Chart­ing Tra­jec­to­ries

Domus - - CONTENTS - By Kai­wan Me­hta

Kai­wan Me­hta re­flects upon the role played by ex­hi­bi­tions that re­volve around ar­chi­tec­ture or ar­chi­tec­ture his­tory in In­dia, and the var­i­ous forms the ex­hi­bi­tionary mode has taken over the years

Ex­hi­bi­tions have been def­i­ni­tional through his­tory — they have de­fined mo­ments in his­tory through said and un­said propo­si­tions, they have sim­ply, at times, dis­played cur­rent imag­i­na­tions and ideas, and are hence of archival or the­o­ret­i­cal value. At times they have de­clared a man­i­festo and used the ex­hi­bi­tionary mode to present it, and at times, ex­hi­bi­tions have done the jobs of sur­veys — a crit­i­cal, and/or nar­ra­tive, and/or ar­gu­men­ta­tive pre­sen­ta­tions of de­fined pasts. In 2016 State of Ar­chi­tec­ture: Prac­tices and Pro­cesses in In­dia cu­rated by Rahul Mehro­tra, Ran­jit Hoskote and Kai­wan Me­hta marked an im­por­tant mo­ment for ar­chi­tec­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture his­tory in In­dia. They pre­sented a crit­i­cal sur­vey and his­tory of ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia since 1947 un­til 2016. They looked at ar­chi­tec­ture as ar­chi­tec­ture, and not through any lens of ur­ban stud­ies, city re­search, sus­tain­abil­ity, con­ser­va­tion, the cur­rently pop­u­lar modes of prac­tice and con­ver­sa­tion, and hence pro­posed a re­cov­ery of the ar­chi­tec­tural ob­ject — although not un­crit­i­cally ob­vi­ously out­side the con­text of his­tory or en­vi­ron­ment or ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. They ar­gued through for a re­view and eval­u­a­tion of the role of the ar­chi­tect through decades and es­pe­cially to­day where ar­chi­tec­ture is veer­ing more to­wards in­dul­gence rather than a sense of cul­tural or so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. At this ex­hi­bi­tion many re­called Vis­tara, an

ex­hi­bi­tion held in 1986 cu­rated by a team of ar­chi­tects led by Charles Cor­rea. It was 30 years since State of Ar­chi­tec­ture took on a sim­i­lar man­tle as Vis­tara but ob­vi­ously pre­sented a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive, de­vel­oped from the cur­rent ur­gen­cies of times we all work and live in. How­ever, Vis­tara re­mains a land­mark as the ex­hi­bi­tion — along with Ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia, an­other ex­hi­bi­tion de­signed for the Fes­ti­val of In­dia se­ries in the 1980s — marked a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia. Vis­tara and the Ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia de­fined a vis­ual reper­toire as well as a dis­course for shap­ing an ‘idea of In­dia’ for ar­chi­tec­ture. In the sur­vey of books and his­to­ry­writ­ing done on ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia — con­ducted and pre­sented at the State of Ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion — it was ev­i­dent how these two ex­hi­bi­tions and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing books de­fined the first clear mo­ment of ‘his­to­ry­writ­ing’ and books on ar­chi­tec­ture about, and of, In­dia. The role and in­flu­ence of Vis­tara — its cel­e­bra­tion and its crit­i­cisms have been car­ried in the pages of Do­mus In­dia ear­lier, as well as in a con­ver­sa­tion with Charles Cor­rea in De­cem­ber 2014, where he was ready to dis­cuss and re­view Vis­tara and its propo­si­tions once again. While State of Ar­chi­tec­ture spurned off a ball of en­ergy amongst ar­chi­tects and other pro­fes­sion­als on the sub­ject — it brought dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of the fra­ter­nity to­gether on a dis­cur­sive

plat­form (al­most hun­dred speak­ers), and about 20,000 vis­i­tors from all walks of life — it will be a while be­fore we can re­flect on its in­flu­ences and crit­i­cisms. Mean­while, there have been other at­tempts at work­ing through the ex­hi­bi­tionary mode — some more lo­cal to their con­texts, but as we see it, very im­por­tant to a na­tion­al­level dis­course on the prac­tice and his­tory of ar­chi­tec­ture. The work be­ing done with the ar­chives at the Sir J J Col­lege of Ar­chi­tec­ture in Mum­bai by aca­demic and his­to­rian Mus­tan­sir Dalvi, or aca­demic and critic A. Sri­vath­san vis­it­ing the biog­ra­phy of works of se­nior ar­chi­tect Arvind Talati from the ar­chives at CEPT Uni­ver­sity, are both im­por­tant re­cov­ery projects. They con­trib­ute to projects that re­view his­to­ries as re­ceived, and their im­plicit mes­sage at a rewrit­ing. Aca­demic in­ter­est has led to ex­hi­bi­tions that specif­i­cally look at cer­tain build­ings or ty­polo­gies, such as Gol­conde in Pondicherry by Smita Dalvi, or Art Deco in Bom­bay, while a stu­dio de­vel­op­ing its own case stud­ies for a project in the of­fice, re­sults in putting to­gether a pub­lic ex­hi­bi­tion. For in­stance, Sameep Padora, while look­ing at cases of hous­ing in Mum­bai for a project, struc­tures his col­lected data and ma­te­rial into a broader the­matic of Hous­ing in Mum­bai. These are only a few

men­tions and dis­cus­sions from ex­hi­bi­tions that have es­sen­tially been archived in the pages of Do­mus In­dia since 2011. Be­sides these re­search-ori­ented, crit­i­cal sur­vey-based, and re­view ex­hi­bi­tions, there has been an in­ter­est­ing trend of ar­chi­tec­ture prac­tices ex­hibit­ing their own works — some­times as part of a lec­ture, some­times as a ca­reer re­view, as an eval­u­a­tion of prac­tice to­day, or as a re­view of modes of pro­duc­tion and dis­course. Aniket Bhag­wat cu­rated a set of his projects through mod­els to ac­com­pany a lec­ture, while some oth­ers felt a need at some point to pub­licly dis­cuss what they were work­ing on, and their choices in those pro­cesses. These, one be­lieves, will hold im­mense value in the fu­ture for his­to­ri­ans, but are of great im­por­tance even for the his­to­rian of to­day, as we eval­u­ate prac­tice and the con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tion of ar­chi­tec­ture, these mini-re­views, or memes of prac­tice, of­fer much ma­te­rial about the way stu­dios think and un­der­stand ar­chi­tec­ture, since we see their pro­cesses of think­ing in­stead of just the fin­ished pro­jec­tions. These sit in good re­flec­tion and con­ver­sa­tion if you look at the ca­reer sur­veys of more se­nior prac­tices that have run for a long time. An in­ter­est­ing ca­reer re­view which, in fact, looked only at the un­built works of Charles Cor­rea

across a time­line of all his works, pre­sented thoughts on how one could study bi­ogra­phies and the prac­tice of ideas in ar­chi­tec­ture. The State of Ar­chi­tec­ture ex­hi­bi­tion’s cu­ra­to­rial team re­turned this year, as promised, with an­other re­view and sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled State of Hous­ing: As­pi­ra­tions, Imag­i­nar­ies and Re­al­i­ties in In­dia. This ex­hi­bi­tion was, in some way, an ex­ten­sion of the State of Ar­chi­tec­ture but with a fo­cus on that one pro­gramme and ty­pol­ogy of ar­chi­tec­ture that con­nects the pro­fes­sion most di­rectly with peo­ple and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and where de­sign, val­ues, roles, aes­thet­ics and pol­i­tics need in­tense de­bates. Framed as a ‘re­search ex­hi­bi­tion’, it set the tone and pro­posed some frame­works for de­bate and ar­gu­men­ta­tion, never los­ing sight of the idea of de­sign and de­vel­op­ment of the larger built en­vi­ron­ment. Both these ex­hi­bi­tions

— State of Ar­chi­tec­ture and State of Hous­ing — were ac­com­pa­nied by a fourth di­men­sion, as the cu­ra­tors called it, of lec­tures and con­fer­ences, bring­ing voices from not only within the pro­fes­sion but also from other pro­fes­sions and other forms of cul­tural prac­tices into the ex­hi­bi­tion. Thus, they fo­cused on the idea and prac­tice of ar­chi­tec­ture and the role of the ar­chi­tect, not for­get­ting that the ar­chi­tect works within an ecol­ogy of other prac­tices and var­i­ous forms of think­ing as well as do­ing. To all of this, re­cently, there have also been ex­hi­bi­tions cu­rated more the­mat­i­cally by groups or pairs of ar­chi­tects — invit­ing a bunch of prac­tices to say things about the theme, or re­spond to it, through draw­ings or in­stal­la­tions. As much as these are needed, and are in­ter­est­ing at­tempts, the way they have been cur­rently han­dled leaves much to be de­sired. The ex­hi­bi­tionary mode can be sim­ply treated as a form of dis­play or as a form of dis­course, and both would serve well, but to treat it as an ac­ro­batic move may not serve a deeper or his­tor­i­cal need for de­bates and re­views. With these thoughts, we bring here a vis­ual es­say of the many ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tured in the past is­sues of this pub­li­ca­tion.

This page, left: when the ex­hi­bi­tion opened in Bom­bay, the nav­a­graha man­dala or the man­dala of the nine plan­ets was drawn in-situ by the nine most cel­e­brated ar­chi­tects of postIn­de­pen­dence In­dia, with Satish Gu­jaral com­plet­ing the di­a­gram with a bindu in the cen­tre. Clock­wise from top-left: [L-R] Charles Cor­rea and Achyut Kan­vinde; Cor­rea and Lau­rie Baker; Cor­rea with Satish Gu­jral; Cor­rea and Raj Re­wal


Venue: Nehru Science Cen­tre, Bom­bay Year: 1986 One of the most in­flu­en­tial ar­chi­tec­tural ex­hi­bi­tions, Vis­tara in­tended to map an ar­chi­tec­tural past of In­dia and then, through that, pro­pose its di­rec­tion into a com­plex fu­ture. With themes and con­cepts such as manushya, man­thana and man­dala — terms that are used as if generic to the ‘In­dian psy­che’ and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of In­dia — the ex­hi­bi­tion still holds great value, es­pe­cially to­day when we need to re­think the pro­cesses and ide­olo­gies that make and shape our per­cep­tions and iden­ti­ties. [DI_45]

Ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia

Venue: Fes­ti­val of In­dia, Paris Year: 1980s A set of orig­i­nal mea­sure draw­ings by ar­chi­tect Raj Re­wal as show­cased at the ex­hi­bi­tion Ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia for the Fes­ti­val of In­dia held in Paris. Op­po­site page: A set of images from the book that was pub­lished fol­low­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion. It fea­tured an ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion ac­com­pa­nied by im­por­tant crit­i­cal es­says.

Gol­conde, Pondicherry: In­dia’s First Mod­ern Build­ing

Venue: Army and Navy Build­ing, Mum­bai Year: 2016 An ex­hi­bi­tion on the de­sign, ex­e­cu­tion, and sub­se­quent life of Gol­conde, Pondicherry re­it­er­ates the nar­ra­tive of Gol­conde that was shaped by cul­tural forces tran­scend­ing na­tion­al­ity and tra­di­tion. The struc­ture shows a fru­gal sim­plic­ity, borne out of the elim­i­na­tion of non-es­sen­tials, and ar­riv­ing at as­cetic forms and spa­ces — ex­pres­sive of the spirit of its time and the spir­i­tual prac­tices of its builders who were its even­tual oc­cu­pants. [DI_49]

Deco on the Oval

Venue: Sir J J Col­lege of Ar­chi­tec­ture, Mum­bai Year: 2015 The Art Deco style gained pop­u­lar­ity dur­ing the 1930s, with its vis­ually stim­u­lat­ing rich colours, geo­met­ric shapes, and lav­ish ex­ter­nal or­na­men­ta­tion. This ex­hi­bi­tion, held in Mum­bai, traced the unique ur­ban fab­ric on the west­ern edge of the Oval Maidan, quite dis­tinctly built in the Art Deco style. At first glance, these build­ings are all alike. That is the start­ing point for un­der­stand­ing them. How­ever, each frontage varies from the other, the same el­e­ments yield­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults. The ex­hi­bi­tion com­prised pho­to­graphs of the ex­ist­ing struc­tures, archival images, and line and el­e­va­tion draw­ings of the build­ings and spe­cific de­sign mo­tifs as forms of doc­u­men­ta­tion. [DI_44]

Charles Cor­rea: In­dia’s Great­est Ar­chi­tect

Venue: Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects (RIBA), London Year: 2013 An ex­hi­bi­tion of Charles Cor­rea’s works at the RIBA head­quar­ters in London, with a provoca­tive ti­tle, dis­played how his work fol­lows the tra­jec­tory of the In­dian na­tion state and ad­dressed its quest for roots, iden­tity, and rel­e­vance; it brought once again into dis­cus­sion the pro­gramme for an ‘In­dian’ ar­chi­tec­ture. Cu­rated from the Charles Cor­rea Ar­chive by Irena Mur­ray and de­signed by David Ad­jaye, the ex­hi­bi­tion de­sign took cues from the ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs and seeks to re­flect them in ar­range­ments of plinths and pedestals. The projects were or­gan­ised the­mat­i­cally around the prin­ci­pal con­cerns in Cor­rea’s work — the ‘rit­u­al­is­tic path­way’, the ‘empty cen­tre’, open-to-sky spa­ces or ‘non-build­ing’ and an over­ar­ch­ing prin­ci­ple of ‘ar­chi­tec­ture as metaphor’. [DI_22]

Raj Re­wal: Mem­ory, Metaphor and Mean­ing in his Con­structed Land­scape + Plu­ral Moder­ni­ties from 1905 to 1970

Venues: Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art, New Delhi + Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou, Paris Year: 2014 Two ex­hi­bi­tions —one at the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou in Paris and the other, at the Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art, New Delhi — show­cased the cru­cial body of work of Delhi-based ar­chi­tect Raj Re­wal, help­ing us think of ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia in the last six decades, the role of crit­i­cism in the In­dian con­text, as well as the jour­neys of one stu­dio­prac­tice. [DI_38]

Balkr­ishna Doshi: Cel­e­brat­ing Habi­tat — the Real, the Vir­tual, and the Imag­i­nary

Venue: Power Sta­tion of Art, Shang­hai Year: 2017 The ex­hi­bi­tion show­cased more than thirty pieces of the 2018 Pritzker Prize re­cip­i­ent Balkr­ishna Doshi’s no­table works, in­clud­ing per­sonal and pub­lic hous­ing, com­mu­nity projects, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, ur­ban plan­ning, and fur­ni­ture de­sign. Rep­re­sented in mul­ti­ple scales, the ar­chi­tec­ture projects ex­hib­ited aim to con­struct a philo­soph­i­cal ret­ro­spec­tion of the no­table In­dian ar­chi­tect’s prac­tice span­ning 62 years, hop­ing to in­spire young Chi­nese ar­chi­tects about the pos­si­bil­ity of the ap­pli­ca­tion of mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture in China, and at the same time, in­vite the au­di­ence to ex­pe­ri­ence ar­chi­tec­ture as the cel­e­bra­tion of habi­tat. [DI_69]

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