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The Architect as the Activist

Laura Wake-Ramos
The Pennsylvania State University

ARCH 312

April 12
, 2013
The Architect as the Activist. The architect is a leader and believes
in having a social responsibility to make a positive change in the world. In
an article, Charles Correa discussed what distinguishes the nature of
architecture from other disciplines, and what makes the architect a
different kind of leader. The term architect is used to describe other
leaders in society, such as Mahatma Gandhi, who is called the Architect
of the Nation, not the Historian or the Engineer but the Architect.
This paper will outline how the architect obtained the role of the activist.

Early Modernism and Globalization
Being human, it is our main purpose to develop a beneficial
environment for all human beings, and living things on earth. But
unfortunately, the lust for wealth, power, superiority, and dominance has
overcome the sense of cooperation and humanism. The two world wars
in the 20
century were the results of this lust for power and superiority.
However, after the 1950s, the worlds notion changed rapidly to bring
peace, harmony, integrity, and consolidation in the world. The term
globalization was first used in the 1960s, and the process of globalization
started after World-War-One (Aslam, 2012). Globalization is the
multidimensional and interactive processes of economic, political, and
cultural change across the world resulting in increased social
interconnectedness (Twiss, 2004). According to the supporters of
globalization, the main beneficiaries of globalization are developing
countries (Aslam, 2012). This literature suggests that core concept of
globalization is to see ultimately one international community without any
kind of discrimination (Twiss, 2004).
This was a period marking early modernism, in a time when
international relations flourished, and the United Nations established itself
in 1945. Fifty nations signed the charter to:
achieve international co-operation in solving international
problem of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian
character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for
human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without
distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
In order to achieve this goal, economic, educational, and socio-
cultural cooperation between developed and developing nations was
established. Globalization initiated multidisciplinary movements for
developed countries to improve less developed countries, and for
developing countries to focus on efforts to improve quality of life.

Globalization and Human Rights
The lesson of WWII was that emphasizing minorities and highlighting
their differences through special protections encouraged groups to define
themselves in opposition to other groups (Twiss, 2004). The goal of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), drafted in the period of
1946-48, emphasized the rights of individuals to essential civil, political,
social, and economic conditions as well as their equality. Following the
demise of colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s, the International Covenants
(established in 1966, and in force 1975) specifically featured civil-political,
socio-economic, and cultural rights. This allowed the right of people to
self-determination, the right to determine their own political status and the
right to pursue their own paths to economic, social, and cultural
In 1947, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as a
state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely
the absence of infirmity. What seems to link health to environmental
protection is that the international public health community has always
defined human health much more broadly than the standard biomedical
model of the absence of physiological disease (Twiss, 2004). The
international public health community has since come to emphasize the
underlying conditions that establish the basis for realizing physical, mental,
and social well-being, including peace, shelter, education, food, income,
a stable eco-system, sustainable [natural] resources, social justice, and
equity... Globalization has lifted up a new historical moment in the
conceptual development of human rights: the opportunity to
acknowledge needed collective human rights in addition to individual

Modern India and the International Community
The enormous changes that transformed the world are more so
evident in India than anywhere else(Belluardo). Following World War II,
and its independence from the British in 1947, India occupied a prominent
place in the international community. India benefitted from policies of
the newly established United Nations, along with various agencies
created at the time, that supported economic, social, and political
development to achieve parity.
Indias first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, guided the nation into
the modern era. These new ideas were praised by Nehru and others as
what I like above all is this creative approach, not being
tied down to what has been down by our forefathers and the
like, but thinking out in new terms, trying to think in terms of
light and air and ground and water and human beings, not in
terms of rules and regulations laid down by our ancestors.
In order to prosper, the nation was convinced that India would
have to break with the past (Belluardo).
Modern architecture spread rapidly throughout the world in the
years immediately following World War II. Its functional- and structural-
determined forms and spaces made little references to traditional
architecture. The abstracted, universal vocabulary of modern
architecture offered a fresh start, future prosperity, and international
amity. Modern architecture seemed to promise exciting possibilities for
the expression of Indias newly formed identity. India was in need of
architecture with an avante-garde edge (DCoste).
The mainstream of modern architectural practice in India evolved
gradually from the aging masters, such as Le Corbusier (Bhatt, 1990). Le
Corbusier was the man who delivered Nehrus vision of an urban future
(Kalia). His late style, realized in Chandigarh, was hardly natural for India.
Its sleek white, machine-like forms were the paradoxical reality the nation
was seeking in the late 1950s. Le Corbusier offered a model for a futuristic
vision and demystified the ideals of architecture for the developing world.
The younger Indian architects could observe the design process of the
leading architects of the day, (Bhatt) and make their own rooted
expression while using modernist language (Belluardo).
The newness and power of Chandigarh infiltrated architectural
works in the 50s and 60s (DCoste). However, Nehru inspired the architects
to think in terms of human beings. The architecture of the future will
be a humanistic creative activityunder the conditions of free
societies (Kalia). Nehru relied on architecture to acknowledge
improving India in human terms. This hope shaped the role of the
architect in India.

Architects as Activists
One of Le Corbusiers Indian followers was Balkrishna Doshi
(Belluardo). Doshiss process of design affected the way young Indian
architects design and think about architecture. Doshi closely followed Le
Corbusiers ways of sketching, painting, and observing India. He was a
prominent activist in his efforts to understand and address the need to
provide housing for Indias masses. The settlement plan for Aranya sought
to expand the concept of site and services and create a new model for
the architects role in housing. Doshi believed through intelligent planning
of the site and encouraging residents to participate in the efforts, in order
to address community issues and strengthen a social framework. This goal
ties his growth as an architect through each of his project, by deepening
social engagement.
Charles Correa was another activist involved in resolving Indias
issues of shelter, sanitary services, and transportation in the cities
(Belluardo). Nowhere is this more evident than in Mumbai, Indias largest
city and commercial capital. During the recent times of significant
economic growth, massive influxes of poor people move from rural areas
into the cities. Correa targeted these issues with a political will to confront
it. He proposed the creation of New Bombay across the harbor from the
existing city, in a way to reduce the concentration of job opportunities in
the existing central business district. The current situation produced high
land prices, and make the provision of decent housing to much of the
population impossible. Correa served as chief architect to the
government authority established to implement the New Bombay plan,
and elaborated his ideas for the reallocation of land uses. His analysis The
New Landscape (1985) drew lessons for future architects on inventiveness
for squatters to provide shelter for themselves. He was invited to
participate in a group of 12 international architects by the United Nations
and the government of Peru, to provide low-cost housing in Lima in 1969.
This moment shifted the view of Indian architects from a local to an
international level.
Activism is defined as efforts to promote, impede, or direct social,
political, economic, or environmental change or stasis. The architects
interventions in society do not take on the soft and ambiguous contours of
transitory intentions, but the irretrievable finality of hardware as in a
permanent existence (Correa). Correa described in an essay for the
Journal of Architectural Education, that the trend of considerable students
studying architecture in the post-graduate level having studied some
other field for their first degree (for example, art history, sociology, or
literature) has benefited society. These students bring other perceptions
and concerns into the architectural realm, as well as other verbal skills.
Correa continues to describe how the architect is the Generalist, rather
than a Specialist, because the Generalist can connect the large overall
concept to the smallest detail and back to the overall concept over
again in a continuous reiterative process. This combination of
characteristic thinking and the verbal education marks the architect as a
leader of change.

There is a significant correlation occurring in Globalization resulting
in the humanitarian, activist architect. The beginnings emerged after a
period of worldwide wars. Wars of countries drawing alliances, and then
attacking rival countries and allies. After about 30 years of destruction
and oppression, the entire world established international organizations to
maintain peace and humanity. This dozen or so organizations sought to
reestablish the principles of human civilization the Right to Life.
John Locke of Britain in 1689 established a philosophy of the
natural law tradition, which ties back to the ancient civilizations. Locke
declared that Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who
would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought
to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possession (Powell, 1996).
His philosophy established the idea that every human being has the
unwritten right to live a long, just, healthy life. Nothing in this world, any
government, leader, or written law, can take this right away from another
The concept of an international community was launched after
seeing the gruesome outcomes when the Right to Life is violated; i.e.
when Hitler led Germany to oppress the Jewish population. After this
moment, the world reunited and established an international community,
based on concepts of globalization. By creating an international
community, the Right of Life carries from one country to another. When
one country is suffering, the neighboring country can reach over and
address it.
The international community welcomed in this post-war era the
newly independent country of India. India emerged into the community
as a newborn, with an underdeveloped identity due to colonization, and
in need of support in multiple aspects. After seeing the master architects,
such as Corbusier and Kahn, begin to establish their identity, they relied on
architecture to give India a new face to greet the world as a new
The Indian architect has been given a special opportunity. An
opportunity when the government had their arms wide open to accept
architectural services to create a change in identity. At the same time,
the new movement of humanitarianism had emerged from the
acknowledging the Right of Life for all beings, to live a long healthy life.
Architects, specifically Charles Correa and Balkrishna Doshi, were
successful in the role of providing safe and sanitary housing for Indian
citizens. They aggressively addressed the issues of housing in India, and
pushed the role and skills of the architect to a new expectation. The
architect established the role as an activist, a leader of social and political

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Countries. Journal of American Science; 8, 8, 869-873 (2012).
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and Social Context. The Architectural League of New York.
Bhatt, V., Scriver, P. Contemporary Indian Architecture: After the Masters.
Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd: Ahmedabad. 1990.
Correa, Charles. An Essay for JAE. (2013) Journal of Architectural
DCosta, A. A New India? Critical Reflections in the Long Twentieth
Century. Anthem Press: London, UK. 2010.
Kalia, R. Gandhinagar: Building National Identity in Postcolonial India.
University of South Carolina Press: Columbia, SC. 2004.
Powell, J. John Locke: Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property.
Foundation for Economic Education. 2013.
Twiss, S. History, Human Rights, and Globalization. Journal of Religious
Ethics, Inc; 32, 1, 39-70 (2004).