Modern Architecture in India has been evolving at a very fast pace in the past few decades. The reasons for this are numerous. It is an attempt to catch up with the leading economies across the world, and for this, we have been thoughtlessly mimicking practices from the western world and using it to accommodate the growing urbanization and industrialization. While it is considered “fashionable” to use materials like concrete steel and glass to make a statement, we are not ready to acknowledge how much it has robbed our cities of their cultural identity and forcibly morphed them into faceless concrete jungles. It is time Indian architects and planners realized that our towns and cities have to be urbanized, not blindly westernized.
India is the 2nd most populated, and the 7th largest economy in the world. An economy is only stable when the pace of urbanization is at par with the growth of industries. The sheer volume of this population is one of the main hurdles in the development of architecture organically. The rate of migration from villages to cities has been consistently increasing, and the metropolises in the country and expanding continuously. Cities, especially old ones, are bursting at their seams trying to accommodate this swelling mass of people. As a result of this, development is often hasty and therefore, more prone to failure. Different patches of settlements spring up according to the influx of people in a region (usual thanks to an industry). This is usually the mark of organic growth in an area- expansion according to requirement. The problem, therefore, lies in the piecing together of these patches. If the connections between an industrial are and its supporting residential region are good, the people living there thrive and grow. If not, then the problems arising from there only multiply.
It is though these problems that urban planners and architects today realize that a major intervention is necessary to save our cities. Solutions to problems in the west cannot be copy-pasted here. They will be rendered useless in the present context for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it is ruining the urban form of our cities and making them clones of one another. Street character, which used to be a highlight of every Indian city, is vanishing at an alarming rate instead of being appropriately incorporated into the urban fabric. Why should development not take the socio-cultural character of our people into account?
“The relentless repetition of the same building type across the Indian landscape is producing cities of essentially the same monotonous form” Rahul Mehrotra
There is a change-of-thought necessary in the minds of trainee architects and designers with respect to the process of building. Their work is not an individual entity, detached from the rest of its location. Each building in itself is a part of a city like a spoke is part of a wheel- a component of an intricate machine. Therefore, as manufacturers, the planners need to have the capability to envision how all these parts will come together so that the city can continue to function efficiently. And for land as topographically variant as ours, the rules for development need to have a very strong intrinsic basis. Concrete blocks on flatlands are a death knell for our varying landforms.
Ar Apurva Bose Dutta also talks about the changes in the role and duties of an architect in the urban development of our country in her essay titled “The Changing Culture of Architecture in Modern India.” She questions the ‘loss of identity’ as a result of ‘aping’ the western styles and calls for a time for ‘introspection’ and to ‘revisit the solid traditional roots’. She also mentions the changing role of an architect from a specialist to a master of many trades.
It is demotivating to watch developers and contractors try and replace architects, leaving them as mere signatories for permission. It is time for the modern Indian architect to reinvent themselves and bring other aspects of their training to the forefront and act as a collaborator between authorities and their clients- with the wisdom of a mediator and the intensity of an activist.
Ironically, the practices in the west are still not in tune with their climate and geography. In India, our heritage has so much to offer in terms of building practices and sustainable living. Architects like Laurie Baker, Laurent Fournier, BV Doshi,
Anupama Kundoo, Revati Kamath and Christopher Beninger have realized the need to go back to basics and re-form our architectural knowledge so we can try and rectify the wrongs we have made so far. They are leading a quest to redefine our lost identities and change our “westernized” mentalities so we can be proud of our culture and traditions.