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Friday, December 04, 2020

Urban Scapes: Work in Progress

How our cities were mapped and measured in 2017

Written by Shiny Varghese | December 25, 2017 1:12:09 am
Hall of Nations in Delhi

From the building of a Capital Complex in Amaravati to the demolition of the engineering marvel, the Hall of Nations, in Delhi, this year recalibrated the idea of architecture and design in India. Here’s a look at five defining moments:

Divided We Fall

On the morning of April 24, 2017, Delhi was rudely woken up from its restive slumber of architectural inertia. The Hall of Nations had been demolished. Designed by architect Raj Rewal and engineer Mahendra Raj, the 45-year-old concrete space-frame structure did not win the protection of the Heritage Conservation Committee. Architects themselves were in a quandary — should the building be saved? The Hall of Nations, which was, until then, the symbol of India’s strength as a democracy, made the architectural fraternity weak in the knees. Professional bodies such as Council of Architecture, Indian Institute of Architecture, and Delhi Urban Arts Commission perfected the art of silence. And with the help of INTACH, a new word was added to the lexicon of Indian architectural discourse — Modern Heritage.

Outside the Classroom

The year saw design learnings outside university walls. Books, films, and exhibitions around architecture were queuing up at galleries and festivals. Akar, by Tanuja and Sanjay Kanvinde, presented a compendium of the work of five decades of Achyut Kanvinde. Giving an update on one of India’s first planned cities, after independence, was Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier’s City Today by New York-based photographer and designer Shaun Fynn. He showed how the city of the Swiss-French architect had changed, wearing the patina of time. The film Nostalgia for the Future, co-directed by architect Rohan Shivkumar and filmmaker Avijit Mukul Kishore, explored the architecture of the home and the citizen, and how the state influenced the imagination. Filmmaker Vineet Radhakrishnan’s Uncommon Sense: The Life & Architecture of Laurie Baker presented his philosophy of respect for nature, making Baker’s buildings both functional and aesthetic. Exhibitions, too, presented design to a larger audience. “Tracing Narratives: Indian Landscape Design”, presented the idea of the garden in connection with art, literature, popular culture and the practice itself. Photographer Ram Rahman curated “Delhi: Building the Modern”, as part of an exhibition at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, where he showcased the scale of innovation in the architecture of a newly independent India.

Capital Complex

The making of Amaravati, Chandrababu Naidu’s capital for Andhra Pradesh, has been nothing short of a blockbuster story. After the elaborate call of entries for designing the capital complex, Japanese design firm Maki and Associates were declared winners. But soon they were removed rather unceremoniously, and UK-based Foster and Partners with Mumbai-based Hafeez Contractor were made the new architects for the project. Inspired by the kingdom of Mahishmati in Bahubali: The Beginning, Naidu roped in Telugu filmmaker SS Rajamouli to collaborate with the architects. Just as Chandigarh by Le Corbusier defined the arrival of a planned aesthetic, Amaravati could do well to court fantasy to create new imaginations for a capital city. While most architects and urban planners turned up their noses on the idea, two designs for the Assembly building have already been shortlisted. One is a square-shaped structure, and the other, is a 250m-high tower that will present a bird’s eye view of the city. Some could argue that ambition should be made of sterner stuff, but what’s wrong in yearning for the skies?

Heritage Laurels

In a first for India, Ahmedabad was declared World Heritage City by Unesco. The 606-year-old city, with its architectural heritage, spirit of entrepreneurship and community-oriented living, has triumphed over Delhi and Mumbai in the race. With over 2,600 heritage sites and more than a dozen ASI-protected monuments, Ahmedabad is set to take forward its partnerships in both, economic and cultural spheres.

Blurring Boundaries

When Bangalore-based Sandeep Sangaru’s design made it to a Christie’s London auction, earning him four times the Indian price for a bamboo coat stand, it was an affirmation that art and design could no longer be seen as separate. Earlier in the year, architect-designer Rooshad Shroff presented his Burma teak lounger with cotton embroidery work at Pundole’s gallery in Mumbai. Saffortnart expanded its list to include furniture designed by architects Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and George Nakashima. This cross-pollination of disciplines showed up in designer Divya Thakur’s exhibition, “Design: The India Story” in Mumbai, where everyday pieces such as utensils, locks, and chairs traced the evolution of the country’s design history. While the West has always included design in its contemporary art section, India seems to be catching up as well.

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