The cultural revival of Modernist architecture

...  “There definitely is an interest [in brutalism or modernism or socialist architecture] and part of that interest is, of course, the fact that you don’t see that kind of architecture anymore,” says [Rohan] Shivkumar. “Because I think that the forces that are shaping our cities today are considerably different than those that were imagining those sorts of architectures. So I think there is in some ways a longing for that idea1  that architecture can actually participate in the making of a society,2  rather than simply following what right now commerce seems to be dictating.”

That commerce is dictating current urban development also came through in architect Romi Khosla’s 2014 lecture The New Metropolis: Nehru & the Aftermath. Here the architect clubbed “Smart Cities and Modi’s Vision” against “Chandigarh and Nehru’s Vision”. Khosla’s scepticism of Smart Cities and their neoliberal economic concerns as peddled by the government (and fleshed out by McInsey), went hand in hand with a celebration of socialism as enshrined in Chandigarh. He asserted that it was not about the particular ideological stripes of the ruling party— “any government that would have come to power would have loved [Smart Cities]” —but about a future in which “corporations provide finance, policy guidance and political options”.

In other ways too, corporations have cottoned on to the architecture’s growing appeal, the fetishisation and commodification of brutalism as seen in Asian Paints’ launch of ‘Archi Concrete’ in 2018. This acrylic-based paste promises a ‘raw’, exposed effect’ to the surface it is applied on, offers ‘an aesthetic of minimalism and modernity’ and has been patronised by no less than one of the founding fathers of Indian architectural modernism, BV Doshi.

Whether theoretical interest in post-independence raw concrete will translate to some form of neo-brutalism by contemporary architects and designers remains to be seen.

  • 1. Postmodernism departed from modernism’s austerity and homogeneity, favouring a varied aesthetic including the use of vernacular symbols, historical elements and ornamentation. Rather than offering a single new direction, it consisted of disparate movements and coincided with the rush of money from India’s economic reforms. With a growing real estate market, architecture began to emerge from an ideological vacuum, and buildings became physical sites for the accumulation of capital—what David Harvey called the ‘spatial fix’.
  • 2. India’s official rupture with socialism, with the liberalisation of the economy in 1991 started its descent into capital-driven architecture, as seen from the rash of steel and glass skyscrapers choking the horizons of Indian cities. Such construction, together with Indian postmodernism in architecture, started to gain prominence.