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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