brian carroll on 28 Jul 2000 19:08:35 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] a b,-a interview

an interview with Anand Bhatt, Architect
conducted via e-mail. 18th July, '00.
see: a b,-a [2]

~ * ~

Q. You have been involved in architectural theory for quite some time now,
how relevant, do you think, is it in actual architectural practice today?
Also how would you compare the situation hereto that in the west?

I should make it clear at the start, that I am not involved in architectural
theory. Some of it does creep into the work we do, but it is not
architectural theory per se.

I have always been fascinated by architecture's abilities to `double'
reality. It is a form of representation that is built, almost unconsciously,
by people as they come together. Architecture is, in my personal jargon, a
Fossilic of the doing, a domain of meaning formed through consensus or
otherwise. It embeds information, significances, and even knowledges. And as
a representation it is a subject of study.

I am quite curious about the point of synthesis that buildings represent:
the are shells for a species, the homo sapiens, which is a very delicate
animal. Homo sapiens wouldn't survive without buildings, and buildings are
everywhere, necessitated by almost all spheres of his activity. And at times
there is a sort of self-reflexivity, a self-understanding of this doubling.
A meditation on its Arche: its origins [not always and not necessarily by
architects], it's significance, its use-value. There is a practical
reasoning and Techne [a discourse on technology and technique, not always
and not necessarily of the engineering kind] which grows out of it. This
latter part separates some buildings from other buildings. It is this
separation I study and call, provisionally, architecture.

This representation is quite distinct from the deliberate, or as they
sometimes call it, `artistic' representation of architecture, mostly done by
architects and allied professionals for the approval of other professionals.
The meaning of the representation takes on the form of a "secret". They have
all these architectural theories, these amalgams of operational hypotheses
and dogmas, barring a few, a representation of dominant opinion[s] meant for
people "in the know."

The profession, as it seems to me, has a greater use for history and
critique. People are rather passionate about the two.

~ * ~

It would be very difficult to compare the situation `here' to the situation
in the West [and I suppose you mean the English speaking West, with its
specific preoccupations]. The dichotomy implied is very restrictive in the
way it confines our identities. We always compare ourselves to the West, and
that doesn't really work, because in comparing we alienate ourselves. The
urge to compare comes about, in my opinion, because the west is quite
vociferous. They have the money to print all those glossies and buy tickets
for all those professors one sees around, lecturing. They are quite
charismatic: their products are good and look exciting, mysterious to us in
a way. Their statements are constantly repeated and always slightly
differently. Power is constituted through this proliferation of their

This places real limits on our imagineability. People here are isolated, and
starving for information and are often taught by western trained teachers.
We find western products everywhere we look. This has become quite serious
with the internet. Western architecture is just two clicks away, and one
looks at it in isolation, from the safety of one's home, or a library. So
people absorb and then the west creeps into our universe even without our
having been there. It creeps into our `internalised' conversations, into our
thoughts as individuals. And then, as we speak, into our discourses. We
often enact the occident, with a local sheen.

It would be nice to see the shape our universe would take if this condition
is lifted, or at least, if it became unstable. The under-representation of
non-western architecture concerns me.

I have a web-site, and it is quite a useful one in this context. We get a
number of e-mails from people saying "oh wonderful, finally something that
should have been there long ago," or "explain this," or "this is wrong," or
"what nonsense!" Some six thousand e-mails went back and forth last year and
the few compelling ones came from Latin America, from China and Africa. It
is those that really made me think. I have had valuable discussions with
people in Argentina, Chile and Peru, for example, because there is stuff on
the web site about freedom and class structures, as they have sustained
periods of dictatorship and inequality. Or China, because they were never
really colonised and therfore they are quite curious, having never
experienced it, about my efforts [and I really have to struggle at times] to
think and breath freely. In Italy and France they wondered about media
technologies and Americanisation, and the limits it places on

Q. Practice requires a fair amount of articulation that theory very rarely
provides; how often do you think theory affects practice?

One could establish a number of relations between theory and practice, and I
don't believe that theory should provide for practice, barring a theory of
practice. Because then theory wouldn't be theory.

Let's take an example, you have to do a lot of theory in order to produce a
car, and in a sense a car only represents a number of issues of theoretical
physics [the laws of motion, e.g.] and chemistry [exothermic reactions]. In
consequence there is a lot of theory involved in a car. But theory doesn't
provide for the product, or even the practice which brings that product
about. That practice comes from mechanical engineering, safety engineering,
quality control and industrial engineering, from finance and so on. And the
car doesn't even stand for the theories that produced it, certainly not in
popular imagination. It stands for status, the pecuniary, consumption,
convenience, style and all that. In other words, there is a big derivation

Theory and practice are on distinct planes, sometimes in parallel. And one
does not draw a direct relation between the two. One has to concentrate on
the intermediate, or thresholds by which theory and practice is brought
together, which is "conceptualising."

I am very short tempered when I teach. I have a reputation for that. Mostly
it springs from the fact that students, even practising architects, do not
grasp the previous point. They stand in juries and in class and tell me what
their concept is [or was], which is quite meaningless. Because then they try
and force me to imagine that their building stands for a `concept' and some
knowledge. That is captioning, same as in advertising. I would rather they
tell me what they experienced in acquiring the concept, why did they choose
[in hindsight] to acquire it, how did they connect knowledge on different
planes [e.g., the plane of practice and of theory], what they learnt in the
process and so forth. These are the intermediate states one would
necessarily have to involve, and they often don't. They read their theory
books as if they were user's manuals, or guidelines. And then it all becomes
very difficult and untenable. One doesn't learn anything and so everything
that is done becomes trivial.

So theory doesn't `provide for' articulations. One has to seek articulations
that spring from theory. One has to find meaningful ways of applying it, and
one has to choose the right instruments. The fashioning of concepts.
Sophistication. There is always, then, the question of intention.

~ * ~

But then there is quite another take on the issue. If you indulge your sense
of humour.

What makes you think that an architect makes buildings? Don't architects
just theorise buildings? It is the labourers and the contractors who make
buildings. All that architects do is to make drawings and specifications:
which are unities of architectural representation. And they make a number of
propositions in these representations, which are related. And they rely on
facts to make those propositions. The propositions follow from facts. And
they detail these propositions with information which make them tenable.
Their drawings `predict' the building which might be there, because even as
they act very sure, they never really know as to what the building is going
to look like, into what it will grow and become. So the construction and
occupation are really an experiment which validate their propositions.

So we can say, when one designs, one is theorising. Or faking theory.
Sometimes they call it a Design Thesis.

Q. What would you say is your philosophy (or philosophies) behind all that
you build? How much of theory do you really practise in your works?

I don't think I have philosophies when I build. How could one Philosophize
with a Hammer? Nor could I quantify the amount of theory I practice, that
would be absurd.

I just build when I build. It is a moment. It is an experience, and I record
the experience: of dealing with people, of seeing things I had only read
about, of making choices and much later of understanding those choices. It
is the experience of freedom, as close as we could get to it. It is also the
experience of truth, in the phenomenal (or phenomenological?) sense, of
becoming-active, becoming-animal and so on. Purification, if you permit the
jargon. And one labours over the drawings, one changes and feels the

Take the SoC projects on my web site for example. I knew, when I started,
that there existed Societies of Control. That they derived from the great
18th and 19th century systems of confinement. That they had certain
characteristics, e.g., they pretended to be `democratic' by allowing
individuals to speak and act freely within narrow margins, much like this
anonymity-thing on the web. But in reality, they were quite something else.
And then, I was faced with the task of making a building which would
represent these societies.

Now, as an architect, I could not tell anybody to change the world, not with
an immediate effect at least. All I could do is to work like a chronicler:
to see and record the fact of having seen. Be a witness, and find markers
[the Piranesian cage, lines of sight] which indicate my witnessing. In other
words, actuate the default of middle practices like architecture: there is
no pure determination of order here, nor a pure experience. Only play, an

The Mapping projects are different. Because one changes in advance the model
we have of reality, and then builds within the changed circumstances. Those
projects `change the world' by default. And they are especially powerful
since we wrote the new CADD/CAM technologies.

Q. We have a very rich setting here in India for us to evolve our own theory
in architecture, yet there is a tendency to peep to the west and base our
works on their philosophy. Do you think this is a healthy trend - a step
towards globalisation or will introspection help do better architecture?

Schizophrenia. That is what I think. We have all become that through the
last century. It is the effect of de-territorialisation. Look at your
question for example. Our bodies act here, our imaginations seem to dialogue
with the west. Our options are curtailed, and that makes me very angry. Why
talk about globalisation alone? That is capitalistic. There is also, in fact
always-already, the aspect of internationalisation. Specifically, when it
comes to labour. There are molecular revolutions, even though governmental
[and non-governmental, I would say with some justifiable vulgarisation]
organisations try and curtail them. The countryside is becoming-active like
never before, the Dalits are mobilizing as never before. There are new
capital flows, there are new technologies. There is a new self-assertion in
parts of South Asia. And there are stories that need be told, but never are.
The left trounced everybody in Bengal recently, the Air-Force had women
pilots in the combat zone at Kargil, a number of our cities are actually
improving quite rapidly, there is a new accountability in politics and
administration and all that without globalisation, which is after all a
development in international finance and capitalism. We should be able to
think about a world without globalisation, imagine worlds without
globalisation. We should start imagining other corporate entities, apart
from multinationals and companies. The Army has a corporate structure, our
cities have corporations.

That latter part of your question implies some sort of crisis, mostly of
confidence, which I don't like. I don't like the assumption that we have to
specifically contend with a certain variant of capitalism, however dominant.
And that we have to contend by introspection, which implies crisis.
Introspection is a good method, it is used effectively in Satyagraha. It is
a weapon of war. But the present table of contention has no urgencies of
that sort, we could still comfortably conceptualise around it and send it
out of harm's way. 

And what do you mean India? An `Indian' theory will always be a
schizophrenia, or a wish. It is too vast, too nebulous, too mobile. Can't
you see that? 

To produce a pan-Indian theory, you will have to amalgamate the State, which
is of an occidental extraction, and its' patterns don't really match those
of its population, not very well. You cannot have a nationalist approach to
architecture, because then which nation will you talk about? You can't speak
of a regional architecture without being a hypocrite, because you will
castigate a fifth of humanity into playing `regional', and regional vis-?is
what? You cannot have a `Hindu' architectural theory for that will include
the pacific rim and the whole of south Asia and will still be offensive from
a dalit and a tribal point of view, the similar for `Islamic' theories, or
`Buddhist' so secularisation wouldn't work as a method. The `Gandhian' model
and the `Nehruvian' models and the `Socialist' model all are rapidly losing
their relevance in light of the de-classified state archives, here and in
the former Soviet Union and Britain and elsewhere.

And then to what end? Will theory ever be an identity marker? Or a common
shared truth? A dogma? That would be mystification. Do the Japanese and the
Kenyans have different laws of gravity?

Q. Theory often addresses the polemics of context, and context is invariably
linked with urban issues. What do you think about the urban designing
perspectives in the country today?

It really depends on what one means by `context'. The strict meaning would
be parts preceding and following the thing under inspection, and in that
sense a building has an urban `context', because it is definitely a part of
the city. But then I wouldn't know if there is urban design in India. Sure,
some people talk about both, urban design and context. But I don't know if
the two questions can ever be meaningful because all they do is to describe
a certain morphology: specifically, a certain morphology of ideas. And the
two are simplistic constructions, so it is easy to string them into `talk'.
Far too much is made of contexts.

Let's see, `contexts' are constructed almost like sets, they are defined by
limits first and then there is, as people here take it, a nominal positive
definitionby identity markers. They are defined firstly by what they are
not, and so are primarily limiting. And then everybody takes them as
identity markers, and define themselves vis-?is what they aren't. That is
limiting to the point of suffocation. It may be rather useful to define
identities in relation to the imaginary, the symbolic and the `real',
vis-?is what it could be, what it imagines itself to be, by not the
relations that exist but by its abilities to bring relations into existence.
By the abilitiy relations have, especially in affirming our desire[s]. By
what it lacks, and by the way we are propelled in relation to that lack. And
the same applies to identity markers, they are often rather static. One
would prefer dynamic processes as compared to the rather fixed system of

That brings us to `urban' design. But then, what is a South Asian urban? Do
we have an operational definition of urbanity here? A definition which is
not of a Hellenic or a Christian extraction? Or not of an ancient Hindu or
Islamic extraction? I haven't seen one yet. So it is difficult for me to say
what Urban Design would mean, because I haven't yet seen a definition of the
subject matter. It may exist, because I haven't looked too hard, so perhaps
you should tell me about it.

Q. What would you do that would be different?

Nothing. Firstly, because I use entirely different terms when it comes to
identity [I don't really like identity grids]. I rather a system of voids,
capable of bringing things into existence. I rather like the Cardological
and the Ordological systems we just experimented with at the School of
Architecture, CEPT, with a City-Machine cycle. As Andreas Fluck said it, "it
is a meeting point of lines, a luminous junction in the dark expanses of
space and time".

And second, `context' and `urban design' are terms that do not denote or
explain much. They represent ideas with little explanatory value. So to
differ from them would be of little use. If I am forced to, I would
integrate them into higher level [by which one means of high explanatory
value] systems of ideas. Like bricks. And then dissolve them, and be done
with them, replacing them with better quality bricks, with a greater `load
bearing capacity'. Thereby coming up with a new construction of ideas, a new
`theory' if you please.

Q. Do you think that the state of affairs of our urban situation today can
be revived and taken control of?

To say that the urban system has to be revived would be to assume that the
situation is `dead' in some way. And that definitely isn't the case. Our
cities are dynamic, Our cities are expanding, and they are increasing in
complexity at a wonderful rate. Entire new technologies are going into them,
there are quite some innovations in financing them, they have sprung
radically different organisations of labour and drives of various kinds.
They even have some fantastic pathologies of their own. So I would contest
your question: I think our cities are very alive and they have some
processes which are unique to South Asia. I sometimes project them on a
large screen, and then take a time lapse sequence over the last fifty years
or so. And the result is amazing, you see all these mercurial blobs sliding
all over the regions and they grow large and then they merge. Entire cities
have grown and fused into one another, it is possible to drive in a straight
line for a couple of hundred kilometres in western India without ever seeing
the countryside. It is factories, and commercial centres and housing and
infrastructures all the way.

The second part of your question is, are the affairs in our cities
controlled? I am sure they are, or they can be with very little effort.

If you see the success they had in Surat and to some extent with some of the
smaller towns in Western India, where they worked with the basic issues of
infrastructure, health and so on. The urban situation was revived
spectacularly by the citizens who have had enough, so they didn't stop and
listen to the architect or the non  governmental organisations [both are
often seen as a part of the problem] and took charge. And they had
information technology, local television channels distributed news only via
cable which showed the developments in real time, they had local
organisations and it was all very molecular and rather spontaneous. The
establishment was forced to follow. The question is, does an architect or an
urban designer have a role to play in this?

And I think the time has passed for the so called professionals. The future
will have to do with the citizen's expectations, and the answers will come
from engineering colleges, from the social sciences and from people who have
to work with issues of governance [and not necessarily planners] it will
come from information technology [not necessarily the internet] and

Architecture and planning are quasi-academic institutions of a colonial
extraction. And they were never designed to face our kind of cities. So to
transform them to suit will be an extensive and a very expensive job. They
will have to find new ways of stating problems, new techniques of teaching,
new laws, new modes of practising and so on. And they will have to combat
the old colonial or westernextracted prejudices, categories, modules of
thinking and all that. Especially the categories, because we just don't have
autochthonous categories: consider this, all the professions [architecture,
civil engineering, planning] and branches of knowledge which deal with the
city came up in response to authentic demandseven facts createdin the west.
The Ecole des Beaux Arts had to invent new methods because Paris was
expanding like crazy and there were all these new things that Benjamin and
Harvey have analysed: so they had the design studio, and then Le Corbusier
had to write Towards a [new] Architecture and say `look it doesn't work, you
haven't stated your problems in relation to the Industrial Revolution, which
is a major fact of your times. Not very well, at least'. The Bauhaus had to
work with socialistic demands and industrial production and so they
`invented' the workshop method. We teach both `studio' and `workshop' in our
schools, but it is hard for me to see a reasonan authentic demand in the
city that makes it necessary to teach so. It is a fossilised transfer, it
threatens our institutions rather than support them.

I would like to see a course-curriculum in South Asia that asks the first
questions: what should an architect know? What is his mode of knowing? What
techniques of knowing should he learn? Everybody has some sort of a response
to these questions, but I would like to have these questions asked. Raw,
pure and sharp. And their absence concerns me.

At a b,-a, we think it will be more economical to extract another set of
professions from the dynamic of our cities: a new series of disciplines and
theories to work with those disciplines. This is what we call for all the
time. There must be ways of crossing over the thresholds, we say, we must
work and find fundamentally new methods at the contemporary level of
technology, rather than the late nineteenth century modes used by architects
and planners. We see the tremendous waste of energy in our cities so we
start with the Solar and Industrial Infrastructures. We don't see much use
for the simulation technologies of western extraction so we wrote IO. We
don't see tenability of CAD/CAM technologies [AutoCAD and its clones,
including those three or four desi numbers] so we wrote Machinic
Heterogenesis, and use it. We don't see the relevance of the `theory talk'
and the decision-making most people employ so we wrote Grapheme. And
somewhere we will have to find new pedagogies, and techniques for the
transmission of knowledge.

Q. What has been the change in your ideas and beliefs from when you started
till date?

This is a trick question, isn't it? I don't think there is space here to go
into all the stuff I have junked over the years. Or the stuff that got
superseded because somebody else had a better version of it. Or the stuff
that burdens me. Or the stuff that simply went obsolete because the sciences
that I use advance very fast, and it is all very cutting edge.

I find that I am returning more and more to the training I had before I did
architecture, on the whole. I am more interested in Computing, Engineering
and Production, more in Philosophy [and not necessarily criticism] and less
in aesthetics [unless you define aesthetics as a study of meaning, rather
than beauty. Then I am all for it]. I am more interested in the necessary,
and in criticising the Excessive. I am more interested in the inevitable
demise of the profession. I no longer know what they mean by `architecture'
as defined by the Architect's act. So I am interested in closing it in its
present form, in the strict sense of the word. In creating spaces for the
new institutions which will surely come about.

Q. What has been your most satisfactory project till date?

None, and all. I don't think of buildings, teaching or writings as projects.
Those are end-products or by-products. The projects for me are sequences of
thought. They are organised in a number of series. IO, Mapping Heterologies,
On Typology, SoC, Solar and Industrial Infrastructures... some forty-five
odd sequences. And each series is a transformation, by itself. I think along
these lines, and progressively transform my understanding. So at any given
time, some are exciting, they are happening. Some others would be dormant, a
matter of patience and research. Some bring spectacular results, like
Grapheme, which has gone sailing cyberspace. Some are massive failures. One

Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi for reading through and correcting the text. Anjali
Mahendra and Anubhav Jain.

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