by Jincy IypeDec 27, 2022
Tina Bloch Dassault, a well-known French writer, curator and artistic director met me in the heart of Paris, inviting me to partake in her ARCHISABLE© project on the beach of Deauville. This sleepy and exclusive hamlet houses Tina's gorgeous country home. As a young man, British writer Ian Fleming gambled quite a bit in the Deauville casino and described it vividly in his first James Bond book Casino Royal1. Land inwards is a castle which changed ownership from Yves Saint Laurent to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, in 2006.
Sable means sand in French and my passion for designing with natural materials had spread enough in the French cultural scene to reach Tina. My jury work for the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture 2017 at the Cité de l’architecture & du Patrimoine, Trocadéro, had just been completed, so I was ready to join and hop off to the Riviera Parissiene. Working only with sand and the cold Atlantic Ocean water, 26 designers, architects and artists joined the ARCHISABLE©project. Over a period of two years, all photographic artistic interpretations of the in-situ work were done by Michel Tréhet and the curated collection eventually opened as an exhibition in the Galerie des Moulages, Paris, on May 4, 2018, accompanied by an elegant book by French book publisher Editions Xavier Barral2.
Back in the South of Nepal, my Sustainable Mountain Architecture (SMA) colleague Aman and I faced a problem with a building contractor, who could not read drawings. For the local Chepang community3 we designed a four-classroom school with playfully designed steps, which would enable children to access the interconnected roofs of their own school. Once on-site in Makaldamar, the builders insisted they had never seen something like this before. I usually take this as a compliment, but we had already been in a deadlock for weeks, with the playing steps. With a Deauville-beach flashback in mind, I suggested to Aman that an in-situ scale model communicate our design intentions. Using wet sand on the spot, a mini version of the playing steps appeared. More importantly, it convinced the building team that this was actually doable. Owing to the sand model, construction continued and today the kids are enjoying the playscape of what they locally call the 'School in the Sky.'4
Post-CEPT and pre-Covid, my wife and I had spent ample time in Sri Lanka. With my friend Channa Daswatte, we tried, unsuccessfully, to get an existing exhibition by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust to the Netherlands. My other futile effort was to convince two subsequent French envoys to Sri Lanka, to get Tina and her team to curate an ARCHISABLE© on the beaches of Sri Lanka. It never happened. Unfortunately, the architects and design fraternity of the ‘island of serendipity’ never got a chance.
Last year, I met Associate Professor Leslie J. Dias. In consultation with the founder/HoD of Srinivas School of Architecture, Vasudev N. Shet, it was decided they would bring me to Mangalore to give a talk and conduct a Masterclass.
My visit was a part of SSA’s annual fest week in March 2023. Dias had explained that previous visitors to the school, Kevin Low, Chelvadurai Anjalandran and Christopher Charles Benninger had shared their knowledge and experience on the campus. My intention was different, as I had envisaged a hands-on Masterclass outside the four walls of the classroom, outside the auditorium, and outside the campus. Senior students Sakshi and Yathi went on a mission to screen possible locations and suggested the pristine beach of Tannirbhavi5, Mangalore. It has clean bathrooms, a cosy coffee stall, and an abundance of shade trees.
The combination of Sakshi's declamatory voice and Yathi’s implementer character did wonders in getting the 54 participating students to the beach. After taking some time to familiarise with the context, the students understood the basics of granularity. Tannirbhavi offers the full range of silica particles; fine, medium and coarse sand6. The next step was the mixing of sand with the warm Indian Ocean water and having the students figure out how a drier variety of sand completely differs from a saturated mixture. While most participants initially veered towards decorative and figurative, I sternly steered towards experimental and abstract.
The students had a blast. Sujan had never realised the extent of what one can do with sand. With his team members, he slowly figured out the right mixture of water to create strength. Having seen this, Zareen and Vivek wanted to take this one step further and create an arch. This was a long process of make and fail. But once they started using a bucket on its side as a supporting formwork, they pulled it off. Deepika, on the other hand, emerged herself in a sand-dripping technique. She figured that she could form organic shapes as the water seeps out of the drops, allowing it to hold their shape. Beyond her own amazement, she created several connected Gaudi-like towers on the second day. Vikhyath learned how the afternoon light (day 1) had a completely different effect on the shadow patterns as compared to the (day 2) morning light.
The photographic interpretation of the exhibited work was done by Shravya Hedge and her team7. She shared her views, stating that, although photojournalism and photo documentation as professions are taken seriously in India, photography as an art form still has a long way to tread. For this Masterclass, Hedge started with the study of the intricate pattern of a pineapple. Documentation team member Shefalica explained that it was crucial in the Masterclass to go beyond 'the pretty and the figurative.' It thus became possible to find deeper photographic stories in the students' creations. After the first day, the high tide washed away all the created works and we had a clean slate for the next morning.
The excitement and growing self-confidence of the students spattered all over the photography team. The second day evolved into a bolder artistic approach—using boom, burst shots, panning, and dolly shots. These techniques aid in the actual understanding of what happens within the material, where the cracks appear, how sharp edges smoothen, and how residing ocean water creates new patterns. Hrishikesh got his best shots during the incoming tide. The students' work at the shoreline started to erode slowly. He was able to document the movement, the collisions and the transformation of several works. Hedge’s team worked all through the night and the next morning to sift through 1700 images and curate a Pop-up photography exhibition8 on campus. The artistic interpretation in black and white through photography had its impact. Many students could not believe how convincing and artistic their sweaty actions and physical creations came out. Lots of dialogue took place while interpreting the large-scale prints of the work. The exhibition venue was filled with sheer amazement, boosts of confidence, proudly clicking mobiles, giggling hugs and encouraging laughter.
Before the monsoon rains slash down in Mangalore, it is expected that SSA, with the support of the dynamic HoD, will bring out a Sand Ocean Light! booklet.
Assistant Professor Caroline D'Souza observed that students who normally don't do well outperformed the students who usually do better. Seeing the students work with their hands and tools in a natural context, she realised that guided learning experience with an emphasis on sensory experiments with form, pattern, light, shadow, sand and water, liberate an ocean of untapped creativity. I hope to return later this year to Mangalore, keeping in mind a 1980 quote by French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard; ce n'est pas une image juste, c'est juste une image (This is not a just image, it is just an image).
1. There are three Casino Royal movies with different actors playing James Bond; 1954 (Barry Nelson), 1967 (David Niven) and 2006 (Daniel Craig).
2. https://aperture.org/editorial/remembering-xavier-barral/ by Lesley A. Martin, Darius Himes, 21 February 2019
3.The Cheppang are traditionally a semi-nomadic community, who do not have their own vernacular building knowledge, like the Gurung and Newar communities.
5.You can take the ferry from Tipu Sultan’s Battery to cross the Gurpura River and reach the beach.
6.Fine Sand is between 0.075-0.425 mm., Medium Sand is 0.425-2 mm. and Coarse Sand has the largest grain size; between 2.0 mm.-4.75 mm.
7.Photographer Shravya Hedge's award-winning photographic work has been published for Natgeo, BBC, Nikon India, and Incredible India. She works on a regular basis with trusted regular shutterbugs Vignesh I V and Hrishikesh S. For this assignment, the team expanded with Shefalica, Dhruv, Pradhyumna and Gaurav.
8.This was the very first photography exhibition at SSA, Mangalore. Presently, it can be seen in the Students Exhibition Hall at SSA’s Architecture Department.