You are on page 1of 3

REVIEW

BEYOND BRICKS, MORTAR AND CONCRETE


Anuj Daga dwells critically on a show that tries to map the state of the built environment in India.

Level 0: The State of the Profession. The opening section is a quantified critical review of architecture as a profession in India. The books and magazines displayed have
become archives as well as forums of discussion. All Photo Credits: Dinesh Mehta and Tina Nandi. Copyright@ Urban Design Research Institute.

What do we exactly exhibit when we exhibit architecture: should critical review within the space of a gallery through the medium
we be satisfied to exhibit photographs of buildings and sites, or of an exhibition?
should we aim to put whole buildings or, if that is not possible,
fragments and models of them on display? These preliminary The State of Architecture, an Urban Design Research Institute project,
questions from the symposium Exhibiting Architecture: A curated by Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote and Kaiwan Mehta,
Paradox1 can appropriately initiate a discussion into the curation, from the 6th of January to the 20th of March, is notably the largest
agency and politics of The State of Architecture (SOA) exhibition exhibition on architecture in India after Vistara that was curated
at the NGMA, Mumbai. Organized along with talks, allied by Charles Correa in 1986. While Vistara attempted to frame a
exhibitions and art events spread over three months, SOA pan-Indian identity unearthing the ancient mandala diagrams and
attempted to draw the attention of the public to practices and traditional building methods over centuries, SOA establishes its
processes of architecture in India. To elaborate upon the initial orientation in the modern architectural profession which began
inquiry for SOA, one may pose further, what is the experience of as a colonial enterprise. It serves as a resourceful guide for young
time characterized by technology, media and global flows? How architecture students and aspirants a convenient pedagogical
does it touch ground and manifest as architecture in a country tool to expose the lay audience to significant architectural
as diverse as India? How must it be artistically displayed for a development and production in the country over the last 65 years.
ART India The Art News Magazine of India September 2016 Volume XX Issue III 95
REVIEW

Level 2: Encountering Growth. Post-1975, projects like Jawahar Kala Kendra by Charles Correa Associates and Mati Ghar by Sanjay Prakash,
promoted development while preserving the productive aspects of India's cultural legacy. Copyright@ Urban Design Research Institute.

Marking Independence, the Emergency of 1975 and the economic power in deploying their works in different geographies? The
Liberalization of 1991 as key moments in the history of India, the curators state that the project of national identity was renounced
curators lay out the entire exhibition as a timeline of architectural by architects over the late 1970s loosening their modernist ideals to
and political events within the country. accommodate regional identities within their works. Whether such
a move was a result of the shift in the states political ideology, or the
One is introduced to the current state of affairs in architecture at architects struggle to address issues closer to diverse conditions, or
the entrance level. A large infographic translates data collected a conscious attempt to align with the (popular) ideology of critical
from the Council of Architecture records and other surveys to regionalism that emerged internationally as a resistance to the
cull out seemingly urgent questions thrown all over the exhibition banal post-modern style, are questions not directly addressed, but
space: Why is there a low architect-public ratio? Why are few bring out the relationship between how built form is intertwined
women architects practising? Why have architects become life- within a large set of political forces.
style designers? Does architecture matter? Do you need a degree
to be an architect? Does capital dictate design? A selection of Attention given to architects like Charles Correa, B. V. Doshi,
popular and frequently referred books are laid out on a long Raj Rewal, among others, is indeed noteworthy. However, to be
table that include monographs, surveys, reflections and memoirs, sure, these architects do not adequately frame the picture of the
particularly on architecture in India. The number of books in contemporary state of architecture in the country. Overshadowed
this collection alarms us there is an urgent need for a deeper by the above, a whole wave of architects mediating Indias
discourse on architecture in India. Alongside is a wallpaper of transition into the corporate landscape have found no adequate
architectural magazine issue covers. A comment on the quality space for discussion within the curators schema. For example,
of architectural journalism or reportage in India would help the architect Hafeez Contractor, the recent Padma Bhushan awardee,
thinking community take directed action. whose commercial architectural practice typifies much of the
architectural production in the country hasnt been a part of any
The bulk of the exhibition, as we encounter on the split levels serious discussion. Contractors practice is one of the first to crudely
of the NGMA, is framed through canonized images pulled out synthesize the inundation of global capital, imagery and ideas within
of a handful of monographs of Indian master architects leaving our built environment over and after the period of liberalization,
behind the geo-political aspects of their work. This section talks giving architecture a bold consumerist dimension. Many younger
about Nation-building Experiments, presenting a panorama of practitioners, those ideologically lost somewhere between Correa
new cities, institutions and housing projects that were built under and Contractor, werent a part of any panel discussion.
state patronage over the 30 years after independence. Most of
these projects, as we may infer from the exhibition, were executed The rotunda wall at the uppermost level was playfully animated
by a handful of architects Charles Correa, B. V. Doshi, Achyut swelling and shrinking to reveal and hide projects essentially executed
Kanvinde, Raj Rewal, I. M. Kadri, Habib Rahman and a few after economic liberalization in its folding skin. These are projects that
others. One wonders how the vast architectural landscape of India disregard, rather, challenge our notions of indigenous architectural
become available to a select set of architects. How did they gain aesthetics. The contemporary projects displayed right under the dome
credibility? Further, how did these architects interact with political of the NGMA begged for a sharper curatorial intervention spatially

96 ART India The Art News Magazine of India September 2016 Volume XX Issue III
REVIEW

Level 5: Charting Vectors. A dynamic paper installation highlighting the temporal state of emerging architecture in India is faced by provoking questions.
Copyright@ Urban Design Research Institute.

as well as organizationally. In laying out panels orthogonally in four It is indeed difficult to map the state of the contemporary built
quadrants of the circular floor under the hemisphere, the exhibition environment for a country as diverse as India with each state
missed the opportunity of harnessing the volumetric geography of the having its own political tectonics. However, can the questions
rotunda to spatially evoke the experience of architecture as a global asked for the built environment produced by a country of 1.2
product. On the other hand, it was perplexing to see a caf besides a billion be as homogenous? A more culturally relevant question to
ask would be similar to that which is often posed in the rejection
capitol, a school besides a factory, a hospital besides a house losing of the use of the term Bollywood by many Hindi film actors and
the viewer in projects with disparate descriptions, situated in diverse scholars. Brushing aside the downgraded labelling of Bollywood
geographies. The selection of projects clearly suggests an imbalance, as a portmanteau of Bombay and Hollywood, they maintain that
only representing a handful of cities that have been frequently while the tools for producing films were received by India from the
discussed over publishing platforms in recent times. It is here that West, the Hindi film industry developed its own unique method
the exhibition could have offered new conceptual categories to read of musical-narrative sequences in their story-telling. In this vein, it
and analyze emerging hybrid architecture that is otherwise lumped would be worthwhile to initiate an enquiry into the sense we have
as plural. Lacking actual fieldwork, SOA hardly offered insights into made of architecture, over the years post-Independence. How, and
aspects like the diversification of the profession, the remoulding of the to what extent, have we come to redefine our values, and whether
architects identity or even the reconstitution of architectural practice or not we are able to express them successfully within our built
environments? This would give an opportunity for the object of
in a globalized environment. A longer, sustained investigation would architecture to become self-critical, contemplative and meaningful.
have revealed the specificities of reception of global currents by often
under-represented states of the central, north-eastern and eastern Much of the discussions in all fields, including architecture, are
belts of India. becoming highly technocratic, foreclosing any give-and-take
about issues of culture and philosophy, thinking and making,
The State of Architecture exhibition did not sufficiently engage living and the self. If understood as an act of creative production,
with the questions I raised at the beginning of the review. It is this exhibition falls short in bringing forth any discussion on
unfortunate that the curators could not bring in even a single the politics of design in the execution of its material. Architects
architectural model to the gallery. Rather, the only object that the materials today have reduced to brick, mortar and concrete
gallery boasted was a copy of the lifesize Manusha icon that no longer does poetry, literature, music or philosophy come to
shape the built environment. Likewise, drowned in mere visuals,
which the viewer was greeted with in the 1986 Vistara exhibition. SOA fails to provoke the viewer into thinking deeply about the
Its inclusion in the present exhibition was merely fed by nostalgia. meaning of her surroundings. The incapacity of many architects
The conventional display of images within one of the most spatially to absorb, interpret, critically reflect and translate the cultural
exciting galleries of Mumbai seemed undemonstrative. To be sure, zeitgeist of the country in their works characterizes both the
the only moving images (in the age of digital media that we live state of architecture in India as well as the exhibition of the state
in) were a couple of films of/by Charles Correa, nothing which of architecture in India.
explored the (contemporary) state of architecture in India. With
such a limited collection, its non-polemical presentation and End-Note
frail engagement with multimedia or multidisciplinary inquiries,
1. Exhibiting Architecture: A Paradox, Concept note from the symposium
should one be satisfied by the overall experience of the exhibition? held at Yale School of Architecture, 2013.

ART India The Art News Magazine of India September 2016 Volume XX Issue III 97