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Igasugune tagasiside on teretulnud. KONTAKT: augustkunnapu@gmail.com, august@epifanio.eu
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Eestikeelsed artiklid

EDITORIAL

EPIFANIO RECOMMENDS

MY GOOD MOVIES
Milind Ranadive

INDIAN DRAWINGS
Vilen Künnapu

INTERVIEW WITH SHIRISH BERI
August Künnapu, Vilen Künnapu

POEMS BY SHIRISH BERI

WHAT KIND OF ART MATTERS TO ME
Kaido Ole

HARRY PYE'S POSTCARD FROM LONDON

RAIMOND KUKUMAA'S LOVE STORIES
Mehis Heinsaar

COLLECTION OF 8 BEHAVIOURS
Mart Aas

TEAM

INTERview with SHIRISH BERI

Manasi & Shirish Beri's Lake House, Andur Village, India

August Künnapu: Shirish, please tell us an interesting story about your childhood.

Shirish Beri: I remember my father had taken picture of mine when we used to go for picnics as a family when I was seven or eight. I used to enjoy it but after some time I would go out of the group and sit under a tree somewere alone and meditate. That time I didn't know much about meditation but I would sit in a typical position shown in the pictures. My father has taken a picture of that as well.

I like nature a lot, so after being with a lot of people I like to be by myself for some time. This is continuing even today. When I'm with people I'm spending a lot of energy and I need to refuel myself. I enjoy people for a short while, but after that I need to be by myself. That is the reason why I've always had a second home like this – first in the mountains, then on the farm, then on the beach and now on the lake, which has really kept me alive. This is the time, when I'm here alone that I use to contradict myself, question myself, criticise myself. If I'm always busy-busy, running after money, running after fame, then sensitivity becomes numb.

 

Another interesting incident I remember. We had a rented house in Kolhapur. I was sitting on the balcony and saw a "pushpak vimaan", an old mythological open aeroplane (like a glider) with some Hindu god sitting inside. May be an illusion. I didn't have anything in my mind before I saw it and then it disappeared.

Vilen Künnapu: Going back to your childhood, we were just looking at old pictures of you and your relatives. It seemed that your family was west-orientated. Was it a typical Indian family?
S.B.: It was a typical Indian higher middle-class family of that time, which was having certain western influences. But the Hindu culture or the Indian way of life was also there.

A.K.: You once told that in your early twenties you went to live alone on a mountain top....
V.K.: ....with shepherds.
S.B.: Yes, that was just after my graduation.
Before my graduation, when I was a third year architecture student in Ahmedabad, I was very restless. I wanted to know what is life, what am I doing in life. I was 18-19 years old. I kept questioning what are values, what is architecture, what am I doing here, how architecture helps life and what I ever understood about life. I told my parents that I want to take a drop from school to leave architecture for one year at least. Then they said you are doing so well in architecture, so why you want to leave it. Finally we compromised. I said that on vacations I'm not coming home. I used to come home for some time to make perspectives for my father to earn money. With that money I used to travel to remote parts of India. So every vacation I would go alone for a month with my sketchbook to some places where I didn't know anybody. I used to sleep on empty beaches, on park benches. I lived on 10 rupees (= 2,50 EEK) a day.

V.K.: You were like a monk.
S.B.: May-be. I would eat peanuts and coconut. Thats where I learned a lot in my formative years. I was already writing poems by then. I asked myself how architecture can relate to life. It is not just elevations, it is not just decorating a building. It is creating a quality of space that is conducive to good interaction with humans as well as with nature.

V.K.: You didn't want to go to the monastery?
S.B.: There was a time when I was thinking about it. After my graduation I would go to the hills in South India. There was a swami there, a large ashram with many acres of land. He asked me if I would become his successor, stay there in the ashram and look after the whole thing. Basically, to tell you frankly I am not an institutional being. Many times institutions are formed with good intentions, but later on most of the energy is used to sustain the institution and the main value is devalued. I am personally not a member of any institutions. I was not even a member of Indian Institute of Architects. For many years they invited me to speak and I was going and speaking. Then somebody found out that I am not a member. They forced me to become a fellow of the institute.

A.K.: Now you are running a successful architecture studio, but you also write poetry, do paintings, manage different things, live a family life. How do you spare your time?
S.B.: It is a matter of time management. I'm quite punctual about time, meeting people. There is a certain sense of self-discipline, which is important in life. It is something which gives you freedom. Earlier in my career, for the first ten years I could have made million of rupees, but I didn't earn a single rupee. I had no bank balance. That was the time when I met a holy person. He told me that when you are a sanyasi, a monk, then it is not good to have any bank balance. But if you are a sansari, a family person, you must have a bank balance. And I had an experience with that. Six years after my marriage my wife Mansi was bitten by a very poisonous snake at the farm. She was admitted to a very expensive hospital in Mumbai afterwards. That was very expensive and I didn't have any money. I had to borrow from people, which I repaid afterwards. Self-discipline can bring you freedom. Some savings give me freedom to live the way I want. Today I can refuse a lot of works, because I have enough to sustain my simple needs. In my wardrobe I have never kept more than four pairs of jeans. If I buy the fifth pair I give one away to someone.

V.K.: Do you feel sometimes that your younger colleagues get jealous that you have too much freedom, too much power?
S.B.: Sometimes I feel jealousy, sometimes I feel respect. I get both emotions from my colleagues. I always try to be honest with myself. If it causes jealousy or respect, that is beyond me.

V.K.: You told us that when you were young you were reading a lot of western philosophers and writers and also you know very well old Indian philosophy. What is now your opinion about western philosophy? For me eastern philosophy is like a big bread and western philosophy is like small crumbs of bread. They have derived from the east almost all.
S.B.: Very true. Most of the western philosophy I have read is very fragmented. The eastern philosophy is more holistic, which contains and includes everything. Western philosophy excludes certain things, includes certain things. I enjoy parts of it. But it doesn't give you the holistic, unified picture of the Universe and your role in it. Western philosophy is very problem-solving. As I said you the other day – life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. Thats why I enjoy living life which is more close to the philosophy of the east.

Vaade järvelt / View from Lake, 2007.

Elutuba / Living room

Vannituba / Bathroom

V.K.: Your own philosophy is also holistic, you don't need any religions, you just feel that God is everywhere. Do you think that in the future many people believe in that philosophy?
S.B.: Hopefully. Today our civilization is a ME-civilization and it is a GIVE ME/GOT MINE-culture of this civilization, where attitudes such as restraint ("Sayyam") and self-denial are antiquated, forgotten. I feel that restraint and self-denial to some extent are important in life, even for green sustainable future. Green and sustainable is an attitude to life, attitude of simplicity, concern - not only for this generation, but also for the future generations to come – an attitude of compassion. I feel that the global recession which happened is a blessing in disguise. People started to think, otherwise they were just consuming. If it happens from inside it is very good, but it may also happen from outside, because outside conditions are so bad that you have to control your consumerisation.

V.K.: In my mind you are a very good example of the man of the future of that culture where east and west will be connected. What is your vision of that society and of the man who lives there?
S.B.: I've always felt that the fusion between east and west is very necessary. Because there are some very good values in the west. In some sense problem-solving is good, but not at the psychological level – for instance, getting a good infrastructure to the city. In the west I've noticed a sense of community. In India you will notice that the house inside is very clean, but people will throw junk outside on the street or urinate on the street. In the west it is good that they are keeping the cleanliness, the hygiene in terms of the infrastructure. All my houses are a fusion of Indian values and western values. It is clean, it has good sanitation, light and ventilation which is there in the west. But it also includes eastern qualities of simplicity, certain materials, certain eastern values of communication with nature.

A.K.: Talking about infrastructure, for us the local traffic is total chaos, although it works in its own way.
S.B.: Yes, it works. That is because of the upbringing. I've noticed that Indians and may be Chinese can do 1-2-3-4 things at the same time. Western people are more focused. When they are driving, they can't do any other things. In the east when we are driving, we can think of something, we can understand there's people coming in between, there's the cow walking on the path and so on.

A.K.: You have perfect intuition.
S.B.: Yes, intuitive also. That's why there are less accidents or problems. Right now when I'm talking to you, I'm hearing the nightjar, I'm listening to the sound of the crickets and the insects. I'm also aware of the moonlight that is falling here.

A.K.: Lets talk about your poetry. It has a lot to do with the things you just mentioned, like nature. It also reminds me a bit of zen-poetry.
S.B.: Life is so wonderful. It is difficult to express every motion through architecture. If I want to express myself more, I choose poetry, painting, sketching or movies.
I feel the urge to bring the inside feelings out, to share them with people. While sharing them, I become a co-learner.
Talking about the teacher-student attitude, when I go to a university or class, I tell the students I'm not coming as a teacher, who tells you what to do and how to do it. I come as a co-learner. Also I'm not here as a carpenter or a sculptor, who shapes them the way I want them to be shaped. I come here as a gardener, who gives the right soil, the sunlight and water to grow. Each one of them is unique with a different seed in them. That seed has to grow to a level of its own maturity.

V.K.: That's what Louis Kahn told: "When I'm teaching, I'm teaching not the students but first of all myself".
You once met Louis Kahn when you were a student. Please say some comments about him.
S.B.: Louis Kahn was an iconic figure for us. When I was studying in Ahmedabad, Louis Kahn was working on the Indian Institute of Management there. We used to discuss the plan. We found out that Louis Kahn had visited Nālandā*, one of the earliest international universities – almost 2000 years old. The plan of Nālandā influenced Louis Kahn when he designed the Indian Institute of Management. Once he was sitting on the parapet and we were sitting around him. When his pants went up, I immediately noticed that he had two different colours of socks in two feet.

V.K.: When I look at the plans of Louis Kahn, they are often based on the square and circle and the main elements that he is taking away of the square.Those structures remind me of the Indian very old architecture – cities or monasteries. For me Kahn is very Indian. Can you say something about that? Is the Indian Institute in Ahmedabad with Indian feeling?
S.B.: The organization in plan has certain Indian characteristics. Even the relationship of the void to the built mass is very much there in our Indian architecture. Kahn had a great sense of order in whatever he did. I have something written here in my notebook, an extract of Kahn, what he talked about architecture:
"A man who does a work of architecture does it as an offering to the spirit of architecture. A spirit, which knows no style, no techniques, no method. There is architecture and it is the embodiment of the unmeasurable".
This is very important for me. In every project I do there is a measurable element to it. But the unmeasurable element is as important, or may be more important.

V.K.: When we visited Elephanta Island near Mumbai with August, we were looking at those rock cut cave temples with inside columns, the gods sculptures in the end of the axis. I felt great power and mystery. That is also what you spoke about Louis Kahn.
S.B.: Yes.

A.K.: We have also visited several of your houses in Kolhapur and have noticed your special love of organic architecture and streamlined staircases.
V.K.: And the plants here in your lakeside house grow out of your cylindrical toilet to the sky. Your houses are like ruins in the middle of the plants. Can you speak about the philosophy of the lakeside house?
S.B.: I've always been fascinated about the ruins, because they don't tell you everything. There's something you have to imagine. Like a painting. The viewer adds the meaning to the painting. For me the lake and the hills are the most important elements here. The house is not very important, it has to merge into the landscape slowly. That is why it is growing from unfinished pillars to a house surrounded by trees and plants. Today it is less, but tomorrow it will be more covered up. Once my mangoes and other plants grow up, the house will hardly be seen. The south-west portion of the house is opened. The architectural vocabulary is not limited to walls and windows and doors and floorings, but the hills or the lake outside have also become my architectural language. The lake and the hills are defining my living room.

Shirish Beri. Spirituaalne häppening. Äramärkimine 8. Rahvusvahelisel disainikonkursil Osakas, Jaapanis / The Spiritual Happening. Honourable mention at the 8th International design competition in Osaka, Japan, 2010.

A.K.: You also did a symbolic work for an idea-competition in Japan. Please elaborate on that.
S.B.: Actually I don't take part in opened competitions very much. The subject of this competition was very interesting – "In search of spiritual comfort" or "in search of mental relaxation". I was trying to see whether through an architectural space one can achieve spiritual comfort. That is why I designed the building as an inward spiral coming into a meditation space and then from there it goes out into an outward spiral into the outside. So this whole process of walking and experiencing a different kind of space as you walk. When you start walking the ground is at zero level. When you gradually start moving you go down and the walls go higher and higher. The outside sounds are reduced more and more. The quality of light is only from the top. There is a slight gurgle of water which is flowing on the ground. The water also goes to the meditation chamber in the centre. This is like a walking meditation. While you reach the centre you are in a different state of mind. That is when you pause, relax, meditate, abandon yourself, sit down there for some time. And when you start to walk back, the spatial the experience is reversed when you go outside. While coming out, your state of mind is very different from the state of mind when you were in, while entering the space.
The project was appreciated by the international jury and we won an award there and I went to Japan for the ceremony. I hope someone somewhere has money to build that idea.

A.K.: You mentioned once that after graduating from the architecture school in India, you tried to forget what was taught to you. I'm wondering if you have ever had any strong teachers – in life, architecture, art, philosophy, poetry, film or whatever?
S.B.: Life has been my teacher in different forms, different ways. It may be a bird, a shephard or my studio teacher in the school of architecture. I'm always learning. I can't point any particular person, but if one is open and receptive, one can learn from everybody and everything around.

A.K.: But what about the influences of your movie "The Unfolding White"? How did you start with the movie?
S.B.: I'm fascinated with the medium of films. In a film one can combine so many things – the passage through time, temporal, special, visual and audio together. I thought that could be interesting and everyone can't come to see my projects. I didn't want to make that movie a person-based film. Otherwise I would have been there getting interviewed, answering to questions. It is not my work I'm talking about. I'm talking about an issue in life – can we design something, which can bring us closer to nature, closer to people. I'm asking questions. Outside people who have seen the film, they may not know Shirish Beri. For them the last person who is sitting under the tree is not important. It is an issue-based film, where I try to use the film medium to express some of my understandings in life through architecture, painting, sketching, music, poetry. The script is my poetry.

A.K.: You feel quite well both in the material world and in the spiritual world, which is quite unique nowadays.
S.B.: The material world - one has to inhabit. It is compulsory. This chair is material, the money I spent to buy it is material. In the material world I have always used self-restraint. In sanskrit it is called "Sayyam", which is a very beautiful word. Self-restraint is also very important in designing a building. Otherwise I put too many things in it and it becomes a hotch-potch. In the material world, there is self-restraint which helps me to connect with the spiritual world. We have to use it as a tool whose aim is the spiritual world. That's the way I have been looking at it.

SHIRISH BERI C.V.
Born in 1950 at Pune, India, Shirish Beri graduated from School of Architecture, Ahmedabad, India in 1974. He lived and worked in the mountains near Kolhapur (with his father and brother's architectural firm in Kolhapur) from 1974. Shirish Beri's works bear their distinct mark on modern Indian architecture since 1975. They strive to address his life concerns of man moving further away from nature, from his fellow human beings and from his own self. He has designed a number of campuses for national & regional level institutions for research, rehabilitation, health care and education, along with various other types of buildings. He also holds lectures, makes documentaries ("The Unfolding White", 2007), writes poetry, paints, does gardening.
See also: www.shirishberi.net


* Nālandā is the name of ancient center of higher learning in India. The site of Nālandā is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE. It has been called "one of the first great universities in recorded history." – Editor's note.