by Devanshi ShahApr 28, 2023
In Pursuance of Meanings may seem like a chronicle of projects by an architect, but it is much more than that. It is a self-aware account of Indian architect Sen Kapadia’s most recognisable projects. Kapadia does not put himself on a pedestal and gives a candid synopsis of his design processes instead. The projects themselves are inherently thoughtfully designed and speak for themselves. Kapadia's design philosophies take centre stage with his work punctuating and actively demonstrating his ideologies.
When architects train or work under industry giants, more often than not, they end up as reflections of these legends they look up to. Coming out from under the shadows sometimes proves to be difficult. Kapadia, however, was successful in keeping the essence of his learnings while creating his own design language after having studied and worked under Louis Kahn. This is clearly reflected in Kapadia's work and is also evident on the pages of the book.
One such project that comes to mind is perhaps the III Asian International Trade Fair, radically designed to have 'No pavilions. No stars. No wastage.' It is a prime example of Kapadia’s acumen. The design breaks away from the norm of having separate pavilions for different participants and creates an experience that is easier for the participants, visitors, and the environment alike. This re-imagination of space and function is replaced by a deep understanding of the experiential requirements of space in the understated Buddhist Pilgrimage Centre. The centre, with its silent zones and carefully crafted meditative areas, is another example of the thoughtfulness with which Kapadia designs.
Unsurprisingly, the most delightful part of the book is the recounting of a conversation between two architects and an artist i.e., Kapadia, BV Doshi, and Atul Dodiya. The conversation takes place after a joint visit to the NID-PG Campus in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, and the building looms large through the conversation.
One excerpt form the conversation reads:
'This project even after ten years of our patient labour, remains incomplete. Buildings are a conglomerate of functional rooms, but architecture demands open areas that allow variety of group activities. So, the client’s brief is fully honoured with additional interactive spaces and complementary landscaping. Without the client’s insistence, the campus is also designed as eco- sustainable environment and contains all ingredients of a high green certification.' – Sen Kapadia
It is an enlightening read not only because it surpasses the discussion of art and architectural techniques to lead into discussions surrounding philosophy and life in general, but also because it gives clear insight into the kind of relationship Kapadia and Doshi shared. The conversation is evidence of the non-judgemental spaces they created amongst themselves to discuss, debate, and deliberate.
The excerpt continuous,
'This space which is open, and which has great light from the roof, with structural grid where sunlight moves all the time, and changes the character of the place playfully. So, you can always find drama there for people to linger and watch and act with freedom that no classroom can inspire…. So, that’s what your architecture really talks about, how you create the in-between spaces and articulate them, so they induce people to come there, gather and participate.’ – B.V. Doshi
The simple and uncomplicated design of the book works in its favour. It lets Kapadia’s writing take centre stage, where it shines. He has a way with words, an ability that few architects possess. He communicates seemingly complex theories and philosophies of design in a non-patronisingly simple manner. His 50+ years of work and his years mentoring the next generation of architects are evident. His words are richly supported with the ample use of photographs and illustrations. Photographs are kept large and often take up the entire spread. The illustrations, comprised largely of drawings, masterfully tread the line between art and representation with the representative drawings being fully detailed to give a complete overview of the picture. The book ends with a fitting recounting of Kapadia’s achievements by way of honours and awards, followed by a poignant editor’s note.
Published by CEPT University Press, the book was designed by Mumbai-based Studio Anugraha, and edited by Pinkish Shah of S+PS Architects. In its design and content, the book is evocative of Kapadia’s practice where design lives in the lesser-explored space between technique and poetry.