A re­view of the re­cently pub­lished book on a key fig­ure in Mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia, A.P Kan­vinde, dwells upon what we can learn about ar­chi­tec­ture and In­dia through the biog­ra­phy of an ar­chi­tect

Domus - - CONFETTI - Text Kai­wan Me­hta

The book AKAR doc­u­ments and records the work and life of Achyut Kan­vinde. a key fig­ure in In­dia’s his­tory as a mod­ern na­tion and so­ci­ety. The book, through elab­o­rate vi­su­als, sketches, archival pho­to­graphs, draw­ings, and analy­ses, brings into pub­lic space the work of a pro­lific and im­por­tant ar­chi­tect. This is ac­com­pa­nied by a series of in­ter­est­ing and per­cep­tive es­says by a range of schol­ars and thinkers and some who had the chance to closely ob­serve him or be around him. Fi­nally the book also con­tains some writ­ing by Kan­vinde him­self. What the book would have surely, and fur­ther ben­e­fit­ted from, is an over­ar­ch­ing set of themes or ideas that would have con­tex­tu­alised the man and his work in a much broader cul­tural frame­work than sim­ply the his­tor­i­cal mo­ment of In­dia’s moder­nity and ex­per­i­ments in na­tion-build­ing. What does a life such as this help us re­flect upon — vis-a-vis ar­chi­tec­ture, or In­dia, in gen­eral? Bi­ogra­phies such as this one are spe­cial mo­ments where the book has to en­gage with much broader ques­tions than the doc­u­men­ta­tion of a life in all its mul­ti­far­i­ous forms and ex­pe­ri­ences.

We have now de­vel­oped a set of frame­works through which we have been look­ing at the his­tory of ar­chi­tects and their roles in a mod­ern and newly in­de­pen­dent na­tion. These frame­works are in­deed nec­es­sary and have helped us much in un­der­stand­ing the pro­fes­sion and the role it can play in a large project such as na­tion-build­ing. How­ever, the overuse of cer­tain frame­works can slowly re­sult in blind­ing us from see­ing vari­a­tions, nu­ances, and par­tic­u­lar­i­ties. It is nec­es­sary that re­search and writ­ing on ar­chi­tec­ture in­ves­ti­gate

the frame­works of ref­er­ence and study we have used un­til now, and con­tinue to use, with­out much change; and in fact, ex­plore the nu­ances in bi­ogra­phies, lives, and bod­ies of work that may ac­tu­ally shift our frames of ref­er­ence and give us a newer or bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of cer­tain cul­tural ques­tions or the idea of ar­chi­tec­ture and its prac­tice. A book like this one on Kan­vinde is at the thresh­old where doc­u­men­ta­tion and pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis can ac­tu­ally pave way for deeper think­ing in the fu­ture.

In In­dia, where of­ten ar­chives are dif­fi­cult to ac­cess, a book that so gen­er­ously presents and shares an ar­chive is very im­por­tant. The es­says pre­sented in the book also give a good set of en­try points in un­der­stand­ing this com­pi­la­tion and col­la­tion of ar­chi­tec­tural works. It is in many ways a won­der­fully pre­sented ar­chive and a set of thoughts on a body of work. The build­ings are pre­sented al­ways through a de­tailed set of draw­ings be­sides photos of mod­els and images of the project. How­ever, un­der­stand­ably, for the sake of con­sis­tency, the draw­ings are re­drawn to a con­tem­po­rary logic. So vis­it­ing the sec­tion on Chronol­ogy and be­ing able to see some of the orig­i­nal draw­ings makes it quite use­ful. Draw­ings are never sim­ply the mode of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, but they are in­dica­tive of how an ar­chi­tect thinks. Be­sides sketches, which have a per­sonal flair and lan­guage, ar­chi­tec­ture draw­ings can also in­di­cate dif­fer­ent ways in which an ar­chi­tect was think­ing about a de­sign or a project. The book is filled with beau­ti­ful draw­ings and sketches, as au­thored by Kan­vinde, but more orig­i­nal draw­ings would surely have helped the book. I close this brief note with a chance visit I had to the agri­cul­ture uni­ver­sity that Kan­vinde de­signed in Rahuri — a build­ing that sits so beau­ti­ful in a near­ru­ral land­scape. Mod­ern and bold, yet re­spond­ing to the land and na­ture around that build­ing makes for a very beau­ti­ful set of in­ter­wo­ven walk­ways and in­side-out­side ex­pe­ri­ences. The build­ing is not very well main­tained and ap­pears di­lap­i­dated in some parts, or overused, or mis­used in cer­tain cor­ners, but none of this really takes away from the struc­tural logic and aes­thetic com­po­si­tion of the orig­i­nal idea and form. In that sense it is truly a won­der­ful work of ar­chi­tec­ture. Then I re­alised that the book had this project fea­tured, with a won­der­ful set of im­pres­sion­ist sketches of the en­tire cam­pus, and early images dur­ing as well as af­ter con­struc­tion. Such projects which oth­er­wise do not fea­ture on the usual lists of projects we as­so­ciate with iconic ar­chi­tects (or any artist or au­thor) are cru­cial in open­ing up for us the broader land­scape a life that would have en­gaged with, and won­der­ing what in­flu­ences and ideas crossed this land­scape. Build­ings are never stand­alone projects; they al­ways have hang­overs from other projects (of the same ar­chi­tect, and maybe some oth­ers as well), and build­ings some­times also hold the nascent ideas for newer projects to later emerge and see fruition. This jour­neys of ar­chi­tec­ture in­ter­est me, and a book like this one on Kan­vinde pro­vides a great quan­tum of con­tent to take fur­ther as we de­velop newer ‘ways of see­ing’ things, and ar­chi­tec­ture.

This page: a sketch of the High Court and Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly Build­ing in Sri­na­gar. The de­sign con­cept has the four pri­mary func­tions fronting a land­scaped plaza. With the ex­ist­ing sec­re­tar­iat lo­cated on one side, the assem­bly and coun­cil hall are lo­cated in the cen­tre, while the high court is sited at the other end Op­po­site page, from top: the Nehru Sci­ence Cen­tre in Mum­bai; an im­age of the cover of the book; Kan­vinde pre­sent­ing the scheme for NCAER to Jawa­har­lal Nehru; Kan­vinde flanked by Shaukat Rai and James Miller, pre­sent­ing the UAS Ben­galuru con­cept

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