The Changing Culture of Architecture in Modern India
The ‘Architect’ in Architecture
The ‘architect’ has evidently lost the authorship and exclusivity s/he once possessed—an observation that might be visible not only in India but in the profession worldwide. Today, the collaborative role of architecture instead rests on developers, clients, various consultants, and foreign firms, somewhere subduing the voice of the architect.
Speaking for the profession in India, it is imperative that the role of the architect be acknowledged more strongly, especially in the planning of cities. The Indian government’s massive Smart Cities Mission, which aims to develop 100 sustainable and citizen-friendly cities all over the country, has done very little to include architectural voices into the conversation. Same goes for our heritage structures that are being replaced by modern structures despite resistance shown by architects.
As a result, architects are making efforts and are regularly creating platforms that can give way to solutions to better architecture. Practitioners such as Karan Grover, Rahul Mehrotra and Naresh Narasimhan have begun to assume the role of activist. In addition to certain professional bodies like the Council of Architecture, Indian Institute of Architects and Indian Institute of Interior Designers, a lot of cities have very active architects’ groups who meet, interact, disseminate, and share their views on the profession and issues surrounding it. Numerous international architecture conventions are also creating opportunities of increased visibility. Here, major discussions on burning topics such as sustainability and the green movement, integration of urban planning and architecture, and the role of architects in the planning of cities, are being explored. These conversations about how architecture professionals can better society are also beginning to include conversations with planners, governmental bodies, environmentalists, citizens and psychologists.
Women’s participation in the field is definitely growing worldwide, but particularly so in India, where they are contributing to architecture and planning in a myriad of ways and are holding authoritative positions. This is a far cry from the gender-biased profession architecture was in India even a decade back. Needless to say, on many forums, it is the women who are initiating changes.
The Need to Look at ‘Cities,’ Rather than just ‘Buildings’
Many of India’s major cities are experiencing issues of infrastructure, basic planning, and sanitation, though they receive little attention. While smaller cities are proving to be great examples, there is still a need to look at urban planning from scratch. India does have a few architects such as Christopher Charles Benninger, whose focus has been to integrate architecture and urban planning. Numerous architects in the country have realized that working in silos and for their own buildings alone might not work. Many are beginning to look at the larger picture within their cities, and rather than focusing solely on individual projects, are seeing the need for architecture to engage with cities.
Considering how architecture can affect the socio-cultural imprint of a city, the social responsibility of an architect is being profoundly displayed
Considering how architecture can affect the socio-cultural imprint of a city, the social responsibility of an architect is being profoundly displayed by a handful of architects in the country such as Brinda Somaya, Pratima Joshi, PK Das and Abha Narain Lambah, who are working on community architecture and are passionately involved with restoring or conserving heritage structures. Then there are architects like Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri, Bijoy Jain and Girish Dariyav Karnawatwhose works have not only brought forth the immense resource of ’craftspeople’ that we have in the country but has also helped in uplifting these ‘treasures.’
Architects are joining in social movements and demanding public dialogues to curb the disconnect between what people want and what is being offered to them. In terms of safety and security, architects like Neera Adarkar are bringing into focus the ‘gendering of spaces’ and concepts such as ‘eyes on the street.’ There has also been a surge of non-profit organizations in the country, who are not only voicing their opinions on the degradation of design and cities, but are physically working on solutions. Through this, citizens are able to participate in building their cities like never before. Now, there are even opportunities for citizens to participate in and provide feedback for master-planning, a recent example being Bengaluru.