« In India, nothing to see, everything to interpret. »
Un Barbare en Asie, 1945
1947, India gains her independence.
Jawaharlal Nehru becomes Prime Minister and puts forward a courageous policy, which, without ignoring the deep traditions of this country, aims at bending them toward greater justice and generosity, as they face the ineluctable industrialisation1, so that India might avoid certain phases which industrial nations had already dealt.
In the fields of national planning, city planning and the architecture we are concerned with, an enormous task arose on the horizon. In spite of the problems caused by immigration towards the already over-crowded cities, the inexistence of sufficient means of transportation aside from railways (with varying track widths and impracticable during the monsoon season), thousands of dwellings had to be planned and built throughout the country, in rural areas a well as cities.
To deal with the problems of conceptualization and realization, the Indian Government had only a handful of high-level technicians who had been trained in foreign universities – mainly in Great Britain.
Thus, at the same time, it was essential to organize a network for teaching and training and even more importantly, to inculcate through education in general the importance in quantity and quality, of environmental planning and design.
Today, after almost forty years of independence, India has indeed still much to do in these areas, but a very favourable balance gives us hope that the awareness of the consequences and the example of certain realizations will allow her to face the beginning of the 21st century with the best possible chances.
We voluntarily restricted the scope of this publication, in both time and space, by selecting a few prominent examples.
In the field of contemporary architecture, we stressed the historical articulation of 1950/1960 a period which coincided with the work of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in India, but we left unexplored the influce of the colonial period and the later impact of other architects as Louis Kahn (which, being more recent, is harder to analyse). These influences did not appear to us as important in determining the new elements of a specifically Indian architecture.
In choosing the examples of traditional architecture, we looked for achievements which could not only present isolated architectural objects, but would also enable us to show the relationship to urban design, the specificity of the site, everyday life, and to emphasize the symbolic character the construction sought to express at a particular time of a civilization’s philosophical and historical evolution.
Our Indian architect friends have to ask themselves this question just as we do, and many answers are available already. With criticism moving as fast as propositions are made, we must remain modest when judging the fine line that separates mode and modernity.
Architecture of the “Modern Movement”, too often wrongly called “International Style”, in its fight against the academicism of forms, ahs laid the foundations for a new way of thinking about town planning and architecture. Thus, it engendered a new link with the real spirit of traditions and made possible the birth of a new architecture which is also specific to its particular time.
The media gave us access to problems in domains such as high technologies or various artistic expressions of a certain era. Perhaps architecture in its broader sense can be thoroughly understood when interpreted by a “foreign” country. Many people might gain a better understanding of the important role architecture plays in their everyday life.
Finally, I would like to support the appeal of Pierre Riboulet in his article asking that all international organizations help the realization of Chandigarh of the marvellous Governor’s Palace and its gardens a homage to the world culture and human generosity.
Then, the most precious symbol of Franco-Indian friendship, born from the exceptional encounter between a great political man, Nehru, and a great creator, Le Corbusier will take its due place in India’s sky.
The Open Hand,
“Full hand I receive, full hand I give.”
It will also be, more modestly, as symbol for men who work in the art of Architecture.
Jean-Louis Véret 2
- 1. An untranslatable word used in Hindi Language.
This reminds me of when Nehru was in Chandigarh for the inauguration ceremony in 1953. He made a speech in the Hindi language, with which I was not familiar. The only word I could catch was “industrialisation”. After having said the word several times, Nehru suddenly stopped his speech, turned towards his Minister of Culture, and asked him the Hindi word for “industrialisation”. There was a long talk between the Minister and other people but the answer came that there was no possibility of translating the word into Hindi.
And, laughing, Nehru went on with the speech saying: “Never mind, we’ll keep the English word!...”
- 2. Jean-Louis Véret began in 1945 his basic architectural education at the Beaux-Arts School in Paris. The teaching of G. Gromort and L. Arretche was mainly about Greek and Roman Antiquity, the Italian Renaissance and also about 19th century architecture, English gardens, small rural buildings etc.
In 1949-1950, during a trip around Africa, he met in Rabat, Morocco, he mat the town planner, Michel Echochard, an active member of the C.I.A.M and a great expert in Islamic architecture. The Sahara desert was to become the “zero point” of all architectural knowledge. He met Le Corbusier in 1952, while finishing his diploma, a team project with Pierre Riboulet and G. Thurnauer for the Islamic University in Fes, Morocco. This encounter enabled him to link previously acquired knowledge with reflexions on the future of human organisations, the basis of research towards a new architecture. The links past/present/future = roots/understanding/invention, in their relationship with everyday life and the transformation through art, then became the meaning of his architectural work, both when working alone or as part of a tem.
In 1952, Jean-Louis Véret began to work at the Atelier Le Corbusier on five projects for Ahmedabad. He went to India to setup execution plans and to survey the construction up to 1955. In 1957, he co-founded the “Atelier d’Architecture de Montrouge” along with J. Renaudie, Pierre Riboulet and G. Thurnauer. From 1958 until 1989 he pursued his works at the atelier with Riboulet and Thurnauer before he started working on his own. The “Atelier d’ Architecture de Montrouge” won a national award (Grand Prix National d’architecture) in 1981 for the totality of their work. Jean-Louis Véret was a visiting Critic at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1988-1887, and he is currently the professor of architecture at the National School of Fine Arts (Paris-La-Vilette, UP6).