Today’s architecture has shifted from a social pattern that was inclusive of the local community to being more isolated and reliant on privacy, leaving no time (or spaces) for community social interaction at home in today’s modern world and way of life. With globalization on the upsurge, most Indian architects and designers are leaning toward the international stars of Architecture and design.
“The culture, traditions, architecture, and even the habits of our population are changing fast owing to the culture that globalization has thrust upon us. Today, our balconies have vanished, as have our courtyards, and our bazaars have given way to malls. In the process, we are losing our identity, and today, wherever in the world we are, our urban centers look alike,” IIA president Vinay Parelkar said. (The New Indian Express, 2012)
Threshold architectural spaces have always held deep cultural significance for the people of India. In-between spaces such as courtyards, stairways, and verandas can be found amid daily activities. Indians from all social backgrounds revere the house’s entrance. Transitional entryways are surrounded by distinctive front verandas that link the house and the street in the country’s diverse landscape.
The veranda mediated the public realm and the private home by lining the street edge with a permeable thickness. Every morning, the veranda is given special attention through worship and decoration, especially during holidays. The threshold was also a place to extend hospitality, where neighbors and passersby could stop for impromptu conversation. The space was an essential component of traditional homes, celebrating the culture of generosity and community.
The dividing line between private and public life was crucially bridged by the transitional area – Veranda. The gap between public and private life has widened as a result of urbanization, and the veranda has also vanished. With varying climates, the veranda took on different shapes and sizes across the country while serving the same purpose. Streets and houses typically differ in their materials and elevations when they transition from one to the other. In the last few generations, ideas about privacy and socializing have changed. Cities have also seen the emergence of new habitational styles that are more driven by economics than socio-cultural norms.
The entry foyer is a modern rendition of the veranda, a closed-off space one first walks into that is more secure for today’s deliveries and transactional conversations. Traditional ways of life and the architecture that supports them are still practiced in Indian villages, but cities respond to privatized lifestyles. A person reading a newspaper in their apartment corridor or shouting at a vendor passing by the street is not uncommon. The bustle of interconnected spaces, on the other hand, is uncommon.
Similarly, the “courtyard” typology has been around for thousands of years in our country, dating back to the Indus Valley civilization. The courtyard served as the focal point of a settlement and strengthened internal relationships while keeping the outside separate. It served as a protective barrier against the weather, enemies, and animals, which encouraged social interactions and became an important interface for all communal activities.
Modernism was founded on the principle of functionalism. Every room now served a specific purpose: a place to entertain guests, a place to eat, a place to cook, a place to sleep, a place to relax, a place to study, and so on. As a result, the traditional multipurpose courtyard in homes served no special function. By the 1960s and 1970s, the bungalow had evolved into the modern house inhabited by many middle-class families.
Traditional courtyards were designed with community values (social, cultural, and religious) in mind, and the urban design principles that shaped urbanization reflected those values. Today, the values that favored communal life and community living have given way to greater individualization. Social changes, combined with a dramatic increase in the village to town/city migrants, resulted in a shift in family structure from joint to nuclear, making the need to socialize and interact on a larger scale obsolete. Modern urban design is the physical manifestation of these changes.
Housing policies have imposed small plots, making the introduction of the courtyard difficult and taking space away from other functional spaces that are more valued today. People prefer the shorter, sheltered, air-conditioned transition spaces of modern houses to cross the open space (the courtyard) to get from one place to another. Due to a lack of available land, construction has shifted from horizontal development (planned neighborhoods) to vertical development (high-rise apartments). Due to the limited area available per flat and the high per-square-foot land rates, these high-rise buildings limit the introduction of courtyards.
It is acknowledged that high-rise apartments, large houses, and other types of housing will continue to be built and that there is no single solution for housing form or policy. However, a significant emphasis should be placed on a residential neighborhood approach that recognizes the benefits of the courtyard concept at both the building and urban design levels. This includes low-rise, high-density neighborhoods with off-street parking and homes designed to take full advantage of the climate for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.
Unfortunately, many of the traditional architectural features that were an integral part of the streetscape and independent homes of yesteryear have been lost in today’s dense urban apartment development.