Thursday, September 08, 2011

Of Bread and Columns

A building, carefully designed and well done, is always a pleasure to walk into. Many-a-time the sheer complexity of project realities see a well-intentioned idea rubbished as it is built in haste and hurry. 

Making good architecture is like baking bread. The most simple of ingredients – flour, yeast, salt, water - there are no one million recipes to chose from, and yet there is bread and there is bread. The making, the ferment, the kneading, and the sheer utter patience of waiting for the honest dough to rise oftentimes make the difference between one loaf and the next. Between bread, and bread.

If you have eaten bread baked at home, made from yeast watched over till it rose to the perfect height and then kneaded with love and effort into the perfect ball of dough, and then baked for an hour and half, to then turned out and glazed with butter and egg-white, you will know what I mean.

So too, I think, it is with buildings, what goes in is usually the same, but the skill and the patience of the kneading hand has, always, a telling consequence on the aftermath.

That is what I encounter every time I walk into one of J A Stein’s buildings. Their simplicity, and directness of address never fail to amaze me.

But what makes me write this post are the columns at the gymnasium of the American Embassy School. Simple, stark, purpose-shaped concrete, beautiful and solid, yet elegant. Standing robust and proud, to the eye that cared to notice, and not doing more. 

A simple column, in a gymnasium can be an architectural delight, a sheer pleasure to behold. I, for one, stood there, amazed for a good few minutes. This, a hall of very beautiful columns in concrete, a rare pleasure. The brilliance is hard to miss. The sheer clarity of purpose, in shape, in form, in feel, in colour, in scale, all suddenly unfolds, like layer upon layer of carefully crafted toffee in the mouth.

There is very little that separates good architecture from bad buildings, and yet there is so much. Simplicity most often, and that is the hardest thing to do. In an age of visual gymnastics, even harder.

There is always some thing to take back from a walk in any of Stein’s works. Something always makes space in the memory. Like now, a fair–faced concrete column, they don’t make them like that anymore.

Or, do they? But you will have to look. Or wait for the smell to waft through the air, and pull you there, like good bread.

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