Building on the philosophies and ideas of the past.
Anuya Barde & Tushita Mehta
To follow the rising modernism occurring around the world, or to create its own identity? – was the dilemma faced by Indian architecture post-independence. India tried to break free of the dominating architecture of the British, without completely renouncing its learnings. People sought inspiration from international styles, inviting architects to establish the foundation of modernism in India.
Foreign architects practicing in India led to the spread of modernist ideas, while Indian architects who had studied abroad brought a fresh perspective, thus shaping Contemporary Indian Architecture. This first generation of architects included Habib Rahman, Achyut Kanvinde and Charles Correa, to mention a few, who influenced others. Elements like reinforced concrete, large glazing, flat roofs, freestanding stairs, cantilevered porches, and cubistic massing were introduced, which became the characteristics of Modern Indian Architecture.
The second generation of architects emerged when Le Corbusier was invited by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to India. He, along with master architects like Louis I Kahn, brought a more functional and pragmatic approach to Indian Modernism. Their designs complimented traditional Indian aspects, climatic concerns and social contexts. Notable examples of this can be seen in Corbusier’s abstract forms and the play of solid-void which have Indian elements interwoven into them. Le Corbusier’s Assembly Hall in Chandigarh has a roof curved like a cow’s horns, while Louis I Kahn has used the texture of brick in many of his structures. The influence of these masters was carried on and evolved by other Indian architects.
The Post-Independence era saw significant evolution in the Modernist style- from bold and raw to aesthetic and nature harmonizing forms. Modernism became a blend of vernacular and modern architecture, where modern-looking structures embodied a touch of Indianness. Vernacular architecture often served as an inspiration, like in Uttam Jain’s design for the Jodhpur University, in which traditional materials are presented in a modern expression. The Lotus Temple by Fariborz Sahba and the Matrimandir by Roger Anger are structures that can be called modern, with minimal ornamentation and decoration, but their connection to the context makes them traditional. In these years, issues identified in architecture were provided with modernized solutions, while showing the learnings from the past.
Le-Corbusier once quoted, “Today I am accused of being a revolutionary, yet I confess to having had only one master: the past; and only one discipline: the study of the past.”
The father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier established his five points of architecture for the creation of space and its form. Unlike the language of architecture before him, where a man was the center of the space, his designs centralized the nature of spaces.
The Modular man created by Le-Corbusier, which was his interpretation of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, became the basis of his architectural theories. While both are anthropometric human scales; the Vitruvian Man was a proportional perfection while the Modular Man is the normalized version enhanced by the Fibonacci sequence. During the creation of spaces, he restricted the human experience into boxes while prioritizing the nature of space. This disbalance proved his philosophy to be inadequate but served as a catapult for other languages and philosophies to be established.
The master architects not only inspire and encourage practicing architects but also aspiring students to build their own ideas of modernism. We are taught the implementation of architectural and design principles by observing structures designed by them. Design processes start with site analysis and case studies, in which we understand the working and architectural language in a particular space-time. Every aspect of the design is reasoned and we learn the identification and resolution of issues. We explore materials, technologies, ideas, derive inferences and incorporate them into our own designs. The case studies we choose shape our designs in an indirect way. Often, instead of taking inspiration from traditional architecture, we end up choosing case studies which are already inspired by it, thus picking on lesser aspects of traditional designs. The different elements that we incorporate in our designs are used without understanding the thought and reasoning behind them. We often overlook the climatic and social reasoning of the elements while prioritizing aesthetics over experience. This process leads to a design, which is a by-product of only visuals of traditional practices and modern architecture.
Living in a contemporary world, it’s necessary to learn about past styles and movements. The amalgamation of knowledge of the past and the experimentation allows us to move forward and beyond. Climate, geography, socio-economic factors and technology are constants that are considered while designing, but improvisation with change is also a constant. This is a critical approach which combines vernacular strategies using modern methods. In India, cooking was elaborate, with bigger kitchens due to larger families, where food was cooked sitting on the floor. With the change in food habits and culture, while the function remains the same, kitchens are now compact to facilitate faster cooking.
History is a story of philosophies and ideas that we can build on. While the first generation of architects focused on their own style, the architects of Post-Independent India were more sensitive towards traditionalism. Inspired by international styles, they designed keeping in mind the context of India. Thus, they created a style unique in its expression while utilizing the knowledge of the past. The architects after them experienced the social transformation of India and began to realize the importance of protecting the past, without which there would be no context for the future.
“Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness,”
– Frank Gehry
In a world where people are trying to create their identity and stand out, it is not always possible for individuals to follow the learnings of the past. Discovering an individual style is a process solely belonging to an architect. The power of experience belongs to them, from the choice of materials to the technology and spatial anthropometry. Thus, more often than not, traditional elements are either lost or not accounted for.
As individuals, there is nothing we can do to sway the architect’s choices. But it’s up to us to protect what already exists. Preservation, conservation and restoration – through these, we can reclaim parts of our history, relive and learn from the experiences of different eras in actual physicality. Architecture extensively expresses culture – it is a testament to history, as it builds on the culture while adapting to the transition in lifestyle.
“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
– Winston Churchill
Architecture today no longer has a dominant language. This allows the utilization of the learnings from the past to a greater scale, for the understanding of space and place. Without that knowledge, we would lose the ability to analyze and understand situations. We are always learning from the past and are inspired by it, it’s only the perception that changes the present.
Mukerji, A., & Basu, S. (2011). A Search for Post Modernism in Indian Architecture. ABACUS, Vol.6(No.1). Retrieved October, 2020
Sebastian , S., & K.R., R. (2018). Post Independence Architecture in India: A Search for Identity in Mordenism. JETIR, Vol.5(7). Retrieved October, 2020
Strongman, L. (2010). Force Field: Vitruvian Man and the Physics of Sensory Perception. International Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol.3(9). Retrieved October, 2020