The Evolving Courtyard
As we discuss the mindless architecture of Indian cities today – we have often discussed the culprit - the big bad G of globalization. The idea that our porous borders ever since we opened our economy in the 1990’s has led us, as Indians, to a culture that values and enjoys malls and high rise buildings with curtain glass and Aluminium facades does have some merit. But even as we rue the ravages of Globalisation, I recall something I read by Amartya Sen a long time ago in his lecture on The Indian Identity . “ Globalisation is neither new, nor in general a folly. To identify the phenomenon of the global spread of ideas with an ideological imperialism would be a serious error, somewhat similar to the way any European resistance to Eastern influence would have been at the beginning of the last millennium.” As Sen rightly points out the influences were in the reverse direction between the 2nd and 10th century, with India and China sending the decimal and gunpowder respectively to the West!
The architectural community has looked long and hard for an “Indian identity’ within the vortex of interesting architectural expressions that characterizes the globalizing Indian city today. The Punjabi Baroque has been as much a symbol of social arrival as the glass and Alucobond IT building. We have lamented our marginal role in the shaping of the Indian cultural landscape and taken varied stances. Some of us rode the wave – Hafeez Contractor and his ilk created the aspirational cityscape of Mumbai suburban skyscrapers and Bangalore IT parks. Some of us resisted the wave and created “crafted’ buildings in the margins of mainstream architecture – homes and cultural centres that allowed the exploration of a more contextual architecture - but we strained at the leash to be given a larger role in the shaping of mainstream architecture. Our practice has been such – and in the last ten years we have had the opportunity to build in many corners of India – for diverse functions - and we have grabbed these opportunities to explore local identities. For us, the overarching idea of an Indian identity has been as confusing as the expressions of a globalized India. The variety of landscapes, climates and histories we have been confronted with has led us to architectural solutions with unique identities - the context of each project giving us strong signals and cues. We have enjoyed this process of listening, looking and assimilating new landscapes and will share with you the multiplicity of ideas and spaces that this this has resulted in today.
However, as with the search for identity in Indian Architecture – we have attempted to identify the thread that runs through our work – despite the diversity, what do we hold on to? What are the central ideas that pervade and do those give us any clues about the priorities we have validated in seeking localized solutions? Perhaps our love for people and nature has led us to the most ubiquitous element of architecture in the tropics – the courtyard.
This simple spatial construct – the result of a climatic need to extricate warm air and a social need to congregate and interact – cuts across history time and typology in the story of Indian architecture.
This talk is about our journey through the small and metropolitan cities of 21st century India through the courtyards we have designed and their evolving nature – in response to the pluralism of the brief – to be expected from the most unifying characteristic of India – its diversity..
In summary, we have enjoyed the technologies of globalization – and used it –in the software that allows us to be far more efficient, in the technologies of building that allow us seamless glass and amazing hinges – tools that only improve the flexibility of our environments – better polishes and sealants and hardier finishes that reduce the labour of long term upkeep, and many more…
However, as long as people and nature remain at the core of the design process, the outcome will be ecologically sustainable and equally – will retain the sense of beauty and culture that is key to the proliferation of a civilization and its identity in a globalized world.