Resurrecting here a short essay I wrote for The Times of India some years ago, but which I still hold to as significant to me
When one is choosing materials for an architectural project, one tends to think only of entities that physically exist, that we can touch and grasp with our fingers. But if one thinks carefully about how one experiences a space, it is evident that the aura of the space depends on much more than its physical qualities: it is also impacted by the sun, wind, temperature and other aspects that cannot so easily be felt with our hands.
The natural light of the sun allows us to see the spaces we inhabit. But it is more than just a tool that enables sight: the sun permeates every aspect of the space, and is a crucial actor in determining the character of the space. To illustrate this point, let us look at the fundamental question of identity. Students often ask me: how one can design an architecture that is modern yet also expresses an Indian identity? My response is that the sun is one of our greatest allies in answering this question. We are influenced by western magazines that cover projects in locations such as Europe, the United States or Japan. But these are all locations far north of us; latitudes where the angle of the sun is relatively closer to the horizontal. Therefore the shadow that is cast by vertical planes takes precedence in the architectural aesthetic. In comparison, in Indian locations the angle of the sun is much closer to the vertical. Therefore the shadow cast by horizontal planes takes precedence in our aesthetic. And the temperate climate allows us to create spaces with far greater transparency allowing the line of sight to extend beyond an enclosed space and see an open space beyond. So a fundamental aspect of the Indian architectural aesthetic is to be able to see the variation in light across the ground plane; alternating between shadow, light and shadow. Or one can see horizontal cornices and ornamental projections scaling the vertical plane with shadow. If one can connect with such principles within a modernist architecture, it will retain an Indian character for it comes to life only under Indian sunlight.
Light defines the identity of the architecture we create. It allows us to highlight the points in space that we wish to emphasise. It infuses warmth, both physical and emotional, into space. And it introduces a dynamic into space that prevents it from becoming fixed and boring. Given its importance, it is essential that we treat light as a material: and just like other materials we have to give it a great deal of care, thought and craftsmanship.
In Hindu tradition the concept of sandhyavandanam is considered important in the effectiveness of prayer. Sandhya means “union” or “juncture”, and vandanam means “worship”. Mantras are most effectively recited at key junctures: dawn and dusk (the juncture between day and night) and noon (the moment when the sun shifts from ascent to descent). In this tradition, spiritual awareness is tied to an alertness to the condition of light. It is such an alertness that we must bring to bear on architectural design if we wish to create an architecture that transcends materiality and function to be poetic.