An essay on Architecture, crafts and computers. (Might be boring)

Since time immemorial, man has expressed himself through art and craft. Art is the mere expression of human imagination while craft is its utilitarian form. Craft takes into account not only the physical beauty but also the efficiency of saving time, money and labour. Craft thus, can be defined as skillful art. Its various forms such as designing, architecture, painting, singing, playing musical instruments and myriad other such disciples have channelized human potential since the advent of art. The skill involved in various crafts adds value to the quality of human resources. The same seems to be eroding of late, with the advent of those pesky little machines that they call ‘computers’ which have taken away all the fun from crafts.

Although I did exaggerate when I called the computer a ‘pesky little machine’- and far from that, it is an efficient calculator but nothing more than that. In fact, it has been a big drain of human attention- as men sit in front of it, staring at the screen, wide-eyed, in awe, as it performs all the difficult calculations and computations for them. It does become a big roadblock for human skill development.

Ancient India was known for its handicraft market. The finely crafted jewelry, sculptures, pottery found to be adorning not only the homes in Harappan and Mohen-jo-daro civilizations, but being important commodites of trade stand to be a testimony for Indian dominance in the field of these crafts. The tradition lived long and various Indian craftsmen flourished though the age of Mauryas (most prominently Ashoka), Post Mauryan age, Gupta age upto the medieval age of Delhi Moghul Sultanate, Cholas and the Vijaynagar Empire. India commanded respect in the west, in Arabic countries and also among neighbours like China. All that changed with the British intrusion in the Indian market. The cheap industrial products virtually decapitated the Indian craftsmanship which is yet to find ground due to further relentless attack by industrialization and subsequent age of the computers.

There is a value way beyond the market price for finely crafted Madhubani paintings, Pashmina shawls, Jaipuri work on ivory etc. and even hand crafted Harley Davidson motorbikes for that matter. They aside from being fine examples of great attention to detail are also products of love and labour. These artworks are also each- unique in itself- causing pride to the owner and creator alike, With the advent of CAD-CAM (Computer aided design and computer aided machining) technology, high degrees of such precision are possible with also the emphasis lying on the quantity of goods produced, their utility; aiming for larger scale of production. This erodes the value system behind the craft-market and makes the products open to cheap bargainable deals. The incentive to the artist is also low as now it has to trickle down from the wide sieves of distribution and marketing along with the manufacturing costs (including computers and machines). Also in this new system, designs are easiled stolen ie copied and replicated.

Similarly, it does perplex a reasonable man when he sees that the structures build in the older times such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Qutub Minar, Taj Mahal of India, Leaning tower of Pisa etc are the only formidable and recognisable pieces of architecture since their creation in their respectives countries and regions. One would assume that with the level of precision and accurcy attained through computerized design softwares, the modern machinery available to man- there would have been a far greater number of such large and marvelous structures adorning the Earth than there actually are. Actually, there are many skyscrapers adorning the big city skylines but none of those give an identity to the region and attaches significance to its heritage and culture. These unimaginative and generic models coming straight out of a computer-generated plan with preset shapes, relying completely on the architectural ideas professed in the past show a lack of creativity emerging among the craftsmen.

Right from the principles of firmitas (durability), utilitas (utility) and venustas (beauty) given by Vitruvius to the ideas of proportion explained by Leone Battista Alberti; to the 20th century architect le Corbusier’s ideas about beauty and touching lives- architecture has always had a humane touch. The creativity behind ideas such as “form follows function” by Louis Sullivan (19th century architect of skyscrapers) and other great ideas such as rationalism, empiricism, structuralism, post-structuralism and phenomenology have been the guiding forces behind the creation of phenomenal buildings in various cultures which have been revived by different architects time and again to pay respects to the art and craft.

On the other hand, no new forms have been emerging in the modern times, no new schools of thought, new schools of music, art etc. Computers have not only made things easier, they have divided the field into two specialities- design and project. It is not to say that the computer has been a menace and has been of no help. It has helped create many a gem but also, due to the dumbing down of the craft, it has led to the entry of many unmotivated, unskilled professionals in the field.

The need of the hour is to inculcate respect for the craft in the minds of young professionals so that our legacy, firmly etched and carved in wood, stone or glass can be passed on!

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