India is a country that is always associated with its rich heritage and is known for its glorious past. Pre-independence India itself had a distinctive style of art and architecture and eventually got influenced by others because of its strong linkages to different places worldwide. Resultantly, reorganizing the prevailing trends and, in that process, creating a diverse culture. 

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The Timeline©Roopa Chikkalgi

India, therefore, became a country with the most illustrious timeline in terms of art and architecture. And, today one can concede that different eras have been earmarked based on the architectural style the buildings portrayed. And, architecture has been an eminent political tool of expression of thought or belief because of its accessible nature. And India gaining independence from the British was a significant milestone that demanded an identity for the newly victorious country. 

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Architectural diversity in India©www.re-thinkingthefuture.com

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India with a vision to create a new and better India, believed it was only possible through developing art and architecture. His initiatives set things into motion, inspiring people to envision the identity of the country. And, it was time to enhance the distinct Indian imprint on architecture.

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Prime Minister’s vision for new India©twitter.com

The Dilemma 

In pursuit of creating a new identity emerged two schools of thought: The Revivalists and the Modernists.

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The Dilemma©link.springer.com

The Revivalists

They were a group of people who believed that post-independence architecture should portray the legacy of the older times as they supposed that it would lift the people’s spirits high by bestowing to them the sight of the good old days. They advocated connecting the pre-independence era to the post-independence period, thereby omitting the discontinuity caused during British rule.

The Modernists

In contrast to the Revivalists, the Modernists wanted to move forward with the times and embrace new technologies and possibilities. They believed that architecture should express freedom and prosperity rather than culture and tradition. They envisioned the architecture of independence as a distinct style of its own, not repetitive or borrowed.

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What initiated as a school of thought very soon became a political statement questioning people’s patriotism.

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Architect’s Dilemma©medium.com

Architecture has always been a sensitive matter that is highly subjective. Before India became independent, the question that concerned architects was how much Indianization the British would concur. And, after India’s victory, the big question now transposed to how much Indianization could the newly independent nation present without looking weak and backward in people’s eyes.

Nationalists vs Anti-nationalists

Nationalism and patriotism was the most intense emotion collectively felt by an entire nation after India won its independence. Therefore, the revival of traditional architecture felt like the most obvious choice to many. People perceived modern techniques and styles to be foreign and consequently conceded that they represented the Colonial rule over India. Eventually, ‘foreign’ became synonymous with ‘anti-national.’ Thus, people regarded architecture as a political tool rather than a habitual built environment. On that account, many politicians publicly supported the idea of revivalism with the desire to design buildings that represented the golden era. 

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In pursuit of new identity©blog.thomascook.in

The Pursuit of New Indian Identity

While the debate continued, a group of intellectuals supported the idea of the prime minister’s idea of architecture responding to the context w.r.t the time frame of genesis. The way out of the debate was to create an architectural style that was not imitated and concurrently symbolized the era of economic development of the country. While the discussion on architectural style raged throughout the decade, the 1950s also saw a significant expansion of architectural education. Some architects like Charles Correa, B.V. Doshi, Raj Rewal, and Achyut Kanvinde came back to India after completing education and training in western countries, which resulted in strong architectural character. (Sebastian and Ravishankar K.R 1469)

The Distinct Approach: In Quest of Identity

The post-independence architectural expressions categorized into five distinct approaches are unified with the common desire to posit the dynamism of the newly independent country. They are:

Plastic or geometric forms exploiting the potential of concrete

New built forms derived by exploiting the structural strength of the concrete became a new trend. Concrete is a material rarely used in traditional Indian vernacular architecture but, this approach opened avenues for architectural exploration.

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Le Corbusier’s one of the most prominent buildings, the palace of assembly, Chandigarh, is a perfect example of this approach that boasts this architectural style and philosophy.

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The palace of assembly, Chandigarh©thespaces.com

The new language of brick and concrete

Minimalistic but bold forms using exposed bricks supported by the concrete structural frame was another approach that responded to the micro-climatic parameters, making the buildings were location-specific.

Louis Kahn’s iconic building – IIM Ahmedabad, built along the lines of this approach, uses bricks extensively, limiting concrete usage blending modern and traditional styles to engender climate-responsive solutions.

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IIM Ahmedabad©ignant.com

Brutalism – bold and aggressive articulation of structural elements

Very soon followed that approach to create visual markers and genius loci by articulating unconventional shaped structural frames that addressed the extreme climatic conditions to create a better-built environment.

Raj Rewal’s permanent exhibition complex in new Delhi, characterized by its truncated pyramid form structural space frame, posits the Brutalist approach.

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The permanent exhibition complex, New Delhi©pinterest.com

Harmonizing with the micro-environment

Even though all the approaches were in tandem with the climatic and socio-cultural context, certain places required supplemental consciousness because of the extreme climatic conditions. Therefore, extensive use of passive thermal strategies became the design concept that incorporated elements like courtyards, jali screens, sun shaded vaults, which gave rise to the planning principles.

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Charles Correa’s Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad follows a series of built and semi-built spaces flowing into each other to create a space that unites with the surrounding natural context.

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Sabarmati ashram, Ahmedabad©archeyes.com

Regionalism

This approach showcased the modern take on the traditional principles and values. The buildings showcased the traditional town planning principles, the Vedic principles, scrutiny of the prevailing socio-economic circumstances, and climatic response.

Laurie Baker’s architecture style emphasized the regionalism aspect substantially. He promoted the use of locally available materials to generate affordable and sustainable solutions. The Laurie Baker center in Kerala advocates his principles to create humble adobe that blends in with nature.

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Laurie Baker Center©lauriebakercentre.org

The New Identity

Although all these buildings utilize modern construction technologies, they do not pose as representatives of the contemporary style of architecture. The forms derived from the vernacular architecture and traditional principles were adapted to the existing context, thus adding the Indian flavor to the buildings marking the identity of independent India.

Bibliography

  1. Sebastian, Sofia, and Ravishankar K.R. POST INDEPENDENCE ARCHITECTURE IN INDIA : A Search For Identity in Modernism. 7 ed., vol. 5, Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research (JETIR), 2018, https://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIRC006253.pdf. Accessed 24 July 2021.
Author

Archana is a lover of architecture, a dreamer of Pritzker, an admirer of nature, a painter with words, a photographer of aesthetics, a thinker of design concepts, a writer of thoughts, an executioner of challenges, a follower of Harvey Specter, a collector of memories, and an appreciator of life...

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