Thank you for inviting me here today. It is with fond memories that I return to BMS. I met my wife, Sunitha, here and it was here that I realized that Architecture was only a backdrop for the more serious and interesting things in life, like the crispy vadas at SLV, or the ‘study’ trips to Goa, or of course the politics of the NASA Unit Secretary elections. The five years I spent here were probably the best I can remember. I was also lucky to be part of a group of incredibly gifted guys like Nagaraj Vastarey, a guru for us all, Sandeep, Vimal and Manoj, Anup, Thomas, Srini and Hareesh, and of course Jitender Makkar. Many have since gone on to set up successful practices and carry with them that distinctive BMS trait of nonchalance coupled with intense ambition. So once again thanks for inviting me back.
Though you have suggested I talk on ‘attitude’, I propose another noun - Imperative. It is a bit more activist, and requires commitment - an imperative demands immediate attention. So to begin lets talk about imperatives. Or to keep with the program lets talk about ‘arch-imperatives’.
My brother, Premjit, and I are currently making a film on BV Doshi. We have spent many days with him, traveling to some of his projects and talking with him at length about architecture and life. This experience has had a profound impact on both of us. Doshi’s work is contentious. There are the great successes like The Indology Museum (30), the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad (40), his office (52), and of course IIM B (50), but there is also the incredible failure of the Diamond Bourse (65). But architecture is only a small part of the man. We found in him the intense desire to instigate change, to inspire ambition, and to tease out generosity. His great contribution lies in the actualization of these intentions through the orchestration of his clients, of the society and of academia. We have stopped, as a profession, to be this agent of change. We have lost the inclination to influence the powers that be on issues pertaining to city form and planning. We sigh at the deteriorating fabric of our city and the dwindling public institutions around us but play no part in participating or initiating a dialogue with the community at large or its representatives.
The Ahmedabad of the 50s and 60s was very different from the Bangalore of today. Ahmedabad is one of very few cities in the country that developed without significant colonial impetus. The success of the city was primarily due to the enterprise of its local industrialists and textile merchants. Doshi’s arrival in Ahmedabad was perfectly timed - Nehru’s invitation to Corbusier to design Chandigarh fundamentally altered the nature of patronage and architectural practice in the country.
Corbusier’s celebrity status as a visionary architect was a new paradigm and Doshi’s subsequent rise as a practitioner and instigator of large scale institution building in Ahmedabad may have been in some part a result of the change in the way people perceived the role of an architect. Having said that, Doshi’s success is also the result of his incredible charisma and his ability to influence people. We no longer find the need to take on this role of instigator and there doesn’t really seem to be either a political will or inspired patronage and our city shows the result of this apathy.
So the first Imperative is to Instigate, to Inspire, to Engage - Instigate the client, Inspire the contractor and Engage the city. Every project offers itself up to be special, to be aspirational, to be generous. At the larger scale we need to begin addressing the community with our work and with our ideas - without this dialogue our many award winning architects will remain anonymous and self serving.
We used to, in my time at school, talk a lot about community. The search for a place for communal activity in the most profane buildings seemed to ennoble these. All our projects had otlas, kattes, and public squares or plazas. In some subliminal way Doshi’s lessons had reached us and this integration of community has continued to play an important part in the work of all the people I have mentioned earlier. This then is the Imperative to create a milieu, to create an environment, to talk about experience.
This preempts the question of form and of inhabitation. The search for a resolution of Form externally is in many ways the primary agenda for us architects. Internal spatial organizations need to cohere in a way that externally they imply carefully scaled, proportioned and meaningful conditions. This is the primary game. This resolution is the holy grail of architecture and in this resolution we need to integrate meaning, community and context. Context has become the most contentious word in our vocabulary. It means nothing or everything depending on who you ask. Its definition varies widely and it is either all-inclusive are all-exclusive depending on how you see it. This is a non-issue. Contexts exist.
One does not build in isolation - there is a history and a present at any site. It is critical to acknowledge these parameters of fabric, of orientation, of visibility, of access, of location, etc. Every sensitive architect irrespective of their theoretical leanings addresses these issues in his or her unique way. The Carpenter Center addresses context by making connections, the Guggenheim addresses context by establishing contrast and cleverly siting it, just as Piano/Rogers Pompidou addresses context through reinventing the way the community and public institutions interact. So this is the Imperative to Integrate, to respond, to contribute.
These first three imperatives are familiar and they pertain to the architectural product and its impact. This next imperative is to do with the architectural process and the role of the architect in negotiating the making of the product...Processes have fundamentally changed and many new concerns like the environment, the availability of building materials, and the actual making of architecture require a reassessment of the design process.
I am currently working on a commission for a developer who has given us a very nebulous program. The problem with this is the options he needs are all service intensive and if we do not fix their locations we cannot finalise the schema. I have begun questioning our role as architects on this project. We are required to help develop the brief with the client - this assumes some basic understanding of how the speculative real estate market works, what is being done in the city by potential competitors, and how we are to package our own project or ‘brand’ it as it is fashionably now known. These are new roles for me. They imply an understanding of real estate economics, advertising and city planning/infrastructure far beyond my training. How does one go about doing this? Added to this conundrum is the issue of sustainability, which now is a blanket buzzword which overrides all other concerns we may have as architects. So we are now often in large rooms with a contingent of consultants, playing a rather insignificant role coordinating information and trying to stay ahead of the barrage of new information at the end of every such mela. So this new scenario requires intense and regular updates of one’s knowledge base and a quick response time on design...This is the Imperative to relearn, to refresh, and to be accountable. We are sorely lagging behind in this process and I often find myself resisting the need to refocus my attention to issues that were hitherto unheard of. It is a challenging time - a time of fundamental change - and a time for reevaluation.
I envy all of you students. This is the best time you will probably ever have. This is the time of freedom, of unhindered creativity. After you graduate comes the time of budgets, constraints, negotiations, and compromises. Professional practice does have its rewards, after all you do get to see things actually built - and irrespective of how badly it is built this still gives one an immense sense of accomplishment, but you guys need to know the process by which an idea gets resolved through drawings and models - this is the purest, most enjoyable part of the job. You shouldn’t miss these years - go all out and invest everything you have in this resolution. I guess this is the imperative to dream big.
Department of Architecture, BMS College of Engineering