Public: The polyphonic perils of finishing-The Architect as a Maestro

The article was published in the School of Environment and Architecture News Letter 2016. Can be downloaded here.

The final phase of any construction activity is the finishing of a built space. It is arguably the most crucial stage of a building process as this is what sets the final image of a building. All initial hard work could be lost easily, if there is a slip up at this stage. It is also only now that one hears the polyphonous melodies of the various craftsmen engrossed in trying to perfect and hone their respective skills.

The indigenous carpenter and his apprentices, chisels and hammers in tow rhythmically go about fitting wooden door and window shutters, their harmonic melody of khatt khatt khatt, occasionally broken by the sound a mechanical hand planar which hides blemishes in their work caused by warping of wood. The plumber and his dutiful entourage chip away relentlessly at the baked brick wet walls to create grooves and niches through which will pass hot and cold water pipes, their rumblings of the incessant thakk thakk thakk broken by intermittent phases of silence when they take a break to smoke a bidi (local cigarette), ruminating on the days gone by. The two man bijli (electrical) team cut into mud brick walls to place PVC (polyvinyl chloride) conduits through which will pass 5 and 15 Ampere wires. The melancholic grrrr grrrr of their motorised cutter is softened by periodic power outages, a common theme in much of rural Uttar Pradesh. A wooden hammer and metal chisel are their trustworthy companions during these desperate times. The skilled stone mistris (masons) go keenh keenh with their electric cutter to slice and fit local lal pathiya (red sandstone slabs) into place. It feels akin to completing a jigsaw puzzle as they go about producing intricate patterns and designs. All of the above sounds are supplemented by that of diligent dihadi (daily wage) labourers, going about the cleaning of exposed brick work of cement stains using a bristled metal brush. Their rhythm frequently interspersed with bouts of child like carefree laughter usually aimed at each other’s expense.

When imagined through these sounds, the site is an architect’s stage; the craftsmen are musicians, the final building a musical composition – and every occupant henceforth the audience. The sounds created by these activities are all different, yet there is sense of rhythm and harmony in its making and experience. They evoke multiples emotions within us – of accomplishment, of commitment of time, energy and resources and a feeling that it is being a rewarded with the completion of the space. This is a feeling of aspiration to the realm of possibilities that this space will open up once completed. The architect plays the role of an

interlocutor between the client and the craftsmen, at once interpreting the desired image of the building to the people who shall execute it. The architect could be thus be seen as a ‘maestro’ at three independent levels. One is as a curator of sounds that would eventually emanate from the building process. The second is at the level where he may try to balance his composition of space just like an orchestra conductor so that the final built space is pleasurable and sonorous like good music. The third is at the level of vision; expectation and image of a built space where his drawings and sketches remain records like the notes of a composition that help the craftsmen or musicians recreate such music time and again.

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