Architectural Expression

Ever since it was announced in the Parliament of India, that the Government was considering the formulation of a National Policy on Architecture, the question has been agitating the minds of all architects. A National Policy has several aspects but that of the Architectural Expression is the most important one as it is the sum total of all the other aspects.

India has embarked on a policy of planned economy. We have successfully completed the First Five-Year Plan and the Second Five-Year Plan is being implemented. The main object of these is the welfare of the people. This object has set before the people an immense task and specially for a country which suffered under a foreign rule for a hundred and fifty years with all its evils of low standard of living, lack of amenities like housing, medical aid, opportunities for scientific and technological progress. Social welfare of 400 millions assumes a colossal proportion. It was, therefore, natural that the object could be achieved by setting goals by way of Five-Year Plans and assessing results. All these amenities cannot be provided without building activity. In the Second Five-Year Plan alone, in a total outlay of Rs. 4,800 crores, the building activity would be to the tune of Rs. 1,000 crores. The National Government, therefore, assumes the role of the biggest builder in this country and the building activity covers every field of national activity. Under these circumstances, if the Government were to formulate a National Policy on Architectural Expression one could boldly say that the fate of architecture, for good or for bad would be sealed for a very long time to come. Yet the Government cannot be blamed for the simple reason that being the payer it has got a right to call the tune. But a democratic government represents the collective conscience of the people and the architects as citizens concerned most with it, can influence the formulation of this policy for the good of architecture.

Whatever policy the Government adopts, let us find out why it felt the need for formulation of a policy. India became free only in 1947 and before that the alien government fostered a style purely classical in outlook with a few Indian motifs incorporated in it. It was a borrowed expression to suit the aspirations of imperialist rulers. It is as it were India remained completely isolated from all the forces that moulded the Architectural Expression in the progressive countries of the world. Then suddenly after Independence, India has been experiencing a period of building activity wherein all sorts of expressions are used. The layman is confused and bewildered and the Government may find itself in a similar predicament. Since the Government is the biggest single builder, it may justifiably feel that it should bring about a harmony in an apparent confusion in expression and hence the desire fora National Policy.

It is most interesting to note that the different countries of the world have different traditions. They have experienced periods of varying architectural activity. But no country, whether at the zenith of an architectural epoch or the lowest depths of its decline, has ever formulated a policy on Architectural Expres- sion. The reason is that Architectural Expression does not spring from preconceived ideas, nor is it a face-lift applied according to the Government’s ideas about aesthetics. The history of architecture in this respect is revealing. Ever since the primitive man found an abode in the cave and made it home, the expression of this place— his habitation is in evolution. The various stages he reached in the evolution marks the stage of his knowledge about methods and materials of construction, the effect of climate, the state of society and his aesthetic sense. Successive stages show his never-ending search for better forms, materials of construction to fulfil his social and spiritual aspirations. When these forms show his advanced knowledge and also aesthetics, it is an architectural epoch. When it is merely old forms put on new conditions, it shows a decline. Let us illustrate this example. The Greeks found the trabeated style—the column and lintel method of construction most suit- able for their construction. This particular method set limits on construction, e.g., in the span between the columns because of the nature of material used. But they developed and perfected it and gave the world the Greek Orders. Their buildings express their free state of society, their devotion to religion, their love for drama and sports and above all their aesthetic sense. The Greek is a glorious period of archi- tectural activity, The period was followed by the Roman which with the newly invented concrete and by the employment of arch, vault and dome, made specta- cular architectural works like the amphitheatres, basilicas, temples, thermae, etc., possible. Since their materials and methods were largely independent of local building methods, their architecture was reproduced in all parts of their empire. Their works show a virile and imperious race using their constructive abilities to the glories and service of an expanding empire. This period shows another stage of Architectural Expression.

However, the dark ages which followed the Roman period shows a decline in architectural activity as neither new principles of construction evolved nor new materials found. The expression is, therefore, essentially an old one borrowed to suit new needs.

These instances go to show that only two alternatives are possible in the formulation of a National Policy on Architectural Expression. The first one is the dynamic policy, a policy based on evolution of expression suited to the social needs and in keeping with technological progress of this age. The other alternative is a static policy—a policy which springs from a set of preconceived ideas imposed on the designer irrespective of the technological progress and social needs of the times. The former is not only an expression of the age but also a precursor of the shape of things to come. The latter will only serve as a rigid instrument of channelling all creative abilities in a narrow groove of Architectural Expression.

There is an inherent danger in a static policy as it would be based on preconceived ideas of traditional architectural forms. There is a tendency to hark back to our traditions and adopt or modify from the traditional forms, to suit present-day needs. Many countries like ours in the world have long architectural traditions, but for that reason they have not adopted traditional expressions. We would not prefer our fountain pens to be shaped, like crowquills nor our cars shaped like mythological chariots, howsoever we may revere them. They have served in their own times. But a fountain pen and a car have to be fountain pen and car—their forms designed to serve us most efficiently. If we would not accept cars, trains, aeroplanes and even the furniture and clothing in any form other than the most efficient, one fails to understand why there should be an insistence on traditional forms being adopted for present-day buildings which would not find parallels in our tradition.

Let us consider the points that weigh in favour of dynamic policy. We never lose an opportunity to express that ours is a dynamic age and it is true for several reasons. In the history of India, this is the first time, that the country has a democratic sovereign government with different States as federating units. This is a unique phase in the Indian history. The Government has embarked on a huge programme of public welfare—such a programme was never undertaken before. This programme aims at the betterment of the common man—who was of little importance before. To make this desired objective of the policy possible we have the handmaid of technology and scientific progress. We are on the threshold of an atomic age. This country is dotted with dams, river-valley projects, power plants, steel mills, fertilizer plants and hundreds of industrial enterprises and community development projects that speak for the concern of the Government at bringing to the common man a reasonable standard of living. This, therefore, shows a basic change in the government of this country and, therefore, the Architectural Expression must speak of this basic upsurge.

Materials and methods play a dominant part in the Architectural Expression and their knowledge and their use has been confined to particular countries because of several reasons. These produce a variety of expressions. Knowledge is not confined today to one country nor are methods and materials. They have become universal in application. What would be achieved in one part of the world, is possible in any other provided one has the will to do it. Even the factor of climate would not play such a dominant part, if it was possible for us to create comfort conditions economically through our scientific knowledge. This is an era which could be marked for:

  1. basic change in the concept of the government,
  2. universality of the knowledge of materials and methods of construction,
  3. identity of requirements of the modern society,
  4. removing of barriers between nations and the effect of economic conditionson them.

This, therefore, is a dynamic age and calls for a dynamic policy in expression, a sort of a visionary policy, which sets no limits on the designer but allows his creative abilities to harness the immense strides of scientific and technological advancement in the service and fulfilment of the needs of our society.