The universal approach in architecture is the cry of the day but an architectural esperanto is a far cry. The alphabet of Indian architecture is so unique and perfect that it should need no further esperanto treatment. Nevertheless, our job is to create the new language which will speak the freedom of India and can be read throughout the world.
Counter-point of architecture is civil engineering and the harmonic progression can be achieved only by fusion of the two and not by fission.
Architecture is the art and science of enclosing and cladding space created by nature. A true style, therefore, analyses the form and structure of such space. Nature also provides the necessary materials for clothing and cladding.
An architect, not unlike God, also geometrises. He creates formulas of extension, extension of space in terms of distance, width, depth and heights, the sum total of which again is space.
One weakness which is often displayed by architects is the superficiality and emphasis on display. Great architecture is both earthly and unique and intrinsically humble. And as Mies Van der Rohe has said, “humility should be the quality of the great architect”.
Liturgy of Indian architecture is not an enigma to all Indian architects but it is more of a dilemma arising out of a conflict between external influences and internal urge.
The external influences deal with modern art and architecture representing the last consequences of materialism which lead ultimately to a purely decorative approach devoid of religious representation.
The internal urge is a cumulative influence of all the traditional trends. The conflict continues.
All faithful interpretations of homilies pertaining to norms and forms of classic tradition are declared as uncouth sermons of the psyche.
Today the state of faithlessness is manifested in blind-fold faith in matter and all that matters. The function dictates the spirit. The clothing and cladding of the spirit in contemporary modes and mediums creates the “new thought”.
In the struggle of coexistence the genuine and authentic is held in balance with the spurious and the adulterated.
Professional acumen arising out of purity, puberty and maturity is replaced by spasmodic manifestation of tempers and temperaments resulting in intellectual exhaustion.
While all this is happening, we who create art and architecture sit in judgment and give hasty awards on each one of us without realising the inherent dangers and pitfalls of professional integrity and solidarity.
The art of architecture is too sublime and arcane to be used as a tool of politics and yet there are certain codes of aesthetics which are cherished possessions of the society as a whole.
That which is liveable is automatically loveable is what one school of thought propounds.
A society may get what it wants but there is a wide gulf between what it ought to get. In other words, what it desires may be ages behind what it deserves. The duty of the artist is to produce art and architecture which the society deserves because the artist essentially looks ahead.
Great works of art are always ahead of the society and the responsibility of the society is to inherit such works in perpetuity.
Some forms of art are unique while others are mostly expressions of technique. That which is unique needs no elaboration of praise because it is already acclaimed by the society as such. It continues to live because it grows with society and has a message eternal.
That which is only technique has a momentary life of a moth and it dies its own death.
A true work of art, therefore matures in time and remains timeless.
The time in which it is born gives it the cloaking of the contemporary thought.
A profound sense of imagination creates prophetic visions of life and living organism. But mere imagination is dubious and prophetic visions are futile if the architect-to-be has not mastered the very rudiments of design or acquired intimate knowledge of the medium which he handles. Latent possibilities of materials become revealed only in the hands of a master craftsman. The magic of the materials can only be displayed when the architect as a super-alchemist transforms and transmutes them into shapes and forms he conceives.
So much for the philosophy of art. But what of the present! The society in which we live gives us its problems. Here comes the reality in its stark nakedness.
The dictates of the society today determine the design of our life. The feudal lords of the by-gone days might have cherished to leave behind memorials of their exploits for posterity. But even time and space have shown no mercy on such mortal remains. Theirs are the ruins as faint evidence of eccentric prosperity.
Nevertheless, even such despotic epochs of history have left behind magnificent edifices like the pyramids, tombs, temples and palaces.
The society of today craves for a much humbler and humane approach towards a way of Jiving. He who lives amongst humble folk must also speak their humble language. We are today concerned with that new language of our age.
It is true that time and space have shrunk considerably and geographical and political barriers are a thing of the past. Even so, they exist only to permit the existence of a ruling power.
Nevertheless, regionalism has a way of its own and cannot be ruled out without adverse consequences. The solution, therefore, lies at home in the region and not abroad.
Trends cannot be imported because it amounts to aping and displays lack of originality. To create a trend the art of architecture must have a message. Has it got one? A message, for example, for giving solace to the mournful and joy to the romantic. We all know that music has sufficient charm to move the minds of the multitude. It can elevate the soul to soaring heights. It can certainly soothe the suffering and it is scientifically known to do so. Has the art of architecture any thing to off to society by way of an understanding? Can it uplift the masses and elevate the society to a better appreciation of the ethics and aesthetics of life. The answer may be yes and no. It may be nebulous even.
All right, let us ask another question. Can it have adverse effects if not effectively favourable? Certain musical notes are known to create both favourable and unfavourable effects. For example, a wine glass can be cracked by sounding a particular note. A blast of a bomb, though hardly musical and yet a sound, can burst ear-drum or cause concussion of the brain.
Can this happen in art and in the art of architecture? In as much as music is known to create both favourable and unfavourable effects, colours are also known to have medical properties. For example, the ultraviolet ray treatment for certain ailments is too well- known. Chromopathy is an equally well known branch of medicine.
This comparison brings us nearer and nearer, I should think, to possible and impossible solutions of art, which may turn out to be the likely causes of modern ailments of the mind, the neurosis of the soul.
Genius, they say, borders on madness because both arc synonymous. Geniuses are known to create great works of art which are most often understood and profoundly appreciated by one and all. But some times such creations. are enigmatic to the extent that people turn away in disgust. Such works, therefore, whether understood or misunderstood can spread an epidemic of madness, both joyful and mournful.
While architecture has been rightly called the music of materials, it can also cited as a painting in third dimension or a free standing piece of sculpture.
Proportionate massing, appropriate silhouette and balanced colouring and texture, all go to make an architectural composition.
These rudiments and fundamental principles are too well known to all architects, but in their actual applications, the overriding factors of economics of space utilization, economics of materials and economics of land use, play a large part and lucky is the architect who comes out with laurels and laudable results.
The role of an architect in the present-day society cannot, therefore be envied.
Let us understand the root cause of the troubles., Firstly even though there is such a body as the Indian Institute of Architects, its voice is never heard even if it tries to shout and shriek.
The total number of qualified architects in India is so small as compared to other nations that even their collective collaboration would be far from being felt or even noticeable.
Likewise there is a grave absence of an acclaimed professional solidarity. Whatever goes under the aegies of the Indian Institute of Architects is superficial loyalty. The habit of deriding the past, decrying each other an denouncing and disowning the profession is ever present.
Similarly, undercutting of fees has undermined the profession to such an extent that there is that perpetual danger of the architect being defranchised.
To prevent professional infiltration and avoid adulteration, appropriate and adequate legal protection is absolutely necessary. This is already overdue. Legal protection, nevertheless, may ensure professional bondage, but it may not achieve the desired aesthetic standards which are the crux of the problem. To begin with the beginning, it has to start with our academic training. Any loopholes and lapses at that stage will result in liabilities and legacies later on which cannot be routed out for generations to come.
To expect absolute aesthetic standards is absolute impossibility. Le us accept this as a fact. It, therefore, means that certain amount of tolerance will have to be allowed to accommodate the inevitable.
As much as space has shrunk in the modern context of scientific progress, so has time. Anything that we may build today may run out of vogue sooner than we may expect. In fact, we may make it impossible for future generations to rectify and renovate our present-day creations which are supposed to last hundreds of years. New Delhi, which was hardly designed less than half a century ago, today needs a radical redevelopment. In other words, apart from future generations, we ourselves may be the renovators of our own creations today.
This is a grave responsibility fraught with anxiety, perplexity and curiosity. Added to this is the present-day problem of shortage of essential building materials. Even though this problem is temporary, the tempo of building activity cannot be slowed down and, therefore for some time to come the shortage of building materials will affect and reflect upon the mode of design, construction and execution technique.
There can be no ambiguity of approach at such times and ingenuity and resourcefulness on the part of the architect is all that is expected. This is not asking too much.
Now to pose a straightforward question: What sort of architecture can we off to our society today taking into account the above factors? Are we going to house the people in cubic holes copied from foreign magazines? Can we afford to ignore our Indian way of thinking, Indian way of speaking and so on and so forth?
True, India is a sub-continent. What happens in Bombay is miles apart from what exists in Bengal. Similarly, Punjab is poles apart from Pondicherry Climate, customs, castes and creeds all necessitate a variety of approach. And yet oriental way of living is far removed from occidental way of thinking. In short, in spite of vastness of our country it is not impossible to evolve a distinctly oriental aesthetica] standard of architecture.
Technically, some broad hints could be offered.
- For example, tropical haze and glare is a perpetual problem of fenestration.
- Disparity in climate and temperature variations create problems of construction.
- Exotic nature of materials and vegetation create problems of surface texture and surrounding environment.
- Water in an oriental setting is an asset. as well as a liability.
- Tropics are notorious for multiplying and destroying life organism. Everything disintegrates, decays and decomposes rapidly which is an over-all problem.
- Lastly the atmospheric treatment peculiar to the orient.
In this article, I have not desired to dictate a personal manifesto of architectural faith. I have merely tried to think aloud and put before the Seminar a series of thoughts as they have occurred to me over a number of years.
The last few years since the Independence have shown a widespread building activity throughout the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent. Architects of all shades and schools have attempted to impress their way of thinking.
Not only in India but throughout the world architects have differed widely as well as wildly.
Sometimes, we are even apologetic. Why? so often the spectacular steals the attention away from examples of pure quality. The word shouted in a loud voice drowns the quiet unpretentious voice of wisdom.
Are we followers of trends or creators of trends? This is a question posed before us and we have to answer it.
Was it not Henry Ford who said “The man who is afraid to make mistake never makes any mistake”.
As professional architects we all know the menace of a client who knows so little and still insists on telling the architect what to do. And yet an architect cannot afford to lose a client if he happens to be the only potential investor and builder going about in the market.
It is said of a well-known portrait painter that whenever he painted a portrait he lost a friend. I think this is the last thing that an architect can let happen to him.
Our first job is to educate the client and bring him upto our level of under standing. There are pitfalls, of course, where the client almost becomes the architect himself with the help of journals and magazines.
Our next job is to bring the public upto our level of understanding and counteract public ignorance, apathy and sometimes aggressive retrogression.
Our third job is to create a professional unity and solidarity. Apart from members of different allied professions vying with each other, even within the same profession there are dissident groups and clicks.
The older generation looking with distrust and mistrust at the younger with the plain knowledge that the younger generation of architects is revolting. Respect for the elders and sympathetic consideration towards the youth is what is lacking on either side.
In the metamorphosis of architectural thought a great psychological adventure is needed,—that of reconciliation of ideas, readjustment of thoughts, and reshuffling of norms and forms of art.