The Ritualistic and the Habitual Space: architecture of Santiniketan, by Parul Kiri Roy

To quickly define the two key words we are concerned with: ‘Ethics’ is to do with the nature of human beings in relation to all that exists around them and ‘Aesthetics’ is to do with the experience of human beings in this world they exist within. They seem to be like the two intertwining strands of the DNA, the links of which create life the way it ‘is’. One is incomplete without the other. Without ethical understanding and value system, aesthetic decisions cannot be taken and without an ethical base, aesthetic experience remains superfluous.

So, what is meant by ethics in architecture- is it to do with the question of responsibility? Aesthetics is not just about what things look like or feel like but has to have a symbiotic relationship with what is the inherent nature of these things which is to do with the inner truth- the essence of it all. This, of course takes us back to ethics. Aesthetics in architecture is about the sensual experience of space (and maybe more-memory?) which is contained within the nature of practice- ethics? (Tschumi, Architecture and Disjunction , Pg.58)

The two terms- ethics and aesthetics in architecture need to be thought of together. What is ‘good’ comes out of what is natural. The process of its growth too should be an organic one. The organic sprouts from within and grows into what it wants to be. Architecture that grows from within a system- a culture, a space/ time context taking form based on the ideologies of a society to which it belongs would inevitably manage to capture the pulse of the aspirations of the people it caters to. And what would be good and true to its nature would be ‘beautiful’ – to look at, to feel and to experience. The space at all times can be what you want it to be, a multitude of activities, a stage for many events to unfold.

The architecture of Santiniketan is an explicit example of this thought. The seed idea though belonged to one man- the poet Rabindranath Tagore, the essence flowed into the branches and to the leaves that grew out of it, quite naturally. The culture that was cultivated over time within the small commune of creative people had small demands in terms of space. As a community developed and matured, certain rituals were formulated to enhance the sense of belonging to the place and to each other. Every act had an associated ritual and rituals then existed at many levels. Santiniketan grew from an ashram to a small town almost the same time as imperial New Delhi was being constructed. Both in their own manner represented the nation’s identity but from diametrically opposite stance. If New Delhi was about political power, Santiniketan was about new thought rooted in pan -Asian culture. The space that formed belonged to the people who lived there, ingrained with the pulse of their culture and thus the beauty of the place reflected their sense of belonging not just to itself but also the country and the continent. With the first hand experience of having lived in Santiniketan, this paper explores the nature of public space which belongs to the realm of the rituals and the pockets of interactive space being the setting of the habitual.

Parul Kiri Roy, School of Planning and Architecture, IN

Harvard Citation Guide: Kiri Roy, P. (2012) The Ritualistic and the Habitual Space: architecture of Santiniketan, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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