“Architecture is not for business”

In Walk the Talk on NDTV 24x7,The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta speaks to renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando on architecture in India and the way forward

Written by Shekhar Gupta | New Delhi | Published:May 14, 2012 6:04 pm

In Walk the Talk on NDTV 24×7,The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta speaks to renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando on architecture in India and the way forward

You want to know how seriously modern India takes its architecture? Look at this fact. After more than 400 episodes of Walk The Talk,we have our first architect as a guest and this,for a country which in the past has had wonderful,wonderful examples of architecture. That’s why we chose this spot for who else but the great master Tadao Ando — a great Japanese architect,a philosopher architect. What you have built,is what architecture textbooks talk about,your style is famous the world over. We are building such bad architecture in India now that we decided on something from the past — this great building (the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel,Mumbai) and the Gateway of India. You find it interesting?

I think this is one of the most rich and most beautiful hotels in the world. It has a huge scale,also,it has very good detailing,which makes it look very powerful. I think having a historical building in the background,so close to the sea,facing this wonderful building,is very impressive.

And something like that on the side (the hotel’s new wing)?

This is a new building,so something like that we have to accept.

Your hostess Mrs Godrej flew you around south Mumbai in a helicopter. Did you also see the new disasters we’re building?

Of course,it is inevitable to have some disastrous architecture erected. It was fun to see the city from above. I also saw the mangroves from above and Mrs Godrej wants to preserve them; it was a very clear message.

And that’s for their new development?

No,it is not for their new development but for the future. They are thinking very seriously about the natural environment.

Modern Indian architecture is not building anything that’s a landmark now.

However,we see that important architects of this century Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier have built buildings in India that have become very important buildings,historically speaking.

I come from a city designed by Le Corbusier.

Chandigarh is a single city of the 19th century that has became iconic.

But many of us think it’s drab and grey,it lacks soul,everything is numbers and grids.

When you strive towards new challenges,sometimes such things happen.

But a city like Chandigarh,can it be modernised and given some soul now?

If the Indian history and the Indian lifestyle and the modern architecture can be mixed up well,then I think there is a possibility.

And what can take it forward now?

First of all,people who live in Chandigarh have to see what kind of city they want to live in and then they have to sum it up,and then we can think further.

India has very crowded cities. Central Mumbai is now booming with tall towers,but we lack integrated planning.

I think in the central areas,it is alright to make high-rise buildings. However,in the suburbs,it is essential to preserve nature so that we have a relationship with nature there. We have to clearly decide where we are going to build new developments and where we are going to preserve nature. We saw (the Godrej land in Vikhroli),where the mangroves would be preserved and where the developments would come. These statements were brave. Such statements to preserve nature have not been seen anywhere in the world.

Regarding your own work. You like cement and in India,of course,we love concrete. How did it come from a country known for delicate paper and wood?

When we build very dense and focused (structures),we also have to think of safety and security,that’s our first target; it is very hard then to build from wood. The issue is how to put the mentality of wood into concrete structures.

How do you put the mentality of wood into concrete structures? That’s fascinating.

All the exposed concrete that I’ve done outside Japan is a little bit different from what we are doing in Japan. It is different in its sensibility.

How do you make it different?

What are we doing is extremely delicate.

I believe that you almost have an engineer’s eye when it comes to precision of the building. For you,the art of architecture is as important as the craftsmanship?

Art creates a new world,new space and craftsmanship is about implementing technology and know-how to build them.

On a scale of architectural diversity and quality,where would you place Bombay among the world’s great cities?

Well,I think Bombay is a city of scale and speed. If you come back after 10 years,you will see a completely different city. And to reach that,everybody,including the architect,the industries and all the citizens,need to work very hard.

What are the favourite structures that you have built?

Well,what I really want to create is a place where people gather,like a church or a theatre,where people get together and think.

As people,as countries and societies go up in the value chain,they start worrying about architecture. So also India has grown in the past 20 years,and India is also thinking now.

What will help India (grow) is the sense of value for each individual living here. Use things wisely,this includes energy and resources and not waste. There is an intent to preserve and protect nature,by protecting the mangroves,we get a new sense of life and we will (begin to) connect with others.

For a populated country like India,there is no choice but to go higher and higher.

To live together in a very limited space is the only solution.

Would you have preferred that Bombay’s towers,when you flew over on a helicopter,be taller?

I think the balance between high buildings and low buildings is very important. Also we have to think about the lifestyle of the people and how they can improve it.

How do you do it? In Japan,how do you manage high-rises?

To achieve that,it is important to have a global plan. There should be a larger plan for what kind of future India is going to have,what kind of goals Bombay will have. If you have that plan,you can start working on it. I met prominent people yesterday from the industry and they have been thinking about it.

We now want a better quality of life,we want our cities to look better. What makes a great architect? Obviously a great architecture school is not necessary because you never went to an architecture school.

It is important to learn and study a lot and if you do not give up,and carry on with your utmost efforts, you will definitely be given a chance.

So tell us about yourself. How did you start out being a totally self-taught architect.

I did not have the chance to have a proper education in architecture but I thought it was very important that I see architecture with my eyes,that I also read about architecture. I knew I should not give up.

And now that you have been coming to India. Do you have any message for experienced Indian architects?

I think architecture is not for business. I think it is for supporting the life of people,that’s why we have to think of it as a cultural thing.

What’s your message for young Indian architects?

Young architects should see the world,they should study history and learn about the life of people,only then can they express themselves.

So history,sociology and may be anthropology,not just textbooks of architecture.

Well,I can say that to every single individual. The existence of the earth is now being questioned and it is human beings who support it. However,if we go the same way we are going now,we cannot support it. So in that way if we preserve mangroves,and protect nature,it can be the initial step that we take. And it would be really a wonderful thing if it starts from India,from Bombay.

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