Three giants of 20th century architecture, Lutyens, Le Corbusier, and Kahn, each spent over a decade in close contact with India. Their influence was bound to be enormous. By 1974, the last of these Masters had departed; Indian architects were now on their own, free to choose their own directions, free to interpret social needs according to their own conscience, free to shape the built-environment in any image of their choice.
With this freedom came a sobering realisation: the profession of architecture had touched the lives of barely ten percent of India’s population. The old debate on style was expanded to include the social, economic and ecological determinants of style; it could no longer be described in ‘us-versus-them’ terms or in a simplistic ‘modern-versus-traditional’ framework. The increasing sophistication of the Indian economy and growth impulses generated by public and private investment in several sectors and regions had seen to this. The issues had become far more complex. Among the economic determinants of style were choice and costs of building materials and the changing price relationships between land, labour, energy and materials. Among the social determinants of style, were shifts in cultural and material values and the ideological perspectives of designers. The ecological determinants of style included weighing the environmental consequences of depleting key natural resources to feed the vast appetite o the building industry. A few practitioners, teachers and students begun to consciously analyse these factors in the late seventies. The search for a new intellectual base for contemporary architecture thus began, and the search continues, with a far more realistic appreciation of the diverse needs of populations in diverse climatic and resource regions. The range, scale, and spirit of work either completed or at the conceptual stage in the period 1975-1985 testifies to a new confidence: there is no one single predominant stylistic trend. While several earlier trends do continue, these have often been modified and added to be fresh voices, and fresh approaches. There are more divergent views on architecture. This permits a wider choice of design philosophy1
. A small but significant number of works share a tentative concern for cultural relevance, continuity and regional identity, expressed through gentile forms and the occasional, shy historical reference to tradition. Six works, representing three generations, indicate some of the new directions in architecture over last decade.
In the new Moderns School designed by Sachdev and Eggleston, an older vocabulary of exposed brick (extensively used by Walter George in Delhi) is updated via Kahn to create deep arched recesses for sun-protection, and exposed concrete is used where it is most effective: in interior columns and ramps protected from rain. In Anil Laul’s innovative low-cost housing, roofs are of thin, concrete shells incorporating hessian and chicken-mesh; the overall form and fenestration details promote through cross-ventilation. In both these projects the response to climate is direct and effective, an attribute that was missing from much work in the sixties.
Doshi’s Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore is a significant milestone in his distinguished career. Its layout plan incorporates a series of squares and courtyards inspired by Fatehpur Sikri and generously articulated interior circulation spines recall the axiality and multi-functionality of South Indian temple galleries. Building facades are varies in treatment, as in the traditional architecture of Jaipur and Jaisalmer. A far more explicit example of a return to tradition is seen in Appukuttam Nair’s Kalakshetra theatre. Nair uses the traditional vernacular architecture of South India to create an ideal functional setting for the performance of classical dance and music.
Satish Gujral is a renowned painter, sculptor and muralist who has turned to architecture in recent years. As a reaction to the International Style, he has declared himself an anti-rationalist. His Belgian Embassy is conceived as a monumental geological formation of earthbanks and brick vaulting, with associations and images recalling domes, lingams, and various other tantric artefacts. And far from the capital city in the high-altitudes of Ladakh, Ram Sharma’s Central Institute of Buddhist Studies is now under construction. It is both a symbol of the outreach of the architectural profession into remote regions, and in its extensive use of solar energy for power generation and heating, a symbol of appropriate technology advance.
By 1985 India had a population of over 750 million. The number of qualified architects has grown from around 300 at Independence to 10,000 today. The ratio of architect to population has increased from 1 per 1,000,000 to 1 per 75,000. There are now thirty-four institutions offering architectural training. The directions architecture will take in the next few decades will be determined by what students and teachers are doing today, and in the attitudes, methodologies and ideologies likely to shape the content of architectural education in the near future.
- 1. B.V. Doshi, Research Interview, Dec. 1984