No Museum for Architecture

by Ruturaj Parikh

A reaction to William JR Curtis‘s piece on India’s Modern Heritage titled ‘Nothing is Sacred.

I have grown up with modern architecture. As a child in Ahmedabad, my father used to take me to climb trees in CEPT campus and play cricket in IIM (which then had no compound wall) while vultures lined the water tank with the fake arch. I have known the Sanskar Kendra to host some nice exhibitions although as a child I never used to like the space. I was taught in architecture to consider it sacred. I am not a fan.

I am not very sure on the definition of heritage in Europe but I know that we do not agree on that. I live in a country where I live in condensed continuities of our past very much in the same milieu but as a citizen of a new layer. I don’t see architecture – of the past and present – as an entity independent of this continuity. And that is why I don’t see a use for a museum for architecture of India. The immovability of architecture ensures that it cannot be de-contextualized.

I am not disturbed by the recent rhetoric in India on development. I believe that my nation is coming to age. I also believe that India has many cushions that have come from India’s civilization that will help mitigate the forces of impatient capital and rash development.

I think it was a mistake to make Chandigarh – a capitol designed by an architect who had no control on planning – a symbol of new India. I cannot understand why a civilization which was capable of imagining Jaipur two centuries ago needs to seek ‘modern’ beyond its borders. I also cannot understand why after all Edwin Lutyens represented, the President of India still lives in the Viceroy’s House. But that is the greatness of India – its architecture cannot be understood in isolation. And I don’t know what is to be achieved by isolating heritage from living continuities.

For me, heritage in India lies in the space for transition. Like the Ghats of Pushkar and the Streets of Mandavi, heritage is always in the making . . . yet always complete.  I do not believe that the buildings of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn permit this continuity. There are no open ends. No space for change. No tolerance. And it is for this exact reason, they will not last. It is sad that they cannot change places like paintings that can change walls.

Again, the immovability of architecture will ensure that pieces like the Mill Owners’ Association Building cannot be acquired by Sotheby’s to go under the hammer. There are no immortal architects and no permanent heritage. I think heritage is only that which is very much present and living. Imagine the Jama Masjid without its prayers. Imagine Varanasi without is bathers. I don’t see a use for either one of them. I am not sure what is sacred to architecture but if architecture is not sacred to people, it has a little chance of surviving change. And everything that is sacred in India is a part of my living heritage – all that has permeated to the layer in which I live.

The immovability of architecture will ensure that there is no museum for it. Imagine the contradiction the day we have one !

About the Author:

Ruturaj Parikh is the Director of the Charles Correa Foundation and one of the Curators of Matter. He was the assistant editor with IA&B (Indian Architect & Builder) magazine from 2010 till 2014.

After graduating from Institute of Environmental Design with Bachelors’ degree in Architecture, he worked with INTACH as a consultant on the Jaiselmer Heritage Project for eight months. He has worked with an Auroville – based studio ‘Dustudio’ (formerly Buildaur) on small projects that make use of alternative technologies, local materials and craft.

Ruturaj was involved in curation of 3 editions of the 361 Degrees Conference – ‘New Spirit in Architecture’, ‘Architecture of Purpose’ and ‘Architecture & Identity’

Ruturaj has lectured at CEPT (Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology), KRVIA (Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture). He lives and works in Goa.

One thought on “No Museum for Architecture”

  1. A followup conversation on Facebook copied here for record !!:

    Riyaz Tayyibji:

    Enjoyed the provocation, Ruturaj!

    I agree in general with your ideas on heritage though am not opposed to the institutional stuardship of that which we collectively value. I am however uncomfortable with a populist process of determining value, more particularly one which is determined by ‘use’ or ‘inhabitation’ alone. Mustn’t we respect our dead and venerate our ancestors?

    I am however in much disagreement with your rhetoric of insider and outsider. I find it too simplistic and historically untenable. Imagine if Madame Montessori had not visited Ahmedabad or Krishnamurti had not had that dialog on time with Bohm! Imagine our food if the Portuguese hadn’t brought chillies, potatoes and tomatoes here from South America….irrespective of what we individually think about their buildings in particular, what the coming of Kahn and Corbusier did was greatly deepen the discourse on Indian architecture. That their buildings are counterpoints to those that existed here only opened up the dialog! I find this line of discussion particularly difficult to reconcile with your earlier idea of the lived continuum. How should we look at the fact that the architect of the Taj Mahal was an apprentice of Mimar Sinan? Or that Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya was a Bengali in Rajasthan (probably anachronistic use on my part), and given the geographical scales of the 18th century, should be seen as a foreigner building Jaipur! How should we define the limits, the boundaries of of our cultural geography? Where does the continuum end?

    In the first part of your response you discuss a temporal continuum that I understand are denied by the idea of heritage and with it, the museum. In the second part you seem to be advocating geographical and cultural limits to who should legitimately makes or contribute to a ‘culture’. The contradiction is provoking!

    Ruturaj Parikh:

    Riyaz sir . . . . I know your discomfort with over-simplification. My reaction is meant to provoke (which it does) with some embedded contradictions (as you have sharply pointed out). I agree with your observation – I am not in any way dismissing the significance of Chandigarh or IIM or any of the venerable modern architectural achievements. I think the issue with architecture is that you cannot not use it. But why does architecture have to die to achieve monumentality? Why do we keep our buildings – like the Mill Owners (where there is a desperate need of re-imagination) on oxygen? It was never our way. We cannot keep them in acrylic boxes.

    I agree with you when you say that my narrative of an insider and outsider is rather naive. It is kept intentionally so. I am in no way undermining (or will I allow to undermine) the contribution of Kahn, Corbusier, Fry, Fuller, Drew and all the stalwarts who looked at an emerging democracy and contributed to the vision.

    My problem lies in the reading of these contributions especially in Europe and America. I think that by limiting the rhetoric on modern architecture in India to Corbusier and Kahn, we do a great disservice to an incredible wealth of ideas and works (Like Doshi’s LIC and works of Laurie Baker) that were products of very different concerns – modern nonetheless. Again, this is a simplified reaction to William J.R. Curtis’s piece where I see a dangerous blind spot (especially contributing to the academic discourse in the west) where a problem is over-simplified through one repeated and symbolic example (call it the Dharavi effect).

    My text is contradictory because in no circumstance I wanted to ascribe physical or imaginary lines which define inside and outside. I think powerful ideas permeate cultural diaphragms. But my concern is with the highly predictable line of enquiry when we talk about Modern Architecture in India (remember a conversation between Doshiji and Curtis at CEPT during the last KV Forum ?). All roads can be traced to Rome – that does not mean that they only lead there.

    Riyaz Tayyibji:

    Ruturaj, I agree with your criticism of the reading of modern architecture in India, particularly the simplistic reading of it being driven by Kahn and Corbusier. This as you say is a peculiar reading emanating from Europe and America. However there is an implied politics to your discussion which if viewed in the international context means something, and if viewed in the context of our local (Indian) political trajectory has quite another meaning. This is also an interesting aspect of your provocation!

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