Archive for November, 2012

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India, Part III: Architecture Wears a Sari

November 24, 2012

Culturally, India is a bit like quicksand, a thing, once fallen in, never comes out.  It is simply absorbed into the mire of pluralism so that even a dominant architectural movement like Modernism somehow loses connection with its founding principles.  It becomes a thing among many useful by practice and imitation, a building method to be decorated according to B.C. motifs and assigned value that has nothing whatsoever to do with its European architectural roots.  Imprints of ancient patterns are embedded in architectural concrete forms as surely as the village weaver works the history and geography of India into the sari on his loom.

All photos taken in Bhubaneshwer, 2012.

All Rights Reserved © Gaddis Architect, 2012

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Inida, Part II: New Flesh on Old Bones

November 23, 2012

Even in India where wood is scarce, small trees are are used and reused for concrete formwork.

Until recently, the pay as you go building environment has meant that exposed rebar at the top of the columns may be left for years awaiting the installation of an additional story.

Intricate plastic features like visually unsupported stairs, cantilevered awnings and elaborate moldings are created with primitive forms and tools.

Even for tall buildings concrete is mixed on site hand poured in small batches.

Before speaking about new architectural “flesh” on structural “bones,” old or new, it may be worth  first taking a look at the bones, which may best be described by the Hindi saying, chalta hai, meaning in English, “it works” or “it will do.”

The thing about structure, especially concrete, is that in order for it “to work,” it must be fairly well built.  The posts must be plumb, the beam sizes and structural spacing must be true, and the amount and spacing of rebar must be right.  If any of these are seriously off, the building will fail, a fact that has forced builders to learn their craft and allowed the burgeoning of Indian Modernism, which at its utterly ironic core, is a handicraft.  I am pretty sure this is not exactly what Le Corbusier had in mind when he called the house “a machine for living.”  To be continued”……India, Part III:  Architecture Wears a Sari.

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India, Part I: Architecture of Independence

November 20, 2012
Architecture school

Architecture School by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, India, Photo courtesy of Arnout Fonck

Architecture school

Architecture School by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, India, Photo courtesy of Arnout Fonck

Place of assembly Chandigarh 2007, Photo used under Creative Commons

Chandigarh High Court, Photo used under Creative Commons

As a a sometimes student of all things architectural educated in the “Western Tradition” I am prone to assign historical styles as a way of valuing architecture.    Modernism arrived in India, along with independence,  in 1947 at a time when there were about 300 trained Indian architects in a country with a population of 330 million.  As a result, architecturally  the new way forward was destined to be lead by European architects and students of the “European Modernists Movement in Architecture,” not the least being Le Corbusier who realized his vision in the city of Chandigarh.  The impact of Modernism was immediate, pervasive and very real.  Architecture in India since Independence has been not only exclusively Modern in Style but further, in the tradition of Le Corbusier, site cast concrete has been/is the prevailing  building material.  Anyone traveling around India today will find a Modernist building-scape imbued with remnants of “High Colonialism” juxtaposed against the ever present and essential “hut” of the rural village and the tarp and stick maize of the urban slum.  Close inspection reveals that concluding that only the last two are native is probably a mistake, for today Indian offices, apartments, schools, public buildings and private houses are clearly, for good or ill, where new flesh is being put on the structural bones of “Modern Architecture.”  To be continued…..India Part II:  New Flesh on Old Bones.