You are on page 1of 4


After the British left India in 1947, Indian architecture dropped into an abyss. Indian architects, who wererelegated
to the role of being assistants to the British architects under the British Raj, took their own timeto express their
ingenuity. Perhaps, there was an identity crisis, a dilemma whether to bask in the glory of the past or move forward
with times using new ideas, images and techniques. While in other fields like art,music and culture, the distinct
Indian imprint was more enhanced in the post -Independence period; no such thing was discernible in
the case of architecture. It is no doubt that the Indian architects were unableto achieve a transformative
architecture despite the existence of great potential at the time of Indian Independence. The postIndependence period saw the emergence of three schools of thought in architecture theRevivalist
on a smaller scale, the constructivist Russia and the Modernist on a larger scale. The Revivalists,who advocated
"continuity with the past", could not break the shackles of the colonial legacy and left nosignificant impact on the
neo-Indian architecture. The Modernists too depended heavily on the Europeanand American models and tried
to adopt them in India without taking into consideration the regionalasp irations, diversities and
requirements. The contemporary Indian architecture was
also beset withp r o b l e m s l i k e p o p u l a t i o n e x p l o s i o n , l a c k o f v i s i o n a m o n g t h e p l
a n n e r s , l a c k o f s u p p o r t f r o m t h e government and a less than satisfactory standard of architecture
education. The result was that duringthe initial years after the Independence, foreign architects
continued to play a leading role in Indian architecture. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, had called
for an open architectural competition for the designof the Ashoka Hotel in 1956, which was won by B.E.Doctor, an
architect from Bombay. Using technology tocreate large pillar-less spaces, Doctor created a facade that
borrowed from Islamic, Hindu, British and modern architecture.Indian architecture witnessed a revolution
when the Punjab government engaged Le Corbusier to designthe new city of Chandigarh. Built in three stages,
Corbusier divided the city into three sections. The 'head'consisted of political, bureaucratic and judicial buildings, the
administrative parts of the city. The 'body'housed the university and residential complexes in the heart of the city.
The 'feet' consisted of industrialsectors and the railway station. Apart from the initial layout of the city, Corbusier
also designed severalbuildings in Chandigarh. The High Court b uilding has a sloping roof, supported
by concrete walls whicha l l o w a i r t o p a s s t h r o u g h t h e m . T h e A s s e m b l y i s a s q u a r i s h
s t r u c t u r e t o p p e d w i t h a h u g e i n d u s t r i a l chimney while the Secretariat is made up of hundreds of rooms
with an airy exterior. Taking inspiration from Le Corbusier's creativity, a young Indian architect D V Joshi designed
the Instituteof Indology in Ahmedabad. Charles Mark Correa, Doshis contemporary , designed
the Hindustan Leverpavilion for the India International Trade Fair in 1961. The pavilion was an
exposed concrete structureresembling a crumpled packing case made of concrete with a zigzag
ramp to walk along. Correa also designed the Gandhi Sanghralaya in Ahmedabad as a tribute to Mahatma
Gandhi. The Asiad Village in New Delhi, designed by Raj Rewell and built as
a colossalc o m p l e x w i t h m o r e t h a n 8 0 0 r e s i d e n t i a l u n i t s , l a n d s c a p e d c o u r t s , s t r e e t s , resta
urants and shops, all catering to sports persons who had assembled for the1982 Asian Games, is one of the
architectural landmarks of modern India.

With a few brief exceptions, post-independence Indian politics till the 1990s was
dominated largely by the Congress party, each time with a representative of the NehruGandhi family at the helm, who alone seemed to be able to guarantee a certain unity.
Principally backed by Nehru and his coterie of advisers, India with its five-year plans
embarked on a socialist model of development that featured a top-heavy State with minimal
delegation of power to the regions or to district-level representative bodies. This socialist-

industrial model called for massive State-controlled investment in heavy industry and
associated activities.
While this model of governance may possibly have been the only viable solution in a time
when India was struggling to become a cohesive political unit, it was also subsequently
criticized for encouraging and entrenching endemic corruption and propagating a multilayered bureaucracy that continues to this day. The State, as the biggest actor in the
country, controlled almost everything including information flow, social development,
and most importantly for our purposes, became also the biggest client for architectural and
urban development projects. It is not surprising then that most significant large-scale
construction from this era has been either directly sponsored by the government or by
public corporations.

The Search for an Aesthetic

The Asian Games in 1982 provided a massive
fillip to construction, especially in Delhi.
The Pragati Maidan complex, built on the eve of
the Games, provided a space for many innovative
architectural experiments and cemented the
careers of a whole generation of professionals.
Built as an exhibition and entertainment space,
Pragati Maidan continues to be one of the stellar
attractions in Delhi. Within it, the Hall of Nations
by Raj Rewal is a large column-free space that is
characterized by its use of reinforced concrete in a structure that would normally be
constructed of steel trusses, a decision influenced by the lack of expertise in steel
construction as well as the prohibitive cost of steel at the time.
While the use of concrete results in a massive structure that
does have some brutal appeal, the quality of construction
leaves something to be desired. For all that the building is one
of the most imposing in Pragati Maidan and continues to host
many high-quality exhibitions, both domestic and
Also constructed for the Games are a series of stadia, the most
prominent being the Indraprastha Indoor Stadium by Sharat
Das and the Talkatora stadium by Satish Grover. The
Indraprastha Stadium is an imposing structure with bearing
walls of concrete and roofing of steel trusses, marked by its
rapid construction with movable shuttering on the bearing
columns ensuring continuous activity on the site. It
unfortunately suffers from a lack of maintenance, and the use
of plastic covering on its roof on rainy days is sometimes visible.
For athletes visiting the capital, large-scale temporary housing was required. Raj Rewal
designed for this purpose the Asiad Games Village, a cluster of interlocking housing units
that takes its formal inspiration from the streetscape and scale of towns in Rajasthan,

particularly Jaisalmer. Rewal claims to have used these spatial references to create a series
of courts and streets through the complex and even to use finishes and material that
correspond to their original inspiration.

Asiad Village, New Delhi, Cluster Plan

Today the Games Village, or Khelgaon as it also called, houses commercial and office
space, exhibition areas, as well as nightspots that are known as much for their fine cuisine
as for their easygoing urban setting.
This experiment with vernacular material and scales is
continued elsewhere, in the Indian Institute of Management,
Bangalore by Stein, Doshi and Bhalla, several buildings in
Rajasthan (including the University of Jodhpur - Image
below) by Uttam C. Jain, as well as a neo-Corbusian
aesthetic in the Shriram Center and Akbar Hotel, both at
Delhi, by Shivnath Prasad.

To sum up, most of the architectural production of any
significance till the 1990s is marked by a certain
commonality of factors: firstly sponsored or commissioned
by the State and its organs, and secondly the search for an
appropriate aesthetic fluctuates between two extremes that
of a completely international vocabulary of Modernism
(such as Prasads Akbar Hotel) and an attempt to reinterpret
the vernacular on the other (exemplified by Correas Crafts Village).

Jodhpur University. Notice use of local material for finishes.

However, most architectural production is a balancing act between these two poles a form
dictated by the exigencies of universal standards of space (stadia, exhibition spaces, and
convention centers) and construction and aesthetics influenced by what is actually possible
on the site.
These mixes, when juggled elegantly and with flair, has resulted in elegant or in horribly
clunky structures that have only got worse with time. It is perhaps best here not to point out
examples suffice it to say that many of the larger cities in India are littered with
architectural horrors from this period that are a blot on the cityscape and serve to efface the
many fine and sensitive examples time that co-exist side by side.
It is ironic that the same State that professed a social agenda has been responsible, in many
cases, for an urban landscape that has done little to help minimize the inequality that vowed
to eradicate. Fortunately this is an issue that is increasingly being debated in the work of
younger professionals today.