Out of the ‘Box’ Architecture – Truth or Myth?

Speaking about the word “architecture”, what comes to one’s mind today in our country?

Is it the toothpaste box-like buildings with chajjas (the projecting or overhanging eaves or cover of a roof), or horizontal and vertical glass cuboids emerging as monstrous onlookers to the concrete jungle below? Is there anything that truly defines architecture out of the "box"? Let us indulge in a quick retrospection.

Throughout Indian history, one would find a rich blend of craftsmanship and brilliant use of the mind in every piece of architecture that still stands the test of time. But unfortunately, that has become a thing of the past. Forgotten are the Indian roots that lie in the ruins of Mohenjodaro. One could delve into the subject for hours, pondering about their sheer intelligence and ability to construct magnificent structures that boasted of the grid iron planning and clever use of materials. Forgotten are the days that saw the rise of Mughal architecture, a perfect amalgamation of Indian, Turkish, Islamic and Persian architecture. The motifs, the intricate Jaali work, the delicate ornamentation coupled with large domes and slender minarets speak of how immensely integral art and innovation was to that era; and finally, British architecture that persists even to this day in almost all the cities in India.

So, what has changed? When architectural masterpieces have still kept their pace around the world, what has led to its gradual extinction in India?

Why can’t one of our architects come up with a dynamic form like Walt Disney Concert Hall of Frank Gehry or something that seems to be made upside down like Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona?

After a thorough study on the difference in the contemporary architectural styles of India and the West, we have narrowed down our inference to two most significant reasons.

The first reason resulting in this stark difference is Culture. Architecture is an expression of people’s belief systems, way of living, thoughts, rituals, and attitude toward everyday life. India being a country rich in diversity and culture represents its amalgamation of beliefs and ideologies in its architecture today.

When asked on this matter, Ar. Apurva Dhuri, M’Arch-Urban Design, tells us, “Architecture in India is a mere representation of how we live our life. Our daily routine, our conservative attitude, mainly our intangible culture of rituals and religions is what makes up the spatial quality."

This sort of planning is present in our houses today as well where we plan in the sequence of open to semi private to very private. We believe more in spatial planning than the envelope of a structure. On the other hand, the grid iron planning in Western countries gives them a better chance to explore more on forms and envelopes. Thus, we see varied examples like Dancing House or Centre Pompidou-Metz focusing on envelope.

The second most important reason for this difference is quite evidently the Climate. While the West finds ways to encompass the building to inhibit cold, we, in turn, find ways to open it out by giving large courtyards and open relief spaces for cross ventilation to reduce the heating.

This factor plays a huge role on how the building envelope is made. Even if buildings like Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur or Hawa Mahal are fortified, they have a courtyard right in the heart of it whereas the West creates an additional barrier to prevent any heat gain to fight their winter, thus, the expression in the form.

The West has many buildings by Ar. Zaha Hadid and Ar. Frank Gehry, which often have unusual forms that are often an envelope and act as a climate barrier functionally, for instance, Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku & Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Ar. Dhuri further added, “Our architecture can be cut down to simple geometry, like the Matrimandir in Auroville, which is a complex structure with a geometric spherical origin, or the pyramidal form of the Srirangam Temple. That’s our way of representing our rich culture.”

But, we are hopeful of the future! Some of the upcoming and newly constructed building projects in India are a blend of modernism and creativity at its peak and are totally worth drooling over – The Namaste Tower and Cyber Tech Egg in Mumbai , Bharti Airtel Headquarters in Delhi and I-flex Solutions Building in Bangalore.

Let us conclude with the thought that we, architects, are given the highest power to aspire, create and inspire and it is our responsibility to uphold our country’s rich diverse culture through our creations. So, let’s start being the change to bring in the change!

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