More than a dozen architects put their heads together to discuss the future of the profession in India. Asmita Sarkar has the details.
What happens when top architects of the country get together to discuss the metaphorical death of the profession? A multi-layered discourse and critical analysis of the future of Indian architecture led to the setting up of exhibition called Death of Architecture, a part of India Habitat Centre’s year-long photography festival on sustainable development and curated by Dr Alka Pande.
The idea for this germinated two years ago when Aniket Bhagwat of the company, Prabhakar B Bhagwat, was becoming concerned about the relevance of architecture in India and its connection to the cultural ethos of the country. The architects believe that they had been working in silos without collaborating or initiating a dialogue or even a consolidated philosophy about what the next decades would look like and this collaborative effort addressed Indian urbanity, conservation, public spaces, the idea of nature, memory and poetry.
The concept doesn’t mean literal death, it is only a metaphor, said Suparna Bhalla, principal architect at Abaxial Architects, one of the 13 firms that took part in the exhibition. She added that it is connected to the Hindu ethos of death being cyclical and having many interpretations.
The exhibition explored varied concepts, including 3,000 years of Indian architecture, the lost architects like Ajoy Choudhury and Ved Segan — the minds behind the Shakuntala and Prithvi theatres in Delhi and Mumbai respectively— and even concepts like protest poetry and prose around Independence, Dalit and LGBTQ+ rights. The ideas discussed spanned older designs, their relevance and nostalgia as well.
“Our society is so vibrant but why is there sameness in our public spaces and the designs? Everything is a glass box today,” said Bhagwat. While the Bhagwats worked on leading the exhibition, others like Rupali Gupte of Bard Studio worked on ideas like transactional spaces in the country. “We’re looking at it in the context of development but the way forward isn’t just about looking at older architecture only for nostalgia but also what it offered the cities. One of our thesis is that transactional spaces aren’t just about money exchange but of all kinds of things. In our design, there are corroded walls but no compound ones and that is what newer buildings are looking at. Today, it’s about cutting off the kinship and building secluded towers that are completely inhuman. We can’t go back to the past but we have to learn from it,” said she.
The education in architecture has also not produced the kind of gravity about the future like it should, the group believes. “Every 15 years, there is a strong sense of purpose. First, it was about nation-building, then housing followed by a search of identity and then building the country as a global village. But now, there is a sameness everywhere,” said Aniket.
“There was no introspection,” said Bhalla. “There is a race towards building a ‘smart’ city but why are we doing this nobody is asking anymore. Sustainability is being used like a brand identity which is sad,” she added. “It has taken so many different connotations.” The industry veteran expressed her cynicism and wondered “Why is nobody asking what smart is?”, “Is it actually better?” “Every single tier-2 and tier-3 city looks the same. We have been forgetting who we are and it is our job to promote that with the client too. It shouldn’t be about meeting targets alone.” The exhibition is a critical insiders’ view on the profession and explores the teleology of it. A smart city is about livability and not about technology or using Artificial Intelligence, concurred the architects. A smart city should address issues like “Can I walk to work? Am I saving time?” And to this Bhalla answered, “Cities have degenerated to become disablers than enablers.” The development in India can only be incremental and there is no possibility of implementing one master plan. In Delhi itself, nobody cares why half of Nehru Place is crumbling or the Azadpur garbage dump is so high. “The solution is not prescriptive. We have to stop and correct our steps. We’re not helping anybody or figured out anything despite 70 years of Independence. So far, we have not made one city in which we can take pride. All cities get flooded and waterlogged. Even Vietnam has a great city, so why can’t we?”
While there is utter scepticism, there is also hope because change begins when questions and red flags are raised.
Writer: Asmita Sarkar
Courtesy: The Pioneer