Monday 29 August 2016

City Scopes

This tour de force on architecture since 1990 deals with the great leap upwards of post-reforms India
Architecture In India: Since 1990
By Rahul Mehrotra
Pictor | Pages: 312 | Rs 2,700

Mehrotra’s tour de force on architecture since 1990 deals with the great leap upwards of post-reforms India. He is a fit chronicler—and messiah—of both, the egotistic spoor of what he calls ‘impatient capitalism’ and the forces of resistance. He has been more realistic, and less arrogant, than the post-independence star chamber of Correa, Doshi, et al. This tome describes the ‘plural landscape’, which is the result of India’s reactions to globalisation.

Post-’90s urbania appears to be all about the mall-ing of Indian architecture. The spectacle of FDI Unbound brought in an uncapped investment in global architects. They are a far cry from those who created the Nehruvian aesthetic—Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller—because the patronage has now changed from the Sarabhais to software giants.

But India is too ancient and too diverse for its new identity to be expressed monotheistically. And Mehrotra is too cerebral to make the easy, use-based distinctions such as airports, corporate spaces, etc. Instead, he has divided post-’90s architecture into four emergent landscapes: Global Practice (The Architecture of Impatient Capitalism); Regional Manifestations (Local Assertions); Alternate Practice (Towards Sustainability); Counter Modernism (Resurfacing of the Ancient). Each section features a trend-tracking and analytical essay followed by an extensive folio of a selection of the buildings which typify that genre. These are not just brochure-grade photographs but also draughtsman’s drawings, cad blueprints and the cutting-edge technology that has become the trademark of our more flamboyant architects.


Mehrotra is an acknowledged crusader for identity, in his books, buildings and urban conservation projects. He is also where he is—including the chair of the department of urban planning and design at Harvard—because he has an opinion. Happily, it is not the ‘my way or the highway’ brand of most of his august predecessors and contemporaries.

So while he is fastidious in his documentation, and open to the technology revolution, he is underwhelmed by some of the ott atrocities committed in the name of innovation. The Hafeez Contractor school and the Charles Correa school have always stood at opposite—and mutually disparaged—ends. Mehrotra acknowledges Contractor’s seminal contribution to the 21st century urbanscape, but still makes the broader point about the ‘reverse outsourcing’ of India’s globalisation genre and more so, the trend in which irrelevance of context has become a must-have rather than the no-no it should continue to be.

There are many eye-openers. The way unheard of towns and new patrons are breaking the classical ‘spine of architectural awareness’ which ran through Chandigarh, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Bombay in the ’60s and ’70s. The way Chitra Vishwanath has extended the earthy philosophy of the Nari Gandhi-Laurie Baker legacy. The way in which such disparate expressions as Surat’s Ashwini Kumar Crematorium and Jamia Millia’s Romi Khosla-designed Castro Cafe have reinvented conventionally uninspiring spaces. The way in which growing religious resurgence has resulted in some of the most monumental projects of 21st century India.

The diverse sweep of architecture in this book both endorses and challenges Mehrotra’s belief in the ‘kinetic city’; where the role of ‘spectacle’ is not vested in the built environment but in the imagery of Ganesh immersions, tazia processions and Ramlilas. Pictor could not have found a worthier debut publication. Though I do wish they would’ve found a less taxing typeface.

AUTHORS: Bachi Karkaria
OUTLOOK: 05 September, 2011
Download the Outlook ​Magazines App. Six magazines, wherever you go! Play Store and App Store

Post a Comment

You are not logged in, please Log in or Register
  • Daily Mail
These pacy thrillers put two southern cities on the crime map
MAGAZINE August 24, 2016
The dark world Harry & Co inhabit changes little after 22 years
MAGAZINE August 24, 2016
How a brutal LTTE directive was lost in the static of intelligence
MAGAZINE August 18, 2016
A RBI governor remembers his doughty fights, but cuts down on the math
MAGAZINE August 11, 2016
Book Extract
Abused by a relative at six, Laxmi saw how patriarchy tried to crush her femininity. And she made it come back to crush them, ‘those straight men with wives and kids’.
MAGAZINE August 10, 2016

In 1999, India and France entered into a $3.5 billion deal for the supply of these submarines. The first of the 6 subs is out on sea trials for the last three months and is to be commissioned later this year. At this stage, a newspaper in Australia has revealed secret data on the submarines, plausibly stolen from India. Indian Defence authorities have ruled out any pilferage of data from India.

POLL STARTED ON: Aug 26, 2016
Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is hosting the 31st Olympic Games from August 5 to 21. This is the first Olympics being held in South America and is going on even as a majority Brazilians are unhappy with their rulers. Here’s a quiz on some random Olympic facts and related trivia.
QUIZ STARTED ON: Aug 11, 2016