An account of critical regionalism in diverse building types in postcolonial Indian architecture

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An account of critical regionalism in diverse building types in postcolonial Indian architecture

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An account of critical regionalism in diverse building types in postcolonial Indian architecture


Critical   regionalism  is  an  architectural concept that  seeks   to   balance  local   needs   and capabilities with  the  progressive lessons  of  modernisation. Critical  regionalism has  been  an influential architectural approach in postcolonial Indian architecture. Even before the  term  was coined  in the  ۱۹۸۰s,  architects in India had subconsciously begun  pursuing  the  ideas  of critical regionalism in  designing  their   buildings.   The  degree of  influence of  critical  regionalism on postcolonial Indian  architecture has  varied  over  the  course  of time  as a result of economic, political and  social  changes. This paper identifies key architectural projects realised in India since  ۱۹۴۷  that  adhere to  the   ideas   and  principles  of  critical  regionalism. The  identified regionalist  projects  have   been   categorised  according  to   their   building   programmes and significant examples in each  building  type  are  discussed  chronologically while  bringing  forth their  qualities that make  them  regionalist in first place. By focussing on regionalist projects of significance in each  building  type, the  paper highlights  that critical regionalism is capable of producing  potent architecture to cater to any building  programme.

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  1. Introduction

The architectural legacy  left  behind  by the  British in India did not adequately address the  local climatic conditions and socio-cultural  needs    (Grover,   ۱۹۹۵).   Thus,   it   was   not surprising  that the  British  architectural  influence dwindled soon after India gained  independence in 1947.  Independent India   chose    modernism   as   its   preferred  architectural approach with  the  belief  that it  could  solve  its  problems such as social inequality (Gupta  and Kalamdani, 1998). However,  by the  ۱۹۶۰s,  architects in India  began  realising the   limitations  of   modernist  architecture   (Lang,   ۲۰۰۲, pp.  ۱۲۵).  The  limited interpretation  of  ‘function’ offered by  modernist architecture  seemed inadequate  to  certain architects  who  wished   to   fulfil   the   social   and   cultural aspirations of their  Indian clientele (Jadhav, 2007).

Indian architects like Charles Correa, Raj Rewal and Balkrishna Doshi sought  to overcome the  dominance of modernism that  they   had   themselves  inherited  through their   Western   education.  They  began   incorporating  the ideas  of critical regionalism in their  works  to  counter the homogenisation of architecture resulting from  modernism. Correa, Rewal and  Doshi’s works of 1980s acted as models for critical regionalist architecture in India in the decades to follow (Mehrotra, 1990,  pp.  ۱۲۰).  However, with transitions in Indian economy, political landscape and social milieu, the influence wielded by critical regionalism in the  Indian architectural scene   has  varied   over  the   course   of  time. After  the   liberalisation  of  Indian  economy   in  the   ۱۹۹۰s, more  and  more  architectural projects started adopting the ‘global’  architectural style  having  glass  curtain walls  and plastic   finishes  (Jadhav,  ۲۰۰۷).   This  trend has,   however, induced a greater inclination amongst  certain Indian archi- tects towards critical regionalism (Menon, 2000).

Being a developing country, India cannot afford  to expend valuable resources and energy  to construct and operate buildings  that are  blind  imitations of buildings  in the  West (Correa, 1983; Doshi, 1985).  Therefore, new  architectural practices have  emerged in  India  in  the  ۲۱st  century that engage   in  architecture  sensitised to  the   local  conditions (Mehrotra, 2011, pp.  ۱۲۸).

In order  to have a better understanding of the progression of critical regionalism in postcolonial India,  it is important to firstly identify key architectural projects realised in India since 1947 that adhere to the  ideas and principles of critical regionalism. Scholarship  on critical regionalism reveals key assessment criteria that a building  should  respect in order to be critically regionalist. Based on these criteria, critical regionalist projects in India were  identified and  then categorised  according to  their   building  programmes. Sig- nificant examples in each  building type  have been  discussed chronologically  in  this   paper  while   bringing   forth   their qualities that make  them   regionalist in  first  place. More- over, the  paper attempts to highlight  that critical regional- ism is capable of producing  potent architecture to cater to any kind of building programme. The categorisation of regionalist projects according to their  building programmes also highlights how the varying socio-politico-economic conditions in postcolonial India have impacted the  influence of  critical  regionalism on  each   building  type   differently. Lastly, the  paper is able  to ascertain in which building types

critical regionalism is getting overlooked and  in which building  types  it continues to hold relevance.

۱٫۱٫   Defining  critical regionalism

The  term   Critical   Regionalism   was  coined   by  Alexander Tzonis and  Liane Lefaivre  in the  early  ۱۹۸۰s,  and  was later elaborated by architectural critic  and historian Kenneth Frampton in his essay  ‘Towards  a Critical  Regionalism:  Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance’, published in 1983. Critical   regionalism  can   be   defined  is  an   architectural approach that strives  to counter the  homogeneity inherent in modernist architecture  (Henrique, 2013; Slessor,  ۲۰۰۰). By using  contextual  forces, critical regionalism imparts a sense  of place  and meaning  to architecture. Critical  region- alist designs are  sensitive to the  local climate as well as the technological constraints of the  local building industry. The practitioners of critical regionalism seek to integrate global architectural and technological developments with regional sensibilities derived  from  spatial,  cultural and  historical contexts (Yeang, 1987, pp.  ۲۸).

Critical  regionalism differs  from  regionalism in a way that  it   does   not   resort  to  blind   use   of   vernacular (Henrique, 2013).  By being  critical of a region’s  building traditions,  a  practitioner  is  able   to  extract  only  the essence  of  these  traditions  rather  than  literal  refer- ences  (Lefaivre  and Tzonis, 2003, pp.  ۱۰).  Furthermore, critical  regionalists  despise   post-modern  architecture for  applying  eclectic historical references to  contem- porary  works  without considerations of  their   appropri- ateness (Mehrotra, 2011,  pp.  ۱۲۲).

Contemporary  architecture   has    predominately  been indulging  in  standardised  solutions   that aim  to  minimise construction costs (Henrique, 2013). Homogeneous  solutions are  being replicated around  the  world without paying much attention to  the  specificities of  different locations where the  buildings  are  situated. By employing  normative plans, the  construction industry  has reduced the  role  of architec- ture   to  merely  designing  the  external skins  for  packaging their  buildings (Frampton, 2007). Critical regionalism is therefore vital in contemporary times  as it resists  the overpowering onslaught of homogeneously internationalised architecture  by  relating architecture  to  the   realities  of the  place.

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