December 25, 2008

Words as Signs

Historically, words have been in use to effectively communicate, seduce and be persuasive. In today’s technologically advanced and visually obsessed world, they have taken over our lives and have become bits and bytes that pixelate our imagination. Reading is constantly confronted by seeing and scrolling... while words float over and across the screen enticing to draw our attention or distract us from reality as they bend every form of what is real. But still, however treacherous they may/can be, as designers, we will always use them to seduce, persuade or dissuade; but more than anything else, never lose sight of the fact that they are 'visual' and graphic and can be used not only to tell stories but to also paint them....

Some Buzzwords published in NY Times with illustrations by Jessica Hische are worth checking:

December 18, 2008

December 16, 2008

Urban typography and the legible city....

Visual clutter? Positively enticing. Profoundly interesting....
Urban typography and the legible city....

A Typographic Survey of the City of London from Michael Bojkowski on Vimeo.

December 13, 2008

New York Housing Chief Is Chosen for Cabinet -

We need an urbanist, not another technocrat or a bureaucrat.. at HUD... Over the past years, HUD has been a marginal player to effectively guide urban policy or projects... let alone housing. HUD is a good idea that didn't work... doesn't work. Specially now, with sustainability (green collar jobs?!) at t's core, urbanism needs to be redefined with housing foreclosures issue at one hand and unemployment/financial crisis at the other...

New York Housing Chief Is Chosen for Cabinet -

December 5, 2008

Why Do They Attack Particular Cities | Terrorist Attacks on Mumbai

Mumbai: A Divided City
I was in New York, not in Mumbai when terror struck that city over the past few days… I was in New York on 9-11 when terror struck New York, standing right next to Seven World Trade Center and still feel the terrifying vibrations under my feet when the first tower collapsed. I am separated by vast seas and muted grief from Mumbai but the events I watched live on my laptop and TV made me feel as I did on 9-11. Mumbai and New York are separated by the silence of that grief and the unspoken words: we feel the pain.

I am an architect in New York, and a world citizen with close ties to Mumbai. I belong to the same human tribe that inhabits this planet and calls one city home versus the others. We all have that dubious relationship with the city, others and ours. At times that relationship is a love affair and at other times, it is reproachful. I understand very well why that may be so, however, am at a loss when the latter is taken to extremes and cities are targeted for violence and are wounded. I understand, cities are symbolic of their political, social and economic structures and Mumbai is not an exception. Like every other city, Mumbai has its shortcomings, inequities and chaos. But it also has its vibrancy due to those dichotomies that produce tense dynamics. Then, there is the global context that defines Mumbai and New York like many other cities as ‘targets’, as sites of atrocities. On one hand, we as humans are better connected than ever before in the history of mankind, however, events like these reminds us of how far apart we are from each other.

Mumbai is a divided city, so is the world.

November 9, 2008


Black is not a color... it is beginning to dawn upon our generation. There are shades of blackness that define us as a human race that constantly get defined and redefined as part of political processes that shape our culture and our perceptions of us and the 'others'... Jean Paul Sartre wrote in 1944: "l'enfer, c'est les autres" (The ' other' is hell), in "No Exit " however, our generation's quest is not to find an exit but to open doors.... Doors to perception and change.... Change is fueled by 'blackness' not as a perceived tool but as what defines the collective contemporary consciousness in the 21st century. We are ready to define the 'otherness' by redefining ourselves as a human race - represented not as a 'crowd' but as an individual consciousness that contributes to the larger 'us' as a collective culture - We do not 'exit' not because of the fear of the unknown, but because of what can be attributed (as in Garcin's desire in the play by Sartre) for validation that he is not a coward - each one of us is not a crowd.

The ‘otherness’ is now new ‘blackness ’….. Blackness used to be defined as the degree to which an individual, regardless of their ethnic background, is sympathetic to or a part of the mainstream African-American culture. But now, that is being put into another context and being redefined as an almost ‘colorless’ blackness under globalizaion and changing definitions of mariginalization. Blackness at times, is a brand… as presented to us by the media. It is not merely a political tool, but it is also a process that transcends color, race, ethnicity or intellectual orientation. It is at once expressed as power and powerlessness as strength – epitomized by language and its use. It is visual and pure blindness simultaneously.

August 6, 2008

Escape from Flatscape

Escape Flatscape


Flat space | Flat.scape

1. (Bot.) A peduncle rising from the ground or from a subterranean stem, as in the stemless violets, the bloodroot, and the like.
2. (Zoöl.) The long basal joint of the antennæ of an insect.
3. (Arch.) (a) The shaft of a column. (b) The apophyge of a shaft.
v. t. & i.
[imp. & p. p. SCAPED ; p. pr. & vb. n. SCAPING.]
[Aphetic form of escape.]
To escape. [Obs. or Poetic.] Milton.
Out of this prison help that we may scape.

As an architect, designer and a photographer, I am sick and tired of flatness… and flat space, both, literal and phenomenal … metaphorical. Architecture has it easy: it deals with depth and by default has spatial attributes it cannot escape. But in spite of that, it can still be flat… not merely compositionally, but also in terms of its capacity to create depth that is not simply dimensional. In any case, here I want to discuss more about the Flatscape in design and photography…. In a given space of a page, a paper, a poster, which is pure white space that graphic elements or light are to invade, draw upon, paint or illuminate… The elements and tools with which to do that is clear but the methods are varied… constructed graphics as opposed to applied graphics along with typological interventions or typographical, textual definitions are much more interesting than mere arrangements, compositions, geometries of images interspersed with texts or type. The former approach defines Emotional Space rather than pure given white space one starts with. It is this emotive and ephemeral space that also allows for ‘slowness’ that is of interest to me as an integral part of aspect of design process(es) that targets to grab, allow it to linger and engage peoples’ attention…..

I find Photography’s pretentiousness about depth arrogant and overbearing. It dematerializes depth into a Flatscape by virtue of its two-dimensionality – by investing light into a surface it brings to life a representation rather than reality itself. This is fascinating but erroneous, making the viewer traverse back in space (and time) to unfold the image being viewed; reversing it into am imagined reality (a kind of reversal of perception/process). Even this is fascinating. So, what am so bothered about? I think we need to celebrate Flatness in photography and flatten it even more. When I started doing photography, I mainly did architecture but have now moved into other things including portraits, people, objects and am focusing a more on the ‘graphic’ quality of light, space and flatness of forms.

With the advent of web design, interactivity and interface design, graphic design now is in a position to escape the flatness that has imprisoned it for the longest time….

Image 1: ‘Liberation’ by M. C. Escher; Image 2: Unknown; Image 3: Drawings Hands by M. C. Escher
1 phenomenal
Composed of or relating to things that occupy space and can be perceived by the senses: concrete, corporeal, material, objective, physical, sensible, substantial, tangible. See body/spirit, matter.
Philosophy. In the philosophy of Kant, an object as it is perceived by the senses, as opposed to a noumenon.

July 26, 2008

Divided Cities | Textual Readings of New York

Textual Cities | Notes on New York

By their very nature, most global cities are divided. Cities by necessity have to be divided for one reason or the other; if not anything else, at least from land division and real estate point of view. But beyond that, they get further divided in more ways than one. Apparent equity or equitable ‘sharing’ gets defined and redefined to suit various good and not so good purposes… politics, socio-economic disparities, physical boundaries, use (or abuse) as well as disuse due to certain limitations of the fabric…. Psychological barriers and lack of potential, economic downturns/upturns or mobility either social or economic play out their part too. But at the heart of it, the most interesting and intriguing issue in such textual readings of cities is the notional divisions that occupy human minds… and reflect in social as well as physical fabric of our cities. New York is a great example of this phenomenon - and others mentioned above. The ‘neutral’ landscape of New York in reality is cluttered with ruptures, disjuncture and at times not easily decipherable layers of complexities…. Politics of space rather than poetics constantly define, redefine, complicate, recombine or rupture civic space, social structures, and other physical attributes of the city for whatever reasons. In spite of such textual neutrality based on rational logic of land division, zoning and use, there are other ‘divisions’ that remain… subtle, hidden or stubbornly and blatantly obvious at times…. New York’s potency and promise as a city lie in the fact that it allows and calls for multiple ‘readings’ of itself from everybody… it remains one of very few cities in the word that reads like a map and at the same time has a maze-like experiential attributes that require encyclopedic deciphering of its taxonomies without allowing the observer or the inhabitant to loose interest, awe and amazement. Architects/designers at times remain oblivious to the fact that there are theses multiple readings of the city, its fabric and (text)ure by people who inhabit them that define what cities are or ought to be; and overtly rely on their self-indulgent, technocratic and data-based observations that are self-limiting and represent only a limited view.

A friend recently asked which part/aspect of New York City I enjoy the most…. It is a difficult question to answer because, unlike most, due to my professional background I have a very different relationship with the city, I guess. But as an inhabitant and an observer who has lived here for many years… the city has come to mean a lot of different things to me.

There are two answers: one is more abstract than the other. In abstract terms, I like the city for its capacity to challenge traditional notion of how you develop a sense of belonging and practically ‘own’ it. New York disallows it or at least challenges you in that notion. You are immediately restricted and confined to the space around you and feel like an island within the island city we live in…. This is not to be interpreted as ‘limiting’. It is a city that behaves and operates like an enterprise, an economic and financial machine – and all who live here have a definite, defined role to play. This is also, I think, due to the fact that there are many of us who have come here as outsiders in more ways than one…. And we remain so in spite of making it a home. I love this fact about New York as it constantly makes me define my role, my place and my relationship with the city everyday, every time. It is more like a relationship between two people where you constantly work towards establishing, maintaining and nurturing a dialogue, more an amorous discourse, with the city and space you inhabit or occupy. New York offers this intellectually stimulating…. and engaging opportunity as well as a challenge to connect, relate and refine one’s relationship with the city, its people and oneself…

On a more immediately intuitive and emotive level, (which may contradict what is stated above), it is also a city that makes me feel at home… with it and with oneself, more immediately than any other city in the world, because of its diversity, people, languages and neutrality (in physical as well as how it invites, accepts and adopts people from all walks of life, nationalities, cultures etc…). It is a crowded city but it allows me to be myself, my personal space and be alone in a crowd …..

The less abstract answer is about particular place/experiences I enjoy and cherish everyday. It is when I ride my bike along Hudson every evening to the Battery Park and back up. It reminds me of being on an island (New York is an island city) and how it actually makes me feel…. to be on the ‘edge’ in both, physical as well as metaphysical sense. With the river, Nature on one side and Culture on the other (with the city and its neighborhoods of varying types from residential/tribeca, village, SoHo to meat-packing to art galleries in Chelsea). Second part of this, and it is related, are the sidewalks of Manhattan that I enjoy…. rivers of people that you flow with or away from. They immediately put you in the ’public’ space, always there, make no distinctions, are about chance encounters… seeing and being with strangers and yet be comfortable…. They surround you, wrap around and are the connective tissue between the different parts of the city and between the people - you and the city…

July 24, 2008

WORDS: Legible | Visible

Words are legible, definitely; that is the purpose for their existence and why we invented them in the first place but we designers forget at times (though we use them as such) that words are also visible and at times audible... if you can strike the right notes... Another beautiful aspect about written word that is lost is about its tactile quality. Since the Gutenberg, we no longer touch 'words' as they are now printed as opposed to being carved, engraved or constructed.... That is why I think Brail is beautiful because it is a language of touch that touches you… Years ago, Victor Hugo wrote in “This will Kill That” about the ill effects of the printing press… describing the fear that the printed word would kill architecture, will replace our need to record history through great buildings, architecture and the sculpted, constructed word…. People no longer would need to visit historical places, buildings that incorporated and recorded history, culture and time itself through built words, paintings and sculpture… I am not sure if the printed word has actually killed art of architecture or not but is has definitely deprived us of the visual and tactile qualities of the word….

At their best, words are hieroglyphic and pictograms that perpetuate a meaning or two and are grossly abused for their multiple meanings or used effectively to seduce and be persuasive. In today’s technologically advanced and visually obsessed world, they have taken over our lives and have become bits and bytes that pixelate our imagination. Reading is constantly confronted by seeing and scrolling... while words float over and across the screen trying to draw our attention or distract us from reality as they bend every form of what is real. They have always been that way, actually! - But still, words are beautiful, however treacherous they may/can be... and as designers, we are always going to use them to seduce, persuade or dissuade; but more than anything else, never lose sight of the fact that they are 'visual' and graphic and can be used not only to tell a story but to also paint pictures....

‘Spaces between’, Oh the interludes!
Squeezed between words, silence hurts

Words turn my imagination into
A magical, legible, audible landscape.....

June 10, 2008

Artificial Cities

Welcome to the 21st century world of Artificial Cities! Architecture has remained at the core of cultural production historically, and has played a pivotal role in defining cultural space and physical form of the cities while contributing to the cultural history of a place. Mumbai and other cities draw misguided references from the development in the other world cities including the new emerging architecture in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Dubai or Singapore while blatantly ignoring larger contextual issues as well as local social structures and climatic concerns. This approach inevitably is likely to produce the same architecture everywhere irrespective of the place or program. Dubai is no longer different from practically ‘anyplace’ in the world nor is an example that may provide any meaningful dialogue towards a new architecture under globalization. The risk is that it produces the ‘sameness’ everywhere and is dressed as ‘new’ in more deceptive and seductive garb(s). In contrast, Japanese architects have demonstrated a definitive rooted-ness while embracing modernity (and Modernism) over the last 40 odd years and shown that it is possible to remain connected and be contemporary without being regressive. Japanese architecture has remained theoretically engaged with the question of critical modernism and modernity and opted for reflexive modernization, to use Ulrich Beck’s phrase . This provides a promising prospect for cultures in transition that are going through rapid transformation, urbanization and change in the society due to the population growth, economic, political or social mobility. -Viren Brahmbhatt

The Architecture Issue - The New, New City - Life in an Instant City - Shenzhen, China - Dubai, United Arab Emirates -


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