CONSERVING THE OLD, BUILDING THE NEW.

Octavio Paz, poet extraordinaire, essayist and diplomat from Mexico was a friend of India. India, its peoples, cultures and philosophies left an indelible mark on Paz. He was deeply moved and inspired by the multiplicity of times and civilizations that comprised the idea of an Indian Nation. He said of India,

" The past is not past, it is still passing by "

India is both a land of ancient culture and a major society of the modern world. However to the rest of the world the issues of poverty and overpopulation, as important as they are, have precluded the appreciation of certain areas of achievement one of which, is the work of India's Architects.

Comparatively little has been published about design activity in the developing world. The limitations of a developing economy can actually result in a creative response rather than a constraint on architectural solutions. India ranks amongst the largest construction markets in the world. While perhaps much of this construction is a response to rudimentary needs, it has generated an inspired and compelling architecture.

Ritual, religion and living craft tradition descend from a cultural heritage of genius and beauty. These traditions are a perennial source of inspiration to architects who attempt to embody identity and meaning in the design of new buildings. This is often a subconscious link and exists in many of us born and brought up in India. The other part of the challenge for practicing Architects in India is the dependence on a labor-intensive building industry. Mechanization and prefabrication do not yet compete on a cost saving basis with the sheer abundance of manpower in India. Technical backwardness is one facet of the remarkable presence of the past in modern India and the building process today maintains an almost ritualistic link with the heritage of skilled craftsmanship, high quality building stone and the availability of other traditional materials.

So where do today's Architects fit into al this? Many have lived and trained in the west and are committed to the planning principles of modern architecture. They use archaic techniques in their work often giving the buildings a visceral quality of execution. Apart from the planning and building process the difficulties of designing and building in a developing economy affect the profession in other ways as well. For instance do Architects have a role to play in the environment of the poor? Few are professionally committed to the solution of the housing and environmental problems faced by them. The domain of most current architectural work is the marketplace of India's affluent middle class. Hotels, offices, housing, factories and recreational buildings form the bulk of this work.

The contemporary architecture of India today, as distinguished from the autonomous traditions of its ancient Hindu and Buddhist past, has to be seen as the built expression of an interaction between a global culture and the acute sense of place and the past of India. Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic traditions were followed by the colonial influence and finally post independence the legacies of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn in the 50's and 60's respectively. In fact some might shrink from the very idea of an `Indian' architecture at all. But slowly in the 70's, 80's and 90's the Indian architect has come into his or her own.

In India like in all countries the architecture of today is more than just the work of a few superstars. There is a whole generation of Architects at work who clearly contribute to the architecture of our time and our intent is to give others an opportunity to see their works. Our rich heritage has enabled us to modify tradition, but not reject it and to continue on this journey in time and space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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