As I stare out of my window while waiting for inspiration, sun rays reflecting from a glass facade catch my attention.
The glazed building I am looking at, is probably a rude monstrosity for my School of Architecture, Ahmedabad-trained sense of aesthetics, but I have not an iota of doubt that it impresses Indians. The modern, the western, the designed-by-German/Italian/French-architect is the in thing today.
It seems that seventy years of independence is not enough for this self-critical nation to find its own language of architecture and be proud of it.
It starts a train of thought and lands at the grand old station of IIMA, a bastion of architecture in both, visual and metaphoric sense that I was just visiting for my yearly academic commitment.
IIMA is grand, and great, but, it is a symbol of identity-crisis of those people who need help from others to define them.
Luis Kahn always reminds me of the Indiana Jones movie franchise. He is the eternal white hero, an expert on ancient cultures typically found with a local side-kick, and his movies depict an imaginary interpretation of ancient nations, as perceived by an American.
Though his perception of an ancient culture is often a vulgar and shallow caricature of some of the oldest nations on earth, it is lapped up by people without a question.
IIMA is a caricature of a westerner’s perception of Indian space and architecture. Thick, exposed brick-walls with startlingly large fenestrations, ramparts and moats emerged from his visual understanding of Indian desert architecture and became dramatically impressive due to scale and an alien visual look-and-feel they offered.
Confronted by scale and novelty seen never before in India, it had all the potential to become an icon. As the institution attracts some of the finest young brains of India to walk under its arches year after year, it quickly turned into an emotional landmark of excellence that we all are proud of.
While IIMA is a jumble of huge nostalgia constructed around a unique visual and spatial theme, it is also a structure built in a hot city that is falling apart due to Indiana Jones interpretations.
The thick wall language used to keep the heat out, sounds like a wonderful discovery by a rational western brain, it works in academic area used during the day as heat takes time in seeping across the walls, but it backfires miserably as it is also used for residential quarters. Heat that is delayed from entering, once inside takes equally long time to dissipate. Heat trapped inside homes that are occupied at night turns them into ovens.
The bricks that “talked” to Kahn seeking honour and glorification unfortunately forgot to tell him that they are not made to bask in harsh weather of tropics in birthday suit glory. The poetic conversation between Kahn and exposed bricks makes an impressive read, but it has also meant an exorbitant restoration cost for the academy.
I would surely not rate IIMA as a folly of Kahn, but I would surely rate Indian tendency to mindlessly appreciate western ideas as dangerously servile. It is not that we were made of that mind-set in distant past. Even today an Indian builder will flaunt a foreign architect and proudly construct alien architecture of glass façade. Even today, when we want to make any iconic building, the clamour for “world class” rises and global design tenders are floated.
India needs an identity made by her own people that is suited to her personality. We are a nation of unique weather and unique culture. We must have our own architects and architecture.