Hands-on Immersion In A Craft Practice Makes The Student Really Appreciate The Enormous Skill Required To Produce The Craft

In conversation with Dr. Badrinarayanan Srinivasan, Professor of Architecture, OP Jindal University.

“Coordination between organisations and craftsmen is the biggest impediment even if the institution/ individual tutor wants to explore crafts to the full depth as described above, marks Prof Srinivasan.

Let us know about your style of expressing a new design idea. How do you communicate your vision to students?

My style is still the old school. I use sketches, diagrams, graphics on white boards and on paper. When students come for ‘crits’ (constructive critique) on their designs, I insist that they bring printouts, butter paper and soft pencil.

Initially they are a bit bewildered and resistant, but soon get the point. I tell them “well if you just want to ‘show’ me your design, you can use your laptop but if you want feedback, please bring printouts, and butter paper”. I try to wean them out of their habit to use Autocad in the formative stages of their design.

Acquiring craft skills is very informal as compared to learning design which is relatively formal, how can design facilities and academics incorporate art & crafts in their curriculum?

Actually learning any craft properly from a craftsman as an apprentice is quite a serious and ‘formal’ process, although there might not be a degree or a certificate at the end of it.

Any discipline requires a level of trust in the teacher and humility on the part of a learner. The word ‘discipline’ is derived from the word ‘disciple’.

I think the way to incorporate arts and crafts in a design curriculum can be at several levels : 

  1. Exposure to craft tradition/s. This is simply an eye-opener.
  2. Hands-on Immersion in the practice of a craft. This makes the student really appreciate and respect the enormous skill required to produce the craft. The idea is not to produce a perfect object but to simply to see it as ’embodied knowledge’.
  3. Being critically sensitised to the various socio-economic-political factors that make a craft stagnate, live, evolve, thrive or die out.
  4. Design studio exercises that actively involve all the above stages and to address the question of production and economics in the studio. Usually architecture/ design schools stop at stage A which is rather superficial. Some might take up stage B or even C. Very few design studios are designed to address stage D which is where the real learning loop is completed.

What are the impediments which design studios might face while sourcing local materials and skilled labourers for any particular project?

Any activity in a design institution that involves time, money, human resources that is not formally embedded in a curriculum will naturally be seen as an ‘extra’ that involves too much effort to coordinate and therefore can be dispensed with. 

Crafts and crafts people are also widely scattered across the country like India and most of them are place-specific. So the question of logistics, organisation and coordination are the biggest impediments even if the institution/ individual tutor wants to explore crafts to the full depth as described above.

Do you think courses in traditional art and crafts curated with contemporary mindsets can help create sustainable structures?

Yes, of course. when one ‘curates’ it would be useful to design it meticulously as a learning experience. Therefore, one needs to be very clear and articulate about the aims, objectives, outcomes, design of the learning activities and their sequence, and even the evaluation rubrics.

This is where some exposure to learning psychology and the science and art of pedagogy could provide the ‘edge’. About ‘sustainable Structures’, I would question ‘whose sustainability?” and “what structures?”. I read a quote somewhere (I think it was Amarya Sen but can’t be sure) that “one can either save the craft or the craftsman”.

This is a profound truth that needs to be pondered about. Also the question of “Structure” goes far beyond merely the architectural. One needs to interrogate what kind of social, political and economic structures are we privileging consciously or unconsciously in every design decision that we make. If one does not engage with such ‘wicked’ problems, inclusion of crafts merely becomes a token exercise undertaken for cosmetic purposes.

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