A clean slate is very rarely available to an architect. A site will almost always come with a back story. In the rare case that there is a seemingly clean slate, one speck of a story will always be present – and that is of time. Time is layered. It already has made its impact on a space before we touch it as architects. So it is only up to us to interpret the imprint of history and take it forward.
What happens to a space when we perceive it to be a clean slate ? Without the impact of time, how would our cities be ?
Ricardo Bofill recounts his observations of Corbusier’s visions for cities –
“He wanted to divide the city, segregate it into zones for living, working, commerce, and so on. He thought of cities and buildings as machines. My views were always the opposite. Every city is a much more complex place, a conflicting, contradicting, and corrupt place. Cities need to be repaired and cured, not demolished and built from scratch. Cities started 10,000 years ago, but for Le Corbusier history did not exist. His manifestos looked only forward.”
The radiant city, criticised for its lack of human scale; Source : Google
What is important to note here is that Corbusier was envisioning the “Ideal” city – one that would bring about social reform in the 20th century. His cities rejected most of the existing norms on which cities/socities functioned and his ideas were revolutionary at the time.
On the other hand, what happens when we do perceive the web of time ? How do we make sense of it ?
History is interpreted how we want to see it. There are those who view time as a linear entity, breaking down history into periods and styles. It’s vital to understand that the labels and categories that we allot are purely for our understanding. “International”, “Modern”, “Post modern”, etc. are all labels that indicate a trend within the community, during a certain period of time.
Villa Savoye, a statement from the Intl. style that propogates balance over a premeditated symmetry; Source : Google
In both the above cases, it is seen that our work as architects is born out of a response for time. For eg, Critical regionalism was born as a solution to the placelessness of the International Style. The international style itself was a statement rejecting historicism and so on and so forth.
The thing with such labels is that they’re not all encompassing. They’re only meant to give a broad idea of the turn of events. Beyond the labels and the history, an underlying truth becomes apparent. Architecture has always been born out of an attempt for social reform and this will forever be the biggest impact time has on our work.