Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The Monument and other thoughts on the Nalanda University Design Competiton.
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.
The monument is perceived as an expression of dominance and control ( an architecturally sophisticated example being the Vastu Shilpa design for Nalanda University) , and therefore its architectural legacy is seen to promote a vision of larger-than-life action, encouraging wasteful use of resources, and denying democratic processes. There is also reference to ' canonical devices of modernism' which promote monumentality.
This reference to modernity seems to indicate that a European architectural understanding, in which the visual dimension is supreme, is the defining feature of the understanding of monumentality. If we accept the proposition that the 2 schemes are in direct contrast, the analysis for both relies on visual parameters. This is a limitation which diminishes the importance of the issues raised.
Is it possible to define monumentality from another perspective, which would connect the notion of ' grandness ' with a different set of parameters ? I presume an architectural winner will be ' grander' than others. A monument is also memorable, as distinct from being visually exciting (only). Perhaps the other parameters we are looking for are better defined by 'publicness' , that is something which has meaning for a very large number.
Le Corbusier, in his younger days, was concerned with ' le plus grand nombre' or 'the great majority ', and his ' Unite d'Habitation' concept was the expression of this concern. This was not a visually determined conception, although Corb was a master of the techniques of the ' Ecole de Beaux Arts' and his drawings were visually very sophisticated. The strength of the idea, however, came from the public nature of the design and in its inclusiveness. Thus an architectural monument was produced , which at the same time was an unsuccessful building project, not being able to realise the designer's intention.
Your note contrasts the two competition schemes on the Master Planning mostly, and this approach also is limited by visual patterns. The Vastu Shilpa scheme relies on vistas and objects set against the hills in the background. The other scheme appears to be using the courtyard pattern as a template almost similar to the way a sari printer may use his stamp, with the architectural expression arising from the attractive visual composition.
Another master planning principle which comes to mind is the idea of zoning - primary functional elements were typified as residential, institutional, recreational, industrial ( as explored in Tony Garnier's ' Industrial City' scheme done at the turn of the 20th century) and this led to an approach of spatial segregation of functions, which promoted mobility. In contrast we find in older cities a comfortable mix of uses which can promote conviviality. I did not look at the Hundred Hands scheme carefully but from the picture of the model it appears they are working on a mixed use pattern. Hence the contrast with the VSF scheme which is very 'industrial city'. Is this the reason for your discomfort with this scheme? The issues you raise at the close of your statement all seem to flow from the industrial civilisation promoted by the West in the last 2 or 3 centuries.
I think a more enduring concept of the monument is possible. We need to articulate that.