According to the 2011 census of India, 68.84% of Indians (around 833.1 million people) live in villages. Yet unfortunately, the idea of rural architecture still seems unfamiliar and unimpressive to the 21st-century architect, deeply absorbed in the city. Even in the cities, only 10% have the resources to engage architects in trained projects, and amongst this, a minuscule 1% do so. The interface of the architect with the community is 1%, and this encompasses the luxurious set of buildings, serving a minority of the population. This differential economic growth and uneven development have led to socio-spatial polarization between the high- and low-income groups.
“The soul of India lives in its villages,” said M. K. Gandhi at the beginning of the 20th century.
Source of quoted text: www.tripindia.co.uk
The problem does not end here. The present condition of the uneven development of housing and other amenities in rural areas compels its residents to migrate to urban areas for economic advancement and enhanced quality of life. India’s economic survey of 2018 estimates that the country’s urban population will reach 600 million (40% of the country’s population) by 2031. This raises two important questions. Firstly, “Are Indian cities prepared for such a huge influx of population?” and secondly (and more importantly), “Why aren’t we focussing on improving the condition of our villages?”
Rural architecture is not a realm in which an avaricious private investor will show interest, with its high investment and low, or sometimes even negative returns. Consequently, its upliftment is left to government bodies, self-help groups, and NGOs. It is, therefore, the social responsibility of the 21st-century architect to dedicate some time to their career to study and attempt to solve the problems of rural India.
Here, the architect needs to realize the difference between the mentality of the urban and the rural. While our cities have been exposed to modern western cultures, the villages are still intermingled with sensitive elements like culture, tradition, belief, and lifestyle. An even development does not imply blindly copying modern technologies of our cities to villages. The most blatant example of this is the replacement of thatched and kavelu roofs with concrete ones. The replacement adversely affected the thermal comfort of villagers by offering poor heat insulation. Moreover, it saw increased usage of fans and other cooling devices, thus increasing their electricity bills. Eventually, the role of the pucca house boiled down to nothing but a status symbol.
The blind copying of modern models further dampens the confidence of the villagers in their wisdom and traditions. The rural architecture of India needs to be conserved for its austerity and humanist approach. The limited efforts that are put into uneven development of rural architecture care little about rural sentiments (for example, PMAY-G). This is where the importance of the role of the architect is realized. Having studied subjects like sociology, human settlements, climatology, sustainability, planning, landscaping, estimation, specification, material properties, housing, sanitation, and much more gives us an edge to analyze a problem from different angles.
Besides, it can be a two-way give-and-take process. Rural India is where an architect can observe various principles of sustainability, social planning, and ecology getting practiced. Studying the rural situation could help an architect broaden their perspective, and the various local techniques learned could be beneficial for his/her future endeavors. Following a similar theory, the 2012 Pritzker Prize winner, Wang Shu, took a notable break from designing, committing instead to a decade of hands-on building experience where he learned directly from craftsmen. This later helped him develop his unique architectural style, deeply rooted in its context. Many architecture NGOs are working for the betterment of rural conditions in India, and the architect can work under them, and learn from the vernacular architecture of the village, its construction skills, and methods.
Furthermore, it would be beneficial to make it compulsory for young architects to stay in villages so that they can feel the pulse of its life, and get acquainted with the local materials. It would make them realize the importance of the time-consuming methods of surveying and researching, and would help them come up with solutions that blend modernity with tradition.
The article predicts the importance of the ethical responsibility of the architect to attempt to solve problems in rural India and thereby create a positive social impact. In a country like India, where rapid development has led to major polarisations, change does not come with interventions; it comes with involvement. It does not come with mere theory; it comes with action.
In the words of Pritzker Laureate, Charles Correa,
“We are only as big as the questions we address. And this, to my mind, is the central riveting fact of life for architects in the Third World. Not the size or value of the projects we are working on, but the nature of the questions they raise – and which we must confront. A chance to grow: the abiding virtue of a place in the sun.”