Questions which were discussed at the conference are: What were the loopholes because of which the Hall of Nations got legal sanction for demolition? Should the Hall of Nations be rebuilt? What defines good architecture and there any empirical measures which can be stated? What are the perceptions and implications of the term ‘Heritage’? Can policy be enacted to earmark public buildings for posterity, even during its ‘just executed’ stage?
Following are excerpts from the conference opined by the participants in their own words.
Prasad Shetty – Architect and Educator, Mumbai
That there is a problem with what happened to the Hall of Nations or to the other competitions is an agreed argument. It is also true that there are several levels of interests that are at play here. The values important to the ‘architectural discipline and profession’ are at stake and this is a crisis. One could contend that this is a temporary condition (like all conditions) and when the economy changes (and it will change, where culture will play an important part), architecture may gain importance. However, we need our institutions, schools and practices to be aware of such shifts and prepare themselves.
At the moment, an ecosystem approach would be most useful where interested practitioners and institutions may act as catalysts to generate influence-nodes (like the Chennai Architecture Forum) to create an interest and provide space for critical thinking. Such practitioners and institutions may then network to create a countrywide effect, which may manifest itself into a singular voice whenever required. So the next activity should be to identify, promote and help nourish such practices and institutions that have a capacity of turning into influence-nodes.
Kunjan Garg – Architect, Kochi
Hall of Nations was innovative in a universal sense, in that it tackled a given program with a language and with technology that surpassed its time. In that sense it is still relevant today. But like all architecture, it too had to respond to the “use-value”, which the structure of the ever changing society and the resultant patronage judged differently.
‘Our community’ can still comprehend the universal value. A possible question is that, if (hypothetically) we were able to get a stay on its demolition, would we not have been compliant with a proposal of another competition? Maybe the building would have been re-used in another user friendly configuration, or there would have been a proposal of demolition under a scheme that was truly a ‘public’ space.
Biju Kuriakose, Architecture Red, Practitioner, Chennai.
The way forward is to really connect with the general public. In the world we live in today, everything is value engineered. The environment we aspire to have will have to connect with people either economically or emotionally. Our challenge is really the latter which is also the intangible. This can be achieved only by engaging with people. We need to create initiatives that promote this engagement. These initiatives have to be more bottom-up and localized. As we discussed in the meeting if we can all put together a small group in each of our respective cities and try and get more like minded people together and start initiatives that engages with the larger public, it will surely create more awareness.
Prem Chandawarkar, CNT, Practitioner and Educator, Bengaluru
Architects in India have not been able to respond effectively to recent events that have negatively impacted the public standing of the profession. Established institutions, such as Indian Institute of Architects and Council of Architecture, have not developed the internal capacities to offer effective response. Individual voices or small groups make little difference for larger numbers are needed to muster the weight needed to achieve change. However, larger numbers by themselves are not sufficient: it is also necessary to ensure that the quality of response is rigorous, critical and clear. This will be difficult to achieve immediately for a critical culture of architecture has not taken root within the profession in India.
Everything is not lost: there are many architects in the country who do possess a critical sensibility that finds its way into qualitatively high expression in practice or theoretical research. But they operate largely as individual voices who do not resonate with each other at a scale that can make a difference. The challenge of achieving that resonance is what this proposal is aimed at. The effort is unlikely to go far if it requires large investment in institution building. To be effective, it must adopt guerilla tactics, seed its way into existing institutional arrangements, and spread a critical culture through viral appeal.
The proposal is titled – AMBASSADORS OF EXCELLENCE: A PROPOSAL FOR MOVING TOWARD A CRITICAL CULTURE OF ARCHITECTURE.
Arunav Dasgupta, School of Planning and Architecture, Educator, New Delhi
If we go the path where we join hands with the developer of what to keep and what not to keep, it is a path which will take some time. During that path many more such episodes like the demolition of the Hall of Nations will happen and one will have to figure out what next. Where is the axe going to fall the next time? If we go the faster route, it will be subjective not objective. This is based on this idea of collective association. I associate with this particular period, I don’t know whether I am liking it because of the structure or its beauty or its inherent things, whatever it stands for, I am associated with it through memory in some way or with my participation in some way or technology know-how, but I am simply associated with it. For instance, let’s say I am associated with the Benaras Ghats, and millions of people are associated with it. Tomorrow if somebody wants to do something with the Ghats, there will be millions of people who’ll be against it.
So if I have this idea of collective association, and create a framework of making at least architecture students and institutions of good calibre disciplines say that this is an object of collective association. And all of us agree to it and that all of us stand for it. It represents 1000s of academics and lakhs of students of architecture, it represents the entire profession of architects, designers and this is a building of “us”. Then the resonance would be entirely different.
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Editors’ Note: During the one-day conference workshop the discussions meandered from the romantic to the pragmatic, from the idealistic to the realistic, all hues freely interspersed with each other to make the debate lively, vibrant and meaningful. The conversation intended to deal with issues in a comprehensive manner and to a large extent we began to have a general idea of the position, which is becoming evident in the comments given above. The conference did not deal with only identifying the problems, but it also opened up doors towards meaningful and sustainable solutions. The participant architects are people who, because of their vast experience and deep insight, were able to provide a pragmatic perspective, and were able to articulate their thinking in a seemingly theoretical framework. These perceptions were fuelled by the freedom, afforded by the thought provoking atmosphere and spurred by the inspiration of belonging to the same professional milieu and being in the same boat at the same time.
The aim of this exercise is to create over time, a substantial collection of ideas which becomes a compendium of documentation organized subject-wise. As expressed by many here, one needs to push the Government into enacting policy to conserve what is legitimate, rebuild what can be, and create new institutions to assure a culturally strong and sustainable diversity. Also of importance here is whether we can formulate an empirical enough matrix to evaluate projects in the future so that no mistake can be made in identifying a building of National importance which can then be listed as protected.
In the ensuing din of the outcry from professionals within India and across the world, what seemed to be losing perspective was the extolling of values which the built form of the Hall of Nations embodied and this nurturing of values is what needs to be aimed at in a focused manner. Ironically, and in retrospect, it seems to me that this was one building which, over its lived history of 45 years, underwent the complete cosmic process of Creation, Preservation and Destruction, a philosophy of the cosmic order which is embedded in Indian thought.