Posts Tagged ‘Modern Architecture in India’


Architecture: The Beauty of Commonality

June 12, 2014

I have had this image in my drafts since way back in 2012.  I keep trying to understand what language it speaks, like catching a non verbal dialect.  It appeared in a larger article on  India Art n Design  entitled Ethnic Zest.  If you follow the link and take a look at the article you will see the ethnic connection in the other images that are presented there, but this one is an exception.  I don’t think that there is anything particularly ethnic about the architecture, although the interior follows the Eastern tendency to put a table in the middle of the room and then arrange the furniture symmetrically about it.  Recently I  took another look.   Finally – understandable not having been raised in India –  I realized that the place is noteworthy because it is real.  Virtually every Indian residence that I have visited, and there have been quite a few, looks something like this one.  I will spare the reader a descriptive list of common elements.  If you are interested drop me a note and I will point them out.  Suffice it to say that there is beauty in commonality that is not taught, designed or planned.  It is  simply done, in this case by an architect.



Praising the sum of the parts.

May 7, 2014

To see more photos check out the link here: India Art n Design – Home in the Wild

To see more photos check out the link here: India Art n Design – Home in the Wild

Since site cast concrete buildings can be engineered and built with primitive methods, hand labor and local materials, it is not surprising that social, economic and very real physical conditions have provided a home for Modern Architecture in virtually every tropical climate zone on the planet.  Also, mid century pioneering projects like Le Corbusier’s complex in Chandigarh, India;  Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s  Brasília;  and Lou Kahn’s National Assembly Buildings in Bangladesh, had the far reaching effect of validating modernist efforts in tropical locations until today, when it might even appear, to those of us who live in the world of tortured steel, glass, plastic, engineered wood and stone building, that time has stood still.

In India the case could be made that this is doubly true because of the national tendency to decorate all things modern with temple motifs.  We are left with a sense of parallel worlds, existing side by side but somehow never quite assimilating.  It is occurs here, to the bungalow in the photos, with actually quite pleasing results.  Maybe it is time we stop expecting the whole to materialize, and be happy with the sum of the parts.




Chai Tea, Bangala Bungalow

September 1, 2013

After my first trip to India, back in about 1996, a friend asked me if I had brought back  some “chai tea.”  I had a laugh about this since in India chai is normally understood as simply tea, meaning my friend was asking for tea tea.  Because of context, it took an inflated description in English to describe a particular spiced Indian beverage.

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Guest House (Bed & Breakfast) in Allahabad, India

I thought about this conversation recently when I ran into a similar situation having to do with a “bangala bungalow.”  Ask any American what a bungalow is and you will find images of all manner of detached houses, often  “Arts & Crafts”  in style.  Use the word in India and there appears a fairly refined image of a highly desirable private guest house, often British built, often colonial in style with a modern twist, often large, often frequented by foreigners and historically originating in the state of Bengal where a bangala was a modest, rural structure with porches all around and a thatched roof.  Suffice it to say that I pieced this definition together from several unofficial sources and could not actually find a picture of the historic prototype.  Nevertheless, while traveling in India, asking for accommodations in a bungalow, a bangala, or any combination thereof will let you experience a bit of the grace that so attracted the British to live in and love India, not a little due to architecture.


“…where relevance is irrelevant,”

January 9, 2013

House in Hiyoshi’ by EANA, Kanagawa, Japan
image © koichi torimura
all images courtesy of EANA

I always look longingly at projects like this one in Kanagawa, Japan.  What could be more relevant for today’s life styles than a Modernist Box squeezed onto a tiny infill lot, positioned to take advantage of hillside views, and exactly the right size for commuting residents of first ring suburbs in metropolitan areas.  Unfortunately, getting a project like this past US building and zoning departments, where relevance is irrelevant, is usually a major challenge.  There are many architects that can do it, though.  One only needs to ask?


India, Part IV: Moderninism in a Guilded Cage

December 13, 2012

IMG_0061-op IMG_0062-opThe Modern Architecture that I studied was void of ornament to the extent that only mass produced furniture expressing the industrial aesthetic was allowed, a rule that has been ignored by Indian designers ever since Modernism arrived on home shores, and resulting in the decoration of everyday homes with ethnic abandon.  The affect is fascinating and there are often happy accidents, like the fact that Eastern Style furniture arrangements, where the seating is place symmetrically around a table in the middle of the room, fit perfectly into a modernist box, or how concrete floors provide a perfect base for local marble, or how window and door penetrations require decorative grill work to keep the monkeys  out and allow the air to flow in, or how site cast concrete moldings and plaster walls demand colored paint and gilding like a bride at her wedding.


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


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.


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.