Curated by Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote and Kaiwan Mehta, the exhibition ‘The State of Architecture: Practices and Processes in India’ presents the state of contemporary architecture in India within a larger historical overview since Independence. It maps emerging practices and also discuss the aspirations they represent, and stimulates a conversation on architecture among the architectural fraternity, patrons and public at large. The content is intended to be provocative and make explicit the multiple, and often simultaneously valid, streams of architectural thought and engagement that truly represent the pluralism of India.
The State of Architecture: Practices and Processes in India Exhibition
6 January – 20 March, 2016 | National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai
Timings: 11 am – 6 pm, except Monday and National Holidays
SAI is cosponsoring the closing conference ‘Windows and Mirrors: Reflecting on Recent Architecture In South Asia‘ on March 19 and 20.
SAI recently spoke to Rahul Mehrotra, Professor of Urban Design and Planning at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, about the exhibit and the how architecture in India is evolving.
SAI: What were you looking for when you were curating the exhibit? Do they represent the future and past of Indian architecture?
Rahul Mehrotra: The question we are asking is: Does architecture really matter? We all felt that the architecture that has been celebrated in India since the liberalization of our economy has been the ‘architecture of indulgence’- weekend homes, restaurants, resorts and corporate offices, and, as an extension of this limited spectrum of what is celebrated, the discussion is focused on material, craft, and texture in an almost fetishistic manner. This is productive in its own way – it removes the perception of the usefulness of architecture away from the public. However, such programs, while they are crucial crucibles for architectural innovation, touch a very small fragment of our population.
Furthermore, in India, the State has more or less given up the responsibility of projecting an ‘idea of India’ through the built and physical environment as it had done in the post- independence era when several state capitals, government and educational campuses were built across the country. So the idea of this exhibition, through focusing on public architecture, is to bring this issue into focus and question the state’s role as a patron for architecture, or more broadly the role of the architect in contemporary India society.
We have tried to present both the past and the future in the manner in which the show is organized and structured. The first section, ‘The State of the Profession’ presents data on the architect profession all the way from education, to the media’s representation of the profession, to issues that face practioners today. The second section is an historic overview sliced by three milestones: the first (Independence), the second (the Emergency), and the third (economic liberalization.) We believe these three moments had a fundamental bearings on the DNA of the profession and a clear sway in its agenda, from one of national identity construction to much more of a regional obsession starting in the 1990s.
The third section [of the exhibit] is focused on the present generation of practioners, generally under 50 years of age. We have curated approximately 80 projects that we think signal the contemporary issues as well as aspiration of society in India, but more importantly also register the talent of an emerging generation of practioners in India.
SAI: What do you hope the viewer takes away after visiting the exhibition?
RM: I think our aim or the take away is two-fold. First, the viewer will just be exposed to the evolution of architecture in India since independence. We have broken that time line down by year – so you really see a fine-grained unfolding of architecture in India in the last 70-odd years. You see shifts in material practices, in patronage, and in the programmatic concerns of Indian society at different times. The second take away is a more provocative aspiration – which to have the viewer, we hope, appreciate the role and potential role of architecture for society. They will think about what architects do and can do, and what space configurations and good architecture mean for society – not only to represent their aspirations, but to improve the way we spend our lives though spatial modulations!
SAI: What do you see as the biggest change in Indian architecture since Independence?
RM: The biggest challenge is shifting and fuzzy patronage. Until the late 1980s, the State was clearly the biggest patron for architects – whether it was institutional buildings, cultural buildings, or even housing. Now the State has, as I explained earlier, more or less given up this role. The private sector has stepped in many areas, but most often solely for profit. Thus the architect today is not only limited to responding to the impatience of capital, so to speak, but also to a fuzzy set of aspirations as society is in such great flux.
So how the architect today defines her or his role is a challenge. How can we situate architecture more centrally once again? How do we contribute to society and make the architecture, its conception, as well as manifestation socially relevant? Can architecture and the way space is formulated and organized help dissipate the acute inequity that has surrounded us in India and perhaps globally? We think these are the challenges for the next generation and the exhibition is a step in opening up that discussion for the community of architects in India, but also society more broadly.
Photos courtesy of http://www.stateofarchitecture.in