Industrialisation, modernisation and westernisation were the key themes of economic and social development under the Prime-Ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru. At the apex of the social and economic pyramid, profound changes had taken place in both moral and material values since Independence. By 1960, the political, bureaucratic and industrial elite had emerged as the major patrons of architecture; with few exceptions, they now sought buildings which would project a ‘modern’ image of themselves and of the country.
The architecture of the sixties thus shares an unambiguous impulse to identify itself with Western life-styles and institutional frameworks. The choice for expression was obvious. It was as if India had only one option: the forms and images associated with what by then had come to be known here as the International Style. A new generation of architects who obtained their initial training in India returned from advanced studies in Europe and America. They injected a fresh vitality into the profession. Together with Doshi, Correa and the dozen or so young men and women who had worked under the Greats at Chandigarh, they became the new torch-bearers of Modernism.
By the early sixties, the focus of architectural awareness and patronage had shifted north from Bombay. Delhi, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad emerged as the principle sources of patronage. Delhi’s Master Plan of 1962, India’s first comprehensive land-use plan, initiated a vast programme for planned urban development. This created thousands of opportunities for architects who organised themselves in two basic formats: the small design office and the large firm. The large firms tended to specialise in projects where time was the most important factor, and innovation and quality were largely of secondary importance1. Both met important social needs, for the building requirements of India were vast and will continue to remain so for the next century.
By the sixties, the sheer visual impact of the Capitol Complex at Chandigarh began to be felt all over North India. Few architects could deny they had become more form-conscious as a result. Even Louis Kahn in his moments of insecurity would ask Corbu’s photograph, “How am I doing Corbu?”2. the impact of Chandigarh was felt even in Philadelphia. The younger architect directly exposed to the construction of Chandigarh were also exposed to new ways of handling old materials: brick and concrete were redefined as man-made construction materials and thus capable of expressing the innate handicraft skills of our construction workers3. For young designers in particular, notions of a finished building changed. These perceptions altered the look and feels of buildings by young architects in Ahmedabad and North India. Exposed brick-work and concrete were raised to a new aesthetic plane4. Thus the ‘form-consciousness’ of the sixties was also accompanied by a new consciousness of what could be achieved with the materials.
Another very significant impact of Chandigarh was that it gave architects in the north an opportunity of observe at first hand the process by which significant architecture is produced5. This started a new thinking process which questioned many existing trends. At Ahdmedabad, Doshi founded a new School of Architecture as a result of such questioning6. Together with Bernard Kohn and with advise from others including Kahn, the School drew up a new curriculum of studies so as to provide an intellectual base in the arts and applied sciences. The School at Ahmedabad tried to make intellectuals out of its students rather than professionals7. The Delhi School, which had introduced the international Style to its students a decade earlier, continued to benefit from its location. It had grown and expanded and was now known as the School of Planning and Architecture. Its faculty and students benefitted from the large-scale building activity generated by the new Master Plan, from several important architectural competitions, and from inter-disciplinary exposure within the School to the planning disciplines.
Between 1960 and 1974, six new schools were started, making a total of eighteen schools in the country. In 1972, the Indian Parliament passed the Architects Registration Bill, and subsequently the Council of Architecture was constituted under its provisions to oversee the welfare of the profession. In 1974, India had just 6,000 registered architects, and about 600 qualified town planners for a total population of 600 million people. The rate of urbanisation over this period had picked up and India’s urban population exceeded 130 million. Though architects succeeded in gaining wider social recognition of the value of their services, they were still too few in number to make a widespread impact on the quality of India’s built environment. For example, the phenomenal rate of growth of India’s capital cause acute concern and in 1974, the Government was obliged to set up the Delhi Urban Arts Commission to monitor building activities. The allied discipline of urban Design and Landscape Architecture emerged towards the end of this period, and a few stray voices were heard here and there protesting against the thoughtless destruction of old buildings, neighbourhoods, landscapes and traditional patterns of community life.
The architectural expressions of he period 1960-1974 show five distinct approaches. The fist approach is shared by Stein’s India International Centre and Rana’s Nehru Memorial Library. These works show a sensitive approach to harmonising with the local micro-environment that is reminiscent of the best traditions of Neutra and Wright.
The second approach explores the new language of exposed brick and concrete, used in tandem with a sophistication undreamt of in Chandigarh. The building for the National Institute of Design was the result of an imaginative collaborative efforts between its teachers and Gautam and Gira Sarabhai. In Kahn’s monastic Indian Institute of Management, he asked brick what it liked, and the brick said, “I like an arch”. In Raje’s Indian Statistical Institute, Kahn’s vocabulary of brick and concrete is carried further to an elegance that would have pleased the master.
The third approach in the sixties attempted to emulate the plastic forms of Le Corbusier. The majority of these efforts are deservedly forgettable for they lacked the seriousness of purpose Le Corbusier brought to his exploration of form and structure. Among the exceptions was the work of Shiv Nath Prasad. In his Sri Ram Centre, we see the full potential of reinforced concrete used to express distinct volumes and shapes growing out of distinct functional needs.
Thee fourth approach to design which may perhaps be remembered as a predominant one, was the creation of a generation influenced to different degrees by Le Corbusier, Jeanneret, Kahn, Tange, Stirling and Safdie. Through the work of this young generation shared a bold and often aggressive articulation of structural elements and forms, the resulting visual expressions varied considerably according to each architect’s handling of scale, materials and detailing. The pioneering work here was the Design Group’s Y.M.C.A. Staff Quarters. The treatment of exposed brick and plain shuttered bands of concrete, the staggered terraces all combined to produce a precedent which had a wide impact on subsequent private and public sector housing. In Morad Chowdhury’s Hindon River Mills Factory, the roof is innovatively suspended from fully exposed widespan concrete arches In Raj Rewal’s Exhibition Complex, we have a stunning image of technological progress which, ironically, was constructed using labour-intensive techniques. In Kuldip Singh’s Malviya Nagar housing, the play of cubistic forms on elevation presents a puzzling contrast to the philosophy of its site plan: it was the first housing layout to consciously simulate, on a large scale, the traditional rhythm of a pedestrian street punctuated with squares. The irony in Rewal’s Exhibition Complex and the puzzle implicit in Singh’s housing layout are amongst the fist signals we have that sub-consciously, if not consciously, this generation (then in its thirties) was attempting to express certain internal conflicts that had much to do with the mismatch between Western architectural forms and Indian social needs.
At a conscious level the signals began to gather momentum in the late sixties. Foreign architectural journals had begun to publish the work of Doshi, Correa, and the younger architects in the early sixties. One confession holds hat this exposure, while giving wide publicity to this generation, also made it more form-conscious, more egotistic, and aesthetic diversions – such as banishing the chajja - were indulged in, ignoring climatic necessities8. Furthermore, innovative Western forms and details were quickly and indiscriminately picked up by laymen and the commercial end of the profession, resulting in a chaotic repetition of various elements in everyday building9. The young profession of town planners unwittingly aided this process by creating repetitive residential layouts with a set of right bye-laws designed to create endless rows of boxes, the tedium relived only by the imagination of home-owners who specified their choice of colour, surface-treatment and applied decorations. Because of widespread Western influences, too many elements had been thrown into the ring for assimilation to take place. As a result ‘modern’ buildings had several features that performed no function10. There was bound to be a reaction.
The journey back from Chandigarh thus began in the late sixties. As with so many other movements, it began in the minds and perceptions of a few individuals.
Perhaps the country-wide celebration of Gandhi’s birth Centenary in 1969 also contributed to the sense of unease. Some began to look at our old heritage with new eyes. A new search began for appropriate solutions based on the traditional experience of town-planning, neighbourhood clustering, and climate control. Among the architects who examined, and wrote on, the relevance of tradition in those days were Correa, Sabikhi, Kanvinde an Uttam Jain. They were later joined by 1974 by A.M.N. Ganju, Joy Sen, Vasant Kamath, Romi Khosla and a few others. This latter group had a much more sharply defined ideological perspective on tradition. Reflecting currents elsewhere, they looked to the vernacular architecture created by the common men and women of India over the ages as a source of socially and economically relevant design ideas. This position amounted to a direct critique of the International style and its sponsors and practitioners11. It was as if the ghost of Claude Batley had returned to haunt a few architects.
The fifth and last approach in the architecture of 1960-1974 expresses the shift in social concerns discussed above. Two examples are presented. One by an architect who belongs to the mainstream, the other by one who has chosen to remain outside it. In Uttam Jain’s Lecture Theatres and Laurie Baker’s Centre for Development Studies, we see a shared concern for regional building vocabulary, use of local materials and local skills. Architecture is seen as handicraft.
- 1. Morad Chowdhury, Research Interview, Oct., 1984
- 2. Jaimini Mehta, Research Interview, Dec., 1984
- 3. Mahendra Raj, Op Cit.
- 4. Anant Raje, Research Interview, Dec., 1984.
- 5. Satish Gujral, Research Interview, Dec., 1984
- 6. Bruno Dias Souza, Research Interview, Nov., 1984
- 7. Anant Raje, Op Cit
- 8. Suryakant Patel, Research Interview, Dec., 1984
- 9. A.J. Talati, Research Interview, Dec., 1984
- 10. Gira Sarabhai, Research Interview, Dec., 1984
- 11. A.G. Krishna Menon & A.M.N. Ganju, The Problem, in Seminar, Aug., 1974, Pgs. 10-13