Diagramming ‘theory’

Here I am making a deliberate attempt to make the process of teaching ‘visible’. This above sketch is a plan to teach ’theory’ for the third semester students under VTU university. The syllabus mainly focusses on teaching architectural attributes (axis, rhythm, hierarchy, grid, etc). A structure similar to the chapters of Ching’s canonical ‘Form, Space and Order’. A very structured approach to teach ‘theory’. Surprisingly Ching mentioned, when he was at WCFA campus, that how this book does not fall under ‘theory’ category in most schools in US, as it was too ’simple’. I use this book as the point of departure to teach this course.  Recently I read the brilliant ’The Geography of Thought’ by Richard Nesbitt, which made me relook this approach to teach theory. This book also a brought a lot more clarity to ever present anxiety to the notion of making ‘Indian’ way of thinking explicit. This text by Nesbitt might be as well as summarising Ching’s methodology “Greek philosophy started from the individual object – the person, the atom, the house – as the unit of analysis and it dealt with the properties of object. The world was in principle simple and knowable: All one had to do was to understand an object’s distinctive attributes were so as to identify its relevant categories and then apply the pertinent rule to the categories” But for the Taoists “The world was complicated, events were interrelated, and objects ( and people) were connected “not as pieces of pie, but as ropes in a net”. The Chinese philosopher would see a family with interrelated members where the Greek saw a collection of persons with attributes that were independent of any connection with others”

It is this “mental difference” of “pieces of pie-ropes in a net” in the ‘geography of thought’ between the west and the east a revealing thought for me. Chings methodology aligns with the ‘pieces of a pie’ approach. It is because of ‘pieces of pie’ attitude to thought I think, Indian mind has an aversion for anything ’theoretical’ in ‘categorical’ form. The ‘rope in the net’ approach seeks for “complexity” and “interrelation”. This reading is making me revisit the approach I generally take to teach this course. The ‘rope in the net’ approach makes it a bit challenging to talk about the cognitive quality of all-the-times-interrelated qualities of architecture.  The diagram above is an attempt to attend to this fracture in the ‘geography of thought’. The plan is to take a certain attribute, say ‘hierarchy’, and then explain them through a palette of examples comprising  local-global, particular-universal examples. The range of spectrum  includes examples  from graphic design, medieval town fabrics, Correa (Belapur Housing, Bharath Bhavan), Srirangam, etc. A’ – represents an example from the other end of spectrum – a project like Museum of Contemporary Art by Sanaa, which employs the idea of ‘non-hirerachy’ as an ordering principle.  Brian Eno talks about ‘axial thinking’ where “a stable duality dissolves into a proliferating and unstable sea of hybrids”. So idea is to build a possible spectrum of hybrids between the end conditions of this spectrum. And also the lines connecting the various rows-columns will be an attempt to use the same example to talk about various attributes. Like one can take Fatehpur Sikri to discuss all the attributes at the same time. Hence the overall attempt here is to find a middle ground between ‘pieces in a pie’ and ‘ropes in a net’ routes of thinking