At World Architecture Festival, two award-winning entries from India reconcile cultural context with a futuristic vision
At the World Architecture Festival 2018, two India-based entries won awards in two different categories. Both, in their own way, address crucial questions about the modernity of architectural design in the country that are as culturally sensitive as they are modern.
India’s cities have regularly been cast in doubt, often to the point of surrender when it comes to the possibility of them becoming model cities of the future.
Even the smart city project has its doubters, with the foremost question being that of what really is the definition of this ‘smart’.
What then are the challenges that the average architect faces in a country that clearly has no handle on what it wants to look and feel like, not to mention the spaces it has already exhausted?
At the World Architecture Festival 2018, two India-based entries won awards in two different categories. Both, in their own way, address crucial questions about the modernity of architectural design in the country that are as culturally sensitive as they are modern. Here is a glance at the two projects that are part of an exhibition of all the shortlisted entries from India.
In his collection of essays, Towards an Architecture, Le Corbusier writes, "Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and the city." India’s cities have regularly been cast in doubt, often to the point of surrender when it comes to the possibility of them becoming model cities of the future. Even the smart city project has its doubters, with the foremost question being that of what really is the definition of this ‘smart’. Naturally, the question is often asked of them who are tasked with designing and constructing our houses and neighbourhoods, planning the future of our cities – the architects. There is, therefore, a great challenge awaiting India’s architects both in terms of contextualising our culture, and finding within it the space to evolve and grow. At the World Architecture Festival last year, two award-winning entries from India offered a clue as to how this balance can, against all odds, still be achieved.
Of the many entries from India to the festival, several were shortlisted. The newly constructed 800-room hostel of GLA University designed by Mumbai-based Sanjay Puri Architects bagged the award of the Best Housing Project. “Most Indian cities have an old area that was the original city,” Puri says. “These parts of the city generally grew in an organic manner without geometric layouts. When one walks through such streets, there are interesting spaces at each corner, the focal point constantly changes and these aspects allow one to experience different perceptions while moving through as opposed to grid planning that forms most of the newer parts of a city. The organic nature of these streets in any old city is inspiring due to this nature, of not knowing what one will experience or see next, of each part getting a unique identity.” The design is, seemingly to the naked eye, erratic but it, as Puri explains, serves multiple purposes of sunlight and sight, not to mention, space.
Monuments and their symbolism have been all the rage in the last few years, with many having been completed, many more launched or declared. Good architecture is perhaps more applicative than it is imaginative at times. Winner of the Infrastructure Future Project at the festival, Monk Mackenzie’s pedestrian bridge in Thiruvalluvar, Kanyakumari, is a fine example of accomplishing a lot through the modesty of design, without losing the symbolism. “In the case of Thiruvalluvar we wanted a modular response that was repetitive and cost-effective, that was elegant and sculptural but didn’t compete with the statue or island and had a sense of permeance and timelessness,” Monk Mackenzie says. The bridge, when complete, will connect the mainland with the Vivekananda Statue and the Thiruvalluvar temple. Of the simplicity of the design, people at Mackenzie say, “The ethos of our office is to try to achieve what we call complex reductivism – or taking a complex problem and searching for a singular and simple solution that meets all the project criteria. All projects are equally difficult yet we try not to overthink problems either.”
Both projects address differing concerns, yet the question at the heart of each is that quest for modernity, and what exactly is ‘contemporary Indian architecture’; most importantly where does it derive its identity from. “Modernity is imbibing from the past with technology available today, a seamless integration of both to create a contextual responsive design that takes cognisance of climate, users and demographics,” Puri says. Of the challenge to execute grand visions in increasingly crowded cities, Puri believes the challenges are subjective. “Every city offers opportunities to explore and create meaningful architecture. Definitely a less crowded city offers more opportunities due to more availability of land. At the same time, less crowded cities need solutions that are far more economical to be feasible,” he says. This economy can often dwindle down to specifics as is the case with Mackenzie’s approach — neither too loud, nor too insignificant. “Is it was extremely important in this project that the bridge did not become the centre of attention – that belongs to what it is serving, the statue of Thiruvalluvar and the temple for Vivekananda. We wanted the project to be elegant and sculptural and have a sense of timelessness,” Monk Mackenzie says.
India boasts as rich a history of architecture as it boasts of its neglect and ruin. What then are the challenges that the average architect faces in a country that clearly has no handle on what it wants to look and feel like, not to mention the spaces it has already exhausted? “Over the last two decades, India has witnessed rapid urban growth across all types of cities, large and small. Unfortunately, much of what has been built does not contextually respond to the site, the climate and culture and does not resonate with the Indian ethos. A vast amount of generic architecture has come about, not relating to the Indian context and this is resulting in a loss of identity across the country,” Puri says. He agrees that while traditionalism need not be re-adopted, abandoning it outright is part of the problem. “The key problems architects need to address is this. They need to convince clients not to ape the West and evolve a more contextual architecture for India taking cognisance of tradition, culture and climate. For this to be facilitated, good design needs to be discussed and widely communicated through all kinds of media and exhibitions.”
India at WAF is on display at STIR Gallery, Chattarpur, Delhi
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