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Stop, not another glass-chrome building

An exhibition on contemporary architecture in India will look at the profession through a historical and critical lens.

Written by Shiny Varghese |
Updated: January 3, 2016 12:16:07 pm
A view of Elante Mall. Express photo A view of Elante Mall. Express photo

On the gate of National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai, is a banner that reads: Does architecture matter? If you stop to stand and stare long enough to find an answer, you might realise that it clearly has fallen through the gap between heritage conservation and real-estate mechanics. It is this idee fixe that has prompted architect and academic Rahul Mehrotra, poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, and editor of domus India magazine Kaiwan Mehta to curate “The State of Architecture: Practices and Processes in India” (SOA), a project by the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai.

The focus of the three-month-long exhibition (begins January 6), is post-Independence architecture, with a special emphasis on the last 20 years. Inside NGMA and at galleries in Kala Ghoda, this festival of architecture will explore the ambition of the profession, its relevance in society and the manner in which it is perceived. The curators have made a conscious choice to lift the discussions outside eye-candy private projects and focus on public buildings and how they affect the landscape. “We have identified a club of 10 buildings that have made a shift in the way architecture can be understood. Among these are Charles Correa’s Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad and Tara Housing in Delhi, the Embassy of Belgium in Delhi by Satish Gujral, the Indian Institute of Forest Management in Bhopal by Anant Raje and Raj Rewal’s Hall of Nations in Pragati Maidan. Some have been celebrated while others not so much,” says Mehta.

In an interview in domus India (December 2015), Mehrotra says, “The exhibition is both a historic unfolding as well as critical deconstruction.” There are three parts to it: data on education and media representation, and issues that face architects today; a historic overview, moving from the agenda of nation-building to regional obsession in the ’90s; and a registry of emerging practices, which includes 80 projects from around the country by architects under 50.

In addition, multiple satellite events across Mumbai include exhibitions, seminars, talks and film screenings. In March, for the first time in India, there will be the award ceremony of the Curry Stone Design Prize, which honours innovative design projects that address social justice issues. Architects from South Asia will arrive for the closing of the exhibition on March 20. Every week, there will be keynote lectures by multiple speakers including economist and writer Pratap Bhanu Mehta, architects BV Doshi, Romi Khosla, Brinda Somaya, Charles Benninger, Hafeez Contractor and Sen Kapadia, among others.

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While “Vistara”, a travelling state-sponsored exhibition in the 1980s presented India’s rich architectural heritage, as did the “Architecture of India” exhibition(1985), SOA looks at contemporary projects. “It is a critical stocktaking of the role of the architect in India,” says Mehta.

Khosla, who will speak on Asian Modernism, says, “Currently, we neither have critics nor state patronage, which can lift the quality of architecture in the country. I would like the public to be severely critical of the profession and say that there is no great building and let architects introspect, can we remedy that? We might come away from the exhibition saying it’s all mediocre work which looks all European and American. But it might be a lesson in knowing that our architects should be sensitive about being Asian. If there is anything that the exhibition might show, it is that our compass is pointing the wrong way.”

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