With this, the first issue of Tekton, we embark upon a journey, relatively unchartered1, of establishing a research journal in Architecture, Urban Design and Urban Planning. We do not view these as exclusive domains, but as fields2 with porous boundaries, in constant osmotic process, not only with one another but with multiple fields in the technologies, the arts and social sciences, producing cultural experiences. We believe that architecture, to stay relevant, must draw theoretical ideas from other disciplines.
The disciplines of architecture, urban design and planning are conventionally understood to be firmly rooted in praxis. Academies and institutions in our country that teach them have as their mandate the development of individuals with requisite skill sets ready for the practice. The space and relevance for research in these fields is not considered enough. We believe it is time to stop looking at practice and theory as binary opposites. Theory is not outside of practice, rather in constant interplay it produces new knowledge, freshens and renews relevance and offers new meaning to our circumstances.
Until recently, there were only a few post graduate departments in these fields limiting the possibilities of much serious research. Then again, what is research in say, Architecture? Like in other design disciplines, this begs a question that may not have straight forward answers.3 A general lack of serious journals to publish and disseminate research based or theoretical writing has been acutely felt by those engaged with the discourse. It is hoped that Tekton will establish a space where serious engagement with architectural thought and critical thinking about the built environment will be possible. This engagement will help generate and sustain a critical discourse and hopefully new knowledge to architecture, urban design and planning.
For us, one obvious area of inquiry is into the nature of Indian architecture, its urbanity and the directions it should take. The question of what should constitute Indian cities and its architecture is not a new one. The slow transformation from traditionally crafted buildings by guilds of masons, carpenters and craftsmen was superseded by formal practices initiated during colonial rule that employed master plans and architectural styles, both as modernising tools as well as political statements. After independence, the modern nation state was gripped with an anxiety about framing identity. Some veered towards derivative forms borrowed from the historical past to create a nationalist idiom. Some, on the other hand, followed the Nehruvian modernist- socialist vision; taken forward by the involvement of Le Corbusier, Patrick Geddes, Otto Koenigsberger and Charles and Ray Eames. The next generation of Indian architects, trained abroad and influenced by the modernist thoughts, guided a uniquely optimistic phase for urban planning and architecture in the country. These architects were unafraid of experimentation. The first two decades after independence were optimistic, where anything was possible. A later disenchantment with modernism, that many felt was lacking the spirit and verve of the indigenous, saw a leaning towards ‘Indian’ roots. This notion was first articulated and formalised in the exhibition Vistara4 that arguably had an impact on subsequent architectural narratives. In its wake, several architects incorporated mythical symbols in their work, symbols that had perhaps lost their meanings in the contemporary. Some veered towards pastiches of shapes and forms, both from Indian and Western pasts. Other practices, unburdened by these narratives sought the most appropriate response to the site, materials, prevailing lifestyles and building practices.
The post-liberalisation period fuelled by unparalleled growth has witnessed extreme urbanisation, well beyond the ambit of planning. There has been a boom in building activity which is market driven and globally derivative in its forms. There seems to be no dominant narrative of our times. We find ourselves in an interesting space, where globalisation and neo-traditionalism both push for centre space in the discourse.
In the light of this, documenting, archiving and critically reassessing the changes in urban and peri-urban areas are essential to guide policy directions. There is a need to take stock of new cities planned in the last century. How they have fared in terms of their original vision? What lessons are there for the future? For example, Navi Mumbai where Tekton has its base is an interesting case-study. The original vision document prepared by Charles Correa, Shirish Patel and Pravina Mehta envisaged a new city across the harbour to open up an east-west axis of development, become a seat of government for the state of Maharashtra and create on the main land an alternate magnet to Mumbai. This vision document for a twin city was first published in the Marg magazine under the erudite editorship of Mulk Raj Anand.5 In the four decades after its conception, Navi Mumbai’s development has taken a form of its own, at variance with the original vision. There is only a sporadic effort in studying and writing about the urbanity in this new city.
Charles Correa himself wrote about what went right and what did not about the implementation of their vision in an essay in a later Marg issue.6 One of his observations was that urban policy cannot be formulated and solutions cannot be implemented in a political vacuum; that cities do not change because of ideas- but because of political will. Gyan Prakash critiques the vision of the plan itself: “The dream city of clear lines and coordinated functions repressed the knowledge of the city as society; the visually rich image of the city by the sea projected the ideal of an urbanism without urbanity.”7
The government now has proposed to develop a hundred new cities in the country. What will their various futures be? Perhaps what is needed is the direction to improve existing cities to create a better and inclusive living experience. A new city is also a misnomer in many ways. This is borne out by a study carried out by the Pillai College of Architecture while listing heritage sites in Navi Mumbai.8 The project showed that the purported ‘new’ city was not a tabula rasa but had, within its boundaries, a palimpsest of urban histories from up to three centuries earlier.
We foresee an abundant scope for adding to the knowledge base of our cities and its architecture. Many original studies carried out in academia are waiting to be disseminated in a structured form in research publications like Tekton. While it is the intention of this journal to feature research papers and critical essays on all aspects of the built environment, Tekton is not intended to be thematic. Despite this, the array of topics in one issue can form a comprehensive set of ideas that constitute a larger discourse.
In addition to the research papers published, Tekton will have two dedicated sections- ‘Practice’ and ‘Dialogue’. The former will consist of essays that bring a specific focus on the practice of architecture or urban planning, exploring modes of practice that bring criticality to disciplines and design methods based on research. We see a renewed need for architects to reflect upon their own practices- to draw out the critical ideas underlying their works. The latter section will feature dialogues with practitioners, academics or policy makers on the ideas and ideologies that shape the narrative of the profession and our many urbanities. The journal will also feature reviews of relevant books and publications. We are particularly interested in featuring books that document or discuss Indian cities, architecture and underlying principles, practices or policies.
In this, the maiden issue of Tekton we are proud to feature several research papers and critical essays:
In her paper, Jyoti P. Sharma describes the role of Public Parks as one of the urban transformative measures undertaken by the colonial state in pursuit of creating civic icons as a markers of authority and order in the post-mutiny period. These company parks had a modernising effect while creating a landscape of leisure. They soon became sites for public mobilisation during the freedom movement. Sharma makes a case for the sensitive conservation of these parks as cultural resource so that they can once again contribute meaningfully in the urban landscapes today.
Amita Sinha makes a case for the recognition of another kind of landscape- a need for post-colonial perspectives in history writing that recognises cultural landscapes. In her paper, she traces the trajectory of historiography for Indian architecture from hegemonic texts of James Fergusson up to the present time. She delineates fault lines of early colonial taxonomies arbitrarily based upon race, religion or region that still influence the way history of architecture is taught today. She advocates a move away from a monument-centric approach to identifying generic cultural, social and ritualistic concepts.
David Edelman writes about a planning workshop in which graduate students prepared a seven sector environmental plan for the city of Mysore in Karnataka and proposed several solutions for real life problems.
Sonam Ambe argues for the employment of Environmental Psychology in the pedagogy of architecture. To illustrate this approach, she presents a study conducted in Mumbai local trains about various coping mechanisms to relieve the stress of extreme crowding during the peak hours. Ambe’s paper shows the advantages of looking outside the discipline to better understand its dynamics.
Parveen Kumar’s paper highlights a pertinent but often overlooked issue of performance analysis of existing buildings. He argues that assessment and monitoring of existing buildings can yield significant energy savings and also help set benchmarks for designing new buildings. In his paper he has outlined a methodology of Building Performance Evaluation to illustrate the argument.
In the section ‘Practice’, Anupama Kundoo, an architect and a pedagogue known for her experiments in Auroville, discusses a mode of practice that transcends the conventional, through the use of installation architecture. She writes about her pavilion ‘Wall House One to One’ exhibited in the 13th architecture biennale at Venice. Kundoo’s essay describes the pavilion’s context and addresses the fundamental question of what can constitute an ‘exhibition’ of architecture.
The first in the series of ‘dialogue’ features Mustansir Dalvi in conversation with Rahul Mehrotra, an influential second generation architect and pedagogue. Responding to penetratingly insightful questions by Dalvi, Mehrotra discusses ideas that shape his multi-disciplinary practice, going beyond simplistic binaries and inverting categories like ‘global’ and ‘local’ to produce exciting and unexpected solutions.
I thank all the contributors for their papers and essays, full of new and critical insights. I thank the members of the editorial board for their guidance and the experts who participated in the blind review process, providing valuable feedback to the researchers to better their contributions. For subsequent issues of Tekton, we invite scholars, academics and practitioners to contribute their research while keeping an academic rigour in their work. We hope that the forthcoming issues will be even more memorable and contribute to the larger contemporary discourse of architecture and planning.
1 There are only a few refereed journals in Architecture published in India. Most started publication in the last decade and a couple of them have set good benchmarks.
2 For more on the concept of fields, see Nancy Adajania’s essay, “‘Global’ Art: Institutional Anxiety and the Politics of Naming”, available at http://www.summeracademy.at/media/pdf/pdf815.pdf
3 See Anirudha Joshi, “Why Designers Do a PhD?” India HCI, 2010, where he mentions that the trend of PhDs in Design is a recent phenomenon and that there are several views on what constitutes design research and its benefits.
4 Vistara was an exhibition of Indian architecture curated for the Festival of India held in countries such as the US, the UK, France and Japan between 1983 and 1986. It was exhibited in Mumbai in 1987. For more information, see Vistara: The Architecture of India, Exhibition Catalogue, Carmen Kagal (ed.), Festival of India, 1986.
5 Marg, a Magazine of the Arts, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, June 1965. This issue was devoted to discussing the municipal draft plan for Bombay and articulating alternative choices. In retrospect, this issue was instrumental in taking the idea of New Bombay forward.
6 Charles Correa, “New Bombay: Marg as an Urban Catalyst,” in Marg, a Magazine of the Arts, Vol. 49 No. 1, 1997, pp. 68-71.
7 Gyan Prakash, Mumbai Fables, New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2010, p.285.
8 Navi Mumbai Heritage Project, carried out by PiCA Research Cell between 2001-2004, for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Heritage Conservation Committee. (MMRDA- HCC). The project was headed by Smita Dalvi, with team members- Mustansir Dalvi, Sanjay Shirgaonkar, Abraham Kovelil and Yatish Chavan.