Architects Architecture

Remembering the Howard Roark of India: Nari Gandhi

It was not his surname that prompted Nari Gandhi to wear khadi. He embraced the fabric because it was self-reliant, natural and allowed easy breathing. Just like the 30-odd structures built by a man who is often called the Howard Roark of India.

Gandhi–one of the four Indians to have appretinced under the legendary American Frank Lloyd Wright-was an iconic architect. He liked to work without an office and discarded conventions like floor-plan drawings and time-tables. Gandhi, who learnt pottery, would work with masons on each project, share his tiffin with them and use a wooden stick as his pencil. He sketched on the ground to explain his plan. If he wasn’t happy with a construction, he would immediately tear it down. Each of the homes Gandhi built, including actress Asha Parekh’s stone bungalow at Juhu, were products of a happy marriage between art and architecture.

Today, though, this marriage is being battered by builders, bulldozers and bahus. Fifteen years after this maverick Parsi architect died in a car accident, most of his built works (except for Jain House in Lonavla and the Bajaj House) have either been renovated or destroyed. One bungalow in Versova was used recently as the set for a saas-bahu soap. It is now a party venue, replete with a bar that glows in the beam of UV lights. Of course, none of these elements, including high-pitched melodrama and alcohol, is in tune with Gandhi’s organic philosophy.

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Moshe Safdie to under take beautification of Golden Temple surroundings

CHANDIGARH: Internationally acclaimed US based architect Moshe Safdie, who had successfully accomplished the most prestigious project of Khalsa Heritage Centre (KHC), Sri Anandpur Sahib would soon undertake the beautification of the surroundings of Golden Temple (Sri Harimandir Sahib) along with the corridor project (Galiara) around the holy Golden Temple at Amritsar.

A decision to this effect was taken at a high level meeting by the Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal with the delegation of architects led by Safdie here at Chief Minister’s residence this morning. Safdie informed the Chief Minister that he would make a detailed presentation on the concept and lay out plan to under take the beautification of the surroundings of Sri Harimandir Sahib from historic Jallianwala Bagh Complex to the temple site shortly. He said that the existing approved plan of the beautification of corridor project around Golden Temple would also be an integral part of this composite plan. Safdie pointed out that since the Golden Temple was one of the most sacred amongst the religious places of the world where people of all faiths across the globe converge to pay obeisance and offer prayers, was also the most preferred destination of religious tourism. Safdie also informed that he would also utilize the services of world renowned Lebanese landscape Architect Vladimir Djurovic for planting rare species of trees and shrubs which would be brought from the different part of world to accentuate its mystic aura and serenity.

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Concrete Masterworks: New Delhi

Rrishi Raote / Business Standard / New Delhi 

Few speak of Delhi’s architectural heritage beyond what the sultans, badshahs and British built. Architect Rahul Khanna and photographer Manav Parhawk set out to challenge this paradigm, as Khanna tells Rrishi Raote. Many of the 47 masterpieces of Delhi’s modern architecture they describe in this slim handbook are institutional buildings and embassies, but there are also homes, places of worship, and memorials…

You write that Delhi has architecture but no architectural culture. What do you mean?
By that we mean that there is no platform to debate architecture, to understand or appreciate it. When all these magazines were covering 60 years of Independence, there was not a single mention of architecture. There is all this money in art now, which is why there are so many forums on Indian art, but architecture, despite it being the very surroundings of our lives, is ignored.

The work of a handful of architects appears several times each. Why is that?
Many architects seem to be more prolific than others. During the post-Independence building boom, architects close to Nehru, like Habib Rahman and Mansingh Rana, got many commissions. Later, Raj Rewal seemed to be getting many, also perhaps because he was close to government decision-makers and those who commission public buildings. I could be wrong, but thankfully they were great architects.

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Notes from the Emerging Architecture of India Conference in New York City

The Emerging Exchanges: New Architectute of India conference was held last Thursday and Friday at the New School Campus here in NYC. Jointly hosted by the New School, India China Institute, and The Architecture League it brought together a great mix of practitioners from India.

Thursday’s first session was an introduction to the theme. Kazi Ashraf gave an overview of the current state of Indian architecture which was basically paraphrasing his article for the “Made In India” AD Issue of 2007. In showing a lot of proposals for projects he tried to cover ground about the typologies of emergent Indian architecture. However as Rahul Mehrotra pointed out later in the conference, most of them were just proposals and never ever left the drawing board. And sadly this would be a constant criticism of the conference over the next two days. More of that later in the article.

Some of the outstanding presentations were:

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Emerging Exchanges: New Architectures of India

Over the next two days I will be attending this conference at the Architectural League in New York City. india-construction

It’s been a while since an architectural-themed conference on India has taken place here in NYC and it should be interesting to see the dialogue that it generates.

Hosted at the New School auditorium, the conference sold out a few days ago. Nevertheless there are tickets available for the keynote address at the end of Day 01.

Participants include:

Himanshu Burte, Prem Chandavarkar, Kenneth Frampton, Soumitro Ghosh and Nisha Mathew, Sudhir Jambhekar, Rajeev Kathpalia, Anupama Kundoo, Reinhold Martin, Gurjit Singh Matharoo, Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha, Rahul Mehrotra, Geeta Mehta, Vyjayanthi Rao, Samira Rathod, Margie Ruddick and Tom Zook, Michael Sorkin, Neerja Tiku, and Billie Tsien and Tod Williams

The conference looks to understand the growth and development of Indian architecture and cities overall in the time frame of an overall growth in Indian economy, and its standing in the global scenario.

However the choice of participants seems to be a bit peculiar. There are the usual high profile “suspects” and then others that are probably there because the US-based co-chairs had heard about them. And somehow my feeling is that it does not reflect the ground realities.

As much as he is reviled in the architectural community in India, I would have loved to see Hafeez Contractor present and talk about the conference. As my friend and landscape architect Runit Chhaya of Design Cell NYC puts it “Hafeez is today, probably the only architect in India who gets buildings sold, just on his name and fame “.

I will be covering the conference in detail. If you are going to be attending, give me a shout in the comments section.

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Charles Correa: Cities as agents of change

Charles Correa is arguably India’s most renowned architect and urban planner. From the Mahatma Gandhi Museum in Ahmedabad to the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Centre in Boston, his buildings have covered a wide spectrum. On the 50th anniversary of setting up his office in Mumbai, Rahul Singh spoke to Correa about his career and concerns:

Everybody who watched the Beijing Olympics was enthralled by the Bird’s Nest stadium. Why doesn’t India have such iconic buildings?

Chinese artist was the inspiration. Then, a Danish structural engineer, Ove Arup, who lives in England, did the actual interweaving structure (he also did the Sydney Opera House). For great buildings, you need a client with imagination, whose objective is excellence. In the 1960s and 1970s we had a lot of good buildings through government patronage of architects like Le Corbussier, Raj Rewal and Balkrishna Doshi. We need to find a way for public agencies to involve more private architects.

Tell us something about your career and your success.

I returned from the US when I was 25, became a partner in a firm. Then, at 28, I started on my own. I did not imagine I would last so long! I believe that if you enjoy what you do, you will do it well. After the Gandhi museum, I won a competition for low-cost housing. I was also invited to teach at MIT and the president of Peru, who was an architect, asked me to design some housing for them.

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Re-use of Olympic Architecture post-event

As New Delhi gears up to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the issue of what cities do with star architecture projects post-event comes up. The article below looks at one such instance in the aftermath of Beijing 2008.

In a July interview with Der Spiegel, celebrated Olympic architect Jacques Herzog defended his decision to accept a signature commission from China, despite the nation’s abysmal record on human rights. The headline said enough: "Only an idiot would have said no." Given the reception that Herzog’s Bird’s Nest has received – it is no longer Herzog & de Meuron’s building, really, but China’s – his answer seems quite obviously correct.

But what happens when the Olympic Games are over? If precedent gives any clue, nothing much – or worse. World record-setting projects in architecture and urban design rarely pay off for host nations. Lack of use, expensive upkeep and bewildering construction costs have plagued cities that have undertaken similarly grand missions for the Olympics. No stadium created for the Olympics has been very profitable, and high design increases the likelihood that costs will balloon. In fact, it might be the host nation who is the idiot for saying yes to the starchitect.

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The Architecture of Delhi Today

I just came across an interesting article dissecting the architecture of Delhi over the decades.

But some architects question whether stark, strong-lined Modernism was right for young India’s capital. “We have this complex of not being modern enough,” says Aman Nath, who with Frenchman Francis Wacziarg melded historical restoration and tourism in their Neemrana Hotels, housed in forts and palaces. “So you copy what already happened somewhere else, but it already happened, so it can’t be modern. It’s always passé. Straightlined, geometric Modernism didn’t work here.”

Still, many architects say India’s early Modernists, through a dialogue with forms being developed abroad and vernacular architecture, successfully expressed an Indian interpretation of a particular style. But after the first two decades after Independence, it becomes harder to find architectural works that accomplish that.

Continue reading here.

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Foreign Architects Rush into India

The profession and practise of architecture in India has undergone a complete transformation in this decade. The last eight years have been a boom time, not seen since the heady days of Post Indipendance India.

The booming economy and the burgeoning middle class has prompted developers to bring in foreign architects with foreign fees to design everything from airports to residential and office towers and bungalows and resorts.

Foreign architects bring in the tried and tested processes and function precision to bring about a complete turnaround in the way projects are designed and built. They pair up with Indian firms who have the expertise on the ground to get things done and built.

Foreign architects for the most part are bringing in foreign solutions and design principles which may not all work in India, but the public does not think a second before lapping it all up. We are literally bringing New York, Chicago, Tokyo or Shanghai to Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and countless other towns and cities.

Only time will tell if this is successful in the long term. India is not the only place in the world where this is happening. China is way ahead of us in transplanting urban fabric from the West into their cities.

Architecture Heritage

Corbusier’s Legacy Stolen From Chandigarh

To an architect, this is really sad news. Chandigarh has been Independant India’s first and largest planned city. Planned and designed by arguably the greatest architect of the last century, Le Corbusier; it carries Corb’s signature in more ways than one can imagine.

From the massive Secretariat to the Law Buildings and Courthouses, Le Corbusier’s vision for India took a long time to build, but today is a thriving metropolis. In many ways, Corbusier’s principles did not work, but for the most part the synergy they created has been sustained today. It is now also a mini architectural mecca for students and architects alike.

Therefore its with great sadness that I came across this article in The Outlook

Buying heavily at routine government auctions of “junk” furniture, stalking old employees of Corbusier and his cousin and collaborator on the Chandigarh project, Pierre Jeanneret, and acquiring neglected artefacts lying with them, these collectors have bought symbols of Corbusier’s heritage—from manhole covers to wood-and-cane chairs—for as little as Rs 100, restored it to pristine perfection at a workshop in Delhi and shipped it to exhibitions and sales at Paris and New York galleries.

I hope that the government, the local architects body and concerned citizens worldwide will take notice, create publicity and somehow stem the tide of artifacts landing up in private collectors houses forever.

Continue reading the entire article after the fold.