I love ruins. They tell the otherwise untold. Be it a story of destruction of the haughty by an Almighty Power or the simple exposition of how the ancients lived and built, the ruins of the past say it all. Modern man struggles with the art of “building” in the sense that gives it a purpose larger than life, almost spiritual in essence. We live in a primarily utilitarian society. In general, modern beings approach the notion of beauty in a superfluous sense. To this end, technology has developed extensively to serve purely utilitarian ends. Schools of architecture and design promote trends or polemics rather than sensitive responses to a physical and socio cultural landscape. Design is reduced to stylism or whimsical, unrestrained fancy seeking bare attention at the expense of all else. While technology has liberated us on one hand by offering greater choices, it has also begun to enslave us with the same freedom of choice.
However, in some societies, technology remains limited. In a society where technology is limited, one must learn how to build before one studies design. One studies constraints. Bernard Rudofsky skillfully documents such attitudes in his famous book “Architecture without Architects”. Out of constraints comes a new freedom, one that recognizes and exploits the constraints to express itself. I call it the “freedom of constraints”. In a society enslaved by technological freedom, designers hardly ever learn how to build within the freedom of constraints. Instead, they try to minimize constraints, straining to become free from them. No, I am not referring to budget constraints alone. For example, it is quite easy to design a house if one has all kinds of materials at their disposal. It is only when an architect is asked to design, say, a house with two thousand bricks or bottles, or with only stone and without mortar, or with no mechanical equipment to supplement climate control that the whole design problem truly becomes a challenge. While “freedom of” must constantly be discovered, “freedom from” is fickle, leading to fallacious design “challenges” and endless environmental sterility. I have often heard it said, “Let us not reinvent the wheel”; but let me tell you this – Reinvention of the wheel is a necessity within the freedom of constraints, not a waste of time as some may claim it to be.
1) Forum, Rome – Sketch by Ayub Patel 1981
2) Temple Ruins, Egypt – Sketch by Ayub Patel