Contemporary Indian Architecture

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Item Code: IDK329
Author: Jagan Shah
Publisher: Roli Books
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788174364463
Pages: 271 (Illustrated Throughout In Full Color)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.2" X 9.3"
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Book Description

From the Jacket

The first book is its kind; Contemporary Indian Architecture showcases emerging and established talent in the field of Indian architecture during the last two decades. While the original masters of modern architecture in India do feature, this book devotes itself to the cutting-edge, unique and contemporary designs and monumental creations, ranging from residential and commercial to public spaces, which are putting Indian architects on the world map for architectural excellence.

Jagan Shah is a professional architect and historian. He has been a visiting lecturer at the School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi, his alma mater, since 1998. he received formal training in History, Theory and Criticism at the University of Cincinnati and Columbia University. His writings have been published in leading journals in Indian and abroad and he is co-editor of Round, an annual journal of Asian writings on architecture. He is also chief executive of Urban Space Consultants, an urban planning think-tank based in New Delhi.


Configuring The Present
The present volume presents an affirmative answer to its originating question: is there a 'contemporary Indian architecture' that could claim some distinction in the busy world of styles and identities that clamour daily for our attention, that would warrant a place in the tomes of history that line our bookshelves? The book documents select works of twenty architects, most of whom are in their second decade of professional practice (only the beginning of the average architect's career) and have remained off the radar of world architecture, except for the few intermittent blips that are registered when someone happens to flip through an Indian architecture magazine. The contents are by no means definitive; rather, they present a snapshot of works that stand out from the panoply of contemporary architecture, suggesting new directions and reinforcing continuities that will inform the development of Indian architecture through the coming decades of the twenty-first century.

The shortlist was fairly short to start with. Forty architects were invited in submit three personal favourites from their work and to suggest other architect who would merit inclusion. Finding the select twenty did indeed become a search for exceptions within exceptions. Relative to the overall size of the construction industry, there are shockingly few buildings in the country that are designed and supervised by a talented and skilled architectural practice and produced through due process. This situation is changing, but it seems fitting that 'the contemporary' should remain in conflict with the dominant order, for it is in this challenging conflict that we discern the sources of inspiration for the creative professional. We may all fancy the idea of walking out on the street one day and finding every building to be of enduring value, the Indian city transformed into a total work of art, but if such totalitarian visions were ever to come true, historians and critics would be forced to become spin doctors and purveyors of propaganda, and contemporary architects would be clones of a single master architect!

It is fair to wonder if the contemporary in the title of this book refers to the proliferating multitude of drab utilitarian structures clad in glass and aluminium sheeting or the mediocre masquerades of world architecture, whose distinguishing feature is that they are prima donnas in a sea of ugliness. While it is of its time, there seems little in this architecture that could be described as Indian and connoisseurs might suggest that most of the specimens we see on our streets don't even qualify as architecture. Rather, 'contemporary architecture' seems to be distinguished only by the garish fantasies of consumer capitalism ousting the decaying functionalism of the socialist city; endless novelties with frills, features, accents devised to serve little more purpose than to maximize development, to evade compliance with regulations, to hide a flaw or satisfy whims. How, then, are the contents of this book different? It the 51 architectural works documented in this book-21 residences and 10 institutional, commercial, 4 housing, 3 recreation, 3 hospitality, 2 urban design, and 1 industrial-could speak for themselves, what would they say?

Given that by use and by substance they are embedded in the vital matrix of civilization, all buildings reflect the places and times in which they are produced. We cherish the remains of ancient civilizations because they reveal how refined was the culture and profound the understanding of nature in times that did not enjoy the technologies and utilities of the present. This is as true of Mohenjo-daro and the Mayans as it is of nineteenth century London. We celebrate the Art Nouveau because it offered us ways of seeing what prefigured the photographic image that so dominates our worldview today. We marvel at the Italian renaissance because it laid may of the scientific and artistic foundation of the world we know; but if we had corresponding archives and artifacts, we might have said the same of the Chola kingdom in South India, except that the archetypal free-thinking individual, the very mainstay of our modernity, may appear to be more a legacy of Florence than Vijayanagar. The comparison would urge us to question our presumptions about modernity, about the veracity of history, and the inquiry would thereby vindicate the purpose of writing history, which is to understand ourselves better in the present. Thus, when we revel in the robustness and beauty of India's rural habitats because they still display, in vivid detail, continuity with lifestyles and philosophies that are fast disappearing, out pleasuring of history is all the sweeter because we are protected from the harsh realities that actually produced those small beauties.

The original conditions of design and production impart to each work of architecture a unique character, an aura. But the aura of an older work is radically different from that of the contemporary. Whereas the former is illuminated by the accumulation of knowledge and insight that we command today, the latter carries the marks and impulses of the present, drawing greater attention to the architect's negotiation with current realities. On the past, we bring to bear the weight of history that has transpired since, whereas the present is judged by the traces of history that it carries into the future. Because the contemporary does not offer the luxury of perspective from the originating circumstances of the work, because the work and the person commenting on it are both embedded in the same present, the book conveys and author's predilection: to recover the primacy and relevance of modernism as a generating force in Indian architecture. It is fortunate that the collected material supports such a premise and it is amply evident that the best contemporary works maintain continuities with the rich traditions of theory and design that are collectively described as modern architecture.

The First Moderns
Through most of the twentieth century-in fact, until the reform of the Indian economy in 1991 and the liberalization of trade in materials, equipment and services-architects in India were forced to negotiate between he attractions of contemporary architectural theories from abroad and the limitations of the local building industry. In the 1950s the contrast between global standards and the state of the construction technology in India was so stark that it prompted the French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1966), the most famous in a long tradition of foreign architects in India (who were imported by the Greeks, Emperor Ashoka, Turks, Mughals, Dutch, French and British rulers), to boast to his European friends that the construction of the grand monuments in Chandigarh has been executed using pack animals and… the joke was somewhat flat, given that British engineers half a century before him had built railways and settlements in the steepest Indian mountains using the same beasts of burden, laden with baskets or pulling wooden carts. Construction technology had seldom been a stumbling block for architects in India, who relied on inventive details and formal compositions to fashion a unique and appropriate aesthetic. Indeed, in addition to having sustained centuries of building activity on the Indian subcontinent, these seemingly primitive techniques were able to deliver both the reactionary neo-classical edifices of early nineteenth century, pre-colonial Calcutta, which were brick and stucco renditions of designs plagiarized from European models, as well as the refined neo-classicism of the end of Empire, most famously the Victoria Memorial (1921) in Calcutta and the monuments of New Delhi (1912-1929) by Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) and Herbert Baker (1862-1946).

During the first half of the twentieth century, and quite apart from the artificial hiatus of New Delhi, two distinct continuities were visible in Indian architecture, distinguished by their tectonic qualities. One was the ornamented brick and stone masonry tradition that extended the principles of the Gothic Revival in European architecture and was best exemplified by the institutional works of Robert Fellowes Chisholm (1838-1915) in Travancore, Madras and Baroda. This tradition would also produce such singular marvels as the Garrison Church (1930) by Arthur Gordon Shoosmith (1888-1974) and St. Stephen's College (1941) by Walter George (1881-1962) , both located in Delhi. The second was the use of the reinforced concrete frame (invented in France in 1898) combined with masonry infill walls, a technique that enabled the compositional flourishes of Art Deco style apartment blocks, residences and cinema halls all over the country, and found a truly indigenized manifestation in the works of Claude Batley (1879-1956) in Bombay.

The rich field of Indian architecture was drastically attenuated following the rhetoric and heroism of decolonization post-1947. Chandigarh became the icon of Indian modernism with the sanction it received from Jawaharlal Nehru, client par excellence and the scripter of India's post-colonial modernity. The capitol complex by Le Corbusier became a classic example of modernism because it demonstrated the plasticity of forms and liberating experience of space that can be achieved in reinforced concrete, and the 'honesty' of intent that was represented by Corbusier's unique contribution: beton brut (exposed concrete). But Chandigarh was not all concrete. The decorative brick masonry housing types designed by Le Corbusier's cousin Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967) and the British architects, Maxwell Fry (1899-1987) and Jane Drew (1911-1996) are now considered classics of tropical architecture.

Barring a few exceptions, the lessons of that 'first modern city of India' were lost on the cohorts of government-employed architects and engineers, who set about manufacturing modern India in other sites across the country. In Europe and America, mechanized mass production in authentic singularity of a work of architecture. The same loss of aura was delivered to India with the mimicry of the so called 'International Style', which too was mass produced, but only as visual, not in substance. Launched in New York in 1934, with an eponymous exhibition by Philip Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock, to celebrate the global spread of canonical modernism (white, unornamented forms and functional layouts), 'International Style' was lost in translation when it landed on Indian shores. With the expansion of the Indian state and its nation building behemoth, the public works department, the country suffered a proliferation of characterless blocks, their standardized architecture relieved by little more than formulaic symmetries, fanciful sunshades, lattices, textured plaster and paint.

The excessive mediocrity of the national socialist building industry was broken only under exceptional circumstances during the 1950s. a variety of forces created a small but significant group of talented and dedicated architects. First, there were these who were sent to America by the Indian government to receive professional training, such as Habib Rahman (1915-1995), Chief Architect of the Central Public works Department (CPWD), builder of the first high-rise building in India, the New Secretariat (1954) in Calcutta, and the only architect to receive the Padma Bhushan, and Achyut Kanvinde (1916-2003), who designed the first laboratories for the Council of Scientific and industrial Research (1956) in Kanpur. Second, there were architects, who received their training at the JJ School of Art in Bombay, the only institution in the country imparting education in architecture at the time. Of these, the most noteworthy are Balkrishna Doshi (1927), who charted a unique trajectory as an apprentice to Le Corbusier, and J M Benjamin (1920), Rahman's successor in the CPWD and architect of the Delhi High Court (1966) and the Parliament House Annexe 1975. Finally, there were architects who were trained entirely in the west but returned to practice in India after 1947 – such as C.S.H. Jhabvala (1920), architect of the Kirorimal College (1956) in Delhi University, Shiv Nath Prasad (1922), architect of the Akbar Hotel (1969), and the Sri Ram Centre (1972) in Delhi, both remarkably original tributes to the spirit of beton brut, and Vanu Bhuta (1922), architect of the Gandhi Memorial in Delhi (1956). Charles Correa (1930) returned from America to set up practice in 1958, and designed the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya (1963) in Ahmedabad, while Raj Rewal (1934) returned to India from France and set up a practice in 1962, winning many prestigious competitions thereafter. There were architects like Joseph Allen Stein (1912-2001), who came from America to teach in Bengal in 1952 and then established one of the leading practices of the country, and British self-taught architect Laurie Baker (1917-2007), whose Gandhian philosophy and low-cost high-value architecture steeped in the authentic flavour of Kerala and its traditional building techniques, reinvented and playfully rendered, has an unparalleled status in the history of Indian architecture.

Due to their education and experiences, the first generation of 'Indian' architects-the First Moderns-were exposed to the vibrant legacies of modern architecture and were alive to the possibilities these created for their practice. The most visible characteristic of their work was a sensitivity to labour and materials and their application, and dexterity in handling building and landscape. There was a clear thrust on the physical fact of the building and the potentials of space and form to meet the functional and economic needs of a newly democratized society, while ensuring studied absence of allusion, revival and nostalgia. Rather than the blind application of received traditions, the First Moderns innovated the traditions; their originality was visible, for example, in the way they incorporated the decorative arts in their works, a travesty for dogmatic modernism but an organic outcome of the persistence of craft in the labour-intensive building industry, with the play of textured surfaces a tribute to the beauty of the tropical sun. Their inventiveness was evident in the way they used minimalism in the application of formal typologies like courtyards and shaded corridors.

The First Moderns presented continuities with a formidable bank of ideas that influenced equally, the modern architectural culture of India and abroad. Through them, students of Indian architecture have received an authentic, albeit filtered, version of canonical modernism: the works and philosophies of Buckminster Fuller (Correa), Le Corbusier (Doshi), Walter Gropius and Alison & Peter Smithson (Kanvinde), Richard Neutra (Stein), and structural functionalism and Metabolism (Rewal). Through the prodigious but separate efforts of these architects, and without an overt agenda, modernism found a firm footing in India, with a richness of expressions befitting a style whose antecedents were over a century old, having traversed the stylistic evolution of the nineteenth century-Gothic Revival, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau-and the early twentieth century-Futurism, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Rationalism, to name the most prominent. The works of the Fist Moderns dot the Indian landscape today, an Indian architecture that is contemporary and rooted in its place.


Anupama Kundoo22
Arjun Nambisan30
Bimal Patel40
Gurjit Singh Matharoo54
Jacob George64
Kamal Malik76
Kapil Gupta & Chris Lee94
Mallika Kumar & Narayan Moorthy104
Meena Mani & Anurag Chowfla116
Nisha Mathew Ghosh & Soumitro Ghosh128
Sonali Srivastava Rastogi, Manit Rastogi & Sanjay Bhardwaj144
Rahul Mehrotra 158
Rajesh Renganathan176
Rajiv Agarwal188
Rajiv Kathpalia200
Sandeep Khosla208
Sanjay Mohe224
Sanjay Puri232
S.K. Das244
Stephane Paumier252
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