One by one, the buildings and the builders of Modern India, fall. Ajoy Choudhuri, who died this week, was one of the quieter doyens of the generation of architects that began to bring India to attention on the international radar of progressive architectural developments, half a century ago.
He was a man of few words. In an unforgettable interview with one of the present authors at the height of his firm’s fame in the 1980s, Choudhuri all but refused to speak. He insisted, alternatively, on driving us to the monumental ruins of Old Tughlaqabad a few short kilometres from where the office was based, on what then was the southern fringes of Greater Delhi. With genuine reverence and conviction, he invited us to listen together in complete silence to what the old stones could tell us instead.
Together with his original partners, Morad Chowdhury and Ranjit Sabikhi, Choudhuri’s practice, Design Group, was catapulted to international fame in 1980 as winners of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture for its part in the game-changing design of the Mughal Sheraton hotel in Agra. But Choudhuri and partners had already become prominent among the younger vanguard of critical practitioners within India. Widely-published early projects by Design Group, such as the YMCA Staff Quarters in Delhi, were seminal precursors to the possibility of softening the Brutalist formalisms that they, like many others, had imported through overseas training and work experience. By articulating the volumetric and spatial affinities of this new landscape of modern housing and institutional architectures with the vernacular townscapes of North India, their work demonstrated how the re-configured built fabric of modern India’s bourgeoning urban middle-classes could still be strangely familiar and true to cultural roots and context.
Peter Scriver and Amit Srivastava