Through history, the idea of the monument has, and continues to
occupy a position of great reverence. Both as an epitaph, and as celebration of
the human capacity to achieve the spectacular. And all architecture has, in
some manner or the other, strived to realize that ideal.
How we have viewed the "monument" and how it has been
interpreted has defined the makings of architecture for centuries.
the light of this fact, the exhibition from
the 13th to 18th of May 2013, at the National Gallery of
Modern Art hosted of entries to The Nalanda University Masterplan and
Architectural Design Competition holds forth pertinent questions.
I had the good fortune to be
present while Rajeev Kathpalia explained the workings of their winning scheme,
to which BV Doshi added an after-word, a clear and succinct description of the
overall vision that the scheme sought to create.
And (as always happens)
while Kathpalia explained we did have the odd-ball question, “Doesn’t your design
look a little Arabian?”, and as one might expect from schemes with water
channels - “So this will be a bit like Venice?” and by the tone and the time it
took for and answers to emerge, I am sure these had him stumped for a bit!
There were eight schemes in
all. I write this piece is not to take you through each, or to make a comment
on the nature of the architectural exercise the schemes sought to undertake.
That would be a wider and more studied critique than I attempt here.
But as I walked from scheme
to scheme, and studied the broad framework of each masterplan, a thought
emerged, largely aroused by the need or attempt across all entries to be Net
Zero. In the real and true sense this is impossible, however, as benchmark of a
sustainable design it is a worthy intention.
Without going into the
specifics of each one could broadly divide the scheme into two types.
The scheme by VastuShilpa
Consultants easily the most sophisticated of the former collection – which would
contain 7 of the 8 exhibited. Doshi and Kathpalia’s scheme is evolved and
articulate. A careful and clearly intentioned assembly of architectural and
spatial experience that modulates scales, and controls space, enclosure and
openness with a deftness that rivals Kahn and Corbusier. The philosophical
underpinnings and the architectural control clearly define a scheme of great
brilliance – a monument of the 21st century.
Hundred Hands + Allies and Morrison, in clear
contrast refuses to allow that monument. In a display of iron-handed control - of
scale, of enclosure and the street, and building typology, that in my opinion draw
from a intrinsic understanding of climate. The scheme is an assembly of variations
in a theme, some subtle, some stark, as illustrated by the curious sheet titled
“Catalogue of Buildings” used in the Masterplan. In its refusal to employ the
inventory of canonical devices of modern architecture, and the superhuman scale,
the scheme makes a pertinent question to the practice of architecture in a
moment of deep cultural as well environmental consequence.
And it is precisely in that
fact that lies the question and argument I am attempting to raise. If one
understands the physiognomy of the monument and the making of monuments through
history, it is this question the two natures pose together and by virtue of
their inherent opposition.
I will not get into the
discussion of energy, material consumption, or building craft. My question more
addresses the stance the monuments represents as an expression of humans and
their relationship to (read dominance and control over) the systems of this
Can architecture , and its
creation, in its unavoidable intervention into systems of the planet, afford
the creation of monuments?
Is it right to perpetuate
the notion of human superiority and dominance? Is it appropriate to encourage
and accept the consumption of a limited planet.
Is it allowable to
perpetuate the romanticized notion of modernism and its super-human scale when
the planet seems to be crisis?
What, then, is to be nature
of the monument that reflects a realization of human life as intrinsically
co-joined to the larger and wider systems of life and sustenance?
With the ever-growing
pressures of development, and the pace of modern technology should we expect to
rationalize and limit the demands we make on the planet and its systems that
sustain life including human life?
I believe the question, now more than
ever, needs asking.
images : ajonline/uk
Labels: architecture, Architecture in India, design, Hundred Hands, Monument, Monumental Architecture, Naland University Design Competition, Nalanda, sustainable, Vastu Shilpa Consultants