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A Man of His Times

A look at the contributions of Achyut Kanvinde, relentless chaser and creator of modern architecture in India

Updated: August 19, 2017 2:04:34 am
achyut kanvinde akar , achyut kanvinde akar book review,modern Indian architects This book is primarily a compendium of Kanvinde’s most important works over these five decades.

Edited by Tanuja & Sanjay Kanvinde
Niyogi books
464 pages
` 7,000

By Riyaz Tayyibji

Achyut Kanvinde, born in the small village of Achara in Maharashtra, belonged to the first generation of modern Indian architects who returned to practice in India after an education abroad, in their quest to find an appropriate contemporary expression for a young country with a long past.

Contrary to popular belief, modern architectural design did not find its way to the subcontinent on the back of Le Corbusier. A group of young Indian architects including Habib Rehman, Piloo Modi and Achyut Kanvinde had already established a base here with their work. Kanvinde, deeply influenced by the great Walter Gropius, had a strong rationalist orientation and an exposure to engineering and construction, which would profoundly influence the course of Indian architecture in the five decades after independence.

This book is primarily a compendium of Kanvinde’s most important works over these five decades. The work itself is presented chronologically and their decade-wise grouping subtly brings out the fundamental shifts in Kanvinde’s work over his incredibly prolific career. Along with the architectural work, which is represented through generously sized drawings (including a marvellous appendix of construction drawings) and photographs, this book also contains the great architects’ own words and writings.

One glimpses a wide array of subjects, from his own work to architectural education, the role of the building professional, and, most engagingly, anecdotes of his experiences with the many great people he worked with. From statesmen like Jawaharlal Nehru, the industrious Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Homi Bhabha to the master architects: Gropius, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. These personal experiences are not only of historical value, but make for enthralling reading for anyone interested in history, architecture or simply the spirit and energy of the time just after 1947. Kanvinde’s own writings are simple, and deal directly with the problems and solutions pertaining to our built environment. The tone of his writing, as much as their content, gives us insight into the man known for his quiet humility, unequalled generosity and professional commitment.

In order to tell us more about the man, the editors have interspersed a series of essays into the book, written by Kanvinde’s colleagues, historians and family members, thus creating a background to the work that ranges from the historical to the intimate. However, though an important aspect of the book, this is also, perhaps, its weakest link. The essays are informative, but lack a certain tautness of narrative.

Much more importantly, the book re-produces the work done by Kanvinde at the JJ School of Architecture during his student days. Comprising both sketches and project work, these drawings talk about the predilection and general direction of the country’s architectural education at the time. The book looks at that historic moment of May 17, 1959, when, at the ‘Seminar on Architecture’ at Lalit Kala Academy, Kanvinde delivered an address titled ‘Architectural Expression and National Policy’. Kanvinde argued for a functional, technology-driven modern architecture embedded in the society of the day. The historical implications of this event are not lost on the editors of this book as they reproduce Nehru’s address along with Kanvinde’s own intimate anecdotes about proceedings.

Modern buildings are rarely ‘pretty’. Made in bare materials and unadorned by softer finishes, they’re robust and driven by functional needs. Yet, in the hands of a great architect, like Kanvinde, these buildings have a fierce and powerful beauty. There is a tactile exploration of material, their organisation into evocative structural configurations that allow for a play of light, of inside and outside, of sun and shadow, of movement and gathering. This is an architecture of doing a lot with very little: for a country that had very little. One simply has to turn to page 148 and look at Kanvinde’s Dudhusagar dairy project for the National Dairy Development Board at Mehsana, to recognise that an industrial building can be given a poetry of form. Balanced horizontals and verticals, the play of raw concrete and white plaster, the power of architectural composition squeezed out from a most pragmatic of requirements.

This book brings out the unparalleled relentlessness with which Kanvinde followed his modernist convictions. An almost spiritual orientation which helped the architect find a deep resonance with the historic architecture of the subcontinent. Though modern in its appearance, his buildings seem to imbibe an age-old understanding of the environment in which he built.

Throughout his career Kanvinde’s work was in partnership, first with Shaukat Rai, and then with the addition of Murad Chaudhary. This book documents his final decade of practice, which was largely a

personal one. Now, he challenges his rationalist approach with projects that have high symbolic content (temples) and require logic other than function. He responds to these self-set challenges by returning to his roots — to his JJ School training and to the poetry of Tukaram. Kanvinde’s life work is a study of systematic architectural development in search of dissolution and belonging. An architect who takes the impulses and influences from a foreign place and brings them home. This book is a fitting tribute to the journey of India’s greatest professional, modern architect.

Riyaz Tayyibji is an Ahmedabad based architect

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