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Mind The Gap

Have you ever looked at a built/designed structure and wondered: ‘What were they thinking?’ I remember the first time I had one of those moments. I was about 6 years old, trying to get to my grandfather’s library. It was placed on a floor of its own – a mezzanine of sorts; and for the lack of space, a short staircase lead one to it. As you can imagine, short staircase meant steps steeper than usual. Scaling it involved a lot of grunts, pants and lunges; and as a 6 year old, just mastering the act of taking continuous steps, that was my personal Everest. Steep steps might seem inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, but it did make me wonder who came up with the idea to place the library there and why.

We have all had those moments at some point or the other. May be it was during a particularly long run to the emergency stairwell; or a long que at the public restroom – ladies, you know what I am talking about here! Or maybe it was when you had to walk through that one dodgy street that almost always is deserted and dark – regardless of the time or the day. Almost every city has one of those. We have all looked at ridiculously shaped buildings and questioned their purpose – ‘why does it have to look like mangled steel? Did it have to be phallic shaped?  Really? A fish building?!’ In our own way, we have all questioned the minds that made these decisions. Arguably, architecture now is a profession largely disconnected from the people directly impacted by its works. The contemporary world is predominantly built by folks who have rarely taken the time to understand how people unlike them experience their designs. On the other end of the spectrum, very few people actually seek out architects when constructing their dream houses. Their argument on the matter: Shelter is a necessity, but architecture is a luxury – a not-so-easily-attainable luxury that has been known to celebrate loud, sometimes rigid ‘statements’ that may or may not fulfil all of the client’s needs. Clearly, something is amiss here; and if what we seek is a sustainable form of settlement, then architects and designers have to work much harder in creating salubrious spaces for all human beings. 

So, how might we go about bridging the gap? How might our shared built environments – our homes, our hospitals, our schools and our public spaces – be shaped differently if the people who actually used the spaces were part of the decision-making processes? Architect/Designer Mahesh Radhakrishnan seems to have the proverbial key to the solution. He is among a growing number of architects and designers who seek to combine conscious social interactions with their aesthetic training to make design more relevant to more people’s lives.

And his practice, the Madras Office of Architects and Designers (MOAD) provides architectural and design services for communities that can have their needs addressed through situation-specific solutions. Their work is characterised by their desire to work with and listen to the people they are serving. We met at MOAD’s studio in Adyar, Chennai, where Mahesh and other kindred minds come together to examine the evolving notions of a socially conscious practice. ‘What we do is kind of make design a natural extension of what you intuitively feel about something. It could be a glass, or it could be a book, it could be anything. There are ways in which you are conditioned to look at it, see it, and use it. But by critically looking at it, what you tend to do is you make small nudges – not sweeping changes, but nudges that slowly changes the perception of what you do. That is what we are interested in’, explained Mahesh, as we sat around a table in MOAD’s one-room-wonder/workplace, tucked neatly on the ground floor of a two storey apartment building. 

Read More: Artworks That Can Be The Mood Setter For Any Space

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