The Dilemma Between Originality and Creativity through Familiarization in Architecture

Architecture Dated:  Dec. 21, 2015
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Originality in Architecture design by ar. Benny Kuriakose

Originality is the outcome of a brave attempt to seek change from monotony. On the contrary, familiarity is a comfort which is unconsciously experienced by the human mind when it is able to relate to images from past memories. However, its weight is only felt when we are exposed to the unknown.  This “unknown”, invokes our spirits to shelter the agents of emotion such as fear and reluctance, resulting in anxiety and spiritual discomfort. But does this mean there should be no originality in architecture?

To begin with, perhaps considering a hypothetical situation would help build the foundation for this argument. For instance, say a person dwelling in a remote village in India his entire life, if suddenly is exposed to the dawn of western civilization, would be in a state of complete disharmony with his surroundings and would fail to adapt. Thus, in a similar context, if we were to “unlearn” what is known to us, or the glimpses of our beliefs carried from the past and start afresh, then it would only result in a melodrama of chaos and psychological tension. Instead, taking advantage of the time tested methods derived from the past and introducing innovative reforms to meet the needs of the time, would be a rather subtle and apt solution.

Research has proved that over the years, our mind appreciates what it can relate to. In fact prior knowledge or even a faint streak of memory conjures an individual to accept readily. To accept change is a gradual process and it must be in sync with the basic ideologies of society. An abrupt introduction of the new without any connection to the past only creates an opportunity for chaos and confusion.

Typical Hindu temple (Left) and the Sanchi Stupa (Right)Typical Hindu temple (Left) and the Sanchi Stupa (Right)
Source: www.wikipedia.com

Architecture has always mirrored society and its people like the pages of a book of history. Hence, when society was religion centric, places of worship reflected the architectural character of the time. Temples were planned around ponds, religious motifs derived from the Vedas and the holy scriptures of Hinduism, were engraved on the walls. Elementary forms such as the garbaghriya and shikhara, defined the symbolic faith of institutional worship to the common man. The worshippers of Lord Buddha symbolised their faith in the Stupas at Sanchi and Sarnath, which were defined by elements such as the torana, the hemispherical shell or anda and the harmika. Mosques were characterised by domes and spatial orientation. The churches usually had a cross atop the gable end of the roof.  All this contributed to the mythic imagery that the common man used to hold on to his beliefs. Wiping out such symbolic imagery and painting an abstraction of existent orthodox forms would only generate conflict within the minds of the common masses who choose to believe in what they were used to.

Golden Ratio in the ParthenonGolden Ratio in the Parthenon
Source: www.goldennumber.net

The ancient Greeks based their calculations on sacred proportions such as the golden ratio; this proportioning system repeated itself in every form of nature, from humans, to flowers and even in the Milky Way. Instances of this were seen in the Parthenon, especially in the five orders. Such proportions have been proven to be universally applicable in design through extensive research. The use of the golden ratio was further enhanced in the recent past by Le Corbusier, in his creation of the Modular system of proportioning. Hence, we already have a platoon of time tested discoveries and inventions that have unquestionably answered our needs and demands for ages.

If the progress of the human race is to be judged on a simple basis, then it would only be a contest between two parameters; faith and reason, one being the flipside of the other. When man failed to prove his argument with science, he resorted to his beliefs and based his judgement purely on blind faith. He believed in the existence of god and feared the same. The growth of scientific reason was at par with the religious beliefs of the people; however, religion connected the masses and their ideologies because it was based on simple faith. Thus, to reach every strata of society, science used the help of religious imagery and made society aware and responsive to attain a state comfortable existence.

The Modular SystemThe Modular System
Source: www.wharfar.wordpress.com

In India, people put their faith in the Vastu Purusha Mandapa to design their houses. Such beliefs were merely based on religious dogmas and sentiments. However, unknowingly, the common man built his dwelling that responded to the climate and cultural beliefs. The manifestation of logical approach in simple faith resulted in catering the needs of the users. Something as simple as placing your head in any cardinal direction besides north is a practise still followed in almost every household in modern India out of mere superstition. The true scientific justification behind such superstition weren’t necessary for the common man to ponder over so he chose to believe what a majority accepted as correct, or more importantly, auspicious.

Originality in ArchitectureOriginality in Architecture design by Ar. Benny Kuriakose

Vernacular architecture in Kerala characterised by central courtyards or extensive use of bamboo for construction along the coastal area for its cheap ability was a tradition carried out for years. This resulted in the creation of climate responsive structures in the region and thus led to comfortable living conditions for the local people without their conscious knowledge. Hence once again faith reaffirmed its power over a questionable new beginning that would have to start with no prior knowledge whatsoever. And today, modern architects use the same vernacular principles to create luxury courtyard houses and resorts to meet the needs of the present generation. Thus, in a nutshell, the whole idea is nothing but an evolution of an ancient concept moulded to fit the urban fabric of today.

An architect must primarily respond to the needs of the people. Creating a cloud of mystery for the lay man with layers of abstraction would only make the puzzle more complex. To question the past and to forget it is as good as circling around a loop to reach only as far as where you would have started in the first place. There is not much wisdom in starting afresh when we already have come so far in time. Holding on to the quantum of memory that we can savour from the past and symbolize our faith and beliefs in forms that have existed over centuries would help preserve our roots and origins. Losing touch of the known just for the sake of originality would only make the unknown more mysterious and difficult to perceive. Thus, to sustain in our very own world and to create one for our future, we must learn from the past, evolve and adapt.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ZingyHomes

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