A dialogue with the 'Man of Nature' - Ar. Shirish Beri

Interviews with Thought Leaders Dated:  Aug. 17, 2015
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Ar.Shirish Beri, Image source: ET AD

Any serious architect's approach to his architectural design would evolve from his understanding of life.” – Ar. Shirish Beri.

He is a man with simple looks and unconstrained philosophies, who has been whole-heartedly living with Nature. One can say that his perspective towards life, society, spaces, Architecture, Architects is beyond a normal man’s thinking. An Architect, an Artist, a Photographer, a Poet, a Writer, a Philosopher, a Teacher and definitely a great Human being to whom the world seems quite simple!

It is interesting to see the relationship between you and nature in everything you do. Please tell our readers about the human being in you.

As a human being too, my concern has always been to design spaces which would help in bringing people nearer to each other. I always prefer open , accessible and participatory spaces to closed, gated communities.

Further, I feel very much concerned about the tremendous inequity in our society. We have people spending rs. 50,000/day and we also have people who do not eat one square meal /day.  Thus as a small gesture, I have created a “Humane equity and dignity fund” from a major part of my personal earnings and savings.

This money is used only for the truly needy, ‘have nots’ of our society and for institutes working for these people. Seeing the smiles on these unfortunate faces is a great reward in itself.

Your poems, paintings, sketches, photography and designs reflect the philosophy in you. What made you choose architecture as a profession?

Architecture helps me to connect physically and tangibly to people, nature, emotions etc simultaneously. Just as language is the medium for my poetry, space is the medium for my architecture and I have a great fascination for exploring this medium of space. I have been toying with the idea of making a hour long

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Your thought, “Can architecture become an expression of our human spirit, where the measurable and the immeasurable work together?” Could you elaborate on this?

Any architecture becomes an integral part of the users’ existential, spatio-temporal set up. But, many a times architecture is conceived as a material, tangible, measurable envelope only. To me the intangible dimension of feelings is very important too. Our human spirit is immeasurable too.

So can our architecture strike the right balance between the measurable and the immeasurable?

Your award-winning film: ‘The unfolding’ deserves to reach our readers. Our readers would like to know more about it?

My film “The unfolding white” tries to explore whether our work can help in taking us closer to this wholeness/oneness of life? It is an attempt to relate my work expressions to my journey, search, understandings and concerns in life. Its 12 minute version can be seen on you tube and on some other ‘world architecture’ sites .

Being a nature lover, how different is it to design an Agriculture college from other institutions?

Central landscaped courtyards as in other projects were proposed here too. As an agricultural college, I had provided special departmental courtyards to grow / display that particular department’s relationship

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How special is Kolhapur Institute of Technology to you? What was the thought process behind the design?

It was special then, in the first ten years of its existence. Later the main trustees changed and insensitive additions, expansions were done, the amphitheater was reduced in size, the workshops were mutilated and unfortunately, the spirit of the design got lost. 

In 1997, the 8th International design competition, Osaka, Japan, yours was one of the winning entries to win an award. How does it feel to think of it now?

There were a number of Indian entries in this competition. My entry was the only Indian entry to win an award from the 1021 entries from around the world. It felt good to receive this important international award in Japan that year.

Every teacher should be a co-learner. What is that one important learning you get from students of today’s generation?

I always learn through the process of answering their questions. Some of the issues raised are worthwhile and while articulating my answers, I get a better sense of clarity myself. Even in terms of technical questions, I have to be prepared or I have to prepare myself to answer them. 
Besides this, one stays young and abreast with new concepts and ideas.

An excerpt from your philosophy: ‘Man is being isolated and is missing the meaningful interaction with fellow human beings’. How do you look at ‘technology’?

The problem starts when technology is looked upon as an end rather than as a means. If used judiciously, it can help in bringing people together. But many a times, technology reduces warm, humane interaction. Spaces too can be designed in such a way that they act as catalysts in better human interaction.

You are a different person with simple looks and beautiful philosophies. Do you find anything challenging in life? If so, please tell us about it.

Every person, every happening, everything is a challenge in life…. especially today when all these are commodified for material gains.

I see three major challenges and sicknesses of today’s times. We seem to be suffering from..
.. N.D.D. – Nature deficit disorder -where we are cocooning ourselves in an artificial, secure, sanitized man made world that is alienated from nature.

.. Poverty of time- where we are rushing around without appreciating what is near us.

.. A fatty degeneration of our conscience (in Nani Palakhiwala’s words) where our single minded pursuit of money is impoverishing our mind, shriveling our imagination and desiccating our heart.

Thus, I try to and have actually managed to stay away from all these modern ailments. To do so, I have opted to stay out of the rat race and one upmanship; I have been very choosy about jobs so that my involvement in the works in hand is not diluted. Somehow, money was never an incentive.

What inspires you other than nature?

I am inspired by any genuine, creative expression in any art form.

I also feel inspired by the lives of people who are contented and happy even with very few material possessions; by people who delve deep inside themselves to realize their fullness and oneness with this life energy; by people who live to make others happy – humans as well as other living creatures.

How should a person be, to work with you? What is the work culture at your office?

That person should first of all be a good human being who is passionate about design. He /she should be on a continuous journey of discovery in life and in design.
The work culture in my personal studio /office is informal but with a sense of discipline and commitment. Almost all the production staff sits in my associates’ offices, so my office is small with only 3-4 persons. I do not have a special closed cabin and the entire office is not air conditioned.

Your advice for architecture students opting to spend two years abroad for masters degree.

After graduation, each of them needs to spend some quiet time – a few days alone by himself/herself, to find out what their true potential,their true aspirations are. They should not just go abroad for post graduation just because that is the trend. If what they aspire for matches with what they will achieve abroad, they must go.

Once there, they must be open to absorb, adsorb all that they experience there in order to make their repertoire a rich, fertile ground for their designs to mature and fruition. They must remain alert and aware to avoid excessive conditioning.

This interview is contributed by ‘ The Economic Times Architecture & Design Summit'.

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