Spatial Patterns & Material Phenomenologies Making Home in Inter City Contexts

Course Mentors: Anand Sonecha, Milind Mahale, Rupali Gupte, Samir Raut

This course will focus on the understanding of Typology in Design and its intrinsic relationship to Spatial Patterns of Life and Living and Material Phenomenologies. Students are expected to appreciate architecture as an intrinsic part of cultural production informed by historic processes as well as everyday practices. The course will have dimensions of field studies and architectural projections. The sites chosen for field study will include historic settlements, which have evolved from settled social, cultural and climatic forces over years and have a coherence in architectural form. The objective of the studio will be attuned to equipping students with tools to understand settlements and intervene in them through an understanding of type, spatial patterns, material assemblies and phenomenological readings. The design brief will involve an interpretation of the idea of home and inhabitation leading to an insert in the neighbourhood, ranging from rebuilding a house for contemporary inhabitation to the facilitation of home through an extended programme.

The key concepts explored in this course are:

Type: ‘Type’ denotes a set of things (including ideas) which have common characteristics. As against the unique it is the generic. The architectural type encompasses a set of built forms, which have a similar configuration of its constituent elements. Type is not the building or the drawing of the building, but it is the diagram of how the various constituent elements of the building come together. A diagram is a spatial organisation of components of a form. It is the drawing of the structuring principles of a system. Diagram specialises relationships.  The various samples, which identify themselves as the same type may have different nuances and therefore may have different drawings. ‘Typology’ is the study of types. Building types have evolved over years and have consolidated through codes embedded in the needs of climate, culture, geography but also aspirations to beauty, patterns of living etc. A way of life and living is embedded in its configuration. However, type is not static. It is dynamic and changes based on its variation, modulation and synthesis. A typological reading is essential both as an analytical tool to read the history of architecture and the various architectural precedents, as well as a design tool to generate new ideas. Type is intrinsically linked to behaviour and understanding of the body in space. Specific space and form configurations in particular types afford particular possibilities and therefore have a distinct relationship to human behaviour. Certain types have the capacity to influence certain behaviour. For example a house with a large verandah fronting it will afford the inhabitants a certain form of life. Older inhabitants would spend their surplus time in the verandah watching others go by their daily routines, younger people might play in the safety of the verandah but still have a sense of being outdoors. These affordances are further nuanced by relationships of scale, proportions and phenomena shaped by material, light, textures etc. A field of Environmental Behaviour studies have historically looked at the relationship between form and space and their relationships to behaviour. The studio will focus on an understanding of type and its reworkings in the design process.

Spatial Patterns: Architectural Form and Space and its relationship with life and living are intrinsic. While a study of type points to the specific configuration of space and elements of architecture, a study of spatial patterns further nuances the social relationships constituted and facilitated by the particular configuration.  In A Pattern Language (APL),  Christopher Alexander in collaboration with Sarah Ishigawa and Murray Silverstein, presents a network of patterns that model the interplay between design and social interaction in order to create a range of design solutions (Erikson, 1997). APL was fundamentally an aid to anyone (even non architects) to engage in the act of designing their cities, neighbourhoods, homes, offices, gardens etc. At the core of this book  is the point that in designing their environments people always rely on certain "languages", which, like the languages we speak, allow them to articulate and communicate an infinite variety of designs within a formal system which gives them coherence. (APL, 2000). The 253 networked patterns suggested by Christopher Alexander, work at various scales from design of city environments to the most intimate corner of a house or a garden, drawing on both physical as well as psychological needs. The patterns draw from a poetic language which condenses and intensifies to create a profound experience. Some of the patterns read as such: Density Rings, Quiet Backs, Half Hidden Garden, A Place to Wait, Street Windows etc. The studio will use Spatial Patterns as a way of understanding the place and its lived experiences as well as attempt to employ these in the design process.

Phenomenological Readings: In the ‘Poetics of Space’ Bachelard reminds us that “we are inhabited by deep imaginings - visual and verbal, auditory and tactical - that we reinhabit in our own unique way. Poetics is about hearing and feeling as well as crafting and shaping” (Bachelard 1964). Peter Zumthor in his essay ‘A Way of Looking at Things’ in Thinking Architecture narrates his childhood memories of his visit to his aunt’s garden, “ That door handle still seems to be like a special sign of entry into a world of different moods and smells. I remember the sound of gravel under my feet. The soft gleam of the waxed oak staircase, I can hear the heavy front door closing behind me, as I walk along the dark corridor, and enter the kitchen, the only brightly lit room in the house. Looking back it seems as if this was the only room in the house in which the ceiling did not disappear into twilight; the small hexagonal tiles of the floor, dark red and fitted so tightly together that the cracks between them were almost imperceptible were hard and yielding under my feet, and a smell of oil paint issued from the kitchen cupboard. Everything about this kitchen was typical of a traditional kitchen. There was nothing special about it. But perhaps it was just the fact that it was so very much, so very naturally, a kitchen that had imprinted its memory so indelibly on my mind. The atmosphere of this room is insolubly linked to my idea of a kitchen”.

The studio process will attempt to employ phenomenological readings of the site as well as intervene using these sensibilities.

Material Assemblies: Particular material assemblages, with their scales, proportions, colours, textures, abilities of reflection, absorption, temperature, weight, mass, etc. have the ability to create sensuous experiences. The design process should reflect the phenomenological experiences of materials and their assemblies.

This course is expected to equip students with the understanding of ‘type’ and ‘typology’ in architecture. The seminar sections of the course will introduce students to theories of Architectural Typology as discussed by Aldo Rossi, Rafael Moneo and others that become important tools for design thinking. The course, while introducing students to APL as a design tool, will encourage students to develop their own pattern language as part of the conceptual design process. The course will also pay attention to the specificities of materials and their configurations; and to read a space through its atmospheric and poetic dimensions.