Indian cities have multiple aesthetics. As do all cities, and human settlements of varied sizes all around the world. This has been true right through history.
However Indian cities have a clear demarcation in terms of the urban aesthetics when looked at within the time frame of the last century.
The big four metros, all cities in existence for at least 400 years have an evolved sense of architecture and urban aesthetic that spans from the Mughal times to the British Raj. Each city got its own distinct version of style and look. However this sense of aesthetic took a nosedive post-Independence.
All of a sudden, for every great piece of architecture, there were 100 examples of very banal, characterless buildings. Entire sections of cities, or even entire small cities grew up with no sense of architectural character and style.
This anomaly, compounded with a complete lack of urban planning and vision, created a mish-mash of architectural style that is in most cases a visual nightmare. Things took a turn for the better in the early 90’s when the opening up of the markets brought transformation into India in all sectors. IT Parks, Techology campuses and the supporting housing, retail and commercial needs brought about an architectural boom that has been on a continuous steady rise over the last two decades.
However a total lack of a masterplan and vision for the entire city has created a new jigsaw of competing styles, materials, designs, that somehow don’t fit in all together.
Below is an article by an architect elaborating on the missed opportunity of enhanced infrastructure that would have brought about a disciplined design aesthetic in Indian cities.
What are your thoughts?
Making sense of aesthetics in Indian cities
About three years ago I decided to make Hyderabad my home. I was living in Delhi, city of my birth and education, before moving to this city.
I have been designing projects in and around Hyderabad for the last decade and have been part of its growth story in many ways. It was a strange realisation that only after relocating myself here I started thinking about its existing as a living organism and not just as another destination for business purpose.
Two things that struck me most (or rather absence of them) and probably affect me in many ways are the so called cultural scene that one is so used to in Delhi and secondly, how the architectural sensibilities of people of this historic city changed due to the fast paced development. While the first one is more specific to this city given its strong historical and cultural background that it once boasted of, the second one is about the built environment of Hyderabad, though nothing unusual as many other cities have gone though the same fate during the same timeline. I will reserve the first one for another time and write about the second one first, as being an architect by profession, this moves me both in personal and professional spectrums.
During the last decade or two, many Indian cities have witnessed stupendous growth due to the IT boom abroad and also due to the new era of liberalised economy. Hyderabad’s growth has been watched very keenly and closely by other neighbouring big cities. The city is in many ways like Delhi, more particularly on architectural front. It has an equally important architectural heritage and does not stay too behind in display of wealth and affluence. It has its own South Delhi charms that you can feel while moving around in Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills with large villas and bungalows dotting the landscape.
Importance is given more to the size and grandeur than the aesthetics of architectural design. To borrow from Gautam Bhatia’s comments on architectural scene in Delhi, the Punjabi Baroque is replaced by a hugely Greek, Corinthian and Roman Renaissance styles and if this was not enough, completed it with riot of coloured facades and glass facades to add to fetish to show off.
This is so much different from how Bangalore and Pune responded during their growth years. While Bangalore is known for its small and well built designer homes, Pune has some of the earliest and finest examples of housing in multi-storied apartment type buildings. Architectural professional gained respectability very soon in these cities much to surprise of many even in Delhi and Mumbai. And now the so called newer parts of the city, which incidentally are not more than a decade and half old, still lack some of the basic facilities. No pedestrian safety and footpaths, no decent greenery and plantation, overcrowded and congested roads, no streetlights, and signage is something which one can only dream of, are regular features of these supposedly happening places.
Public utilities like bus shelter and drinking water for commuters, underpasses for pedestrians, drainage channels and communication and electrical services ducts, and the list of requirements appears to be never ending. And on the architectural front, there is a complete sense of chaos and absurdness of design elements. There is no architecture at all. They are all covered with huge and brightly coloured hoardings that make the skyline of the city and glaringly tell you that nobody cares for the aesthetical composition of the street.
It is the rich of the world, who with their huge budgets for advertising are responsible for such ghastly act of taking pleasantness out of our cities. I for one will be very eagerly waiting to see a hoarding on top of one of their spacious high rise villas designed by probably one of the best imported architects of the world.
I always wondered if we needed huge amounts of money or technological knowhow or just simple willingness to provide for some of the basic amenities that make many other cities world over, truly world class. Just one look at any of the cities in the US or Europe, for that matter nearer home, Putrajaya City on the outskirts of KL, Malaysia, or Chinese Cities, we will learn that it is a matter of simple attitude. When will our planning and urban development bodies understand the real meaning of development? When will we, the citizens of our country, get some of the basic facilities? Secondly most of us are not even aware of what we should have and deserve, not only in terms of list of amenities but even the required or desired standards for it, in order to demand these from our system. I for one believe that everything has a demand and supply equation.
As the demand for more features and facility increases, the suppliers will make those things available and at a very affordable price. Isn’t this true in real estate sector? Compared to the demands two decade ago, look at the facilities that every developer is offering today. More aware and educated buyers are at the core of ever improving supply chain system.
And that is where the solution lies. We need initiatives that help people understand the need and importance to improved and aesthetically sensitive built environment through the collaboration of professionals, designers, leaders and local communities. It should strive to promote and encourage the best in contemporary urban planning and development and bring modern architecture, traditional craft and design closer to people. And with such initiatives, the day may not be far, when we will start rejecting a city the way we do our films or music albums if they are not good.
(Author is a practising architect based in Hyderabad and writes on design and architecture in India