Friday, September 18, 2009

The frustration of revision

When do you stop a composition? The moment when you cannot add or delete any element. When it is complete. when the 'whole' composed of different parts put together in harmony, contrast or other design props is visually balanced to the discerning eye. A good painting is like that. Every stroke has a purpose. Every shade of color adds to the overall effect however subtly it might be. There are no accidents or mistakes. Have you ever written poetry and there came a moment when the lines feel complete. Sometimes you manage to convey everything in four lines. At times even hundreds don’t suffice.
I wrote the following lines intending to complete them later. These words just “tumbled out” as I like to say.

Let the follies be mine
Let the glory be yours
How can I claim all is You
For there are so many imperfections.

But I am not able to add anything. The lines say all that I want to say.

Often in my line of work as a designer we sit racking our brain to arrive at a solution which we feel is fairly well composed. We have balanced function with aesthetics, we have finalized the materials and specifications according to our design sensibility and the budget. We sit back on the chair happy at the outcome. It feels complete. We can't wait to show it to the client/superior for approval. But more often than not, the client asks for changes. Not the whole concept but only small things here and there....which very completely messes up the whole composition. These small things change the whole dynamism of the design. It is no longer complete. Remember what I said? You cannot add or delete. Any change leaves the design in disarray. So begins the process of re-balancing. Sometimes you succeed. Most times you have to let go of the most beautiful part of the erstwhile composition in order to accommodate a tiny insignificant alteration which is frustrating.
I once did a residential landscape for a client whose brief was a design within a small budget. So in lieu of that I chose brick as the dominant element and designed the paving lines according to the basic unit of a brick. At a later stage after the bricks had been laid in place, the client changed his mind and asked for granite cladding of the same. No harm done, but the original design using the brick module was made redundant. If I had had the freedom of using granite in the beginning the design would have been different in the first place. It would have evolved keeping in mind granite as a paving material.
What we seek in design is honesty of expression. Honesty of material. Let the basic material shine through and hold the weight of the design on its shoulders. But in the example cited, with that change the essence of the whole design collapsed not unlike a house of cards.
Changing a material is not as simple as that. Every material has an inherent property that affects the design. In the same project, at another location I had proposed granite cobbles and slab in an interesting composition for the entrance area. The client asked for a cheaper option and we explored different materials. Every time we changed the material or the brand, the dimension of the basic unit changed, and the design changed consequently. When the client sees the final drawing it might appear as mere lines. But only a designer and a sincere one at that can understand the labor that goes behind the simplest of design. After umpteen changes, with the client vacillating about the choice of material, haggling for reduced rates from dealers, we finally chose a cheap paving option. The resulting design was a poor shadow of what we had started with. I only hope that it lasts its guarantee period. If it doesn’t. Who is to be blamed? The design it seems is not the architect's creation but that of the patron's tastes.
In another example, when I was working in an architectural firm, my colleague was working on a multi storeyed apartment building and the plan and elevation was simply beautiful. It was the kind of design where the proportions fall in its rightful place and it deserved to come up in the skyline. But that wasn't to be. After the plan and elevation was approved, the client realized that a hotel would be more profitable and asked for the plan to be revised accordingly. That screwed up the entire design starting from the plan to the elevation. I don't know what happened to that project as I left the firm shortly after but something potentially beautiful was destroyed that day by the relentless dagger of commercial interests.
It’s deeply mournful to say the least.


Balachandran V said...

Made great reading. You are a sound, well-balanced, structurally strong, aesthetically pleasing construction, K! :D

kaalpanique said...

glad to hear that.. but many wouldnt agree!! ask abhi... ;)

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

A perfectly understandable rant. Though from a different area of work, I can relate to what you’ve expressed 100%. In advertising one of the most common – of course, justifiable – grievances of designers is the constant demand of clients to ‘make the logo bigger.’ And believe me, it’s really really frustrating to see one’s work, whether it’s design, copy or whatever, getting assaulted.

“I don't know what happened to that project as I left the firm shortly after but something potentially beautiful was destroyed that day by the relentless dagger of commercial interests.”

It made me think of Howard Roark.

Immensely love the way you write.

kaalpanique said...

@Arun, i guess every designer must have felt the frustration at sometime or the other, if not always! which is why in architecture an architect's own residence is followed with lots of interest! Roark yes. Fountain head is the bible for an architect in a way. ANd yes it takes courage to stand for what you believe. I keep goign back to the speech he delivers in the court room. But heres a different point of view .. my husband once told me. what good an architect are you if you cannot give the client what he wants!!hmmm....I think a design is like a child nurtured with so much care.. i think thats why any change hurts.