Do all things urban have to be ugly too?

Urbanization is rapidly taking over our cities. With the changing lifestyles, our needs have changed too. All this has an adverse effect on our architecture.

Architecture defines a civilization. Visual perception helps relate the most to the culture of any place. The ‘First Impression’ matters as it can make or break an opinion about anything. India has hit a construction peak. Everywhere you turn, you can see a similar picture, unfinished concrete buildings, tall cranes, construction workers milling about, piles of sand and the like. They create structures which are clones of each other, the same modules repeated endlessly to form a mind numbing cityscape. This is not a picture to present to the world.

How did we get into this situation?

India has had two major turning points with regard to modern architecture. One was the post Independence era, which saw the work of eminent architects like Le Corbusier, BV Doshi, etc. The second was post 1991 or the software boom.

The mess we’re in today is largely due to the economic situation and influence of post 1991 architecture. With new townships or software hubs on the rise, quick methods of construction were needed and aesthetics weren’t given much value. This mixed with the economic crisis, politics and commercialization of everything has led to the disappearing of art in architecture.

What started off as a revolutionary new movement at the time of its conception(modernist, Bauhaus School, etc) is now been blown out of proportion with over use, lack of innovation. Generic, ‘mass produced’ architecture is now the order of the day.

Also, India is a developing country; a majority of people are living below the poverty line. So as a country, we have bigger issues to focus on. If you apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on a societal level,

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The basic needs like food, clean drinking water, a roof overhead, should be met for the common man to think about issues of aesthetics in city planning etc.

That being said, the responsibility of professionals as a fraternity is greater now than ever. Architects now have a greater role to play in shaping a city or creating a city’s impression.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Taking factors like the ever fluctuating economy, government policies, regulations, red tapism, etc into account, there are a lot of roadblocks in our path. However, we must take that as a challenge and come through to the other side.

Contemporary architecture does not take into account the regional flavour, needs and context of the place it’s to be built on. It does nothing to enhance the culture of that place. Everything is blending into one homogeneous mass of concrete, glass and metal. There is no climatic consideration, no aesthetic value and no relation to the culture or traditions of a region. We build boxes of glass and metal with no windows or means of ventilation, and spend a fortune on artificial cooling systems. We want our cities to look like Shanghai, so we blindly copy that style of architecture without thinking whether it suits our climate, our culture, or caters to our needs. IS THIS RESPONSIBLE ARCHITECTURE? Don’t we owe something to the glorious architectural legacy of our country, with its rich elements suited perfectly to local context? Why have we stopped thinking? Does urbanization mean dismissing thousands of years of tried and tested means to build mass produced boxes?

Of course we shouldn’t stick to traditional architecture and not change at all. Architectural evolution is something which is constant. However, we should learn from the past, take all the good things and INNOVATE. Think out of the box. Think within the context. Create architecture which is different, carries traditional values forward, yet being modern at the same time, uses the best of available technology, which has changed through the times to suit our lifestyle, needs, climate and culture, which is truly Indian in every sense of the word.
We’re literally on the fence now. One wrong step and thousands of years of history, comfort and convenience of billions of people, could all be in jeopardy.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has said, “Architecture is nothing but frozen music.”

It’s time to save music before it becomes just noise and renders us deaf.

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