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Resurgent Modernism: The Architecture of Namita Singh

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Item Code: BAG023
Author: Gautam Bhatia
Publisher: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2022
ISBN: 9789394501010
Pages: 128 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: HARDCOVER
Other Details 11.00 X 9.00 inch
Weight 1.23 kg
Book Description
About The Book

It is a strange and unfortunate paradox that the city of Chandigarh, celebrated as the great experiment in modern architecture, should be remembered only for its association with Le Corbusier. There have been significant sustained professional practices in the city since the seventy years following its inception that have taken architecture into a modern Indian direction.

A book on the works of Namita Singh is long overdue. Her Chandigarh-based practice, has delivered a range of buildings-including educational institutes, offices, commercial projects, housing, heritage and restoration works, private homes and interiors-all across India. While much of her work is in tune with a contemporary modernism, she has always drawn on local values and technologies for its generic expressions. Having set up a practice barely a decade after independence, Namita belongs to the generation of architects who participated in the country's rapid development, providing a range of infrastructure projects for a society in the making, its institutions and cities.

How does one assess the overall work of a five- decade-long practice that has succeeded in creating monumental public works but also those of a fine-tuned residential scale, each structure dedicated to a precise ideal, conscious of environment and technology, scope and purpose? Foremost is the inclusion of work that illustrates principles the architect uses to build. Second, projects that clearly demonstrate a conceptual unity to an idea or design as well as those that are part of the stylistic consistency of the firm. The accompanying pictures tell a parallel story and lend value to the breadth of the varied projects presented and of a practice informed by inquiry.

About the Author

Gautam Bhatia is a Delhi-based architect, writer and artist. Recipient of several awards for his buildings, Bhatia has also published books on architecture and satire, and recently authored Blueprint (Mapin, 2018). His drawings and sculptures have been displayed in galleries in India and abroad.

Preface

What is the place of architecture in a post-pandemic world? It is perhaps indicative of the current state of cities, the regard for the environment. the effects of climate change and the changing character of civic reality that architecture is caught like a rat in an overflowing drain. The sanctified view of architecture as a private settled place is disturbed in a world surrounded by epidemics, overpopulation and other amplified problems. To remain entirely unaffected or completely submerged gives an altogether insignificant logic to its presence. The making of places is undoubtedly influenced by the social, cultural and political forces of time and can be seen in many obvious readings of buildings.

Do green walls and vertical plantings signify environmental conservation? Do high rises suggest increasingly dense living? Are mud structures a return to an earthy organicism? The significant assembly of such variations allows us to understand the multitude of forces that affect daily life. What then is the value of architectural writing beyond informing of the change that buildings and design make visible? Are private professionals similarly informed by ideas through the course of their practice?

A book on private work gives value in the breadth of the varied projects presented-work informed by inquiry and a life well lived. What then is the inherent value of including architectural work, unless it illuminates an idea? First, and foremost, is the inclusion of only work that illustrates principles the architect uses to build. Second, projects that clearly demonstrate a conceptual unity to an idea or design as well as those that are part of the stylistic consistency of the firm. In the past, the concerns for context and history took on a particular colour in arguments that defy existing modes. The work of writing is not meant to embark on a message of originality or provide subjective deviations into self-generated forms. The accompanying pictures tell a parallel story and leave such inferences to the viewer.

Foreword

I feel I would be limiting Namita Singh if I describe her as an architect. She is an artist of architecture. The buildings she creates are jewels of art, craft and design. From the north of India to its south. Namita has worked with a rare eclectic sensibility of the modern where traditional Indian aesthetics finds a comfortable home in the land of formally structured modernism.

Born in the medieval town of Firozpur on the banks of the Sutlej River, into a traditional Punjabi household, Namita was a child of post-independent India. She grew up in the modern city of Chandigarh, designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Chandigarh as a city is a prime example of the Nehruvian vision of modernity of a freshly independent India. It was while growing up amid the Corbusian architecture, with its Brutalist sensibility, that Namita imbibed her own architectural aesthetics. Corbusier and other modern architects followed the Brutalist architectural philosophy, of exposed bricks and minimal construction and one devoid of over-ornamentation. Chandigarh, an apt example of the essence of modernism, shaped Namita's language. She became very much aware of global architectural style and design when she ventured into the field. The internationalism and cosmopolitanism of the contemporary also added to her aesthetic sensibility. This is mirrored in her architectural design and style.

Against the rising economic opportunities and political makeovers of the developing nation, Namita has seen the exponential growth of liberal markets in the globalized world. It gave her the prospect of marking the shifts in architectural thinking and ushering in the new trends. The reason her architecturally designed buildings are riveting and deeply engaging is that she personifies the extreme creative feminine. Like the epigraph talks of the evenness of the planet earth to make its habitat friendly, Namita is akin to the Vishwakarma, or the maker of all, who converses with every aspect of architecture, be it materiality, design or aesthetics. To highlight her modern contemporary sensibility, local materials and landscape are very much part of her architectural philosophy. Through her inclusive and organic practice, she has created works in a holistic manner with reinforced concrete, cement, glass and exposed red bricks. She is taking the legacy of modernity to another level.

Namita has designed a range of educational institutes, public works. institutions for public facility and research, heritage buildings, housing complexes and commercial sites across the country. Among the many projects Namita has created. I am taking three landmark buildings that help me critique and bring clarity to my thoughts about the vast expanse of her oeuvre. The first is Sri Dasmesh Academy at Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, the second is the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala in Kerala and the third is her private home in her karma bhoomi, or place of work. Chandigarh

Sri Dasmesh Academy was her first major project emanating from the SNA studio. In designing the residential school. Namita experimented with taking the built environment to the outside and merging it with the natural landscape to bring the beauty of the outdoors indoors. She opened up her design to bring nature and buildings into an organic structure where ecology whispered sweet nothings to the bricks of the building. The rural residential school takes into account the rugged terrain of the landscape and integrates it into its building structure. The ubiquitous gullies of Punjab find their presence in the architecture of the building to acquaint the students with the local landscape of their inhabitancy. Namita finds a balance between the traditional knowledge systems available, be it landscape material or design, and innovative architectural techniques to create an edifice that is one step closer to the home while offering a new experience.

Introduction

It is a strange and unfortunate paradox that the city of Chandigarh- celebrated as the great experiment in modern architecture- should be remembered only for its association with Le Corbusier. In the sixty years since its inception, little of enduring architectural value has been built there that gives the place and idea a sense of community and continuity. The question needs to be asked: Have there been significant sustained professional practices in the city since then that have taken architecture into a modern Indian direction? A book on the works of Namita Singh is long overdue. Her Chandigarh-based practice has delivered a range of buildings- including educational institutes, offices, commercial projects, housing, heritage and restoration works, private homes and interiors-all across India. While Chandigarh has remained her home base, and much of her work is in tune with a contemporary modernism, she has always drawn on local values and technologies for its generic expressions. It need hardly be stated that larger institutional and campus projects designed by Namita have been carefully and deliberately organized into precise hierarchies of axes and local symmetries. This is especially so in the vast and open landscape agglomerations at the Indian Naval Academy. Ezhimala-a vacant coastal site without significant features or orienting possibilities. An arena substantially different from the flat terrain of Chandigarh. In other institutional projects around Punjab, buildings and land have converged in vastly differing asymmetries set up to organize functions. The response to each site has in fact been unselfconscious. diverse and emerging naturally from local conditions, materials and available technologies. And as with firms conversant with wildly differing regions. Namita too carefully orchestrated a wilful climatic and aesthetic effort.

Having set up practice barely a decade after independence. Namita belongs to the generation of architects that participated in the country's rapid development. A postcolonial architecture that provided a range of infrastructure projects for a society in the making, its institutions and cities. Building in Chandigarh meant first and foremost to practise in the shadow of the French master, and to distil from that influence her own version of modernism-a way of thinking and design that looked forward but did not ignore the lessons of the past. Such an attitude was easily visible in Sri Dasmesh Academy, a rural residential school which follows the simplicity of the surrounding rugged terrain, and Yadavindra Public School, where decorative brickwork is devised out of existing vernacular patterns. How much and what can be improvised out of traditional construction is part and parcel of informed innovation-an idea that is both new and old at once. The arches and masonry work at Sri Dasmesh Academy and Yadavindra Public School clearly owe their allegiance to traditional construction.

**Contents and Sample Pages**











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