From the vantage point of 2012, 1962 seems very far away.
A time when words such as development, nation-building, progress and growth were still looked at with innocent eyes. The world was divided into blocks, rival ideologies were fighting, and man had been to space and would soon inevitably conquer the moon. India, hitherto the land of peace, would soon enter the race, having already flexed its military muscle, whether reluctantly or otherwise. Gujarat, a new state with its own legislature, had come into existence 1960, at the culmination of a sometimes-violent Mahagujarat movement.
The first hints of the not-too-pleasant connotations of those keywords – development, nation- building, progress, growth – were just beginning to be perceived by some thinkers all over the world. As the material, technological and ideological race revved up, the effects of it on human societies began to become uncomfortably apparent.
In the field of Architecture, what had seemed like certainties and dogmas of modernism were no longer at the forefront of thought. A deeper questioning of what architecture was supposed to do, and about how to make architecture and urbanism, about the rapidly eroding diversity of locales and their climates and their distinct forms, about the monotony and banality of technology-based approaches….. all these kinds of doubts were in the air even while the profession carried on regardless. In the critical writing and in the work of this period, one feels a dead end and the possibilities of a new beginning, not yet arrived.
The Curriculum of 1963 reflects the complex and exploratory mindsets that form the gene- pool of this school. Ambitious in scope, comprehensive in coverage, combining biology, sociology and geography; geology, physics chemistry and mathematics; arts and the humanities… this document seems to train not only an architect but create a multifaceted individual. Amazingly, no mention is made of any kind of architectural projects or themes or subjects of design study prescribed at any level!
The document shows remarkable boldness of approach and scant respect for “established norms”. This document hints at the energy and the continual honing of ideas and approaches in an environment being built by several young, able, motivated and capable professionals. Equally, the language and structure of the chart suggests the competing ideas that were creatively engaging to make this environment.
Interestingly, this early curriculum lays great emphasis on field learning, both at the beginning of the course as well as periodically in summers. This foundational document and what it hints at, and suggests, and sometimes reveals, will haunt all those who think of the future of the school, and will challenge them with its freshness, liveliness and boldness.
By the early and mid 1970’s, the School of Architecture is no longer the maverick venture of young professionals, but is known and respected in the country and the world. Expectations rise. What started as a non-establishmentarian activity is now thought of as a blueprint of success in architectural education. The establishment is willing to provide support to this hitherto unsupported venture.
The decade has also seen change in what the world is like and what India is like. International aid bureaucracies take an interest in economies and cultures. The environment and the effects of growth are subjects of concern and worry. The idea of well-developed professions is beginning to emerge.
The national mood changes from participation in an adventurous new enterprise to a more settled buckling down to the nitty-gritties. In Gujarat and Ahmedabad too there is a change of mood, the hitherto new state is beginning to institutionalize its structures of governance. Leadership which was connected to the professions, now becomes broader-based and less monolithic. The situation is fluid and somewhat unpredictable.
The spirit of the curriculum of 1976 is different entirely from the first curriculum. Government policy and a standardized pattern of education are mentioned in the first line as the basis of the curriculum!
This of course is in response to the change over, at a national level, from an 11-year school system to a 10+2 system as the entry base into higher education. Yet the change is far more fundamental than an adjustment of teaching content from a six to a five-year pattern. There appears to be a major shift in emphasis from “a culture expressing itself”, “ an organism in an environment”, “meaningful insights” - to “a sound technical base”, “easy transition to a professional career”, “a systematic analytical approach”, “problem-solving and decision- making process” !
Thus the curriculum at this stage perhaps rounded out, perhaps radically modified, the approach to learning architecture.
The decade of the eighties brought about a process of a radical revaluation of the project of modernity. Both theoretically as well as in practice, in politics as much as in the humanities and the arts, the idea of a singular and universal world culture began to be questioned.
India too saw a change… the idea of projecting the culture of India abroad and of giving greater value to the traditions at home can be seen to be part of this process of moving away from the ideal of a universal culture. Perhaps the greater articulation of sub-cultures as part of the political process was reflected in the arts including architecture.
The curriculum of 1988 for the first time explicitly itemizes the Indian context in terms of an inheritance of history and philosophy. Rootedness in society is mentioned. Though skills, disciplines and professional competence are mentioned, the social and historical awareness are the base.
In an interesting maneuver, the curriculum sets up larger goals and a context of reference in order to balance against the idea training for professional competence. A tension between the clear adventurousness of the first curriculum, and the somewhat conservative second curriculum, seems to persist behind this clear and well-organized statement of intent.
The new millennium exhibits a now clear-cut break with the premises of enlightenment modernism, at least in terms of ways of doing things. The ideas of egalitarian, free and just societies seems now to be explored in a different way. The old institutions of nationality are challenged by global economy and culture.
India too is part of this dynamic but unsettling process. Cities grow apace as the economy changes. Architectural patronage and therefore intentions equally change. Media and tools for information transmission and exchange transform the educational process and platform, as much as they change the profession itself.
The 2001 curriculum uses the framework of the 1988 curriculum, but attempts to state the new conditions point-by-point. The Environment, Technology, Cultural Dimensions, Value System and the change in the Profession are all mentioned as needing attention. The need to understand and address urbanity is explicitly set out. Indian conditions and tradition continue to be mentioned, but some anxiety about the ongoing change can be sensed.
Perhaps this last curriculum suggests what we need to think about for the future. Certainly seeing and understanding the evolution of the curriculum at the school is an essential base for future thought.
- Prof. Neelkanth Chhaya, Dean Faculty of Architecture