BOOK EX­TRACT No­tions And Phi­los­o­phy Of Space In In­dian Ar­chi­tec­ture

An ex­tract from the book ‘ Wooden Ar­chi­tec­ture of Kerela’ which ex­plores the so­cio- cul­tural and the tec­tonic as­pects of Kerela’s wooden ar­chi­tec­ture–

Architecture + Design - - Contents -


Wooden Ar­chi­tec­ture of Ker­ala

By Miki De­sai


Mapin Pub­lish­ing




978- 93- 85360- 22- 0

Upon ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and the spa­ces from within the build­ings, it is ap­par­ent that the task of con­ceiv­ing and giv­ing the spa­ces a ma­te­rial ex­is­tence has been a prime hu­man pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. ‘ Space’, how­ever, can be un­der­stood sim­ply as vol­umes of empti­ness in­ter­act­ing with other such vol­umes. Its per­cep­tion has a great deal to do with how it is formed and how it im­pacts one’s psy­che and per­cep­tional re­sponse. Al­though its at­tributes can help un­der­stand/ iden­tify spa­ces bet­ter, dif­fer­ent hu­man beings per­ceive and in­ter­pret spa­ces dif­fer­ently while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing them. How­ever, the ex­pe­ri­ence also depends on the mental con­struct of the per­ceiver and his/ her sub­jec­tiv­ity, which is shaped by the phys­i­cal, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­texts of ar­chi­tec­ture. This re­sults in cul­tural speci­ficity of spa­tial per­cep­tion. The idea of an alien liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment stems from the lack of such per­cep­tion in the viewer’s spa­tial ex­pe­ri­ences. In tra­di­tional so­ci­eties, ma­te­rial, struc­tural and cul­tural at­tributes de­fine the phys­i­cal­ity of ar­chi­tec­ture while be­ing a func­tion of those at­tributes, be­cause the lo­cal con­text and skills shape them. Some so­ci­eties have a

philo­soph­i­cal or meta­phys­i­cal idea or stance about space and in most cases, re­li­gion has played a role in shap­ing it. Hence ar­chi­tec­ture has been the medium of man­i­fes­ta­tion of such philoso­phies. Many re­li­gious philoso­phies of space have much to do with their stel­lar and tem­po­ral con­nec­tions to hu­man con­structs.

It is dif­fi­cult to trans­late the word ‘ space’ in most In­dian lan­guages. The em­i­nent

Gu­jarati poet Ra­jen­dra Shukla, who is also a San­skrit scholar and a lin­guist, has trans­lated it as dikkāla, mean­ing that di­rec­tion and time to­gether con­note ‘ space’; one can­not ex­ist with­out the other. It is al­most a phe­nomeno­log­i­cal un­der­stand­ing. In the mak­ing of shelter, the no­tions and con­no­ta­tions of ar­chi­tec­tural spa­tial­ity be­come generic within a given so­ci­ety. This is why we find sim­i­lar ex­pres­sions and use of space across re­gions. Spa­tial­ity can be vis­ually eval­u­ated in the con­text of plan or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­di­vid­ual spa­ces, neigh­bour­hood and set­tle­ment. By way of the build­ing’s ori­en­ta­tion or the icons placed around it, its meta­phys­i­cal con­tent can be as­signed. In un­der­stand­ing the plan or­ga­ni­za­tion, a mun­dane and util­i­tar­ian spa­tial­ity is given by the de­mar­cated, se­quenced or jux­ta­posed spa­ces as a foot­print and form. As a re­sult of this or­ga­ni­za­tion, the spa­tial qual­i­ties re­al­ized can be lin­ear, clus­tered, cel­lu­lar or cen­tral. Spa­tial el­e­ments cre­ated by the over­all form and by the play of mass and voids within a build­ing— such as a room, court­yard, bay win­dow, ve­randa, roof, ter­race, bal­cony, etc.— fur­ther de­fine

“We can have noth­ing but re­spect for those who, in con­struct­ing tem­ples to the im­mor­tal gods, so or­dered the parts that by means of pro­por­tion and sym­me­try, the ar­range­ment of both the sep­a­rate parts and the whole should be har­mo­nious.”

— Vitru­vius, De ar­chi­tec­tura libri de­cem

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