Human life has thrived on its adaptability to new environments and its ability to come up with simple solutions to make life easier. It is these solutions, discoveries and inventions that have kept the wheel of civilisation in motion. The inspiration behind such discoveries is usually an attempt at problem-solving or something out of the box that popped in the mind of the creator.
In modern times, it is often cinema, a figment of one creator’s imagination that appeals to the curiosity of another, that resulted in some of the greatest inventions known to mankind today. We, as human beings, live in the real world but cinema appeals to that part of our brain that wishes for an alternate reality, feeding on what we believe isn’t conceivable in the real world as an escape from our everyday miseries. Who would have come up with something as bizarre as the mobile phone? Well, it was Captain Kirk‘s communicator from Star Trek: The Original Series that motivated Martin Cooper to invent the cellphone.
Buildings are no exception to this. The Gregorian House Hotel in London draws inspiration from the Hogwarts School from the Harry Potter Series. Rem Koolhaas came up with the design for the Casa du Música in Portugal after seeing the Sandcrawler vehicle in Star Wars.
However, not all discoveries are met with welcoming arms. For instance, Copernicus was called a lunatic for believing that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way round. Similarly, when Gustave Eiffel was criticised for the design of the Eiffel Tower who knew that the world would recognize the city of Paris for this very marvel?
With the kind of technology at our disposal today, who’s to say our cities wouldn’t look like they’re straight out of some sci-fi movie a few years down the line? Who’s to say that Marvel’s idea of Wakanda is a myth or Xandar light years away?
Accomplishing Greater Heights
The Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 was the turning point in the history of architecture. Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace serves as the foundation of industrialisation in architecture. The industrial revolution led to the concept of mass production. No field was left untouched by this phenomenon, including architecture.
Glass and steel, the new building materials with their ease of availability, mass production as a modular unit and cheap cost made it immensely popular. No wonder with the onset of the Chicago Style of architecture, skyscrapers instantly struck a chord with the fascinated public and architects at the same time.
With the realization of the potential of concrete as a building material, the face of architecture began to be remoulded. Reinforcements were added to form Reinforced cement concrete. Le Corbusier’s works are a living example of the fluidity concrete as a material has to offer. From the Notre Dam in Ronchamp to the Legislative Assembly complex in the city of Chandigarh, cities took up this modular building design and transformed it into concrete jungles.
As Neri Oxman puts it, “At least since the Industrial Revolution, the world of design has been dominated by the rigours of manufacturing and mass production. Assembly lines have dictated a world made of parts, framing the imagination of designers and architects who have been trained to think about their objects as assemblies of discrete parts with distinct functions.”
The Dawn of a New Era
To keep up with the requirements of the fast-paced world, a new style of architecture called ‘Futurism’ was developed in Italy in the 20th century with the idea of ‘La Città Nuova’ or New City by Italian architects Antonio Sant’Elia and Mario Chiattone. The buildings were characterised by their massive scale with elements that gave an impression of motion and urgency.
Over the years, this movement was modified to suit the people’s needs and beliefs to ultimately give rise to Neo futurism. The technologically advanced structures that seem to defy all rules of structural mechanics and possibly gravity were the architect’s expression of modernism.
Eero Saarinen’s buildings were free sculptural designs. The curvilinear forms of structures designed by Zaha Hadid were representative of the ease of flow they offered to the users.
Vocal for Local
The modern materials helped architects give concrete form to people’s ideas of a technologically driven tomorrow. However, it has led to environmental degradation on a large scale. Today, the trend is to build sustainable buildings. Architects have started sensitising their design, going back to their roots and using passive techniques.
While some develop climate-responsive structures using modern materials to blend in with the other buildings, others are bold enough to ditch modern cement and steel. They have taken up to establishing visually appealing forms set in the current times but switching to a vernacular approach in terms of materials, method of construction and design interventions.
Raj Rewal, the pioneer of modern architecture in India post-independence, believes in a global outreach for his buildings while being rooted in the local region. The first Indian recipient of the Pritzker Prize, BV Doshi primarily built educational institutions, redefining modernism in the Indian context.
Charles Correa resorted to traditional materials and methods to serve the urban poor. Laurie Baker, the ‘Gandhi of Architecture’ used architecture as a means to uplift society through his low-cost housing projects. Revathi Kamath, the Pioneer of Mud Architecture in India, devoted her life to designing contemporary vernacular structures.
“I have studied century-old village buildings of various sizes, to validate my argument about their durability, longevity, thermal comfort, bio-sensitivity and cost-effectiveness. Pick any old structure when cement was not available and notice how they still stand the test of time with little or no degradation,” says architect Malaksingh Gill who designed recyclable homes sans steel and cement.
The Impending Hurdles
The influx of population in urban areas led to space constraints and hence the inevitable vertical sprawl. But think about 50 years down the line, when buildings would have covered every inch of land even clearing forests, filling dump yards or reclaiming land.
Architects today have come up with creative solutions to optimise the usage of space and resources. Steel shipping containers are used to build ‘Container Homes’. Travel enthusiasts literally live on the wheels, having transformed their vans into homes. Architect Arun Kumar built a double occupancy house with a bedroom, toilet and kitchen on top of an auto-rickshaw at a minimal cost of Rs. 1 lakh. The 36-sq ft portable house on wheels is called ‘SOLO.01’. The architect says:
“My objective is to use small scale architecture and show people what we can do with such tiny spaces. Also, portable housing can inspire better temporary housing for construction labourers and emergency housing during natural calamities”.
The latest addition to the list of problems an architect has to keep in mind while designing is the Covid-19 pandemic. Who knows what other complications the future has in store? All one can say for sure is that architecture in the future will be more demanding on the architects. But the coming generations are equally adamant.
In the era of Netflix and Chill, the Millennials and Gen-Z have virtually witnessed life in different dimensions of time and space, from the dry Sahara Desert to the cold Alps, from time travel to the quantum realm. Now that the future belongs to them, it would be unfair to categorize their ideas into existing theories. They yearn for creating a unique identity for themselves, setting them apart from their contemporaries.
With the kind of exposure they have, it is safe to say that they have the power and means to give wings to their whims and fancies, carving a niche for themselves in the collective idea of the future.