The good, true and beautiful | Daily News

The good, true and beautiful

When she set foot in the Moorfields Eye Hospital, she was only eight. Her battle has already begun in earnest. Rhiannon Willis had lost her sight in one eye and her other eye was already making her vision incoherence worse. She was struck by all kinds of eyesore conditions: glaucoma, cataracts and severe inflammation. It was 2001 when she was entrusted to Professor Peng Khaw.

The wait was long and boring to a suffocating extent. But Rhiannon did not lose faith in Professor Khaw. The eye specialist elaborated her condition in the layperson’s language. And the professor lived up to her expectations. The vision was so clear; so sharp with so many colours, Rhiannon expressed her joy later.

When Dr Peng Khaw’s team restored the eyesight Rhiannon had lost in early childhood, she saw her mother for the first time in four years. In 2007, Rhiannon laid the foundation stone of the Richard Desmond Children’s Eye Centre. The newly built centre offered a more home-like mood to its visitors. The computer games and many other fantastic play areas were reserved for children of any age. The parents also found joy in the surrounding. The aim was clear: to not to feel as if you are in a clinic anymore.

Where does the key to this cheerfulness lie? Doctors? Of course, the answer is yes. And yet, that very joy seems a distant hypothesis if not for the architect of the building.

Meet Sunand Prasad, the Past President of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) who arrived in Sri Lanka recently to grace the first Annual General Meeting of RIBA Sri Lankan Branch.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sunand Prasad has raised the high point in his career: whenever a client says a building makes them love going to work. That seems the core point in all the buildings he has designed (Wimbledon Studios, Rushton Street Surgery, the Sibson building and Rockhampton Library among them). As Prasad came to terms with the Moorfields motto – let there be light – he knew it needs to be materialised with the elements of the playful intervention. The emotional aspect, Prasad emphasises, is the most important element especially in a children’s hospital.

That led to the most noted feature of the building: its exterior lighting resembling the flock of birds. The light system comes alive as dusk falls in London. With a grin, Prasad notes how the Londoners would make a fuss if the building’s lights are not switched on.

In architecture, like in all other operative arts, the end must direct the operation. The end is to build well. The well-building could be achieved with three gradual steps: commodities, firmness and delight. With this philosophy, the Indian-born British architect ventures into an area where an average architect is not really at home with. It is the Vedic philosophy that innovates three simple, yet meaningful, terms: Satyam, Shivam and Sundaram.

“Buildings, in other words, need to be beautiful. The commodity stands for the quality of the object. It’s the judgement you make. The three words are essential as it is somehow complete,” Prasad elaborates, adding that Sundaram is beautiful in the Vedic philosophy. Upon interpreting the Vedic lines, Prasad explained how shocked he was by the Shivam part. “It stands for the godliness. In terms of time and geography, it brings out the essential values. It stands for a building’s functionalism,” Prasad explains.

Beauty just doesn’t come, Prasad says, citing the bicycle, one of the most simple machines on earth. If the good, the true and beautiful are extremely serviceable to a carbon-free environment, then the best example is a bicycle, Prasad noted referring to the utilitarianism of this light transport mode. What makes cycle more advantageous over a car? If you pose that question to Prasad, you will get the obvious answer: a car burns money and makes you fat, whereas a cycle burns your fat and saves the money. The modern architect should keep that in mind when they design a new building.

Then he takes the example of a chair. Seemingly much simple, it serves the most essential requirement: sitting. Simplification is done with minimalism. It is the ultimate way of getting out the mass amount of engineering. Underneath a simple chair is a lot of engineering. This is essential for the way of construction. Citing Ajanta Caves, Sunand Prasad emphasised on the minimalism yet with intricate designs. It evokes the memories of timber construction of a bygone time. People built these some time back and they become symbols later in the digital period.

To elaborate on the simplicity, Sunand Prasad extracted Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. On top of the pyramid is self-actualisation which includes morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts. Then comes the esteem which includes self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others and respect by others. This is followed by love or belonging where friendship, family and sexual intimacy are embedded. That leads to safety which is the security of body, employment, resources, morality, family and health. The last step of the pyramid is the most important one. It is the physiological requirement which means breathing, food, water, sex and excreting. Without this bottom step, you cannot reach for the topmost step which is self-actualisation.

This was Prasad’s model in designing most noted buildings. When he designed the Rushton Street Surgery, for instance, he gave priority to the patient’s perspective. In such an environment it is easy for the doctors to make decisions while the same stands more therapeutic for the patient occupants.

In designing the Rockhampton Library, Prasad followed the Alberto Manguel theory. It is Alberto Manguel who defined an ideal library. An ideal library is meant for one particular reader. Every reader must feel that he or she is the chosen one.

“It is a vanishing memory with the advent of ebooks. But still, the memories of the libraries are important,” Prasad says.

The new building of QEII hospital which replaced the old one three years ago was quite a tough job for Prasad. There were essential divisions such as departments, front doors, hallways.

“These are like petals. You need to know how to assemble it into making one flower. The Central Garden decreases the stress level. The garden city was made especially to make the hospital stress free for the visitors, especially the children. It ensures proper ventilation as well,” Prasad explains.

The Wimbledon Studios was built with extreme attention to the zero-carbon attitude. One section collects rains while another generates electricity from sunlight. Built in timber the building is extremely sustainable.

The Sibson building is another example bold and simple designed for the University of Kent. Instead of having three buildings in separate areas, Prasad merged the three into one.

“Then the insiders can interact and go into each other’s buildings without much difficulty. Two buildings are connected to the centre building. People are connected. I was particularly excited by this project. It is the unexpected use of the landscape. Tranquillity is granted with the ground area allocated to the cafeteria,” Prasad notes.

It is the beautiful, good and true in the ultimate sense. The beautiful should be in a qualitative sense. It raises spirits, enhances the image and new knowledge. The good is both qualitative and quantitative which means adaptability, sense of security and landscape. The true is essentially quantitative which means adequacy of structure, space and light. All this could be applied to a building.

All at once means that architecture has the special ability to express the transcendental, to enable people individually and collectively to flourish and to accommodate the mundane, all at once. An architect’s work is focused on the search for this ‘all at once’, this simultaneity, none at the expense of another. 



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