Prof. Christopher Benninger Chairman – Christopher Charles Benninger Architects Private Limited
As a young man, I sought refuge from the chaos and the ugliness around me that showcased itself in the form of branded fast food eateries, bland multi-storied apartment buildings and boring malls. I sought seclusion from the mundane, boring context created by a consumer society. That path led me into the world of visionaries through the median of books. I ventured into the deep forests of my mind,discovering role models like Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.I learned that books were the vehicles in which one could travel seeking discovery, and as a boy I voraciously began to collect books on topics that fascinated me and intrigued me, discovering real gurus under whom I could study and learn. Teachers like Jose Luis Sert overpowered me with their concepts and their exciting visions opened insights into my own possible future. They showed me, which features of my intellect and of my own personality were unique and would be my strengths to build a life upon. Such discoveries about one’s self are called inspiration. My teachers and my gurus inspired me!
In my universities, I sought the truth; I wanted to know what was right and what was wrong! I explored the ethics of being a professional and how to establish my own code of values and to then “profess them,” as a professional. In this model of thought and conduct there were not grey areas, there was only black and white!
But, at some point a moment of self-realization struck me and I realized that life is not always seeking pure truth. Life is also about good times, laughter, friendships and smiles. I learned from my gurus to search “the good,” to seek the things that make me and other people happy! I think the study of “the good,” is called aesthetics! Thus, life is not a career path flowing along a straight line, but it is a spiritual path of serendipity discoveries; aninner search for self-realization!
Thus, with my mind opened to the world of discovery and re-discovery and the knowledge that one’s path in life is to know themselves and to seek one’s own inner meaning, I set off on a path, not on a career.
I came to India in 1968 studying shelter typologies, amazed to see how people survived in slums, chawls, and small apartments carved from old buildings. That first induction into this great society turned all my learning at MIT and Harvard University up-side-down, resulting in journal articles challenging the ideas of my American professors.
During that first adventure in India I made lifelong friends and met guides and gurus who still temper my thinking. For the first time, I could “see history,” in the form of ancient structures standing beside medieval ones, that shared walls with colonial ones, that lived right next to icons of the socialist era created after Independence.
I could see how socio-economic systems, technologies and politics forged physical environments and how the creators of these structures seamlessly worked within these frameworks.
I realized that one’s personal education and one’s continuous research must be in the laboratory of life, and not just in the libraries of colleges! One must travel on real roads to discover new realities! One must see real buildings and structures and to read of their history, the conditions of the people who created them, and the societal needs and forces that generated them. Thus, travel became my mode of exploration: travel in my mind; travel within the pages of books; travel on the earth’s highways, seas and on the mountain roads; and, most of all travelling through friendships and interactions with people who inspire one. Yes, inspiration is everything. Yes, discovering who you are and what the most intrinsic characteristics you possess is everything!
I grew up as a child in the world of the radio. In the evenings, my sister and I would listen to stories of cowboys and Indians on the radio. We had to imagine what everything looked like, creating half of the story ourselves in our minds! Then came television in the mid-1950’s and our imaginations played a smaller role and by the1960’s push-button phones arrived and one could dial across the world. Then came the beepers, film cassettes, Walkman music systems, the Internet and smart phones.
More and more media injected completed images into our minds killing our imaginations. Our imaginations began to atrophy, sleep and die. Instead of growing our creativity began to shrink. Instead in being, we have only learned to seem and to pretend; to live in imaginary boxes created by others, instead of creating more and more new images to explore. Instead of analytical engineering, the world is now modulated and controlled by banal, pre-packaged “imagineering!”
My advice to young architects is to BE, not SEEM! My advice to young creative people is to generate ideas and concepts from within your own imaginative minds, and to amplify these original ideas out; rather than become sleeping creatures full of ideas pushed into your mind from the banal outside!