The architecture enables us to experience places, spaces, culture, and heritage on a daily basis. We all look at architecture and are often mesmerized. Seldom do we realize that we need a deeper understanding of the subject to be able to analyze and understand it for what it truly is worth. History-architecture-culture-community goes hand in hand and is a representation of who we are, where we come from, where we belong, and what we stand for.
The world went through a process of rapid industrialization and urbanization. India, too, like most other countries, was slowly losing the hold over its roots and culture in a race to catch up with the West. Architects, developers, and policymakers alike were fascinated by tall glass facades and skyscrapers crowding the horizon. The result: most cities lost their identity. Today Mumbai, Kochi, Hyderabad, and Delhi have similar-looking skylines when in fact, they all have diverse cultural and architectural heritage! They have all lost the individuality and uniqueness that they once had.
So much of our culture, heritage, and architecture has been lost to the West. We have often looked to the West to draw inspiration instead of looking within and creating our own narrative. It truly is our moral responsibility to safeguard our traditions and culture; so the future generations know their history and will be able to find their place in the world. India as a country has seen and accepted the uniqueness of every city and its respective culture. Each city had its own space and architecture that resonated with the city’s requirements, its people: their needs and wants, religious beliefs of the communities residing there, as well as the knowledge and heritage passed on from generations together.
The architecture of today is a reflection of the society we currently live in, but we often overlook the references we have drawn from our past, from our rich cultural heritage, from our ancestors, and continue to design in silos. It was only in the recent past that we, as a community, have realized the importance of our culture and heritage; and are now actively making efforts to go back to the crux of our heritage and dig deeper to better understand it. Most of the architecture community today wants to build responsibly; we are driven by ideas left behind by our ancestors, the current climate crisis, and the need to act upon it as an industry contributing to a large chunk of the carbon footprint.
Listed below are seven references from our past that impact the architecture today:
1. Climate Responsive Architecture
Almost all the architecture back in the day designed spaces to suit the climate of the region it was built in. Whether it was sloping roofs in areas with heavy rains, courts, and courtyards in hot and humid climates, jalis in a hot and dry climate, so on and so forth. We have tried to build without really taking the micro-climate into consideration and have faced catastrophic results due to the same. Architects today are making an effort to study the micro and macro climate of a region before starting the design process.
2. Safeguarding Arts and Crafts
Art and crafts have always been an inseparable part of Indian architecture, whether it was the cave paintings in Ajanta and Ellora, rock-cut cave temples at Aihole-Pattadkal-Badami, the extensive wood carvings at the Padmanabhapuram Palace, the Lippan kaam on Kutchchi houses, and SO much more! Today, we are trying to stay true to our heritage by using the right tools, equipment, materials, and authentic techniques. Enabling craftspeople by employing them to appreciate their art/craft for what it is worth must become the norm, and people are slowly trying to understand that. Architects and designers alike realize and acknowledge craftspeople’s contribution to helping curate mesmerizing spaces with unique experiences.
Traditionally, locally available materials were given precedence over other materials to reduce additional transportation and labour costs, thus the load on the environment. Today we see architects promoting the use of mud, clay, brick, bamboo, stone, wood, and more. The onus to address this need of the hour is on the architects, designers, developers, and policymakers to ensure we design sensitively and consciously.
4. Adaptive Reuse
We are also resorting to measures like adaptive reuse to breathe new life into old buildings. This certainly helps conserve our heritage monuments whilst also giving them a changed use and prolonged life.
Architecture then was immensely contextual; people were in tune with their surroundings and thus mindful. Architects today must take a cue from our past and make a deliberate effort to be more aware of the environments we design in. Intuitiveness and mindfulness are key.
6. Community-Driven Architecture
India as a country has always been community-driven. We have had communities living together in large houses: Wadas, Chawls, and Palaces with people sharing common spaces and having very little to no private spaces; now we have high-rise residential towers and the newly emerging co-living spaces with a similar concept.
Sustainability as a concept has been a huge aspect of our culture; whether it was reverence for nature and the urge to pay respect by giving something in return or being conscious of where we live and ensuring we do nothing but protect it; we are now deriving meaning out of it to better understand it. References from heritage and our culture not only highlight sustainability as a concept but also shed light on the simple idea that architecture, more often than not, is a reflection of the society we live in.
Drawing references from our past has not only helped us connect better but has also had a bigger impact on all aspects of our lives in general. Architecture doesn’t always have the same look, it must definitely evolve with time, but it should also always be aware and mindful of its roots. We must learn to take references from the past and modify them to suit the current requirements. Looking back and taking inferences does not mean we stop progressing and look backwards; it only means we take the learnings from our past to build a better future.