Much of our thinking in India about architecture is distorted today by two different kinds of response to what is known as modern architecture. People either express passionate fondness for it or bitter antagonism towards it.
Perhaps this distortion would not arise if the term modern architecture were translated as an architectural approach in terms of the present, to the conditions obtaining today in any given country—its climate. its materials, the state of its scientific and technological development, and the social needs of its people. Few people would quarrel with an attempt by an architect to express a synthesis between what people desire today and what under the impact of new ideas, they would desire in the foreseeable future. This is what truly modern architecture attempts to do. Modern architecture should not be praised or condemned as though it were a “style of building” but according as it succeeds or fails to discover today’s needs and the architectural answers to them.
But the process of discovery involves experimentation which, to be fruitful. must be conducted in a free atmosphere, amidst conditions conducive to freedom. The task of those engaged in promoting the development of architecture, therefore, should be to discover conditions in which new ideas may grow and methods by which the relevance of these ideas to modern requirements should be fully tested.
From the point of view of the architect, there is another aspect of this problem. More and more architecture has become an expression of the artistic impulse of the architects. Just as no one today thinks of restricting the right of a painter to paint as he likes or the right of a sculptor to carve as he feels, there should be no attempt to restrict the right of an architect to find his artistic expression, subject, of course, to the preference and requirements of his customers. A client should choose an architect only if he likes the latter’s known works. Having chosen him, the client should not force an architect to change his values or dilute them.
But preference is not a static condition of the mind. Preference changes under the impact of new ideas. It responds to the process of education. Just as preference in art has changed under the impact of new artistic expressions which are presented today, similarly it can change under the impact of new architectural expressions. As it is, preference has changed with time even in architecture. Nobody who sets out to build a house for himself today likes to copy the architecture of Moghul times. Within the limits of his knowledge and his education, everyone, even the most uninformed layman, tries to adapt his ideas of what a house should be to what he believes to be his needs as the citizen of a modern State. What is required is that the needs of the modern times should be made known to him as amply as possible so that his ideas of his architectural needs may also develop alongside.
Therefore, what is required for the growth of architectural expression is that in conditions of complete freedom the public mind should be able to witness and absorb the best in new ideas. What may result from this experience would then be something truly modern, much more so than some of the things which pass for modern architecture in India today. They are in fact uncritical copies of styles evolved in other countries to meet other conditions.
Certain suggestions can be made here about the conditions which should exist if the development of truly modern architecture and the growth of educated public response today are to be promoted.
The first condition relates, of course, to the architect himself. He must have all practicable facilities really to understand how a synthesis may be brought about between national tradition and future needs, between what is required and what is practicable, between technology and materials.
Given proper facilities for training, there must then exist opportunities for experiment. Half-hearted, ill-coordinated attempts at experimentation have been made at various places on varying scales. But at Chandigarh, for the first time in India, an attempt bas been made on a large scale to proceed from the comprehensive theory to its implementation in detail.
To promote the growth of new ideas in architecture, restrictions imposed by official control should be removed. This is as necessary in the field of architecture as in that of painting, music or other arts. Governments do not think today in terms of imposing an official musician or an official painter upon the free play of public preference. Similarly, they should not think in terms of imposing an official architect. The role large public buildings play in promoting new ideas is important. Because of its size and prominence, institutional architecture plays an important part in moulding public preference. Unfortunately it is with regard to these buildings that the restrictions of official control apply most rigidly. Such buildings should not be designed necessarily by a person whose only qualification for designing them may be that he holds a given job at a given time which is paid out of public funds. It is essential that such architecture should be the result of the best available ideas and not the result of official control.
The design of every important public building should be selected as a result of free competition which should be open to all qualified architects including those who may be in Government employment. The assessment of entries for the competition should not be left to official agencies. Instead it should be made by a recognised organisation like the Indian Institute of Architects, and its professional judgment should not be subjected to interference by officials.
Since execution plays an important part in determining the quality and the net result of the competition, it is necessary that professional standards of designing and construction should be maintained at a high level. Architectural achievement in India in recent years has suffered from the intrusion of ill-qualified architects and engineers who have brought bad name to those more qualified to attempt departures from tradition. It is necessary that, as in other professions, a law should be introduced soon under which all architects should be required to register themselves before they are allowed to practise. Qualifications for registration should be laid down under the law by a recognised Association of architects which should be the authoritative spokesman of the architectural profession.
It is also important that in order to maintain a high standard of design and construction architects must devote sufficient time and attention to research and quality of work. This will be possible only when the public as well as the Government recognise the scales of professional charges prescribed by the Institute of Architects for various professional works.