Perfectly adequate



This post is a rant.

I’m sorry – honestly that sort of disclaimers should have their own place and probably not in this blog – but this one is a rant and you have been warned.

Today I wanted to talk about a delusion which all of us had at some point of time, I believe – the delusion of adequacy. The Urban Dictionary definition for the term is a bit too harsh, but nevertheless it very crisply conveys what I’m going to rant on about.

Much has been spoken about the design process in the architect’s mind. It’s non-linear, it is very characteristic, it has a mind of its own…it also doesn’t know when to stop.  This is a very double edged sword.  Taken to the most romanticized sense, it means you have a design which evolves with each passing iteration. But with this knowledge, how do you know where to quit when you’re ahead?

There have been a lot of times in my design process when I’d have reached a wall through which it is difficult to break through – and expending energy for it doesn’t make much sense. I call this the ‘perfectly adequate’ design stage. It’s not a bad design, mind you; everything works perfectly and it makes a lot of sense not to fix something that isn’t broken, right?

But these ‘perfectly adequate’ designs can’t be subjectively judged. They exist in the sweet spot between being outlandishly crazy and outlandishly stupid, and hence are safe. Also, ‘adequate’ isn’t a point, it is a spectrum (what’s adequate to you isn’t to me) and still we give one tag to it and be complacent about it.

I’ve tried and failed and tried again – to understand why it’s difficult to break down these mental walls. And I think I’ve found an answer (which curiously enough, lies in human evolution) : As individuals in a species, really, innovation doesn’t make much evolutionary sense. If you stick with what you know, and are able to propagate it, you’re a successful member of the species. Innovation is a gamble here; the risks far outweigh the benefits.

A quote (misattributed to Darwin, by the way) comes to mind.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

We’re a species that have evolved perfectly adequate (I promise that’s the last time I’m saying the phrase 😛 ) , fail safe mechanisms for the changes around us. Maybe it’s time to go forward from our comfort zones.

//end rant.

Of the past, and our inability to let go

As part of the Intern-Mentorship program by the Chennai Architecture Foundation, 15 interns from various architectural offices (myself included) undertook a trip to Hampi, Karnataka.

As much as I loved Hampi for its architectural marvels and the charm of a town caught between the old world and the new, I believe pictures would do much more justice to the place than me ranting on about it. What I’m going to be talking about in this post is the ideas that Hampi managed to put into my head. (This post is more of a rant than any particular travel experience. )

History is a hot commodity.

I say this because I see the endless fascination with which we look upon our past, our shared cultural heritage. When we walked around the ruins, my mind was filled with a very familiar question – our ancestors have managed to do this, why not us? 

Past that cliched question, however. there’s still a lot of fascination with Hampi. Families, children, students and people of all ages walk around amazed, sometimes assisted by guides. They tell you all sorts of stories – ranging from documented history to mythology to fantasy. For them, Hampi is a complete historical package – ready to be doled out temple by temple.

And for us, I believe architectural specimens from our shared history are endearing because they are concrete. They allow you to put a name and time to places you’ve only read about and sketched.

Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating.

Religion, power and the intense desire to flaunt both have given us most of the masterpieces of traditional architecture. Religion is a particularly amazing motivator – one can find centuries of iterations of temple architecture at sites like Aihole, Badami and Pattadakkal. One can only imagine the devotion of an entire group of people dedicated in honing and perfecting the nuances of their craft for submission to a higher god..when the benchmarks you set for yourself go beyond the earthly and enter the heavenly, you can be sure people will still be talking and blogging about it centuries to come.

Which made me question the validity of our own motivators. I believe being internally motivated and driven help you the best to get ahead, but if the quest for validation by a higher power produced some of their best works, are we missing something?

My warped concept of time.

One annoyance I had is that I partially lost my concept of time when I was lost between the ruins. One second I’ll be looking at the marvels of a well preserved temple constructed in the 14th century, and the next would be a completely ruined monument dated to the 7th or 8th centuries. It seemed almost fantastical to me that the latter would have been as old to the people in the 14th century as their creations are to us. Would they have looked upon it with the same wonder as we do on their creations? 

And really, it isn’t our fault. We’ve evolved as a species with capability of comprehending very limited time frames – those that exist within our own lifetimes. 200 years back? 400? 600? 1000? You might as well be telling me numbers because you’ve lost me beyond 20.

Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness. – Frank Gehry

This quote, I think, summed up my dilemma perfectly. Each monument in Hampi is a marker in time – telling different stories. But when you’re there, drinking in the moment, watching nature slowly take over built form, its almost as if they’ve been and will continue to be there forever.

Here are a few selected pictures from this trip: (Clicking on images opens them up bigger)

The elephant’s stables, Royal Enclosure, Hampi

Virupaksha temple tank, Hampi

The extremely beautiful Badami.

The main bazaar which stretches for 1km can be seen on either side. Virupaksha temple can be seen at the distance.

The Achyutharaya temple, Hampi


The Lotus Mahal, Royal Enclosure, Hampi

Hampi is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited and this trip was worth every moment we spent there. If you’ve not been to Hampi, I’d suggest you take atleast 4 days off and go off. 🙂