In the development of a contemporary architecture we are passing through a transitional phase in our country when it is imperative for us to pause and give due thought, whilst we arc still at this cross-road, lest we inadvertently follow the wrong direction.
It is my endeavour in this paper to put forward, for the consideration of the delegates various factors—their behaviour and impact which, in my opinion greatly contribute towards an evolution of an architectural expression, suitable to our present-day needs and in keeping with the rich traditions of our country the tradition of not only creating renowned landmarks in architectural history but also the tradition of being the leaders in all arts.
We of India have for thousands of years, since the dawn of civilization, been pioneers and path-finders. As one goes over our history, one notices the versatility of our builders who not only changed with different socio-politic conditions but also from medium to medium with the passage of time and yet excelled in each one of them. From the astonishingly well-built and planned brick buildings in the Indus Valley Civilization, the wonderfully carved wooden structures of Pataliputra, negative construction of Mahabalipuram, the famous Rock-Cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora, which were mostly even before the birth of the Christian era, through the various phases of history including the profusely carved Gopurams of Madurai culminating at Taj Mahal, one of the acknowledged wonders of the world in comparatively recent. times.
This is a heritage any people should be proud of, and most of all the unsophisticated and humble creators. Our architecture has not only been well known for its rich artistic and dynamic architectural qualities but particularly so for the successful coherent composition and blending of the basic components of design, engineering and art.
The work of the master builders, who incidentally both conceived and constructed the buildings, was not only appreciated by the technical and skilled but gripped the interest of the common man who admired and respected them. These buildings which were mostly temples clearly show a democratic spirit which can be seen through the sculpture panels on the profoundly sculptured facades. Each facade was treated not as much as a ‘plane enclosing space’ but as a medium of expression by the artist to express the devotion of the people. These richly carved and painted buildings are unique and gave the building a wonderful textural and tonal value which further enhanced the masterful handling of the shapes and forms.
With this rich architectural heritage as a background, it is understandable that the Indian people do not easily take to the seemingly bare, soul-less and austere architecture which is being put to them as modern architecture and which leaves much to be desired. This sets a natural reaction against the acceptance of the present form of modern architecture and results in a large number of us becoming allergic to it. The people not knowing anything other than what is being presented to them under the guise of modern architecture, and for want of good examples of it, prefer the old conservative method of expression, planning and construction.
It has been found on the other hand that modern architecture is being more easily accepted in some other countries like Brazil, Australia, Venezuela, West Indies, Africa, i.e., countries who do not have an age-old tradition and who are thus more amenable to new innovations. I feel that it is no use saying that the public do not know anything and that they must accept our decisions. Whereas for construction and technique the client may take our word, for expression he feels he has a say in it. We cannot force our ideas of modern architecture and expression down the throat of the public. For anything to last the people will have to be convinced.
We have ourselves to determine what is really the most suited architecture based on our present needs, local conditions, social, economic, political set-up and scientific and technological progress. An honest and truthful expression which is an outcome of the factors involved only can provide a solution to these problems. Once we analyze the important factors from which expression is an out come then it would not be so intricate to determine a guide for the fi evolution of the expression.
The entire analytical process has to be rationally considered without preconceived ideas and prejudice. There is a tendency amongst some of us to throw overboard everything which is traditional just because it is traditional. As a matter of fact, many an old idea can be very usefully adopted successfully to solve our present-day problems. The solutions of the traditional building certainly justify careful consideration and thought before they can be marked ‘as unfit for present use’.
Amongst the fundamental factors which in my opinion substantially contribute to the evolution of architectural expression of any period are:—
- Nation’s historical background and its impact on the present.
- National character, temperament and awakening of the people.
- Socio-economic and political conditions.
- Geographic and local factors.
- Scientific and technological impact.
- Climatological factors.
Let us consider the influence of these factors in relation to our country and strive to work out a coherent picture for an expression of our contemporary Indian architecture.
In the preceding passages I have touched only one side of the historical background of our country in the context of the formation of the mental attitude of the people. I think it is worth considering some other salient points which have a bearing on ‘expression’.
We find that there is an urge in most of us to cling to the past, to an era when our buildings were appreciated the world over. I think this feeling may be due to the following reasons. The architectural expression of our historical buildings was very much richer and emotionally more satisfying. This architectural expression in spite of constantly changing its expression with the ages and in keeping with the social and political conditions and the construction medium of the country, fundamentally remained the same. It was always more than just ‘walls enclosing space’: a work of art with deep physical and visual impact.
The world-wide recognition we got for our buildings naturally made us feel proud. In the field of contemporary architecture we are far behind in finding a solution suitable for our needs of today. This tends to give us an inferiority complex and we again try to recreate those glorious structures which had mad India renowned. These attempts to copy our famous buildings result not only in stagnation but in the creation of cheap and vulgar replicas of some of the jewels of architecture. Richard Neutra, the famous American architect, commented that “the greatest tribute which we could pay to these buildings was to leave them unique and try not to copy or reproduce them”. These imitations of the expression, or the ornaments and motifs of the old buildings, when they are tagged on to modern buildings which are made of modern ma and construction techniques, and for an entirely different purpose, result in heterogeneous composition and in sheer mockery. Little do people realise, who through a misguided sense of patriotism strive to recreate traditional buildings, the dangers of such a step.
While discussing this factor of the historical impact on the present, another point that needs attention and thought is monumentality. People desire buildings that represent their social, ceremonial and community life. They want these buildings to be more than just functional fulfilment. Man seeks the expression of his aspirations in ‘monumentality’. This desire to create buildings, which are not purely meant for utility and are left as records for the future generations, has always been felt in all ages and as an outcome of which we see all over the world some of the most beautiful buildings built in different eras.
Giedion, one of the most famous of present-day historians and critics of art and architecture, writes, “Monumentality springs from the eternal need of the people to create symbols of their activities and for their fate of destiny, for the religious beliefs and for their social connections. Every period has an impulse to create symbols in the forms of monuments—things to be transmitted to later generations”. This demand for monumentality cannot be suppressed in the long run. It will find an outlet at all costs. Our period is no exception. For the present it continues the habits of the last century and follows in the track of pseudo monumentality. This is being supported by most Governments, unfortunately, all over the world. Giedion further writes “Those who govern or administer may be the most brilliant men in their fields, but in their emotional or artistic training they reflect the average man of our period, plagued as he is by the rift between his method of thinking and method of feeling. The thinking may be developed to a very high level but the emotional background has not caught up with it. It is still imbued with the pseudo-ideals of the 19th century. Is it then any wonder that most official artistic judgments are disastrous or that the decisions made for urban planning, monuments and public buildings are without contact with the real spirit of the period”.
There is an utter lack of the monumental, the spectacular, the centre of the group of buildings—structures not conceived as financial investments whose function is not to produce money or to bolster up waning trade, buildings which are collective and not of individuals and where fi advisers and economists are not the pivot of the scheme. Such buildings are so different and exhilarating to the common man who is otherwise always practising economy and utility.
Jose Luis Sert, the well known architect and town planner, while discussing this issue of monumentality says: “Monuments are expressions of man’s highest cultural needs. They have to satisfy the eternal demand of the people for translation of their collective force with symbols. Every bygone period which has shaped a real cultural life had the power and capacity to create these symbols. Monuments are therefore possible in only those periods in which a unifying consciousness and unifying culture exists. Periods which exist for the moment have been unable to create lasting monuments. The last hundred years have witnessed the devaluation of monumentality. This docs not mean that there is a lack of monuments or architectural examples pretending to serve this purpose, but the so-called monuments of recent date have with rare exception become empty shells. They in no way represent the spirit or the collective feeling of modern times”.
What Giedion and Sert have expressed is the wide-spread feeling of the thinkers of the West, architects who have travelled further on this vista of modern architecture. We in India fortunately still have the option of developing a fuller and richer architecture and expression with our background. We have the advantage of also being able to avoid the pitfalls into which other western countries have fallen while developing their architectural expression. We can gain by their experiences and try to fill in that something they feel their buildings lack.
National Character, Temperament and Awakening
The expression of the buildings is not only dependent on purely physical conditions but is also largely influenced by the mental make-up, temperament, character and general awakening of the people of the country. It is found that the expression of buildings of two nations having identical physical conditions differs even at one period. This difference is largely the outcome of the mental composition of the two people, and to a certain extent the result of belief, customs. and general attitude to life. There are people who are very warm, effusive, easily accessible, social and have very few barriers, between each other. Others are gay, playful, hot-headed, sport-loving, living more for the moment and not tied down to age old traditions. Yet others, who are highly individualistic, sober, not easily disturbed, and conservatives at heart. maintain strong links with tradition.
These factors very largely influence all aspects of art, be it sculpture, painting, music, drama, poetry or architecture. One finds that people, groups or nations having similar character, traits and approach to life have fundamentally identical preferences, aptitudes and liking for shapes, colour, textures and also of humour, music, drama, etc.
It is an acknowledged fact that there is a marked link between sculpture and painting with the architecture of our country It is also my contention, that a very marked link exists between architecture and music of a country. It is not a loose link but a link which can be made tangible. This point needs to be stressed. If a study is made of this, one finds a fundamental similarity between music and architecture. I have been thinking over it for quite some time and am confident that further scientific exploration and art interpretation will show a definite tangible link which would be applicable for all normal conditions.
You may notice that wherever architecture is daring, gay, bold, breaking entirely new ground, the music is fast and to certain extent primitive, not very intricate and touches responsive chords in man, like in Latin American countries. Where there is abundance of detail, richness, ornamentation, sophistication, and pains-taking effort to beautify the architectural expression, there music is more intricate, restrained, regular and methodical, rich and deep in quality, soft, and it does not have such a wide-spread appeal to all people but is more appreciated by the intellectuals. These aptitudes and similarity of approach are found to be true irrespective of physical or geographic conditions. For example, in France and India the evolution of architecture, painting, music, etc., though quite diff in appearance, the approach is fundamentally similar. The architectural expression is, therefore, not only dependent on purely physical conditions but the general awakening, philosophy, temperament, thought and character of the people greatly influence the formulation of the expression.
Socio-economic and Political Factors
Architectural expression changes with different social, political and economic conditions. One finds that the expression of the temples, churches or mosques or other religious buildings was quite different from the expression of buildings in the last century when most of the buildings were palaces and castles; and the expression of buildings during and after the Industrial Revolution is quite different. The stress changes with the times and the diff socio-political set up.
Most of the religious buildings were built not as business propositions or for fear of the feudal lords but as dedication of man to God. They were painstakingly ornate and rich. The expression of these buildings is the outcome of devotion and is emotional. Then came the era when the accent changed to fortresses and palaces. It was essentially to house the chosen few, and the rest somehow lived in hovels and slums. The exteriors of the castles were forbidding and convey the ruler’s might to the common man. The palaces were rich not only in their lavish interiors but also conveyed the wealth and might of the rulers by the exterior expression. Today we are building for an entirely different social set-up and under different economic conditions. The stress today is on man and the teeming masses, not on the ruler or the chosen few. We are today building for a democratic society.
Millions of men have to be housed all over the world. This is a tremendous undertaking and, therefore economic factors play a very important part in determining the architectural expression. Today we build for a different purpose and with entirely different materials and construction techniques. How is it then, that some of us expect to use an expression similar to the earlier ones in our country? Truly the expression of today will be entirely different from that of the past and it must reflect our present-day society and our democratic set-up.
Geographic and Local Factors
The national expression of the country is influenced to quite an extent by the resources and materials available in the country. One does not evolve the architectural expression based on the use of materials which are imported or brought from long distances.
Where timber is plentiful, its use is natural and the expression of buildings built there is bound to be different from places where stone is the natural building material and—masonry construction is the answer. The national expression of these two places is bound to be very different unless there is a tendency to force them to bring them in conformity with some accepted style. In that case the expression of the inherent qualities of the material will be unnatural and hybrid. Yet some of us are still trying to imitate and capture the expression of buildings built with different materials. There are attempts to imitate the facade treatment of the West to such an extent, that buildings are simply transplanted from one soil to another. This grafting is at times in direct contrast to the local conditions and becomes irksome. The superficial imitation and transplantation of recognized and appreciated fact and forms is not only an insult to the original but is a discredit to the architect and to the people who calmly accept this monstrosity. I feel, we should realise that our contemporary buildings cannot be similar to the timber architecture of hundreds of pretty houses which we observe in America, Australia and the Finnish buildings, nor similar to the intricate carved, ornate facades of our glorious temples and mosques. Let us accept that we are building with diff building materials which have an expression of their own, which when properly handled is in no way less beautiful than timber or stone. The expression based on bricks, reinforced concrete, steel, glass and some of the latest material such as plastics, aluminium, laminated timber and numerous varieties of construction and finishing materials which are our present materials has to be realised and developed.
Scientific and Technological Impact
The technological and scientific progress of the period is a limiting factor. With the progress of technology new possibilities and construction techniques are placed at the disposal of architects. Every new innovation in the mechanical field or progress in the mathematical or scientific field changes the existing techniques thus bringing changes in the expression. This is an ever-changing scene and pattern.
The expression of buildings when they were built with stone columns and stone slabs become different with use of the domes, the arch and the vault. This is in turn changed with the advent of reinforced concrete and yet another marked change came about. Today aluminium, steel, plastics, glass of various varieties and the recent construction innovations are bringing about a radical change in our architectural expression.
The change is due to the new materials, but changes in the use of the same material also bring about a change in the expression. The use of reinforced concrete started with the use of bulky columns and beams which resulted in a somewhat heavy, straight line architectural expression. Today the same material off such plasticity and design freedom which nobody could visualise—what with concrete in shell, pre-stressed, post-tensioned and other ways. Nobody could imagine the plastic forms and sweeps of the thin concrete shell or the breath taking beauty and thrill of concrete as a hyperbolic-paraboloid. Concrete is now coming into its own after almost a century of use, as can be seen from the Sydney Opera House of Joern Utzon, the M.I.T. Auditorium of Saarinen, the Berlin Conference Hall of Hugh Stubbins, the St. Louis Airport of Yamasaki and the Ronschamps Pilgrim Chapel of Le Corbusier.
In India we are far behind in the technological aspect and still want to play safe. It is time we used concrete and other new techniques to the advantage of our economy and the people. We are still using R.C.C. as a rigid material with an expression much the same as of timber. The proper use of these materials in their natural form will help to develop an emotionally satisfying architectural expression.
It has been found that in any given period of history the expression of buildings has at times been widely different in two adjoining countries or similar in countries quite far apart.
Climatic factors play a very important role on architectural expression. One finds that varying temperature conditions, rainfall, glare, dust, storms, snow and sleet have given absolutely different expressions to the same building even though it is meant to cater to the same type of people but in different climatic conditions.
In our country which is a continent by itself, having varying climatic conditions, it is extremely difficult, to evolve a unified or standardized style. What is possible is the development of an architecture which is suitable for most of the country and is essentially the same in approach but which adjusts and acclimatises itself to suit extreme conditions.
In our country the most difficult problem is that of intense heat. It is necessary to find out an effective way to combat this problem. We have heat from sun radiation, direct sun penetration, glare and in some regions dust storms. Since ages our people have had to think of ways and means to combat heat and protect the buildings from the sun. They tried to solve this problem in various ways depending on their resources and knowledge. The problem of the architects then and now is different to some extent. It was then for the protection of the few buildings of the rulers, but today we have to combat it for the masses, as the accent today is on the development of a comfortable ‘human habitat’.
We find that some very effective sun protection measures were used in our traditional buildings. Protection was undertaken by creating an envelope of shade and developing a cooler region all round the building by use of verandahs; by creating a cooler and glare-free environment; by landscaping the immediate surrounding by dexterous use of play of water in and around the buildings; by way of inner water courts ‘Baolis’ and fountains in the courtyards and the: gardens; by keeping walls cool and cutting direct sun penetration by way of attractive use of chajjas and jalis. The roofs were provided at big height and some times double roofs were used.
These methods were used effectively and the architects very dextrously made use of these sun protection devices to add beauty and charm to their buildings.
Today one finds a tendency to scrap anything which is traditional. Before we discard these devices we should rationally consider their use and advantages. It is possible that we may find some of them unsuitable to present-day conditions. Yet we may bear in mind that we are building for the same people and in exactly the same geographic and climatic conditions. We may have to remodel or adjust these devices, and also seek new solutions to our problems. There is a feeling today, that the verandah is superficial and can be very easily replaced by louvers and other sun control devices. It is possible that verandahs were indiscriminately used in the olden days, which we cannot afford to do today, but we must not forget that the verandah is possibly the most used multi-purpose area in an Indian house at all times of the year, and that rooms are used only in extreme conditions.
The louver which is an effective method of sun protection is being so indiscriminately used by some, that it is not only inefficient but has ceased to be a sun protection device and has become the fashion of the day. The use of louvers has become a style and is considered by some as the means of expression of the modem building. This is as bad, if not worse, as copying some of the old ornaments on our buildings. A more balanced view of using these devices is necessary not for classifying the building in a style but for what they are meant.
Colour and Form
Shapes can be exciting or soothing, and their colour can increase the intended effect. Colour and texture of surfaces have an effective existence of their own, sending out physical energies which can be measured. This effect can be warm or cold, advancing or receding, bright or dark, intensive or suppressive and attractive or repulsive. It is evident that motion in space, or the illusion of motion in space produced by the artist’s magic, is becoming an increasingly by powerful stimulant in contemporary works of architecture, painting and design. For example, large windows permit us to make out-door space a part of the total architectural composition which does not spot at walls, as in the past, but produces the illusion of continuity of space in motion. This new relationship of interior spaces to the infinite reaches of the outdoor is a characteristic of the new achievements of modern architecture, which consciously or sub-consciously must influence every mind. We in India have to be very careful because of the climatic conditions.
We want judicious use of glass and proper protection. Do we want to lose this relationship which is new to the West but has been very old in the East, where landscape played a very important part in the composition of architecture. Jalis exquisitely carved were the only barrier between the covered and uncovered space. Now with the advent of plate glass we have switched on to this medium. There is a growing tendency among some of us to use large glass areas indiscriminately and irrespective of orientation just to get similar expression to the buildings built today in the West. We forget that climatic conditions are not only different but diametrically opposite. Where as sun and warmth are scarce there and they have to introduce it into their interiors to the maximum, we have to often cut off the sun and protect from heat.
A breach has been made with the past which enables us to encourage a new aspect of architecture corresponding to the technical civilization of the age we live in, the morphology of the dead styles has been destroyed and we are returning to the honesty of thought and feeling the general public which was formerly indifferent to everything about building has been shaken out of its torpor; but in spite of the growing interest of the public and the genuine attempts of a number of architects there is still a lot of confusion, conflicting themes and personal dogmas arc being advanced. The worst of it is, that modern architecture of some sort is becoming the fashion and lot of work is being built under the name of modern architecture. Imitation, snobbery and mediocrity have distorted the fundamentals of truth and simplicity on which renaissance was based. Spurious phrases, catch-words, slogans, are being coined and raised to make palatable that which is being called modern architecture, thereby proving to be most dangerous to the evolution of an honest and clean architecture. Other than the purely physical and materialistic aspect of architecture is the human, emotional and what is termed at times, as the satisfaction of the soul. The satisfaction of the human psyche resulting from beauty is just as important for a full civilized life, or even more so, than the fulfilment of our material comfort requirements.
The liberation of architecture from the profuse conglomeration of ornament and the emphasis on the function of its structural members and the quest for concise and economic solutions only represent the material side, the side on which the practical aspect is based. One of the founders of the modern movement writes: “What is far more important than this structural economy and its functional emphasis is the intellectual achievement which has made possible a new spatial vision, for whereas the practical side of the building is a matter of construction and material, the very nature of architecture makes it dependent on the mastery of space. The transformation from manual to machine production so occupied humanity for a century instead of pressing to tackle the real problem of designs men were long content with borrowed styles and form decoration”.
This state of affairs is over at last. A new conception of building based on realities has developed and with it has come a new an changed perception of space. Architecture is said to be a true mirror of the life and social behaviour of a period. If this is true we should be able to read from it the present features and the driving forces of our times. But indeed most of our buildings do not give a true representation of our life. The expressions of most of our buildings are borrowed and is far from being an index of our technological progress of socio-political set-up. While discussing this of our present conditions Walter Gropius says: “The physical and spiritual functions determining the design of a building are inter dependent; they are both part of our life. It is an anachronism expressing the physical function with the latest technical means but to express the spiritual function by borrowing a historical style from the past. Such an attempt confuses the art of architecture with applied archaeology. Genuine architecture of organic growth implies continual renewal. Whenever man thought he had found eternal beauty he fell back in imagination and stagnation. True tradition is the result of constant growth, its quality must be dynamic, not static to serve as an inexhaustible spirit of man”.
International Style Vs Regional Architecture
After considering all the facts which go to constitute the architectural expression, it is evident that the expression will differ from place to place and people to people, in spite of similarity of approach and similar building materials. It is the contention of some, that because of communications, which have resulted in very close contact between nations and use of materials of one country in another, the architectural expression of the buildings shall be similar and what is termed as ‘international style’ is a myth. that there is no such thing which has no roots or has roots all over.
It is not possible to have an international style, a style which is applicable to all places. It is necessary that the expression, which depends on numerous factors, changes from place to place. A synthesis is what is required—a synthesis based on the materials, techniques, economics of the country and the culture of the country.
Another aspect which needs thought is that of the city. Today, we find that most of our cities are growing without any planning. The big cities are growing more and more every day and to such an extent that man is almost lost in it.
If a re-establishment of human scale is desired, if a spontaneous relationship between the inhabitants is again to come about, the dense masses of urban development must be smashed. Instead of one large solid body of masonry which results in chaos, there must be a number of smaller units, whose size is foreseen and planned in relation to human scale. This is very necessary to suit our climate where it is not possible to go very high and make multi-storeyed buildings for living which are totally unsuitable for Indian conditions. In huge multi-storey buildings, in which the individuality of man is lost, he just becomes a cog. This psychologically dwarfs the man and tends to overpower his individuality. whereas encouraging and developing man’s individual thought helps in progress and development of a healthier society.
We are building today big cities in India, letting them grow haphazardly with the result they are getting out of control. What may perhaps be the solution, which is particularly suited to Indian conditions, considering our climate and way of life is the development of cities which do not grow over one million inhabitants. Here the city will not lose its soul and would provide all the comforts of a big town and yet not lose its contact with the country and nature.
I feel this Seminar will have proved to be of great value if it sets the architects, planners and people responsible for planning in various spheres thinking. Architecture is not pure science where by deliberation of one seminar we may determine a definite planning system or an expression formula which will be applicable to our buildings.
It is by discussion and rational thinking that we may be able to strike out a path where the expression may be a synthesis, an expression which is based on our present conditions and is yet emotionally satisfying and exhilarating.