“India always absorbed new things that came upon her unbidden and then used them for her own ends.” (Gast, 2007)

Historically one of the first architectural structures of India goes back to the 3rd century during Asoka’s Reign. Ergo, we are talking about a tradition that is approximately 1800 years old. In these years, the country was ruled, enslaved, drained and empowered. And in this devoid legibility, where do we place Architecture, as a synecdoche or a metonym for the undying memory of time periods.


Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition May 2021

Category: Essay: Complex Pasts – Diverse Futures
Participant: Sunena V Maju
Profession: Student
Country: ernakulam


In the transience of the 1930s, India hails the first wave of modernity in architecture. The western thoughts circulated by the British reign, marked an extend to understanding the concept of ‘modern’. Lutyens’s Delhi in 1911 started a turmoil of planning India cities in a more homogenized pattern while the common people of India were still conversing with the dynamicity of places. Post-Independence propaganda of a New India and Le Corbusier’s arrival as the new gospel of architecture showered the country with new perspectives of modernism and architecture. Sooner many architects irrespective of nationality stepped up to familiarize the Indian community to ‘modernized’ version of living. Charles Correa, B V Doshi and Raj Rewal being common references to this movement. However modernist ideologies mixed with influences of the Art Deco Movement created a new style of architecture in India which was adaptive to Indian traditional styles and region-specificity.

Indian architects and foreign architects collectively bend the sense of acquaintance people had to spaces to that of materials and its newness. This point of learning from the western and implementing them in a regional context laid the foundation for modernism in Indian architecture.

The extend of knowledge we have of traditional architecture is the parts and parcels of what is left and what is written in time. Though our interpretation of these historic structures simply derives notions from a translator’s visibility. The forts, palaces, courts and religious structures line up the upfront of our rich architectural representation. It is much arguable as to how much of history do we know and what part of that wasn’t a product of favoritism.

Debates also rise in the presence of motifs, sculptures and artworks in Indian Architectural structures way before western ideologies imparted Art Nouveau into the country. If we intend to think further on this scale, our traditionality itself is a glorification of the powerful and influential of different time periods. A hierarchy of sophisticated bourgeois placement of Western modernism over luxurious palaces and palaces over normalcy of Indian Streets. Howbeit, criticism of arguments is also subjective.

While we argue about what we know and what we must know, we keep going back and forth. The current architecture practices seem to blend the old and new to balance the dilemma. Some portraying many convincing stories of co-existing, some confusing the confused further. 21st century started looking for referential philosophies to the mystifying messages of old and new.

What is old to us? Everything that rose in witness to dynasties?

What is new to us? Everything we learned post-independence from the western world and reifying still?

In between this, what are we trying to make?

The scenario now is a state of dissolution between the hybridity and neutrality. The architecture of all times tried to glorify the era it belonged to. One may call architecture to be a never-ending ode of historicity but in today’s world when everything is skyrocketing to be globally viable, where are we taking the architecture of India to? This is exactly where the debate of modernizing traditional and traditionalizing modernity becomes much relevant.

Charles Correa while designing Jawahar Kala Kendra aiding to modernism then, used cultural iconography. Raj Rewal in the Indian Parliament Library translated the cosmological dimension in Indian ideology to transcript the domes. Don’t Lutyens’s Delhi slightly remind you of Nadyavartha town planning? In that scenario, Chandigarh resembles Chaturmukha without the social hierarchy. We can keep in finding similarities or start debating over the contradictions. But one cannot ignore the ‘Live and let live’ concept modernism in India heuristically upheld. There was something in every modern building which was Indian, which the common man could somewhat relate to. This is exactly what is missing in ‘modernity’. Though modernism and modernity look alike in many ways, the sense of

regionalism is what is distinct. This quandary of thoughts wasn’t a product of centuries but merely 60-70 years. We are debating 7 centuries worth of architecture to 70 years of understanding over a period of 7 years to conclude that we as a fraternity is confused.

Recent years have seen intellectual conversation on why we are understanding architecture merely through buildings and not as an entity of evolution in a city. Architects like Brinda

Somaya, Abha Narain Lambah and Pratima Joshi are working towards a community-oriented outlook to preserve and conserve. Works of Bejoy Jain, Benny Kuriakose and Nimish Patel are of much importance in concerns of conservation of heritage structure. These reforms in the need for conserving and restoring the existing heritage structures is where we are imparting an existence of traditionality in the otherwise modernizing society. These heritage structures are elements that have been through time and stood in places without changing over ideologies. Our cities are changing irrespective of needs and requirements. In this fast pace of urbanization and the trend to globalize everything to facilitate a larger user group, we tend to look for something that we can connect to. For this country that upheld its culture and rich heritage high up in the sky, these historic structures are all that doesn’t change over time. This is the identity we glorify universally.

The country is going to develop a lot more. India, it’s economy and industries will soon be important in the line ups of developing countries, people will immigrate and emigrate.

World Class technologies and opportunities will come flooding. In all these rushes of establishing a new era, all that remains as photographs are the architecture that doesn’t change. There will always be scope to blend old to new. A touch of memory and antiquity is never outdated. Nostalgia will never go out of style. But if we intend to modernize the old, we could be risking the last know pieces of history. We may be rewriting stories in our favoritism. The generations to come may be reading history in the light of architecture that contradicts the scripture. This fraternity of architects stumble upon folklores and questions the taught, they are determined to find connecting through the Translators’ Invisibility. We as a group, are confused but we are trying only to place the missing pieces in the right spaces and complete a puzzle we were given. We are looking for things unsaid and unheard, but we know to exist.

28.7041° N, 77.1025° E accurately noted for global understanding. Or should I summarise the numbers into verses like ‘the capital city of a country that celebrated its 73rd year of independence in 2020’ or simply Delhi. Somethings are better understood when we sense

                   in it.

The word you are looking for is ‘Familiarity’.

References

Dutta, A. A. B., 2018. Archinect. [Online]

Available at: https://archinect.com/features/article/150048645/the-changing-culture-of- architecture-in-modern-india

Gast, K. P., 2007. Modern Traditions: Contemporary Architecture in India. Germany: Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.

Lynch, K., 1972. What Time Is This Place. England: MIT.

Pallasmaa, J., 1996. Eyes of the Skin. Great Britan: Wiley’s. S, S. P., 2011. The Archi Blog. [Online]

Available at: https://thearchiblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/the-development-of-modernist- architecture-in-

india/#:~:text=Correa%20is%20the%20most%20important,in%20the%20spirit%20of%20Kahn.

Venuti, L., 1995. The Translator’s Invisibility. United Kingdom: Routledge.

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