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Friday Review » History & Culture

Updated: August 22, 2012 16:55 IST

Reimagine the city

NEHA MUJUMDAR
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Visual thinker Gudjon Bjarnason. Photo: Vera Wonder
The Hindu Visual thinker Gudjon Bjarnason. Photo: Vera Wonder

Architect and artist Gudjon Bjarnason believes in democratic design

Icelandic architect-painter Gudjon Bjarnason has some ideas – and criticism – for Bangalore: he thinks the trend towards townships and satellite towns is “very wrong. Cities should not close out and encourage social segregation,” he said. “Let go of the arrogance.”

Bjarnason grew up in Reykjavik, Iceland, and later lived in Rhode Island, New York, Chennai and Pondicherry. “Architecture is simultaneously the same and different everywhere in the world,” said the 52-year-old, in town in connection with 1MG Road Mall’s Holii store (which he redesigned).

While the similarity arose from buildings’ functionality, differences in climate and culture shaped the architecture of countries, he said, comparing the styles of Icelandic and Indian buildings. “Iceland has buildings which are nature-oriented, with simplicity. In India, it’s more vibrant, with a capacity for complexity”.

He particularly criticizes the modern city’s tendency for shiny glass buildings. “The fact that they have no detailing and are not to scale leads to alienation, breakup of an old fabric...every building can be made to adapt to its surroundings.”

How, then, might he conceive a tech park? “I’d use natural spaces, which are lower in scale, with welcoming signs, and democratic design. It wouldn’t signal arrogance and hierarchy. It shouldn’t be a power symbol,” he explained.

In Bjarnason’s world, the architect is an exalted figure – the word brings to mind Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark – but in quite the opposite role. “The architect should not just work about commerce. He has a larger responsibility, to symbolise the psyche of his time.”

Bjarnason’s work as an architect is influenced by his other work, as an artist and a sculptor. He trained in design at the Rhode Island School of Design, and in visual arts and architecture in New York. His exhibitions are known for the element of surprise: a recent theme in his work has been, for instance, using actual explosions. “I work with chaos, surprise, metamorphosis,” said Bjarnason, simultaneously sketching in his notebook (he “thinks visually”, he explained). Bjarnason’s sculpture work aims, through the act of exploding, to “deform, but also therefore to open up alternative forms.”

Needless to say, this experimental, idealist attitude spills over into his architecture. “I want my buildings to provide liberation,” he declared.

But before all this, he studied law. “The logic was attractive,” he reminisced. “But there was nothing creative there. Art was all about creativity, freedom.”

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