For the celebrated artist and sculptor Thomas Demand, models are ways of understanding the environment without the distraction of constant stimulation. “One might think of models as places for housing puppets, minuscule railway tracks in the basement, or representing the schemes and dreams of aspiring architects. But your retirement plan is also based on a model,” he says. Demand’s work is a combination of photography and cardboard models of rooms with historical significance.
Concrete is a material that has done many things for us. It has allowed us to overcome nature and transformed the world we live in—it holds back the sea, and joins continents together. Concrete is part of the apparatus of modernity and, as such, is both celebrated and reviled. It may be that it overcomes nature, but it also cuts us off from nature. It brings us closer together, but it also drives us further apart. Such is the paradox of concrete. We always regard concrete as an agent of progress, but what happens if he we think of it as being on the opposite side, along things that look to the past rather than forward? Is it something that is wholly dedicated to producing progress and modernity, or might it possibly be something else within the constellation in which we live?
Architects and designers working in India today are dealing with an entire gamut of social, cultural, and economic phenomena that are molding the built environment at incredibly rapid rates. In this process, the role of the professional architect has been marginalised. Within conventional praxis, the profession doesn’t really engage with the broader landscape, but rather choses to operate with the specificity of the site and, in the process, becomes disconnected with the context of practice. This notion of the context of practice reflects my own experiences working in Mumbai, and it emblematic of a form of engagement with a place of work. Our approach to working in Mumbai has been to use the city and the region of our operation as the generator of practice; as a way for us to evolve an approach and vocabulary that draws its nourishment, so to speak, from more elastic definition of the profession. Multiple disciplines are seen as being simultaneously valid in engaging what I call the kinetic urban landscape.
The idea of behaviourology investigates the interrelations among natural climate, human habitus, and building typology. We can’t really change the physical disciplines of nature: water always drops from top to bottom because of gravity, heated air always goes up, and steam condensates when it touches a cold surface. Condensation in a room might be problematic for human beings, but humidity, heat, and air are not guilty of it; human beings are the ones who don’t understand natural behaviours. Humans behave in a more capricious and unpredictable way than light, wind, heat, or humidity, although we might expect humans to respond to certain conditions in a certain way. Behaviour is not totally individual, but is shared among people. Likewise, architecture is not made to fit certain individuals, but is much better at dealing with collectivity and patterns of behaviour. Buildings, although they are immobile per se, on the scale of a hundred years, can show the transformation of a city through the replacement of older buildings by new ones or the application of new conditions to old buildings.
The CCA Mellon Foundation Senior Fellowship Program was established in 2001 to encourage advanced research in architectural history and thought. With the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CCA has welcomed distinguished scholars for residencies of one to eight months, culminating in a public lecture.