When India was colonised by the British, the country did not just see an invasion of her land but a change in the way she looked. The British not only took over their administration but altered the architecture to align more with the designs from their own homeland. Along with this, they brought in a change in infrastructure, a disregard for the culture of the land, and an inability to understand the needs of the environment.

When India gained Independence, one of the first things that Jawaharlal Nehru did was to consider how to reflect a new national identity. He realised that, despite the way things were left by the British, India still possessed a rich heritage culture from where the potential to change the face of India needed to begin. Nehru had the foresight to invite architects such as Le Corbusier and the Eamses to formulate a template that could be referenced as a modern standard for a new design pedagogy. 

At this stage of post colonialism, it was crucial to identify what was relevant to Indian culture and how to move away from its colonial past.

Breaking down Perceptions

The origin of influence makes a big difference especially in the field of literature. Well-known books on Indian architecture did exist during this time. However, they were primarily written by Westerners such as James Fergusson who had authored the well-known book, Indian and Eastern Architecture — now considered biased. While there was definitely some merit to the work covered, there was also a sense of detachment — as though the writers were observers, not people who lived the reality of their subjects. There are many design schools that still use this literature as main reference books in their design pedagogy, but are sadly hesitant to use literature written by Indian authors. At the same time, architectural bodies like COA recognize this bias and are working towards changing the perception through publications and journals. 

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Indian building in Islamic style_©jcomp, Freepik
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blue building in a city of varanasi, india_©rawpixel.com, Freepik

A similar factor that needed to be addressed was incorporating the viewpoints of the so-called ‘marginalised’ into mainstream school of thought. As an intrusion to the working standard of Indian architecture, the British minimised the use of vernacular expertise and used strategies that they thought showed a sense of stability and order. Today, many schools have incorporated the arts and crafts techniques in their design pedagogy to encourage the use of local knowledge and skill regarding materials, construction and aesthetics.

A new way of learning

Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in the philosophy of ‘learning by doing’. This was actually the way of life for Indians where the culture of creating formed a big part of their identity and helped them to be in touch with their environment. 

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Women working on the chakra, Rajasthan_©Aditya Gupta, Unsplash

Today, there is a strong push towards shifting the design pedagogy from just analyzing styles to addressing social, economic, and political influences. The need to include humanities and sociology as part of the pedagogy makes it an integral part of human-centric learning other than just using them as stylistic representations. Though there were other design schools already set up, they were all established by Westerners such as the University of Bombay and the University of Madras. These were following a pedagogy modeled after a colonial structure and hence did not move far from the framework set by their forefathers. However, professors of design today teach how architecture needs to move from a product- and object-centric practice to a process-centric one. The National Institute of Design (NID) is one such homegrown school, where the design pedagogy adopted proved to be so successful that it became a model for design education in India.

Design schools began to create a space to evolve with the changing needs of the Indian culture and climate. A more sustainable design pedagogy was slowly being adopted where the usage of materials was used wisely, where the problems of the people and place were critically analysed, and the need to respond sensitively and consciously was emphasized. 

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Discussing blueprints_©DCStudio, Freepik

In many schools today, the design pedagogy is led by practicing teachers who guide the students and give them a sense of direction as opposed to theoretical learning. This model has proved to be successful in that it unites theory and practice, enabling the teacher to stay in touch with the needs of the day, while at the same time, making sure not to curb the creativity of the student and providing ample space for innovation.

In an ever-evolving India, it is important to continue to train today’s students to help the nation through design. As India is rich in design practices and objects, it is important to record and document the same with the main aim of creating a distinctive identity in the field of design education and bringing Indian perspectives to the limelight. The aim here is to not just show that this country has something to offer, but to establish that the design pedagogy that reflects the design practices of traditional or modern India is equally authentic and every bit as capable of solving the problems of the day.

References:

Balaram, S. (2005). Design Pedagogy in India: A Perspective. Design Issues, 21(4), 11–22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25224015  

Das, D. (2023) Shaping of architecture education in pre-independent India, LinkedIn.Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pre-independent-india-education-architecture-deepak-das/ (Accessed: 24 September 2023). 

Author

Nivi Ann Monsy is a designer, educator and author of the book, Geoffrey Bawa: A Conscious Perception. Architecture, to her, is the thrill of working with the unknown and a way to explore exciting concepts like biomimicry. A believer in the freedom of expression through design, she hopes to inspire others to create products and spaces that matter.