The Poetic Force of Architecture

The Poetic Force of Architecture
Nov 2020 , by , in Interviews

Prof (Dr.) Abhishek Kumar, Anant National University, Ahmedabad

Arjun Nair, Student, B.Arch Anant National University Ahmedabad

India recently commissioned its national war memorial in New Delhi. Its chief architect, Yogesh Chandrahasan said, “The whole concept is based on the thought that the war memorial should be a place where we don’t mourn the death but celebrate the life of the soldiers and pay respect to the sacrifices made by them”. 

The memorial has four concentric circles and a central obelisk. The circles are called amar chakra-circle of immortality, veerta chakra-circle of bravery, tyaga chakra-circle of sacrifice and rakshak chakra-circle of protection. At the bottom of the obelisk burns the eternal flame representing the undying spirit of the soldier. The architecture of the war memorial derives inspiration from the war formation famously used by Guru Dronacharya in the epic Mahabharata, which only Abhimanyu knew to break open. Architecture is used since time immemorial to edify ideas that humanity has found worth preserving and through the built structures, they attain solidity across space and time. 

Architecture refers to the making of structures used for habitation, storage and recreational activities. Structures by nature embody form and occupy space. As these structures interact with human beings, they are embellished and improvised. To understand the requirements of the user of the space, the architect needs to follow guidelines and form his own views of working on a space. 

But on what basis should one decide which guidelines to follow?  

From which position should the architect form his own views? When he faces such questions, the basic laws and nature of architecture are grappled with and philosophy of architecture becomes important. Philosophy itself means to question the foundation and existence of everything in its every form and value. It tried to find the thing as is not satisfied with knowing as it appears.  

When applied to the domain of architecture, philosophy answers several questions on how preconceived notions manifest in design, structures and functionalities of the built structure. Philosophy of architecture has branched out from the philosophy of art. The philosophical approach made architects think what they were doing and why. As these exchanges prospered, it led to further exploration of architecture’s basic nature and made architects wonder if philosophy can frame rules for the discipline. 

Does the emphasis on functionality overpower the freedom of expression and strip its association with art? 

Gustav Mueller (1960) emphasized the relation between philosophy and architecture as edifying and went on to say, “Architecture is to spaces, what philosophy is to spirituality”. A casual glance tells us that architecture encloses a person within a space but it can open doors to new horizons and spirituality in one‘s self. As architecture stands still, it can reflect culture, time and ways of people of a given time. Sigfried Giedion’s (1947) often quoted but obscure claim that the main task of architecture is to give an interpretation to the ways of life. 

Vitruvius (15 BCE) believed that an architect should emphasize three important qualities: firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty). According to Vitruvius an architect’s designs must match the undeniable perfection of the human body’s symmetry and proportions. 

For a building to create a sense of eurythmia (an acceptably graceful atmosphere), it is essential that it encompasses the natural laws of harmony and beauty. Louis Sullivan (1896), the architect who developed the architecture of the late 19th century skyscraper in Chicago, is known for the principle of “form follows function”. This principle is one of the most debated one in the history of modern architecture. Philosophies often spring from an architect’s ideology which later turn become a celebrated theory. 

As in the case of Le Corbusier (1923), who gave five points of architecture that became an integrated part of architectural theory. The five points refer to the pilotis, the free floor plans, the roof gardens, the horizontal windows and the free facades. In his popular masterpiece Villa Savoye he beautifully showcased all of his five elements.  He advocated the Pilotis – a grid of columns to replace load-bearing walls, allowing architects to make more use of floor space. 

Immanuel Kant (1790) in The Critique of Judgment claimed that function can limit the potential beauty. Gordon Graham (1989) said that music and art can lose their aesthetic features and still be attractive however if this principle is applied to architecture it becomes useless. 

Works of art could be pointless and beautiful but that is unlikely with architecture however, some buildings do come under the categories of architecture and art. Often the experience with the architectural object is intangible which leads us to think beyond the limits of what we can see. This is how architecture relates to metaphysics. 

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