works on form/ object to develop from.
For those interested, you can listen to the conversation on the YouTube Channel of SEA below.