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Indigenous Modernism: Truth in Architecture

Le Corbusier, Chandigarh High Court

…Corbusier’s High Court in Chandigarh. The main entrance – it is one of the

greatest tours de force ever pulled off in architecture. To enter the building, to stand
under the columns is to know what justice is – superhuman justice, justice without
mercy, the State, above and beyond the prejudices of the individual. This is
architecture – this feeling, this command. If one were to criticise this building, one
would not think about rain and the doors and the airconditioning. These are just
stupid details. One would question it on one point alone. One would say: Is this
justice? Is this a real picture of justice? Should justice be beyond the individual,
superhuman, monumental, beyond mercy? Suppose the scale was… of a Japanese
court, suppose the judge sat on a mat, at the level of the defendant….

Architecture is temperament.

– Charles Correa, “Architectural Expression,” 1959

Section 01: Towards an Indigenous Modernism

By the 1950s, modernist idioms became firmly located as the dominant aesthetic
vocabulary for professional architects in India, particularly for the architecture of public
buildings. This meant that their functions, spatial ordering, and aesthetic forms were
decidedly modernist. And if Corbusier’s monumental Capitol Complex was one of the
initial modern edifices of the newly independent nation-state, the decades following 1950
saw, with the nation-state’s heavy investment in institution building, the design and
construction of numerous modern institutions across the nation, be they for academic,
cultural, governmental, commercial, or industrial purposes.1Continuing until the late 1980s,
all of these modern institutions were patronized by the nation-state and various regional
states, but also of significance, by private institutions. Indeed, it was in recognition of this
tremendous building activity that had been taken place all across the nation, over the past
twenty odd years, that Mulk Raj Anand’s Marg brought out a special issue dedicated to
‘Contemporary Indian Architecture’ in 1963 showcasing over twenty-five architectural
projects across India.2

While initially a small but significant number of these institutional edifices of the
modern nation-state were designed and built by European or American architects living and
working in India, soon a majority of these buildings began to be designed by a number of
Indian architects. Largely trained abroad or under the mentorship of ‘foreign’ and Indian
architects who had set up architectural firms in India, it is to the credit of all of these
architects that the edifices of post-independence state and private institutions between 1950
and the late-1980s must be attributed. Just to provide a sense of the scale and scope of this

Apart from institutional building, there were numerous private offices, large-scale housing projects,
commercial centers, hotels, and industrial complexes. Of these, the housing projects and commercial centres
in particular were built by various engineers and architects employed by the state and central Public Works
Departments, very rarely employing the work of professional architects. Most prominent among these for
instance, include the residential apartment complexes and colonies built by the Delhi Development Authority
since the 1960s. For more on the history of urban housing in Delhi, see Dupont et al, 2000.
Here, contemporary architecture was categorized into ‘Living’, ‘Working’ and ‘Care of Body and Spirit.’
Within ‘Living’ there was included, housing such as Gautam Sehgal’s house, Chandigarh designed by Pierre
Jeanneret, the Ashok Hotel, New Delhi by B.E. Doctor, Golconde Guest House, Pondicherry by Antonin
Raymond, etc. Within ‘Working’ there was included, Shreyas School, Ahmedabad by B.V. Doshi, Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay by Helmuth Bartsch, West Bengal New Secretariat, Calcutta by
Habib Rahman, etc. Within ‘Care of Body and Spirit’ there was included, Gandhi Bhavan, Chandigarh by B.P.
Mathur, Gandhi Smarak Sangrahayala, Ahmedabad by Charles Correa, Gandhi Ghat, Barrackpore by Habib
Rahman, India International Centre, New Delhi by Joseph Allen Stein, etc. For more, see Marg 1963.

undertaking, these included the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay by Durga Bajpai
(1951-54), Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi by Habib Rahman (1959-61), IIT-Kanpur by
Achyut P. Kanvinde (1959-66), Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Research and Education,
Chandigarh by Jeet Malhotra (1960-66), IIM-Ahmedabad by Louis Kahn (1962-74),
Lecture Theatres, Jodhpur by Uttam C. Jain (1969), Hall of Nations, Pragati Maidan, New
Delhi by Raj Rewal (1970), IIM-Bangalore by B.V. Doshi (1977), Vidhan Bhavan, Bhopal
by Charles Correa (1980), Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal by Anant Raje
(1984), and many others.

Amidst the diverse range of practices that emerged herein, architectural histories
have identified some dominant formal or stylistic idioms, such as: 1. architecture in the
typically ‘purist’ high-modernist idiom – often accorded to the influence of modernists
such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn and others; 2. a renewed revivalist
idiom – often attributed to conditions of a newly independent nation-state keen to re-
establish its national identity; and 3. beginning around the late-1950s, the incorporation of
traditional and indigenous spatial orders, concepts and motifs within and through a larger
modernist idiom. Most Indian architects constantly moved between idioms – especially of
the ‘high modernist’ and the ‘indigenous’ kind. The popularity of the revivalist idiom
amongst professional architects was, in any event, short-lived, and yet, as we will see, took
on more sublimated dimensions within modernist practice itself. Of these, notwithstanding
overlaps, our specific interest lies in the third idiom, for, it articulated most
comprehensively the problematics inherent to both the revivalist and high modernist idioms,
resulting in the emergence of what many architectural historians have called, a ‘truly
Indian modern’ or ‘truly Indian modernist’ architecture.3 Indeed, within the quest for a
‘national modern’ that has defined architectural discourses in twentieth century India, it is
this ‘Indian modernist’ architectural idiom that has been understood to produce a synthesis
of ‘modernist’ and ‘Indian’ principles of building and aesthetic form.

It is only in the recent past that a few architectural and art historians have begun to
call into question the production of an historical opposition between ‘modern’ and ‘Indian’

References to such phrasing can be found in the work of Lang, 2002; Desai et al, 1997; Gupta, 1991; Bahga
et al, 1993, and many others.

where the former stood for universal principles and the latter stood for some undefined
‘authentic’ reserve of a pre-colonial Indian past. Much of this work is indebted to recent
explorations into histories of modernity from the perspective of postcolonial theory. For
instance, the work of Timothy Mitchell has been significant in this regard for his analysis
of the historical contours of modernity in the West. Mitchell argues against notions of a
singular, global or alternative modernity for their inability to provide a complex and
rigorous understanding of how modernity’s “autocratic picture of itself as the expression of
universal certainty” has come about (xi). Mitchell instead posits that it was precisely the
colonial and imperialistic underpinnings which, far from being tangential or circumstantial
factors, were in fact core, constitutive elements that enabled the production of a hegemonic
discourse on modernity in the West (xi-xv).

We can see the work of many art and architectural historians in the recent decade or
so that has drawn on such theoretical lineages in order to re-examine modernisms in the
non-West. For instance, art historian Rebecca Brown in her analysis of post-independence
art and visual culture in India notes that this notion of universalism as the preserve of the
West posed for non-Western and particularly postcolonial modernities such as in India, a
paradox of “constructing a modernity in the face of both the universalizing modern and the
particularity of India” (2009: 03). This paradox, Brown argues, is not a preserve of the non-
West either, but has been a historical burden of the non-West to prove its claim to be at
once ‘modern’ and ‘Indian.’ For Brown then, it is the element of ‘struggle’ that defines the
postcolonial where “the most successful works take on the paradox directly and use as their
subject the fragmentation of India’s past and its contemporary identity” (05). Similarly,
Vikramaditya Prakash, as we have seen in the previous chapter, contests this opposition
between ‘modern’ and ‘Indian’ on the grounds that the so-called universal modernism and
modernity in the West were by themselves deeply fragmented, and are moreover inflected
by orientalist and primitivist discourses (2004: 33).

However, given the very operationality of a discourse premised on opposing notions

of the ‘modern’ and ‘Indian’ – even if it was indeed a hegemonic construct of colonial
modernity –we will examine the articulations of this postcolonial predicament within
architectural discourses precisely in those terms – as ‘oppositions.’ And within this larger

rubric, we explore how architects sought to articulate, both through writing and in practice,
their understandings of this duality, specifically in ways that marked them as distinct from
earlier articulations of the same. Indeed, given the particular configurations through which
this idiom of the ‘Indian modernists’ makes a recall to notions of tradition and culture and
the different discourse it produces, we would prefer to term it an ‘indigenous modernism.’

In an early essay on art and indigenism written in 1968-69, art critic Geeta Kapur
interprets indigenism as “a contemporary concern for the unique features of his nation’s
history and tradition, its surviving culture and environment.”4 Noting that the question of
identity becomes an obsessive concern particularly in colonial countries following the
realization of its having been distorted by colonialists, Kapur marks a furthering in
complexity of this quest for identity in the post-colonial period.5 This is a situation, Kapur
explains, where the intelligentsia is neither marred by the need for ‘heroic chauvinism’ in
the face of derisive foreigners, nor by a need to incorporate readymade ‘values’ from the

it is then that the fundamental search begins, to define a cultural identity in

relationship to the past and the aspirations for the future and in that process to
discover a contemporary uniqueness in a world in which these people have clearly
been ‘left behind.’… If the quest can be stated as one for cultural essence and
authenticity – the artist’s own intention coincides with this.

It is in the specific preoccupation with ‘language’ that the artist is brought to the source of
culture “for it is within the horizons of language that individuals and the community
apprehend and shape their existence.” In so doing, Kapur argues, there must be a balance
between negating all that one finds comforting in the past and all the illusions of a
modernism not yet experienced, in order to arrive at “a communion with the culture in
which he [the artist] has been nourished because in its most intimate form it has moulded
his very means of experiencing reality.” Some notion of individual authenticity is then

I refer here to the long-essay written by Geeta Kapur out of her MA thesis submitted to Royal College of Art,
London in 1970. The essay was published by Vrishchik, the little magazine run by the artists Gulam Sheikh
and Bhupen Khakhar. For more, see Kapur, In Quest of Identity. The essay is unpaginated.
Kapur uses the hyphenated term ‘post-colonial’ so wherever I have retained it in those terms, it is to suggest
that I am referring specifically to her articulations.

arrived at by means of an engagement with the dialectical process, i.e. of the subjective and
objective dimensions. This quest for identity in indigenism can have something of a quality
of renaissance, only if the locus of choice remains with the creative practitioner, for, if
influenced by other ideological considerations, Kapur warns, it will inevitably slip into
revivalism or an “illusion” of ‘modernism’ that is not yet experienced. And from this, we
may surmise that indigenism for Kapur, at least insofar as her arguments in this essay are
concerned, constitutes part of the process of postcolonial cultural practices becoming
modernist, or that they are indeed what constitute modernism – that is, if cultural practices
were not already so.6

It is perhaps only with this last warning that we may insert a small note of
divergence, not so much of opinion, but more of recognizing divergent modes of practice
between modern art and architecture. Kapur is able to attribute the locus of choice to the
artist for, the practice of visual art, in its very methods, histories, and forms, and not to
mention networks of circulation had emerged as a relatively autonomous mode of
practice – one that may or may not have made it into the public domain, one that could be
erased, written over, and destroyed – all, a prerogative of the artist. Modernist architecture
on the other hand, owing to its very concrete and tangible situatedness and presence in the
built environment, is by virtue of its very nature and existence not an autonomous practice,
at least not in the same sense. Certainly one can erase, write over and destroy works of
architecture, but that is not an architect’s prerogative. Moreover, the realization of a work
of modernist architecture is defined and determined in and through its relationship with the
client, not to mention the physical environment. Indeed, its very method of practice is
determined and constituted in and through these networks of relationships, which are not
external in the sense of objective or societal dimensions as opposed to an inner subjective
dimension. This is not to imply that visual arts do not produce meaning in an encounter
with the public; on the contrary, it is that modernist architecture (at least in the context of
We must note here that within art histories in India, the term indigenism is conventionally applied to a
specific set of practices, associated not least with the works and influences of J. Swaminathan, and K.C.S.
Paniker. By contrast in this essay, Kapur identifies a broader set of artists as representative of an indigenous
practice – J. Swaminathan, M.F. Husain and Bhupen Khakhar. In particular, while Husain is conventionally
associated with the Progressive Artists Group and Khakhar is associated at least indirectly with the Baroda
narrative/figurative group, neither of them are within art histories seen as ‘indigenous modernists.’ And
therefore, even in her analysis of these three artists, Kapur’s essay becomes interesting for it signals the
contemporaneity of their practice – one that has not yet been canonized and ossified into art ‘history.’

public architecture) insofar as its location is squarely within a public domain, is of and by
itself a public practice. To that extent, while we know that no cultural practice is ever
performed in isolation – of its being imbricated in contexts, discourses and networks – this
is, at least relatively, nowhere truer than for architecture.

Notwithstanding this, Kapur’s thesis is immensely useful, for, it is one of the few
theoretical attempts at understanding and articulating, in a nuanced and rigorous manner
this compulsion for identity that so typifies a postcolonial predicament in the field of
cultural production – especially one that takes the shape of indigenism. Here, we must note
that the immediate history of decolonization and the question of national consciousness that
emerges through it form the premise of Kapur’s thesis on the intelligentsia’s need for a
renascent national culture.Further, what makes this essay more compelling is its
representational voice – of speaking on behalf of the indigenous modernists as the erstwhile
colonized but now post-colonial national subjects who are relatively free of both oppressive
colonialism and regressive bourgeois nationalism. In this situation of relative freedom as it
were, walking the tightrope between revivalism and a “spurious modernism” is according
to Kapur, an individual (artistic) prerogative; and yet, we may extrapolate, it is a necessary
one. For, Kapur observes –and here we must remind ourselves that this essay was written in
1969 – that this polemic between ‘Indianness’ and ‘modernity’ or ‘internationalism’ has
only become more “strong and subtle” in the twenty years since Indian independence. This
is not in a solution-providing, alternative model of expressing some pre-conceived notion
of national culture, Kapur argues, but the issues are internationalized and made integral to
one’s own quests. Perhaps it is this double stance – of internationalizing and internalizing
this double bind itself – that marks indigenous modernist practice as a different practice
from what Kapur terms the ‘defensive chauvinism’ of nationalism.

Further, Kapur’s claim for a ‘modernism not yet experienced’ or the critique of
earlier practices being ‘spurious’ versions of modernism may be understood as deriving
from this position of the post-colonial subject. Here, the argument would be that modernist
practice so far is spurious in that it has not involved a genuine search/quest for identity but
instead has found quick and comfortable solutions either in revivalism or in borrowing
from Western modernisms. Tied to this, is the relative freedom that comes with distance –

from both colonialism and nationalism – which in effect will pave the way for a ‘proper’
decolonization process in the cultural sphere. This becomes more evident when Kapur
writes that “the artist is involved in this quest [for identity], automatically, if often
unconsciously, insofar as he is a member of the nation’s searching intelligentsia.” In other
words, there is something about the relative freedom of the present which, regardless of
individual choice/prerogative, enables this quest for identity, in the shape of indigenism, to
become a compulsion for any cultural practitioner:

…indigenism is an imperative for colonial peoples: at the initial stage it is a means

for claiming one’s dignity and one’s liberty; at a more complex level it is an
instrument for the re-appraisal of the morass of values that survive colonialism, by
an understanding of history and tradition in terms of contemporary needs. And
finally, it is a means of establishing a creative relationship with one’s natural and
cultural environment.

Kapur’s argument here is leading to what has effectively been theorized as the
experience/condition of postcolonial duality – of the double bind of being modern and
Indian. By the same count however, this identification of a ‘modernism not yet experienced’
must implicitly anticipate that indigenism will consist, in its self-reflexivity, of a truer and
more genuine modernism. This is reminiscent of Frantz Fanon’s theorization of the native
literature and its three phases of intellectual evolution.7 Fanon states:

In the sphere of plastic arts, for example, the native artist who wishes at whatever
cost to create a national work of art shuts himself up in a stereotyped reproduction of
details. These artists who have nevertheless thoroughly studied modern techniques

Kapur’s proposition of this new quest for identity by the post-colonial ‘native intellectual’ corresponds with
the second and third phase of evolution anticipated by Fanon. He states that “in the first phase, the native
intellectual gives proof that he has assimilated the culture of the occupying power.... In the second phase we
find the native is disturbed; he decides to remember what he is” (222). This period/phase of creative work
approximately corresponds with studying local society. But since the native is not a ‘proper’ part of his
people, he is content to recall their life. “Finally in the third phase, which is called the fighting phase, the
native, after having tried to lose himself in the people and with the people, will on the contrary shake the
people... he turns himself into an awakener of the people; hence comes a fighting literature, a revolutionary
literature, and a national literature” (223). For more, see Fanon.

and who have taken part in the main trends of contemporary painting and architecture,
turn their backs on foreign culture, deny it, and set out to look for a true national
culture, setting great store on what they consider to be the constant principles of
national art. (224-225)

Like Fanon’s native (revolutionary) intellectual Kapur’s indigenism which anticipates

identifying with a modernism not yet experienced is predicated upon a radical
decolonization process. In doing so, Kapur’s thesis too then, poses the history of
modernism as a progressive quest, not perhaps for a solution, but maybe a resolution: of a
sense of being at home in the world. And we may recall a resonance of this with our
discussions on the work of Marshall Berman in his understanding of modernism as a way
of modern men and women as subjects as well as objects of modernization struggling to
gain a foothold and make themselves at home in a constantly changing modern world. The
movement of modernism is however, as Berman clarifies, not progressive; rather it is
dialectical – a constant swinging back and forth between old and new, past and present.

And lastly, we might want to address the aspect of representation – in particular of

speaking on behalf of the ‘people,’ so to speak – that is found across many forms of
cultural production, but more so within avant-garde modernist intents. Within twentieth
century architectural discourses, as we have seen in the previous chapter, one of the
critiques with regard to the high modernism of a figure like Le Corbusier was of Western
modernism’s claim to represent a universal aesthetics. Along with the claim to universalism,
the aspect of representation itself was called into question. For instance, Charles Correa’s
reading of the High Court in Chandigarh as quoted above calls into question this
representational misconception of the notion of justice – of its deriving from a lineage that
is not only statist, but of its having been lost in translation, of its not suiting the Indian
temperament. While we will explore Correa’s articulations in bit more detail below, what
we may want to note for the moment within contexts of ‘indigenous modernism,’ is its own
claim of representability by means of authenticity. This claiming of an indigeneity involves
not only the right to represent, but also of the responsibility to represent. And this
immediately as we can see, is very much part of an avant-garde conception of practice –
one that sees itself as being at the forefront of a struggle on multiple fronts, not least in

speaking for the people. This invariably raises issues of the relation of the intelligentsia to
the masses, and the role of architecture.

For Kapur, one of the preconditions of being involved ‘in quest of identity’ is that
one must be part of the nation’s searching intelligentsia; this belonging “automatically, if
often unconsciously” involves them in this quest. It is after all, their quest – their challenge
to build a contemporary society that is devoid of both readymade ‘values’ from the West
and heroic nationalisms. In other words, the indigenous modernist is always already
working within a ‘national’ framework, and in fact plays a constitutive role in the
emergence of national consciousness in a decolonized, post-colonial condition.

So also, it is necessarily from within this national framework that the indigenous
modernist understands history, tradition, and attempts to “establish a creative relationship
with the natural and cultural environment.” This leads to at least three problematics: first,
of the historical and conceptual lineages, as well as modalities of practice through which
this indigenous modernist transfers his/her different understanding of history and tradition.
To put it differently, what are the “sources” that the indigenous modernist turns to, in quest
of identity and what are the particularities of its configuration that engender the production
of a different discourse? Second, how might we even begin to understand and make sense
of those practices that remain if not completely, then one step outside the framework of the
national modern. And third, in conjunction with both of the above, how might we situate
this relationship between the indigenous modernist and the ‘one who is outside of this
national modern paradigm,’ not as belonging to any pre-given or essentialised structures of
power/knowledge as it were, but instead as evidencing a porosity or struggle in the field.
To probe all of this in detail would be beyond the purview of this thesis. Of these, what we
will engage with in this chapter, are the modalities through which, and the conditions
within which the indigenous modernists produced a different discourse.


Kapur’s essay was written in 1969 responding to some contemporary practices in the field
of artistic production. Let us go back ten years from there to 1959 and examine some of
these concerns regarding identity and architectural expression which saw incipient

articulation by Indian architects in a Seminar on Architecture held in New Delhi.8 This
seminar becomes a perfect occasion to get a sense of the time – of architects articulating
thoughts on their own practice, that which had gone before, and that which must be
anticipated. In many of the architects present, one sees in their later work a recall to many
of the ideas present there; in some cases like Charles Correa given his many writings on the
subject, we see incipient articulation. Let me also clarify that even though we are not
attributing the concept of indigenous modernism to all or any single architect, we are still
seeing it emerge in and through a concern of a community – a community that is perhaps
for the first time coming together on such a scale to articulate its visions. Attended by the
who’s who of the field, inaugurated by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it was the
first of its kind. Many architects were invited to speak on a range of issues concerning the
state of affairs in the architectural field. The more immediate and concrete issue regarding
which architects were meant to respond was a proposal/directive put forward by the
Government of India about formulating a national policy on architectural expression.9 But
this however becomes also the occasion for architects to reflect critically on their own
practices, the condition of the field, and the community of architects and their roles.

That the Indian government under Nehru was contemplating setting in place a
national policy on architecture, which – we surmise based on the architects’ papers
presented – was decidedly meant to ensure that contemporary architectural practice would
retain something ‘Indian’ in it, is worth taking note of.10 Indeed as we saw in the previous
chapter, Nehru was both championed and derided for his Westward looking universal
modernist, functionalist proclivities. And yet, we saw in that very same chapter a hesitation
in Nehru, presumably born out of the experience of colonization, about looking to Europe
and America as signaling a colonial mindset. In this very seminar of 1959, in his inaugural
address, Nehru notes:

The seminar papers and report were published in book form in the same year. See Seminar, 1959.
The seminar also discussed among other issues, effects of architecture on climate, technology, architectural
education, relationship or architect and society, visual arts and indigenous rural forms, and so on.
It is not clear as to whether the directive stated in those terms its intents, but all the architect’s papers do
read the proposal for a national policy on architecture as implying that there must be of necessity something
‘national’ or ‘Indian’ in their work.

…this business of European or Indian or Iranian or American architecture has
certainly some substance in it but not so much as is made out… [a building will
have to fit in] with the general structure of society, technological advance, climate,
function, etc… a tremendous deal of building is taking place in India and an attempt
should be made to give it a right direction and to encourage creative minds to
function with a measure of freedom so that… something new and good will emerge.
[Italics mine] (9)

Further, alongside Nehru’s support of Le Corbusier, Otto Koenigsberger and other

modernists, architectural histories illustrate that Nehru was an ‘indirect’ supporter of what
one might call an ‘Indian’ style of architecture. Sris Chandra Chatterjee for instance, who
as we mentioned in the previous chapter was an active member of the Congress Party, was,
along with Nehru, part of the National Planning Commission prior to Indian independence.
Chatterjee’s designs and work as part of this Commission were approved by Nehru, but
never implemented. Similarly, Nehru praised Chatterjee’s designs produced as part of his
book Magadha for their beauty and affordability (Desai, et al, 1997: 133). Indeed, Nehru’s
cautious support of Chatterjee’s work in the 1930s and 1940s led to fears amidst architects
against revivalist ‘styles,’ that it would ‘mislead the public’ (132-3). Yet other instances
can be cited in the post-independence period. For instance, Nehru is said to have pressed
for the inclusion of traditional designs and motifs in the construction of Ashok Hotel in
New Delhi by B.E. Doctor. Similarly, Habib Rahman whose initial design for the Rabindra
Bhavan in New Delhi (home of the Lalit Kala Akademi built between 1959-61) was in the
modernist idiom,11 was asked to revise this design by Nehru who deemed it “nonsense,”
resulting in a “more free-flowing form with slender, continuous chajjas and jaalis in
abstract rather than literal forms” (Lang, 2002: 53). And lastly, Nehru is said to have
approved or “tolerated” the ‘revivalist style’ buildings of Julius Vaz for the new capital city
of Bhubaneswar (Kalia, 1994).

Apart from questions of ‘style,’ there was also the issue of a centralized body that
was undertaking and supervising building construction across the nation which Nehru

Rahman’s initial design for the Rabindra Bhavan was inspired by the aesthetics of Bauhaus, in particular of
Walter Gropius under whose tutelage Rahman studied.

certainly wished to retain – the PWD. Nehru in his inaugural address at the 1959 seminar
notes that the architects’ innovations would of necessity need to be in dialogue with the

[The PWD] has its own specification, its own ways. It is not the fault of the PWD. It
is quite inevitable when this kind of thing is done by any official department on a
large scale… they cannot possibly let loose everybody to do what they like… But
even the PWD can do two things: one is, of course, revise the antiquated rules and
bring them up-to-date… secondly, it is not necessary always to aim at putting up
well, a normal building to last a hundred years. It is not necessary at all. In fact, it
will be better for them to be knocked down and after few years a better one to be
put up. (8)

And seen against this backdrop, the worry among architects present in this seminar was that
the interference of the government in deciding the direction of contemporary architectural
practice– be it with regard to questions of style or with regard to a centralized body to
which it was answerable – was undesirable. As a result, a report with recommendations
made unanimously by all architects present was prepared and published, the first point of
which reads:

The Government should adopt a policy towards architecture and not a national
policy on architecture. (10)

Under this larger heading, there were many sub-points including: that a national institute of
architecture and planning to be established;12 an insistence that architecture could not be
reproduced in a formulaic manner and that a creative environment and atmosphere of
freedom was necessary; that the role of building must be handed over entirely to the
architects rather than the PWDs which have been responsible for the poor standards of
architecture even in post-independence times; that open competitions must be organised for
building and housing projects; that the use of ‘obsolete styles’ is expensive and irrelevant;
and, “considering the stimulating influence of Chandigarh planning, Governments should

This did occur with the establishment of the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi in 1959, by
merging the Department of Architecture (1941) at the Delhi Polytechnic with the School of Town and
Country Planning (1955) in Delhi.

initiate such bold experiments from time to time” (11). Other points in the report include
the necessity to conduct more research on climatology, for there to be coordinated effort in
exploiting technological advancements, and for there to be more collaboration between the
artist (pure art) and architect (plastic art).

The report reads like a part-manifesto insofar as it reestablishes for contemporary

architects the need to be tuned into contemporary conditions, developments and aesthetic
concerns. It is in a sense, a means to establish some parity and cooperation amongst a
diverse range of architects – of seeing themselves as working together in producing a body
of work that would stand the test of time, so to speak. It is, in other words, a call to
formation of a community of architects. The report equally reads like a memorandum in its
various declarations and recommendations made to the government, in order to ensure the
vibrant future envisioned for architectural practice. It demands continued patronage, but
draws a line at any attempt to direct architectural practice. It is also useful for us to note
that certain concerns raised in the report have had continued relevance in the field – such as
architectural education (but with an important move here, to integrate architectural and
planning education) and the critique of the PWDs as inefficient and obsolete.

Three key issues emerged from within the papers presented in a panel on
‘Architectural Expression and the Formulation of a National Policy’ at the seminar: first,
the response to the making ‘national policy’ out of creative practice and related to this,
questions of architectural expression, particularly by means of reference to revivalist
practice; second, the questioning of modernism as both ‘international’ and ‘style,’ and third,
an incipient articulation of indigenism. It will not be possible to go into each of the papers
and their arguments in detail, and so instead I construct a narrative of propositions made in
this seminar, in their specific relation to the three key issues mentioned above.

To begin with, the idea of the ‘national’ – the way it has been posed thus far – in
relation to architecture is itself questioned. There are three significant ways through which

this has been addressed: first, it involves framing this in terms of ‘nationalisation.’ For
instance, the architect V.B. Vaidya13 remarked:

In a democratic government, no style can be enforced by law… History proves that

when architecture was nationalised in the 19th century, no one quite knew its
meaning. Ruskin adopted Gothic, William Morris rustic, and other architects
adopted Renaissance and the government was puzzled about what was happening…
style can become a blind alley if it has no merits to recommend… (33).

Drawing on European histories around the nationalisation of architecture, the argument is

that it led to an intense debate, better known as ‘in what style shall we build?’ across
Europe. Here, as elaborated in the second chapter of this thesis, each architect/movement
claimed both the national legacy and contemporary aesthetic and moral relevance of
specific styles. Vaidya’s remarks allude to the futility of an attempt at ‘nationalising’ when
what constitutes the ‘national’ itself is interpreted in multiple ways – some interpret it to
mean Gothic, for others it is rustic, for others it is classical renaissance. The argument is
that nationalisation in effect turns architectural practice into a battle of styles rather than
facilitating through processes of institutionalization and patronage the productive
imagination of what constitutes the ‘principles of architecture.’ The government in this
conception, has an important role as patron, but must certainly keep away from attempts at
nationalisation, which, as history as shown, is an exercise in futility. What is useful for us
to note is the connection Vaidya draws between nationalisation and the predominance of
practices of architectural revival.

The second mode through which the notion of the ‘national’ is addressed has been
to argue that architecture belongs to a natural/universal order whereas the nation belongs to
an artificial order, and that therefore the two are incompatible. For instance, the architect
Piloo Mody14 observed:

I have been unable to find out many details about V.B. Vaidya except for the fact of his having written a
book Introduction to Architecture, Delhi: Technical and Commercial Book Co., 1961.
Piloo Mody (1926-1983) was a Bombay-based architect who worked in the International Style. He is best-
known for designing along with Durga Bajpai the Intercontinental (now Oberoi) Hotel in New Delhi (1958).
He became a parliamentarian in 1967 and it is to his credit that the Architects Act prepared by the Indian
Institute of Architecture was passed in the Indian parliament in 1972. The Act deemed it mandatory that all

…the word ‘National’, when applied to architecture is odious. Nationalism is too
confining a principle, contrary to the true spirit of architecture. There cannot be a
national architecture any more than there can be an Indian cure for cancer…
Science and architecture derive their meaning from universal laws and not from
national boundaries. An architecture is primarily designed to meet human needs, its
basic problems are geared to climate and economy and not to nations (23).

Here then, the stress is on a difference between the artificial laws of nations and
nationalisms, and “natural” or universal laws of architecture and science. The fundamental
argument is that arriving at a national policy is therefore not only redundant, but also an act
of interference into the natural laws of architecture, and by extension we may presume, the
architect’s autonomy.

Next, any attempt at nationalisation or ‘national expression’ has so far found

articulation only through practices of architectural revival. For instance, the architect
Achyut P. Kanvinde, also the convener of the seminar, notes that much of the architecture
in the recent past was “merely adorned with embellishments of archaeological past” (19).
Citing K. Hanumanthaiah’s Vidhana Saudha in Bangalore as an example of this, Kanvinde
stresses the difference in contexts and conditions, in particular the modern democratic
conditions, the role of science, technology and humanities that demand a newer
functionality, organization of spatial form, and aesthetics such that “it is incorrect to have
preconceived ideas about contemporary architecture as a renaissance of Buddhist, Medieval
or Moghul and neo-classic periods” (20). The argument here is that revival is a misleading
practice for, it attempts to reproduce a pre-conceived and ‘obsolete style’ of architecture
that emerged in entirely different contexts and conditions. And its emphasis is on ornament
and not function. This, we may recall, also bears significant resonances with the early
modernist debates on ‘form and function’ which we discussed through the work of Adolf
Loos and his seminal ‘Ornament and Crime.’ That ‘form follows function’ is understood as
a decidedly modernist credo, but as we have also seen in the context of those debates,

practicing architects in India be members of the Council of Architecture. This was done in part to ensure that
architects bore minimum necessary educational and professional qualifications, and in part to facilitate the
‘Indianization’ of practice and simultaneously reduce the number of foreign architects practicing in India. It
must be noted that many of the recommendations made in the ‘Report of the Seminar’ emerged directly from
the points made in Piloo Mody’s paper.

modernism in its functionalist prerogatives was not opposed to form, but opposed to the
discourse and notion of ‘style’ which all the erstwhile ‘ornamental’ practices were
embedded within.

Revivalism though anachronistic and emerging as a byproduct of nationalism, is not

an original practice; it borrows and is imitative. The architect Ajaya Bharadwaj notices a
discrepancy inherent to revivalist practice: “It is an anachronism expressing the physical
function with the latest technical means but to express the spiritual function by borrowing a
historical style from the past” (57). However, it is understandable why architects feel
compelled to do so, for, as compared to the rich monuments of the national past which were
admired world over, the contemporary situation is one where the architect experiences an
inferiority complex. Revivalism is simply an attempt to recreate that past glory, but “little
do people realise, who through a misguided sense of patriotism strive to recreate traditional
buildings, the dangers of such a step” (52). Ramesh M. Pradhan takes it a step further and
notes that this incongruity of revivalist practice where the architect chooses to “clothe the
buildings of steel and concrete with fragments stolen from the work of old masters” is in
fact a marker of his inability to cope with the changing times (64-5). Here, the revivalist
architect is himself obsolescent.

If on the one hand revivalism is imitative, ornamental, anachronistic, incongruous,

and much more, so too is identified a problem with the way that the ‘modern’ ‘style’ has
become ‘fashionable.’ Both revivalism and ‘modern styles’ are seen as incompatible with
contemporary conditions and contexts. Both are false and artificial, and involve not creative
expression but a patchwork of incongruent elements and motifs thrown together. This
‘eagerness’ as we noted in the previous chapter in the context of Nehru, suggests a not yet
fully decolonized mindset. The implication being that it has not been worked out to
examine whether modern materials are available, economical and suit specific contexts,
whether the technologies that facilitate certain modern designs are even available, and so
on. Fundamentally however, in its ‘borrowing,’ in being at the level of an imitative and
derivative practice, not only does ‘modern style’ once more display a cultural subservience
to the West, but it is devoid of any sense of identity. For instance, Ramesh M. Pradhan

…foreign architects coming to India would not want to come to India to find there
pallid copies of the most advanced or individualistic contemporary work in their
own countries. What they look forward to seeing is how an Indian architect is
interpreting similar requirements in terms of his own national and even local
conditions. (66)

Similarly, Charles Correa makes a sophisticated argument by stating:

...look around us, at the work we are doing, we ourselves are doing. Is it really
architecture? Sometimes I think it is very lucky for us that we are living in India. It
permits us to feel very virtuous, defending our work in the name of Gropius,
Corbusier, etc. If we were to build these same buildings in the middle of – say New
York or Milan or Tokyo, I wonder who would defend them. (48).

If the pursuit of internationalism has led to a completely ‘unmarked’ modernist practice, the
question of identity will emerge and show up as wanting, not perhaps in India, but when
Indian architects build abroad. What will be the distinguishing marker of a modern Indian
architect? Moving one step further, the ‘internationalism’ of the ‘international style’ must
itself be questioned. Ajaya Bhardwaj writes, “…what is termed as ‘international style’ is a
myth… there is no such thing which has no roots or has roots all over” (63). And in
conclusion, this situation of a pervasive revivalism and clichéd modernism is as T.R.
Chibber notes, “being committed in the name of Modern Indian Architecture, which
needless to say is neither modern nor Indian in expressing its cultural background, climatic
and other essential aspects of contemporary architecture” (81). If we recall, this echoes
almost verbatim Mulk Raj Anand’s scathing critique of the revivalist designs of Sris
Chandra Chatterjee as being neither ‘modern’ nor ‘Indian.’

And if internationalism is no longer ‘international,’ modern and revival ‘styles’ are

redundant, what may emerge is perhaps a regional style that is truly international. Ramesh
Pradhan notes:

An international style, if there could truly exist such a style, would never have as
fundamental an appeal as an international point of view expressed in a national
idiom… it is an undeniable truth that part of the interest of life lies in the retention

of the national characteristics; and it is an asset to any country to develop an
architecture based on the richness of its life as conditioned by geography, climate,
history and ideals. (66; emphasis mine)

There is a need, Pradhan notes, for the emergence of a new ‘regional’ style – one that is
devoid of imitation, be it of the West or the past, but one that bears a ‘natural affinity’ with
the characteristics of the art of the nation. For, he concludes,

A new regional architecture will not arise on the drawing boards of architects who
despise the fundamentals that lie behind what definitely Indians expressed in the
work of the past. (67)

The next problematic raised then is, how will contemporary architecture maintain its
distinctness – this cannot be done without understanding the national past, but it must not
be revivalist. It has to be worked out through the use of modern building principles,
materials and techniques, but not become ‘style.’ And therefore the authenticity question
emerges once more, in different form: C.S.H. Jhabvala notes that “‘national character’ is
some thing that can only be evolved if the architect is allowed to work freely within the
social conditions and with the materials and techniques available today” (45). In other
words, the architect, when able to move beyond constraints of both revival and modern
‘styles’ will by necessity through an engagement with contemporary and contextual
conditions, materials and techniques, produce an architecture that will be ‘national.’ This
‘national character’ will very clearly therefore not be the defensive ‘heroic chauvinism’ of
a regressive nationalism.

And from this, we arrive at an incipient articulation of what we are calling an

indigenous modernism. It involves a return to two aspects of history, culture and tradition –
the past and the living. And the frames from which these are approached are not the same.
For instance, monuments of the past constitute a larger body of ‘heritage’ but are no longer
representative of ‘styles.’ Nor are they conceived of as ‘forms’ but instead as ‘sources’
which stand as representative of an ethos – a way of life that is deeply philosophical and
spiritual: “it was always more than just ‘walls enclosing space’” (52). And alongside
histories and traditions of the past, there are the living traditions – indigenous ways of

building and dwelling, suggestive perhaps, of the conception of the folk. These are not seen
as belonging to distinct orders. Indeed, the view of the past is coloured through that of the
living. We will come back to this shortly, but the immediate question – one that is both
aesthetical and pragmatic: how does one transfer these idioms into professional practice.

Much of the initial suggestions are of adaptation through new methods and
technologies. The emphasis is certainly on arriving at a style that is distinctly Indian, but it
is most importantly, on form and its feel. For instance, one is not interested so much in the
dome/chatri/shikhara in and of itself; rather one is interested in the skyline that a number of
them together create. And yet, the concern here is perhaps predominantly to do with how
one might abstract these forms, facilitate the plasticity of new materials and techniques, and
arrive at something distinctly Indian modern. Abstraction here then performs the role of
sublimation – it is not the element in itself that one is interested in signifying. It is its form,
its own histories of signification, and so on. It is about reclaiming the past without
chauvinism and abstraction performs almost that role of emasculation, leading towards
some sort of higher plane or spiritual essence.

And yet, this quest for identity – an incipient articulation of indigenism – must first
and foremost begin by thinking through what architecture is capable of expressing, and
there is in the March 1959 seminar, one voice that attempts to make a breakthrough – the
young Charles Correa who asks:

Can there be such a thing as Indian architecture? ...can architecture express emotion?
Architecture is, has been, and will always be – a projection of the personality of the
architect involved…

Correa questions the capacity of architecture to express any emotion – be it personal,

‘human,’ ‘national’ or otherwise. And insofar as architecture is a projection of the
personality of the architect, a building is shaped by the architect’s own values. Once again,
it is not about expressing something out there, for that is not the architect’s task:

Look at Marine Drive in Bombay, Sundernagar or Jorbag in Delhi – the blue

fluorescent lighting – the teak-veneer furniture (bedsteads in the shape of swans,

inlaid radiograms). This is modern Indian architecture. It is expressing a large
segment of our city population. It is their temperament.

Do you have something better to express? (48)

If this is what the people are interested in, what the architect must do then, is to
“understand their enthusiasms and give it shape and expression according to our
[architect’s] values” (49). And while these values may not ‘express’ the nation, they must
in some sense correspond to an Indian temperament. This temperament is not one, nor is it
a question of style; it is about capturing something of the environment. Even Corbusier,
notes Correa, for all his personal values that have shaped his interpretations of justice – a
merciless and superhuman justice –captures something of a temperament:

Corbusier, in his own way, has caught India too. (Not the India of Marine Drive.)
His savage buildings are the India of the bazaars, and the heat, and the dry cruel

Corbusier’s are not the superficial ‘images’ of India; there is something elemental,
something of the temperament of India that he has captured.

Edward Stone has caught another aspect of India. The India of the Thousand and
One Nights, of perfume and Hollywood musicals. Next time you think of Corbusier
and Stone remember this. It is the essential difference between them.

Architecture is architecture only when it enters this field, this farthest field, this
field of the temperament.

Let us provide some brief context here: Edward Durrell Stone (1902-1978) was an
American architect who designed the United States embassy in New Delhi (1954-1959).
Stone’s designs for the embassy were to a great extent informed by the Cold War context
that the US was embroiled in. Since embassy building was “seen as an important way for
the United States to counterbalance Soviet influence in the Third World,” an Architectural
Advisory Board was set-up in the US around 1954 in order to ensure that a positive
message was sent out to other nations through the designs of the embassies (Lefaivre and
Tzonis, 2012: 140). Most of these were newly formed nations which had been recently

decolonized. The ‘International Style’ of the erstwhile embassy buildings was deemed
“insufficiently insensitive to local cultures,” resulting in the realization that the US needed
more diplomatic kinds of embassy buildings. Stone’s was one among many of the
embassies built roughly between 1954 and 1960.15 This kind of practice however resulted,
according to many architectural historians, in “efforts to flatter local sensibilities…” and
demonstrated “the superficiality of the knowledge on the part of the architects of the
regional cultures in which the buildings were implanted and the naïveté to think it didn’t
matter” (142).

To return to Correa, it is clear that he was one of the early examples of those in the
field who shared this widespread opinion about the superficial ‘Indian style’ of architecture.
It is not false, but it belongs to the order of ‘style’ and not of ‘temperament,’ and in so
doing, fails to move beyond what is available, stereotypical, and not to mention, Orientalist.
But there is yet another facet of the Indian temperament:

…There is a great lyricism in the Indian temperament… Lyrical – meaning the

ability to sing, to make continuous patterns around a theme… The house around the
courtyard: the clear statement. The tree, the shadows, the texture, providing rhythm,
and patterns, and counter-point.

This is a temperament often not paid attention to; it is lyrical, it is about the environment.
This is not the temperament of Corbusier, Stone, Nehru or even the ‘large segments of
population’ living in cities:

The Washington Monument – it is a monument to Washington – to Churchill –

perhaps even to Nehru – could it be a monument to Gandhiji? (49)

Correa’s remarks on the Washington Monument hint very clearly at an aspect of Indian
temperament that Gandhi represents, and its incongruity with Nehruvian monumentalism.
And despite acknowledging that there are conflicting and plural understandings of Indian
temperament, for Correa, it is this lyricism – of making continuous patterns around a

Other US embassies built at the time include: in Athens by Walter Gropius, in Karachi by Richard Neutra,
in London by Eero Saarinen, in Tangiers by Hugh Stubbins, and the incomplete/abandoned embassy in
Baghdad by Josep Lluis Sert, among many others. For more on the politics and history of building American
embassies, see Loeffler, 1998.

theme – that constitutes architectural temperament, and as we shall soon see, comes to
define his practice.


The 1959 Seminar on Architecture saw a bigger move towards what in architectural
discourses has been called ‘regionalism’ than what we are proposing as an ‘indigenous
modernism.’ Indeed, Charles Correa for instance has been known as a critical regionalist.
There are undeniable ties between the two, but we would also wish to posit a difference
between them. Architectural Regionalism was a heterogeneous discourse spanning the
twentieth century; its proponents were many and their views on what constituted
regionalism were diverse. As a general attitude, regionalism has been traced back to earlier
times (including as far back as Vitruvius in ancient Rome) in European architectural
histories – where architectural forms were developed to suit local conditions and emerging
from local needs. Regionalism has been understood very simply as a “discourse in
architecture that focuses on design in terms of particularity and locale. It suggests that local
experiences… should serve as the basis for architectural design… the promise of
regionalism in architecture is to re-embed us in the reality and diversity of our local
places – critically and comfortably” (Canizaro, 2007: 12). Its pluralism and heterogeneity
of practice has led to regionalism being thought of as a “meta-theory that has only local
application and meaning” (16). And while regionalism in the first half of the twentieth
century was a relatively minor discourse as opposed to the pervasiveness of modernism, it
has over time become a part of architectural theory’s canons.

Of the various kinds of regionalism, it was Critical Regionalism in particular that

became most well-known as a dominant counterforce to both the pervasive modernism of
the International Style and more crucially, the ornamental preoccupation of postmodernist
architecture. The term was coined by Greek architectural theorists Liane Lefaivre and
Alexander Tzonis in their seminal text “The Grid and the Pathway” (1981) whose title itself
is suggestive of the primary argument: the grid as universal modernist blueprint (abstract
homogenous corporate space) that was to be endlessly imprinted over the world, was to be
contrasted by the pathway – more regional or local – in terms of context, condition, style
and scale. Kenneth Frampton who wrote the seminal essay “Towards a Critical

Regionalism” (1983) furthered the understanding of critical regionalism by drawing on the
work of Lefaivre and Tzonis.

As opposed to ‘regionalism’ – which had begun to turn into a battle over

authenticity, styles, movements, etc. –critical regionalism placed importance on thinking
through ‘regionalism’ itself ‘critically.’ In other words, at least in the work of Lefaivre and
Tzonis, the work of contextualizing did not necessarily involve drawing directly from
contexts but rather in stripping elements of their contexts and de-familiarizing them/making
strange. So also, what constitutes the ‘regional’ in regionalism has varied: at times, it is
national culture, at times a wide geographic region, regional states, cities, communities, and
so on. As compared to this, critical regionalism would insist that the region not be confined
to any geographical territory, but rather be conceived of as ‘local’ in the sense of the
potential of its ideas. And lastly, regionalism in all of its forms is not opposed to modern
architecture at all, but believes that it must be contextualized based on each situation.

While the architecture of regionalism/critical regionalism has often been derided by

the modernists on account of its ‘revivalist’ tendencies, more substantive critiques can be
found such as in the work of Fredric Jameson (1994). In a very thorough critique of
Frampton’s thesis on critical regionalism, Jameson sees its call to pluralism as somehow
tied to late capitalism and its internal dynamics itself. Even if we were for the moment to
keep aside Jameson’s premise that the effectivity of culture cannot be overestimated to the
economic question, some of his arguments about the problems inherent to Critical
Regionalism are useful to very briefly elaborate in the context of our discussion on
indigenous modernisms. Jameson sees the programme and concept of Critical Regionalism
as expressing the pathos of the moment of its history where the possibilities of radical
alternatives to late capitalist technologies have receded.

For, Critical Regionalism is a geopolitical proposal seeking to mobilize a pluralism

of ‘regional’ styles to stand in resistance to an all-pervasive global late-capitalism.
However, in its reliance on the allegorical and the mythical (referring here to the tripartite
structure of Frampton: tactile-tectonic-telluric), Critical Regionalism is premised on the
notion that its forms are of and by themselves endowed with political or revolutionary
potential by virtue of their intrinsic properties. For instance, Jameson demonstrates, its

negation of the grid (as abstract homogenous space), rather than being an ideological
position/option becomes in and of itself a formal, positive architectural value in critical

And despite its antimodern and antipostmodern stance, Critical Regionalism for
Jameson is fundamentally retrogressive in its rearguard (anti-avant-garde) action/stance,
combined with its refusal to repudiate historical teleology (unlike postmodernism). It is
therefore, seen especially in light of postmodern theories, untimely. This brief summation
hardly does justice to Jameson’s excellent critique, but while recalling it in detail would be
beyond the scope of this thesis, it would be important to mark out where Jameson sees the
potential in Critical Regionalism. For Jameson, reliant as Critical Regionalism is on
modern technology, only if it attempts to invent a new relationship to the technological
beyond nostalgic repudiation,and in its capacity to ‘enclose’ or reopen or transfigure the
burden of the modern, that there will lie any genuine content in critical regionalism.

Now, in the context of architectural practices in India, the emergence of

‘regionalism’ (critical or otherwise) can be attributed to two intertwined contexts, that of
postcolonialism, and of the hegemonic universal claims of modernism through its
‘international style.’ Seen against this backdrop, the 1959 Seminar on Architecture
expresses very clearly regional concerns as opposed to the internationalizing machine of
modernism. And yet, as mentioned before, while indigenous modernism is certainly part of
a larger discourse on regionalism, where we might be able to mark the difference between
the two, is as follows: where regionalism is a general attitude emphasizing the contextual
nature of architectural practice, the very heterogeneous nature of its discourse invests the
‘regional’ in more descriptive terms. It is as a result of this that even practices of revivalism
can effectively be situated within the larger discursive paradigm of regionalism.

Jameson also alludes to this in his observation of its ambiguous relationship to

social and political movements which could in turn lead to a call to regionalism in a
situation when architects in a region/nation are threatened by the encroachment of global
technocracy into the regional. In such situations then, regionalism becomes very simply a
call for the survival of national autonomy and artistic styles and practices. Further, as
opposed to this geopolitical and descriptive stance of critical/regionalism, indigenism by

contrast refers to a very specific mode of searching for the ‘source’ of indigenous culture
which is understood as singular/unitary. In other words, while indigenism belongs to the
larger category of regionalism, the obverse is not the case. And to that extent, while we can
generally posit that many architects in India such as Charles Correa, B.V. Doshi and Raj
Rewal among others are Critical Regionalists, we will instead attempt to read, in their work
the practice of an indigenous modernism. We will undertake this in the following section
through an engagement with some of the writings and work of Charles Correa.

Section 02: Synthesis: Open-to-Sky and Chaos

…our habitat is not created in vacuum – it is the compulsive expression of beliefs

and aspirations (implicit and explicit) that are central to our lives. India consists of
an incredibly rich reservoir of images and beliefs, like the transparent layers of the
palimpsest… starting with the models of the cosmos and continuing down to our
time. And it is the continuing presence of these layers… that creates the pluralism
of our contemporary society.

– Charles Correa, “The Public, The Private, The Sacred,” 1989

The Correa we see in the 1959 Seminar making tentative propositions is grappling his way
through the complexities of being a modern Indian architect in a post-colonial situation,
and is evolving a conception of the relationship of architecture to temperament. Contrast
this with the Correa who in 1983 delivers a seminal lecture in London titled “A Place in the
Sun” (or alternatively, “A Place in the Shade,” had the lecture been delivered in India).16
By this time, Correa has developed a full-blown thesis: that there is a fundamental
opposition between two types of built-form –the ‘open-to-sky’ and the ‘box.’ They begin as
pragmatic approaches in architectural design responding to different climatic conditions:
what is presumably a regionalist approach. However, these types evolve to stand as
representative of two contrasting aesthetical and philosophical traditions, whose
conceptions regarding living, building and dwelling – ways of inhabiting the world, as it
were – are incongruous with one another.

Correa proposes that the ‘box’ emerged as a fundamental parameter of design in the
‘northern’ countries due to their cold climate. It was however severely limiting in its
sharply defined boundaries between inside and outside, and in its “simplistic duality” (2010:
17). Any advancement on this ‘box’ can only repetitively produce more boxes and at most,
engage in some surface-patterning and coding of these boxes (19). In contradistinction with
this, the ‘southern’ countries, due to their warm climate produce complex manifestations in

A collection of his writings have been put together in Correa, 2010.

One steps out of the box to find oneself… in a veranda, from which one moves into
a courtyard, and then under a tree, and beyond that to a terrace covered by a
bamboo pergola, and then perhaps back into a room and out onto a balcony… and
so forth. (17)

Between the box and the open-to-sky, there are innumerable spatial zones explored in these
built-forms of the south. Correa provides a pedagogic analogy for these distinct
philosophies: the ‘little red schoolhouse’ as symptomatic of the world-view for the ‘box,’
as compared to the ‘guru sitting under a tree’ for the ‘open-to-sky.’ Within this overarching
opposition, there are various subsets of oppositions that Correa provides, particularly in
terms of the moral and spiritual values they encompass: two-dimensional in its photogenic
nature versus a more fulfilling human experience; static versus dynamic; dualistic versus
pluralistic; straight-line and destination-bound versus ritualistic pathway and continuum;
fixed boundaries versus amorphous spaces; material versus metaphysical, and so on. What
is beyond doubt is that the ‘box’ and the ‘open-to-sky’ as spatial orders stand at opposing
ends of the spectrum. And this opposition in Correa’s thinking is fixed; hierarchies in terms
of their virtues decided. The ‘open-to-sky’ as a principle of ordering spaces became for
Correa a defining credo of his oeuvre. And there are a few tropes through which this is
elaborated, in a manner that mark it as distinct from earlier orientalist and nationalist, and
‘regionalist’ articulations of tradition, culture, and environment. Of the many that he
develops, we will focus on a few: the past, the sacred, chaos, and renunciation.

The past for Correa is not simply viewed in nostalgic terms but is of continued
relevance, not as static heritage but as an active component in shaping the present and
future. Correa writes:

[In the West,] the past (perhaps because it is receding so fast) evokes so much
nostalgia… this is indeed ironic. [For] societies like India who live with the past all
around… [are] most impatient to invent the future…

Architecture as an agent of change… If we look at Mao or Gandhi, we find that

neither of them was hung up about whether an idea was new or old – or indeed

where it came from… The genius of both men was that they could stitch these ideas
into an old social fabric and produce a seamless wonder. [Italics mine] (24-25)

We have already seen in previous chapters the repeated invocation by many architects,
planners and historians of Mao’s communes and Gandhian sarvodaya as alternative ways of
organizing community life in the present. What Correa finds liberating about their approach
is the fluency with which they drew upon ideas and models – regardless of old or new, East
or West, to finally ‘stitch’ the ideas into an existing old fabric, to produce something that
appears seamless. It is this seamlessness that is for Correa an objective; the aim of all
architecture, he writes elsewhere, is synthesis. We will see the continued relevance of this
in Correa’s work as well.

Next, the sacred –which is not religious and neither public nor private – is a realm
that for Correa is fundamental to architecture. Along with the private realm, the sacred is
one that has been untouched by rapid changes we can observe in the realm of the public. It
is in this conception, what we effectively understand as the ‘inner spiritual domain of
culture.’ And for Correa, architecture must aspire to encapsulate something of this sacred –
which is a means of reaching out to the non-manifest and the primordial. He begins
exploring mythic images and sources of these which can be found in various traditions –
Vedic altars; Hindu philosophy, in particular, Tantra and its geometric descriptions of
cosmic order such as the Sri Yantra, the Vastu-purush-mandala – the perfect square which
is also an energy field, analogical to the black holes in contemporary physics (31); Jain
cosmographs; Persian char-baghs; and with the arrival of the colonists, the “mythic power”
of the Age of Reason:

In all of Asia, for so many centuries, we have carried so much baggage. Suddenly
[with the arrival of European colonialists] a new position was perceived: we were
stronger if we did not prejudge any option… if the mind was a tabula rasa…

Life (or art) drawn on a clean slate can, in time, become quite meaningless – even
nihilistic – precisely because it does not carry any baggage, or have any umbilical
cord… the frisson of the tabula rasa becomes the stupefying banality of one more
high-rise glass box. (35)

For Correa, the tabula rasa is nowhere more untrue than for a habitat like India which
consists of the continuing presence of so many layers. To persist with a misconception
about the tabula rasa, Correa warns, will inevitably spiral into nihilism, not to mention
redundancy: the production of yet another building that is ‘without umbilical cord’ (a
phrase that Correa elsewhere uses to describe Chandigarh). In contrast to this, the
coexistence of multiple and contrasting mythic images and beliefs produces a habitat that is
plural and layered, and therefore can by no means be engaged with through the ‘simplistic
duality’ of the ‘box.’

Indeed, Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur – two cities we saw referenced in the context of
Chandigarh – make a return in Correa’s narrative as exemplars of the layered pluralism of
Indian society. India is for Correa, ‘like a blotting paper’ that absorbs, internalizes and
finally transforms to produce a new architecture. And in many ways, Correa perhaps
conceives of himself as blotting paper – in the image of the nation, and his architectural
practice as attempting a transformation. The two significant transformations in the history
of Indian architecture are for him, Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur. Both cities according to
Correa, saw the incorporation of multiple traditions of built-practice, symbolism, and
cosmic orders to transform and produce a synthesis of “staggering metaphysical and
political impact” (37). Before we explore this further, it would be important to note the
distinction Correa makes between transfer and transformation.

When technologies and social conditions change, the architect must “transform,
[and] reinvent, the old images in terms of the new technology. What he must not do is
merely transfer the old mythic images despite their irrelevance to the changed
technology… The distinction between transfer and transformation is of fundamental
importance” (38). Correa then provides instances of such successful transformations in the
work of modernist architects: Le Corbusier and his central idea of the Mediterranean man,
which never resulted in the construction of sloping tiled roof everywhere he practiced.
Corbusier instead ‘transformed the images and values’ of the Mediterranean into the
expression of “20th century technology of concrete and glass” (38). Similarly, Correa cites
Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses in America which form the prototypes even to date for almost
all housing in the American mid-western states, as not being the product of “historic

‘quotes’ or ‘references’… but because he intuitively understood what Americans wanted to
become” (38).Architecture in this conception is understood as an agent of change.

Transformation for Correa would be effected through an architectonic rendering of

values and temperaments, combined with the process of their abstraction. We discussed in
the previous chapter the critique of abstraction as a dehistoricized practice in the West –
one that through claims to neutrality in fact reinforces Western hegemony. However,
abstraction, it would seem, holds true as a fundamental principle for all of modernist
architecture in its desire for sublimation. Correa is clear: any engagement with mythic
images must not involve a mere act of transfer, would not be imitative; it would not, in
other words, be revivalist. What enables transformation then is the process of abstraction:
not merely in the sense of abstracting from images and beliefs their ‘forms,’ for that would
still remain at the level of façade, and belong thus to the order of imitation. Rather, it would
involve the abstraction of values and principles and rendering them in built-form, spatial
ordering and most abstractly, spatial conception. This process of abstraction is not neutral,
does not claim universal value, but is contextual, self-reflexive, and deliberate. This is the
transformative move that is distinct to modernist practice in general. However, the specific
‘sources’ of mythic images, that which it seeks to transform, combined with Correa’s post-
colonial predicament, mark his practice as decidedly indigenist.

Plan of Jaipur city and the Navagraha System. Source: Khan, 1987.

Let us read against this backdrop Correa’s designs for the Jawahar Kala Kendra (Arts
Centre) in Jaipur (1986) as a work of the indigenous modernist. As we briefly mentioned
earlier, Jai Singh’s Jaipur itself was for Correa a crucial instance of transformation,
resulting as he argues, in a ‘synthesis’ of rationalistic tenets of astronomy with ancient
sacred beliefs in the cosmos: moving between past and future, material and metaphysical
worlds, and microcosm and macrocosm (37). Further, in Jai Singh, Correa reads an analogy
with Nehru – to whom the Kala Kendra was dedicated – in Nehru’s attempt to “look
backwards and forwards in one decisive gesture: re-discovering India’s past whilst
simultaneously inventing a new future” (Frampton, 1996: 218). Correa’s Jawahar Kala
Kendra then, is an attempt at capturing what he perceives as this synthesis – of past and
future, microcosm and macrocosm, rationalism and sacredness. Formally, this results in an
attempt to condense within the spatial boundaries of the Kala Kendra, the macrocosm that
is Jaipur itself.

Charles Correa, Plan for Jawahar Kala Kendra shown with planetary symbolism.
Source: Frampton, 1996.

If Jai Singh in his building of the city of Jaipur conceived of the structure in terms of the
navagraha mandala (nine planetary system of squares) which was a model of the cosmos,
Correa abstracts this structure of the city to form the central structure of the Kala Kendra.
The material used for the external walls for the buildings is red Agra sandstone – the same
used by Jai Singh in his Jantar Mantar observatories, as well as by Akbar in the Red Fort at
Agra and in Fatehpur Sikri – referring thus to two ‘transformative’ instances. The city of
Jaipur according to Correa was itself double-coded, in that it conceived the city as a
microcosm of the macrocosm (cosmos) through its invocation of the navagraha system.
Correa’s work at the Kala Kendra is seen as enacting yet another transformation within this
existing double-coding – one that turns the city itself into macrocosm by encapsulating it
within the microcosm that is the Kala Kendra.

Charles Correa, Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur. Open Square in center (Surya)

But the symbolic import of Correa’s transformative act does not just stop there. On the
contrary, this is just the starting point whereby the Kala Kendra itself becomes a metonym
of culture. Let us briefly elaborate: given the navagraha (planetary square system) plan
underwriting Jai Singh’s Jaipur, in Correa’s design for the central structure, each of the
nine squares is made to correspond with not only a planet, but also a planetary myth, and in
turn the activity. For instance, the library is located in the planetary square of Guru
(Mercury) which symbolizes knowledge (Khan, 1987: 142). Similarly, the central square,
Surya (Sun) which symbolizes the source of energy, the void or Nothing (shunya), is empty,
consists of a ‘kund’ (source) which is designed like a step-well, and is open-to-sky. Further,
the central structure is also not one massive form but is “disaggregated” into separate

The act of disaggregation is a crucial vocabulary in Correa’s oeuvre for he invests it

with symbolizing the part-yet-non-part and ‘processual’ nature of being in a world that is a
continuum and pluralistic. Disaggregation here becomes a non-visual, non-representational,
primordial element – an aesthetic category – in and of itself. Taken together, this attempt at
encapsulating within the building, the model of cosmos – as the ‘source’ of energy,
tradition, ‘culture’ – in combination with ‘disaggregation’ as aesthetic category, and

abstraction as process, comes together in this deliberate, self-reflexive practice to produce
what we are calling an indigenous modernism. To add to this, what constitutes the very
‘sources’ of history, tradition and environment – predominantly Vedic and Brahmanic –
stand for a singular conception of Indian culture, wherein we can identify both its
problematic, and the postcolonial predicament within which such indigenous modernism is

Within this larger celebration of pluralism and the coexistence of conflicting images
emerges yet another crucial trope for Correa, that of chaos:

[Consider] a typical bazaar. The apparent chaos and disorder here, on close
observation, actually consists of several layers of order, all superimposed. Over the
centuries, this ‘chaos’ has functioned as a self-defense system protecting societies
against agents of change. After all, how does one ‘improve’ upon chaos? (42-3)

But this chaos is not simply ‘messy;’ it is that which ‘cannot be seen’ – not knowing what
one is looking at. And in this sense, chaos also has metaphysical value: “it evokes in us an
awareness of the non-manifest” (43). It once again signals a primordial element, almost
natural, and stands as a ‘metaphor for human existence.’ And any attempt to bring it to
order involves the flattening out and making unidimensional of something that is ‘natural.’
How does architecture or planning engage with it? It cannot intervene, says Correa. And
yet, architecture cannot conceive of itself as separate from nature or conversely as one with
nature. It must maintain an ambiguity – one that is central to the pluralistic way of life. The
environment plays a crucial role in all this, for an architecture attuned to it, in Correa’s
conception, encompasses a quest for identity (1983). Identity here is shifted away from a
nationalist framing of it, and from architectures that attempt ‘fabrications’ of it; the quest
for identity is posed instead, firmly in relation to habitat and environment (10) – each
specific to its context, and yet conceived of as ‘source’ and ‘natural.’

This ambiguous and pluralistic relationship of chaos, nature and environment to

man, as exemplified by the street or the bazaar is one that finds materialization in Correa’s
designs for the National Crafts Museum in New Delhi (1975-1991). The Crafts Museum
was a post-independence initiative under the aegis of the All India Handicrafts Broad,

intending primarily to preserve through collection and exhibition, specimens of Indian
handicrafts. Numerous objects collected were categorized by its founder Pupul Jayakar into
village crafts, sacred crafts and court crafts (Correa, 2010: 49). As Jyotindra Jain, art
historian and one of the Directors of the Crafts Museum is to have said, “the whole
museum is conceived after the timeless world of the Indian village where otherwise
incompatible crafts exist side-by-side” (Frampton, 1996: 14) [Italics mine]. There continues
to be, Jain notes, in the folk culture of India, an “anarchic autonomy” despite failed
attempts by the British to regularize it. This observation echoes Correa’s reading of the
historical failure of the British in India to restructure India as resulting from an inability of
knowing what one was looking at when confronted with the ‘chaotic order’ of its spaces
(Correa, 2010: 43).

Charles Correa, National Crafts Museum (New Delhi) Source: Frampton, 1996.

And therefore, in the spaces and built-forms designed for the Crafts Museum, there are no
models of cosmos that otherwise underwrite many of Correa’s works, but instead we find
an attempt at capturing the chaotic and unstructured life of the village, the bazaar,and the
street. Correa writes of the museum design that it consisted of “an open-to-sky pathway, a
sort of meandering street that goes right down through the heart of the museum – from
village to temple to palace. Off this street are various galleries, which are also connected
internally… the narrative is not prescribed… each time one emerges out onto the street, the
eye clears. Gradually, the street, and one’s progression from village to temple to palace,
seems to become a metaphor for India herself” (49).

Further, one of the concerns with designing the museum was to not put any objects
‘on display.’ And a way of dealing with this, Correa notes, is through placing objects in a
context. And while unable to retain the ‘true nature’ of the object on account of its de-
contextualization, one could aspire to produce a context as close to the original as possible.
For the Crafts Museum, the contextual setting emerges primarily in the form of the street
and the village. Here we might note however, that the Crafts Museum as an institution was
conceptualized, as Santhosh Sadanandan has argued, as an archive of “true craft” which
“views change itself as a corruptive agent.” Sadanandan writes:

Unlike high art practices, it is continuity, not innovation that defines the quality of
artefacts in the [Crafts] Museum. This is also evident in the fact that the Crafts
Museum is imagined as a storehouse of design ideas for contemporary and future
craftspersons. Or in other words, the museum is conceptualized as an archive of
‘true craft’…[T]he Crafts Museum performs the role of both, archive as well as
museum. This collation of two sets of power structures into one unit is made
possible by the reason that, unlike art museums or other forms of museums, what
the Crafts Museum envisages to museumize is the very idea of timelessness itself…

This idea of timelessness we can see is also underscored in the very spatial ordering and
built-forms of/within the crafts museum. For instance, the streets of the museum in their
“meandering” layout are very carefully planned to provide the sense of a ‘natural order.’
This act however, consists in an essentialization of the street itself as ‘meandering’ – a way
of bringing it to order –an inescapable paradox for any architectural attempt at recreating its
effect, and more so for one that attempts to produce its effect as ‘natural.’ Apart from the
meandering pathways, the experience of the street is further authenticated in the design of
both the street and other spaces of the Crafts Museum by means of ambience. For, the
streets, rooms, levels, flooring, and partitions within the Crafts Museum are deliberately

rugged, ‘rustic,’ and consist of a carefully produced sense of ‘incompleteness,’ and as an
endless work in progress – one that only perpetuates the notion of timelessness, and by
extension, authenticity. This resonates in turn with the discourse of authenticity that the
Crafts Museum is itself imbricated in, as can be seen even in the objects on display which
are at times ‘unfinished’ –signaling a ‘natural’ course of process, placed in a ‘natural’ order.
This attempt at producing within an exhibitionary and museological order, the effects of a
natural order, is carried to its apotheosis in the ‘real-time’ presence of craftspersons
engaged ‘in the process’ of producing their crafts.

Gadaba Hut from Orissa, Village Complex, Crafts Museum, New Delhi

Returning to Correa’s design of the Museum, it is interesting to note that the ‘village crafts’
section consists not only of ‘art’ forms and daily objects of use by specific village
communities, but also of their built-forms and types (which often form the surfaces upon
which the ‘art’ forms are made for ritualistic purposes). All these are housed in the Village
Complex/Court within the Crafts Museum which therefore consists of built-forms of
various communities. Many of these structures were lifted from their existing contexts and
re-situated here, or created for the Museum afresh by members of each community. In

addition to this is the ‘kuchcha’ (temporary) nature of the village houses (owing to the use
of natural material like mud and dung) and the continuous process of their re-building
which would have occurred in their ‘natural habitat’ as it were. Owing to this, craftspersons
would be recalled from time to time to ritualistically re-build the village huts/houses, so as
to indicate and accentuate the authenticity of village life within the Museum, and in turn,
produce for it, a ‘lived context.’

Village Complex at the Crafts Museum, New Delhi

We see then that it is an ethnographic and anthropological lens that underwrites the
conceptualisation and design of the village court, and the entire Crafts Museum itself. The
village court is designed as a large, non-delineated space – a habitus – consisting within it
of a complex of village houses and other artefacts. The village court is in that sense, a
museum of village architecture, but one that masquerades as its natural habitat. Even this
notion of the ‘natural habitat’ we must note, is produced within anthropological discourses
that conform to what James Clifford calls the ‘salvage paradigm’ where what is understood
as the ‘natural habitat’ or ‘context’ is determined by the anthropologist just before
salvaging the object (1987).17 And in effect, it is not only the village, but also the idea of
India as a complex of villages (not to mention temples and palaces) that is simultaneously

Salvage anthropology, Clifford notes, “represent culturally distinct times [‘tradition’] always about to
undergo the impact of disruptive changes associated with the influence of trade, media, missionaries,
commodities, ethnographers, tourists, the exotic art market, the ‘world system’, etc.” (1987: 122).

idealized and ossified within such museum spaces. Or to put it in Correa’s vocabulary, the
village court may be seen as a microcosm of the macrocosm that is India as village.

Serving as “objective witness to the multidimensional life of a culture” (Clifford,

1988: 228) the Crafts Museum becomes the perfect analogy for Correa’s quest for identity
and pluralism in environment and habitat. Even the notion of providing ‘lived context’ to
cultural artefacts, in particular to the folk and craft kind, derives from this anthropological
legacy. Indeed, even Correa’s stress on ensuring that there would not necessarily be a
unilinear narrative for the museum (the meandering pathways) in its specific deployment in
the spaces of a museum of crafts can be seen in its ties to the shifting conception of crafts
and ‘cultural artefacts’ within the discipline of anthropology itself. This involved a shift in
perception of human civilization and culture as evolutionary (from savage to civilized) to
redistributing human differences as separate, functioning “cultures” (Clifford, 1987: 122).
And within histories of museumization of cultural artefacts, this evolutionary mode of
exhibition (primitive to civilization, craft to art) led later on to dispersing them in
“synchronous ‘ethnographic presents’” (Clifford, 1988: 228).

This latter mode is specific to the exhibiting of cultural artefacts such that “cultures”
no longer belonged either to antiquity or to the twentieth century, but rather to what
Clifford terms, the “ethnographic present” (1987: 122). This notion of synchronous
‘ethnographic presents’ dispersed together perfectly captures Correa’s design of the spaces
of the village complex, and the Crafts Museum at large. In placing these objects and built-
forms, not to mention the craftspersons themselves, “side-by-side,” and dispersed together,
what is produced is not a sense of antiquity or the recent past – in other words, history – but
of different ahistorical times frozen together in an ‘ethnographic present.’ Indeed, the
absence of its own history of collection only adds to this ‘authenticity’ of any museum, but
especially one that is ethnographically and anthropologically driven such as the Crafts

Further, this notion of dispersal of synchronous ‘ethnographic presents’ also relates

closely with Correa’s use of the notion of disaggregated spaces in/for the Museum. The
intention was that meandering pathways and disaggregation of spaces would primarily
serve to break the unilinear narrative and mode of experiencing the timeless crafts within

the museum. And second, the street as unifying principle, but empty space, would serve as
a way for one to “clear one’s eyes” before moving on to another cultural artefact/complex.
Drawing from Clifford, it will be possible for us to argue that this mode of museumization,
the spatial ordering of which is not merely ‘design’ but in fact structuring principle, bearing
as it does ties to anthropology, has redistributed very real differences between various
communities into a synchronous space of separate, functioning cultures. And in so doing,
the built forms (village complex) and objects become inherently invested with the
seemingly ‘simple’ or ‘functional’ world-views and values of the communities represented.
These diverse and disparate “cultures” are in other words, conceived of as arenas solely of
structural order and symbolic pattern; idyllic cultures.

In that sense, one of the ironies of an architect like Correa engaged in a project of
designing the spaces of the Crafts Museum is best evidenced in the village court of the
museum, where architecture itself becomes an object of museumization. This is not to
imply that there is some inherent contradiction between an architect designing a museum
for architecture, or in engaging with museum practices. Rather, this specific modality of the
museumization of architecture in the Crafts Museum, insofar as it consists of built-practices
that are vernacular – in the sense of works of builders not recognized as architects –
partakes of a larger dehistoricization and essentialization of ‘culture’ itself. However, given
Correa’s imbrication within practices and discourses of indigenous modernism, perhaps it
is not very ironical that he would partake of a project that presents a unified and
essentialised ‘source’ of national culture.

Some interesting analogies from the field of modern art: J. Swaminathan, doyen of
indigenous modernism in art, was also invested in conceptualizing the Museum of Man (or
Mankind), now known as the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS) in
Bhopal which opened in the 1970s. Swaminathan was the President of the IGRMS in the
early 1990s and was critical of the Museum’s erstwhile ethnological preoccupations and its
portrayal of only tribal and analogous cultures, moreover presenting them as dead or dying.
He recommended instead that cultures be viewed ‘synchronically,’ with “an accent of the
temporal and spatial continuum of the world of culture. [Swaminathan] also asked for [the]
depiction of man’s relationships with other human beings, with time and space, nature and

culture, allowing for a to and fro movement within and between these themes” (Basa and
Jayaprakasan, 2011).

And the Museum of Man, much like the Crafts Museum, is an anthropological
museum, but perhaps more so in its attempt to museumize the very relationship of man and
his habitat as synchronous and timeless. Another related analogy would be the fact that in
the late 1970s, J. Swaminathan was also part of conceptualizing in Bhopal an Arts Centre
and Museum known as Bharat Bhavan, whose design was undertaken by none other than
Correa himself between 1975 and 1981. The layout of the Bharat Bhavan lays emphasis
once again on “progression through space” (Khan, 1987: 112) through its meandering
pathways and streets, alongside the open-to-sky approach. Here, “parts are casually
revealed and the complex of internal streets act rather like a village layout” (112). This
preoccupation with the village for Correa we must note was also reinforced by the
influence of the towering figure of Gandhi.

This leads us to yet another trope in Correa’s work – that of renunciation – drawing
on the moral philosophies and values of Gandhi. As we have seen in the previous section of
this chapter and in previous chapters of this thesis, Gandhi becomes a crucial counterpoint
to the westward-looking, city-based, modernism and statism of Nehru, for many post-
independence Indian architects. The Gandhian way of life – one premised on renunciation –
becomes for Correa an attitude, an aesthetic, and a philosophy. Throughout much of
Correa’s writing, one keeps finding references to Gandhi:

Sanyas, the oath of renunciation… represents an attitude… central to Mahatma

Gandhi’s philosophy and to his political appeal. It is implicit in the historic
photograph of his last possessions… In this Gandhiji… has generated an aesthetic
image of the highest order – one which makes vivid to us the enigma of existence.
If ever we are going to be able to construct the socioeconomic context, the
intellectual mind-set, needed to address the issues of the urban poor, this image of
Gandhiji’s last possessions will provide the key. (45)

What we see in these articulations is Gandhi becoming one among the crucial mythic
images for Correa. Renunciation – an attitude reflected in Gandhi’s images – signals for

Correa an image that corresponds with the language of minimalism in its simplicity,
modesty and austerity. While this Correa argues, must be the bedrock of planning for the
urban poor, we see the most definitive coming together of Correa’s ideals in his
construction of the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya (1958-63) in Ahmedabad. Unlike other
post-independence architects who have built structures in accordance with this Gandhian
aesthetic, at the Memorial Museum in Ahmedabad, situated as it is within the space of the
Sabarmati Ashram, it of necessity is in conversation with the architecture and spatial
dynamics, and aesthetics of Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram of the early twentieth century.

Charles Correa, Drawing of plan for Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya. Source: Frampton, 1996.

The museum contains documents, letters and photographs of Gandhi tracing his role in the
nationalist movement. Here, in one of his earliest works, Correa brings together
formulations of many of his ideals: the open-to-sky approach, meandering pathways, the
village aesthetic, disaggregation of space, and so on. The same materials used in the
Sabarmati Ashram (tiled roof, brick walls, stone floors, wooden doors) are used in the
museum. The only new material introduced is reinforced cement concrete (RCC) for beams
and rainfall conduits, which would serve the additional function of disaggregation in two
ways: first in breaking-up-and-joining the fifty-one individual squares of the museum, and
second in becoming a modular for any future extension of the museum.

Charles Correa, Water Court, Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad. Source: Frampton,

In this museum, Correa’s use of tile roofs signposts both the Sabarmati ashram and the
‘village typology’ that Gandhi himself referred to; the meandering pattern similarly
signposts the ‘casual’ pathways of the village that was the basis of the Gandhian
programme; the open-to-sky conforms with Gandhi’s stated wish of his house not being
“walled on all sides,” for “cultures of all lands to be blown about” the house; the
disaggregation refers at once to the ashram’s own mirroring of the village as synchronous
unit with houses dispersed together, and of the museumization process itself as a
continuous one; the water court at the center for both climatic purposes (addressing the dry
heat of Ahmedabad) but also as primordial source; and so on. What is effectively produced
here, is the fusion of the mythic image of Gandhi and Correa’s own aesthetic ideals to
produce the museum as a seamless continuum of the Ashram itself.

In an analysis of Correa’s Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Rebecca Brown (2009)

notes that it is necessary to distinguish between Gandhian austerity and Correa’s modernist
austerity, as well as of the distinction between the spirituality of Indian belief systems and

the spirituality of modernism – all of which are present in Correa’s museum. Indeed, all of
Correa’s architecture we must note is very firmly in the modernist idiom. So also, the
formal antecedents of his architecture derive from modernist legacies – Louis Kahn,
Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others. Returning to the memorial
museum, Brown argues that in the process of producing a seamless narrative between all
these distinct conceptions however, there is an essentialization of culture.

This corresponds very closely with our earlier arguments about the specific
modality through which indigenous modernism conceives of culture as singular and as
‘source.’ The fundamental problem Brown identifies with this however, is that these
essentializations reinforce colonial superiority, for it was the colonist who valorized Indian
authenticity and spirituality. In short, Brown’s argument is that Correa’s valorization of
Indian aesthetics, spiritualism and authenticity is counterproductive to the decolonization
process. Not only this, Brown extends this argument to posit the rise of Correa’s open-to-
sky ‘rhetoric’ in the 1980s as emerging amidst a reawakening of nationalist valorization of
the spiritual – and in particular, the Hindu – element of Indian culture, falling in line with
earlier nationalist arguments about India including those by Coomaraswamy, E.B. Havell
and others (41).

We would want to mark out two points of divergence in relation to Brown’s

arguments. First, we address the argument that Correa’s is a modernist austerity, almost
industrial in its clean lines, regularized stones and measured slats, as opposed to the
Gandhian homespun sensibility (makeshift and vernacular). There is no disagreement with
noting that Correa’s austerity deriving from minimalism which is a modernist – specifically
high modernist – aesthetic, tied also to notions of simplicity, ‘essence,’ and so on, for
which abstraction is a central process. Similarly, one also agrees that there is a difference
between the homespun sensibility and a modernist/almost industrial aesthetic. However,
what Brown does not pursue further, is the Gandhian production of homespun as an

As we have already seen in the chapter on revivalism, the Gandhian ‘village

aesthetic’ was not a replication of the village or the vernacular ‘hut’ as it was, but in fact
produced a vernacular (at least in Sabarmati ashram) in both its aesthetic and social sense

through a careful process of design. Correa’s idealized village in the architecture of the
Museum is then, a re-take of the Gandhian idealized village itself. That it conforms to the
idealization and essentialization of village and culture is agreed upon. But one must mark
the Gandhian homespun as a carefully produced aesthetic, than as a coincidental or
resulting from financial exigencies in the coming together of various elements. In not doing
so, one runs the risk of positing the Gandhian ‘sensibility’ as belonging to a natural order as
it were, as opposed to the ‘contrived’ modernist re-take.

Second, Brown identifies Correa’s quest for imbuing his work with authenticity and
spiritualism as a continuation of earlier orientalist and nationalist invocations such as by
Coomaraswamy and Havell, which in turn were continuations of colonialist framings of
Indian authenticity and spirituality. And in so doing, one is reinforcing colonial superiority
which is counterproductive to the decolonization process. To posit Correa’s articulation of
the open-to-sky as ‘nationalist’ is a misconception for, it fails to take into account the
particular configurations through which it is articulated. While Correa certainly draws on,
as we have seen above, notions of spirituality and an essentialization of the ‘East,’ the
conception of culture here is different, for, it is sited not in ‘form.’

If Coomaraswamy and Havell’s projects were invested in positing the East as

spiritual counter to the material West, it involved a thorough repudiation of all things
Western, leading effectively to an aesthetics of revivalism. Indeed, the fundamental
difference between revivalism and indigenous modernism lies in the latter’s stress not on
cultural form, but on cultural ‘source.’ The forms of the classical past which must be made
relevant to the present underlay the revivalist project. In paradigms of indigenous
modernism, neither ‘classical’ nor ‘form’ was the imperative. Correa’s stress on ‘mythic
images’ is perhaps key here, for it conceives of culture as a reserve or reservoir, a true
source. Similarly, the indigenous modernist’s conception of continuum is not about
continuing traditions; it is about conceiving of tradition as palimpsest – of layer upon layer
through acts of transformation. It is here that the indigenous modernist makes his mark, and
certainly, derives his authenticity.

To therefore read its essentialization of ‘East and West,’ of authenticity and

spiritualism as counterproductive to the decolonization process or reinforcing colonial

superiority is a misconception. Far from it, indigenous modernism was central to the
decolonization process precisely in its deployment of a modernist idiom together with a
conception of culture as ‘source.’ Not only this, to read it as reinforcing colonial superiority
does not take into account then the depth of the postcolonial double bind, in particular for
the national intelligentsia, whose quest for identity is premised on the ideal of a national
modern. Insofar as the ‘national modern’ is the overarching and definitive paradigm of
postcolonial cultural practice, it can never free itself of this double bind.


Edouard Glissant wrote poetically on the notion of modernity that “[it] is a vexed question.
Is not every era “modern’ in relation to the preceding one? It seems that at least one of the
components of “our” modernity is the spread of the awareness we have of it. The awareness
of our awareness (the double, the second degree) is our source and our torment” (quoted in
Gilroy, 1993: 1). These lines capture the historical predicament of most of the individuals
and their works which are discussed in this thesis. As we have seen through the chapters,
fluctuating notions of modernity appear to be the source and the torment of most of the
practices – a pharmakon, in a sense. Keeping in mind the postcolonial location of most of
the practitioners (or their practices) we have discussed so far, the conundrum of
authenticity (or rootedness) of/and the ‘new’ seems to one of be the consistent
preoccupations of them all. The intensity of this tension, as we have seen, severely
affected/impacted most of the discourses on creative practices in general; and this thesis
has been an attempt at tracing the genealogy of some of the distinct manifestations of them
in the architectural discourses of ‘modern India.’

The recurring presence of notions such as ‘revival,’ ‘national,’ ‘vernacular,’

‘alternative,’ ‘indigenous,’ ‘contextual,’ ‘modern,’ ‘tradition,’ and so on, in all of the
debates around architecture (even today) is indicative of the fact that this tension may
remain a conundrum for the future as well. But we have to bear in mind that the recurrence
of these notions and the efficacy they acquire at different historical junctures are not a mere
accident but in fact closely linked with hegemony maintenance of various sorts. For
instance, in the present political climate, notions such as tradition, revival, indigenous, etc.,
have a distinct valency which is closely linked to multiple forms of majoritarianism and
absolutism. The failure of the Nehruvian model (modern) and the wholesale condemnation
of his (state-socialist) ideals by the Right and the Left alike necessitate a revisitation of
some of the initiatives undertaken by his political establishment. Our attempt in looking at
Corbusierian Chandigarh stems from such a desire. Let us put a caveat here: the attempt
was not to (re)validate the projects undertaken by the Nehruvian regime but rather to
engage with the complex historical dynamics of such projects, instead of premising the
enquiries into/within a binary model.

This revisitation indeed has some immediate triggering points other than the quest
for the historical validity of such endeavourers. One among them is the recent move by the
present political regime to initiate a hundred smart-city project in order to usher in the
‘developmental’ idea of global capitalism. Such gigantic projects seek much more critical
scrutiny considering the impact they have on the life of people, environment and so on.
Unlike the Corbusierian project, which was, regardless of its many problematics, in fact
premised upon certain notions regarding an egalitarian city, these new ventures are
primarily driven by the short-sighted economic benefits they may bring to the economy as
such. In that sense, the element of homogenization which was part of Corbusier’s high
modernist ideals has to be segregated from the homogenization anticipated by present
attempts at creating numerous global cities.

In this context it would be useful to invoke a litany of writings in light of the recent
passing of Charles Correa.18 Most of these obituaries celebrate Correa’s standing as
‘India’s greatest architect’ – an honour bestowed upon him by the Royal Institute of British
Architects (Murray, 2013).19 However, a good number of them (Koppikar, 2015; D’Monte,
2015; Dalvi, 2015; Karkaria, 2015) note at times sharply, and at times in lament, the
indifference and failure of vision among the faceless bureaucrats and politicians towards
Correa’s conscientious proposals for city planning, particularly in Mumbai and Goa. More
importantly, many recalled Correa’s harsh indictments of the contemporary predicament in
building gated communities, smart-cities, overhead metro rails, and indistinguishable
airports which had all resulted in architecture becoming mundane, not to mention
whimsical and fashionable (Choudhury, 2015; Srivathsan, 2015). With regard to the smart-
cities initiative in particular, Correa is to have remarked that they should be judged by the
way they treat their poor (New Indian Express, Dec 2014). So also, of particular interest is
a writing that has compared Correa with another figure of importance who also recently
passed away, and who we ourselves have neglected to mention in the thesis: Nek Chand
Saini, architect of the rock garden in Chandigarh (Jackson, 2015).20 Seeing parallel

Correa passed away on 16 June 2015.
RIBA held an exhibition by the same name in 2013 marking the gifting by Correa of his archive of over
6000 drawings to the RIBA library. The exhibition was accompanied by the publication of a book; see
Murray, 2013.
Saini passed away on 12 June 2015.

concerns in both Correa and Saini for public spaces, development of a ‘natural’ aesthetic
and the notion of promenade, of referencing the past, the note interestingly traces their
lineage to the aesthetics of Fatehpur Sikri, and implicitly contrasts their visions with those
of the global present.

In what is then a clear indicator of the warped, not to mention precarious political
present we inhabit, Correa’s statement that “Indian cities are among the greatest things we
have” has itself been invoked by government officials in the recent past following his death,
to validate the 100 smart cities project (Bajpai, 2015). Amidst this spate of writing, one in
particular (Srivathsan, 2015) noted the falseness of such celebration in a nation-state like
India where the architectural profession was in fact highly devalued. It noted the decline in
commissioning professional architects for building and planning since the 1990s – a time
that ironically coincided with the spike in real estate and the building boom. The
architectural profession in that sense is an extremely fraught one for, on the one hand, it
inhabits as compared with the large sphere of vernacular architecture, an elite, high art
domain, and on the other, entails a position of vulnerability in light of the faceless/placeless
global architectural firms – themselves an outcome perhaps of modernist practice and
discourses – that are increasingly commissioned by both private and state institutions.

Yet another instance can be drawn from the Chandigarh context. In the last year, the
Union Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India has applied for the Capitol Complex and a few
other monuments in Chandigarh to be declared as a UNESCO World Modern Heritage
site.21 Along with other nations like Belgium, Switzerland and France, this forms part of a
“Trans-border Serial Nomination of Le Corbusier’s Work.” On the one hand, what we see
is a somewhat seamless reconfiguration of modernist discourses on ‘internationalism’ into
a global discourse on ‘trans-border/nationalism.’ Not only this, the discourse of heritage is
as we know premised on notions of authenticity, which was a modernist preoccupation as
well. In this context, what should be, but is not ironical, is the construction in/near
Chandigarh of the International Aiport by a consortium of global technocracies; this, in a

The attempt has been made by the Chandigarh Administration since 2006 to gain for the city World
Heritage status.

city that is product of an architect/planner’s vision, on the basis of which even today its
heritage status is being claimed.

Paradoxically however, had this irony been raised, we may have foreseen a situation
where national/local/regional architects would challenge the global technocracies that are
increasingly dominating construction nowadays. And this would inevitably involve calling
to attention the question of styles authentic to the local/region/national. In other words, the
untheorized nature of the architectural profession’s relationship with social and political
practices, movements and discourses, especially in light of the politico-economic and
cultural processes of globalization inevitably configures the debate once more in terms of
tradition, indigenous, contextual, and so on.22

A related and more pressing concern can be seen in the domain of real estate
development in the city of Chandigarh, with most recently the proposed project for the
TATA Camelot, a high-rise apartment complex to be situated just north of the Capitol
Complex.23 Architectural historian Vikaramaditya Prakash began earlier this year a petition
demanding that the TATA Camelot project be halted.24 Prakash calls attention to the site
where the housing project is to be situated – in the agro-pastoral land/scape that falls
between the Himalayas and the Capitol Complex. Noting that it bears significance not only
in Corbusier’s vision, but also as rural ecologies, natural habitats, and hydrologies, Prakash
argues that this project is destructive on all counts. While the development of real estate in
itself is not surprising, we see the ways in which global technocracies have adopted the
vocabulary of the green and sustainable architecture in order to acquire both social
legitimacy and cultural capital. So also, the public petition in the language of claiming
‘rights to the city’ draws on a range of values – moral, civic, ecological, historical,
democratic – in an attempt at arguing for the balance of development with preservation: of
revisiting the past in present visions for the future. But most significantly, we witness the

For an example of such discussion on the consortium of global architectural, managerial, consultancy,
engineering and construction firms in a related context, see Bhatia, 2010.
TATA Camelot is a housing project undertaken by TATA Housing, the real estate wing of the industrial
giant Tata Sons.
An online petition was begun by Prakash addressing Ratan Tata, appealing to his own imbrication in the
profession as an architect who has also served as jurist for the prestigious Pritzker Prize. For the full details of
the petition, see Prakash, 2015.

impotence of existing architectural discourses in gainsaying the relentless forces of capital,
other than by means of recourse to legality.

In that sense, we have to anticipate that the facilitation of the movement of global
capital and the resultant homogenization in the name of smart-cities and other such
anomalies ought to recall notions such as ‘revival’ and ‘tradition’ in order to hide away the
ideological contradictions inherent in all of the totalitarian dispensations. On one side of
the spectrum, we can witness the absolute espousal of the virtues of global capital and on
the other the evocation of ‘Indian’ tradition as the root-cause of all the knowledge, which in
fact draws our attention to the inherent relationship between discourses on root and
totalitarianisms. Deleuze and Guattari have criticized the notion of the root and of being
rooted by exposing some foundational characteristics of the root – the root is unique and
remains so by killing everything around it. In opposition to this, they proposed the concept
of rhizome. Unlike the root, the rhizome is an enmeshed root-system, a network spreading
in the ground (and sometimes in the air) with no predatory rootstock taking over forever. In
a curious way, the concept of rhizome maintains a certain idea of rootedness but keeps at
bay the totalitarian root. Perhaps a renewed understanding of root (or that of authenticity)
like the one proposed by Deleuze and Guattari may open up yet unexplored possibilities of
the poetics of form and function, thereby inaugurating revitalized and intensified enquiries
regarding the politics of aesthetics.