Mr. Chairman and friends, I have come here for a brief while this morning just to wish those people attending this Seminar and specially our younger architects, success in their talks here, meaning thereby a new fermentation taking place in the minds of this generation leading to more suitable types of architecture which fit in with conditions today and yet are things of beauty.
Mr. Humayun Kabir referred to the great temples of the South and the Taj Mahal. Well, they are beautiful. Some of the temples of the South, however, repel me in spite of their beauty. I just can’t stand them. Why? I do not know. I cannot explain that, but they are oppressive, they suppress my spirit. They do not allow me to rise, they keep me down. The dark corridors—I like the sun and air and not dark corridors.
However, architecture today can hardly be thought of, well, broadly speaking, in terms of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is, of course, one of the most beautiful things anywhere and it is a delight to the eye and to the spirit to see it. It represented, as all architecture represents to a large extent, the age in which it grew. You cannot isolate architecture from the age, from the social conditions, from the thinking, from the objectives and ideals of that particular age. In an age which is rapidly changing, like our present age, in fact since the industrial revolution came, that necessarily has a powerful effect on architecture.
Mr. Kabir referred to the static condition in regard to architecture in India during the last two, three hundred years. That really was a reflex of the static condition of the Indian mind or Indian conditions. Everything was static, not a question of architecture alone being static. Of course, that does not mean a country can ever be completely static—there are bright individuals and bright movements but taken as a whole India was static. In fact, India was static before that. Without being very accurate or precise, architecturally, for the last few hundred years, India was static, and the great buildings really date back to a considerable time. Even before the British came, we had become static. The British came because we were static. A society which ceases to change, ceases to go ahead, necessarily becomes weak and it is an extraordinary thing how that weakness comes out in all forms of creative activity. You see that weakness in our literature during this period. That again does not mean that big books were not written. Certainly some very fine books were written, but generally the Sanskrit language began to seed; a magnificent language, gradually it has became more and more repetitive: long sentences, ornate, lifeless except tingling songs and rhymes and all that. Take the early period of Sanskrit. It is a thing which strikes you in the head with its vigour and strength, its brevity; and then it becomes long winded, sometimes sentences going over two pages.
I think Milton once said that “Show me the language of a people and if I do not know anything about that people, I will tell you what they are, whether they are brave, or timid or adventurous, creative or not”. The language, of course, is the most subtle medium of a people’s thinking. So also architecture, and all the creative arts. They really are not something outside yourself, they something that is inside us. Either we have that in us or we have not. If we have not, well, you produce the copy of what other people have done. Architecture is influenced by a number of considerations but apart from those considerations, architecture like all creative arts is influenced, if I may use the word—it is often used and misused—by the life forces of a people. If they have that vitality in them it comes out in painting, in architecture, in poetry, in literature, in everything that they do, in life itself. If they have not got it then they are just pale copies of human beings, without the vitality of human beings and naturally their arts are pale copies too. And that is basic. You cannot produce by any school course or college course life forces in a people. That is there or it is not there or it may gradually grow. And quite apart from that basic consideration, architecture depends certainly on climate; it depends on functions: the functions the people living in those buildings or looking at them have to perform. It depends on the state of technological growth, that is to say on the material we use and obviously on the state of scientific and technological growth and on other factors too. Climate more or less is a permanent factor though even there to some extent, it can be overcome-not to a very large extent but internally, there has been always an attempt to overcome climate even in the olden days and those methods of overcoming it or, well, minimising the effect of climate have always been there. You may become more adept in doing it. The other factors, I said,—the function which a building is supposed to serve obviously has to govern it and the function a building serves depends to a large extent on the functions s that society is serving. There is often a lag between, as always in architectural designs or indeed the social framework, it lags behind the changes taking place in the technological field. There is an attempt to copy. Mr. Kabir referred to the great Gothic cathedrals which, in many ways were truly representative of the age in which they grew up. But in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, an age when the steam engine came and railway came and, when railway stations had to be built in later years, the architects of the day tried to make some of the big railway stations look as if these were Gothic cathedrals, which was perfectly ridiculous. They did not serve that function. They are not getting out of the clutches of the past.
The past was good when it was the present, but you cannot bring it forward when the world has changed into a technological period and put a Gothic cathedral and call it a railway terminus. It is ridiculous. I gave that example because there is always that tendency to do that and there is likely to be more of the tendency in a country like India where we hold fast to traditions more than in other countries. Now, traditions are good and specially when traditions are something unique and something elevating, but no tradition which makes you a prisoner of your mind or body is ever good, however good that tradition may be; you must accept tradition and not be coerced into it because every clement of coercion, mental coercion ultimately, I am quite sure, comes in the way of development of the creative arts and virtues. Sometimes, coercion may be helpful in a small degree. If you press a boy to send him to school and all that, it is a different matter. But otherwise, this kind of development of the individual suffers by coercion, traditional or modern.
Then, function governs. Of course, function has to. But perhaps the most important governing factor depends on technological advance in the material you use. Obviously you are limited by your materials. If technology goes on opening out new avenues and gives you more and more materials or gives you more and more power to mould those materials, and to use them, obviously all kinds of new avenues appear before you. And it is the use again of these new materials in forms, which were used when the elasticity of the materials was not available to people. This does not seem to me to be quite right. It is trying to copy some thing, some form, some design which was suited to a particular material and which may be suited to that still but is not suited to the new material. It becomes out of place and disjointed. The main thing—and I am glad that you have met here in this Seminar—is to look at all these aspects, changing aspects with a mind that is open and adventurous and seeking and creative, because today I do believe very good work is being done all over the world by creative architects. It is a delight to see plans and designs and pictures of this new work being done by architects all over the world.
At the same time, of course, there is another aspect of it which is rather painful to see,—of pictures, designs of other works done by architects who seem to think that beauty can come only by mere size which, of course, is not at all a correct notion. So, it is good to discuss these matters and it would be good if you are not afraid of innovations. Therein you have to come across solid thought in front of you and that is the PWD which has its own specification, its own ways. It is not the fault of the PWD. It is quite inevitable when this kind of thing is done by any official department on a large scale. They have to have specifications; they cannot possibly let loose everybody to do what they like. The result may be exceedingly good occasionally and exceedingly bad some times. Anyway the poor PWD has to answer in Parliament. But even the PWD can do two things: one is, of course, to revise the antiquated rules and bring them up-to-date. I use the word “antiquated” in the sense that they were drawn up when they dealt with not exactly the materials we use today or, even if they did, they dealt with them in a different sense; secondly, it is not necessary always to aim at putting up well, a normal building to last a hundred years. It is not necessary at all. In fact, it will be better for them to be knocked down and after a few years a better one to be put up. Anyhow it is desirable, that new rules and regulations should be framed. It surprises me, for instance, why some people go on putting up enormously thick walls when all over the world partitions are much thinner and stronger. In the old days of course—I have lived in houses in Uttar Pradesh built about 100 years ago—walls were 13ft. thick, kacha walls.
Now I have welcomed very greatly one great experiment in India, which you know very well, Chandigarh. Many people argue about it, some like it, some dislike it. It is totally immaterial, whether you like it or not; it is the biggest job of its kind in India. That is why I welcome it. It is the biggest because it hits you on the head, because it makes you think. You may squirm at the impact but it makes you think and imbibe new ideas and, the one thing that India requires in so many fields is to be hit on the head so that you may think. I do not like every building in Chandigarh. I like a few very much, I like the general conception of the township very much, but what I like above all is this creative approach, not being tied down to what has been done by our forefathers and the like, but thinking out in new terms, try to think in terms of light and air and ground and water and human beings, not in terms of rules and regulations laid down by our ancestors. Therefore, Chandigarh is of enormous importance regardless of whether something in it succeeds or something in it does not succeed. As a matter of fact, even now many things in Chandigarh have spread, many ideas, in small ways and big ways. Chandigarh, as you well know, is more famous in the world than most Indian towns or cities excepting the well-known three or four, simply because it is a thing coming out, it is a thing of power coming out of a powerful mind and if you want anything of power, it must come out of a powerful mind, not a flat mind or a mind which is a mirror, and that too not a very clear mirror, reflecting somebody else’s mind. There is no doubt that Le Corbusier is a man with a powerful creative type of mind. Because he has that, he may become extravagant occasionally. He can produce extravaganza occasionally, but it is better to have that than to have a swelled head with no mind at all. Mr. Winston Churchill was once accused of having a swelled head. His answer was “It is better to have a swelled head than no head at all”.
So I hope that your deliberations will not only profit by the experience of the past but rather be guided in terms of the present, the social functions of today, and of what we have to do. We cannot obviously, even if we have the capacity, build Taj Mahals now. It does not fit in with the society today. You make something lovely to look at, but just can’t do it if it won’t fit in. It must have to do with function. Anything you build must be full of the beauty that useful things have. I do not suggest that all things that are useful are necessarily beautiful, not at any rate in the ordinary sense of the term. They may be ugly, but in the ultimate analysis a thing that fits in with its functions is beautiful whether it is a human being or whether it is a house. Human beings today, for instance—I do not want to be personal—but let us take some of our princes or lords and ladies and the like. They performed some function, a couple of hundred years ago, which fitted them in society. Today they are functionless, they float about. And so long as they do not find some function as individuals, they float about and gradually become more and more, shall I say, ghost-like. So, in the same way, you can’t have buildings, ghost-like buildings because they resemble some past period. They have to fit in with the work and functions of today and have, of course, such features which may be called representative of India’s background also. But remember that this business of European or Indian or Iranian and American architecture has certainly some substance in it but not so much as is made out. A modern European building, as you may call it, is a building coming out of industrialism. You may call it a building of the industrial age. If the industrial age comes to India, it will bring something like that but it will have to fit in with our function, climate, etc. So it is not European or Indian but something fitting in with the general structure of society, technological advance, climate, function, etc. The main thing today is that a tremendous deal of building is taking place in India and an attempt should be made to give it a right direction and to encourage creative minds to function with a measure of freedom so that new types may come out, new designs, new ideas, and out of that amalgam something new and good will emerge.
March 17, 1959