LE CORBUSIER AND M K GANDHI: AN UNLIKELY DIALOGUE

Riyaz Tayyibji

A Recorded Lecture from FRAME Conclave 2019: Modern Heritage


In this lecture, Riyaz Tayyibji speaks about a fictional conversation between M K Gandhi and Le Corbusier. Through the dialogue, he discusses their relationship with work and lifestyle, and their intimate connection with the inside and the outside.

Edited Transcript

Before I get to the two gentlemen that I would like to talk about today, a short note about the method I have used of juxtaposing two seemingly unrelated people together; this was a method that was first introduced to us as students of Prof. A.D. Raje, who would give students an exercise to imagine a conversation between, say Louis Kahn and Mimar Sinan at a coffee shop in Istanbul. This is certainly not a historian’s method; it is an architect’s method. An approach that would not only require the rigours of research to imagine the content of the conversation but would allow you to play with these ‘facts’ and their interpretations. In Raje’s exercise, the hypothetical context, the coffee shop was important. You had to define the hypothetical time in which the conversation was taking place. Somewhere in the process, it would emerge that this ‘hypothetical time’ was really a mirror of our own time.

Often the narrative of the present in which our history is written remains covert. One of the things that I enjoy about this method is that it ensures that the preoccupations of our own time are integrated into the narrative while always remaining explicit. Given the formality of our gathering today, I have chosen the form of a dialogue between one, Mr. M.K. Gandhi and another, Le Corbusier rather than a causal chat in a Byzantine café. 

Dialogue was of great importance to M.K. Gandhi. In December 1925, Gandhi began writing An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. In this serial exercise, spread over 166 installments published weekly in the Navjivan (Young India), the Indian Opinion (a paper that Gandhi had started in Johannesburg), and the American journal, Unity, Gandhi invited readers to respond to current installments while he worked on those to follow. Gandhi published the critical responses, often acknowledging his errors, but never changing the original text. These writings, he said, were driven by the “dweller-within,” rather than by an overall plan to present the reader with a “book.” In this approach then, Gandhi opens up the insular writing process of the modern literary form of the autobiography to the possibility of dialogue.

For Gandhi then the dialogue is of particular importance. It is a two-part process of first having an internal conversation with yourself with ‘a small, still voice’ within and then with the other. As Prem has already pointed out in some detail this morning, this internal conversation is an absolutely necessary part of the dialogue, without which it deteriorates into posturing of various kinds. Dialogue is also a process between two necessarily different people or peoples. Gandhi thought this difference to be very useful if taken as critique and used for introspection. He understood that the internal agitation one feels when confronted with a difference has the potential for violence, and he considered dialogue the praxis by which this violence is turned inwards. Turning violence inwards is what Georges Bataille calls sacrifice. Sacrifice is an intrinsic part of Gandhi’s praxis of non-violence. 

Gandhi applies the same logic to ‘civilisational dialogue’ without which he believes that there will be an exponential scale of violence. Civilisational dialogues are not formal diplomatic talks between heads of state, it is the engagement of citizens from different civilisations on an equal footing, like one between him and Le Corbusier. What Gandhi would object to most is if Le Corbusier assumed a default, a priory position of superiority, say for example, simply subscribing to the secular scientific worldview of the West. To him, the dialogue is not possible if any one of the two assumes a position of superiority of any kind. 

One can actually imagine quite easily that such a sense of superiority is precisely the position that (Le Corbusier), a young Charles Edouard Jeanneret would take, with his peculiarly aggressive West European chauvinism. Like Gandhi, he would publish his first writings while still in his twenties, two books: The condition of the Decorative Arts and Crafts in France and Germany and the second, France or Germany? These are precocious writings of someone who at that age has the ambition to write and re-write history. The second book is in effect a defence of French artists accused at the time of being German agents planting ideas into the French cultural milieu. In essence, what Corbusier argues is that when it comes to the liberal arts, Germany may well be its epicenter but when it comes to the visual arts, it is all France. Whatever Germany has learned in the arts is from France, so there is no need to worry about the planted ideas. I share this because it is indicative of the nature of nationalism and chauvinism to superiority that was prevalent in Europe at the time and from which Le Corbusier was far from immune. 

At this time in Europe, the idea of dialogue was embedded in the discourse on the democratic process. If there was one thing that Corbusier was not, it was a Democrat. As is well known now, Corbusier flirted with every possible political orientation from the radical left to the far right in an effort to get his designs built, but never would he endear himself to democracy which he considered a messy impediment to design. He certainly considered very few people his equals and therefore would assume that the rest were not capable of dialogue. He would bypass such lowlies and directly find an approach to captains of industries, owners of corporations, highly placed bureaucrats, and heads of state. He felt that these were the people who were in a position and with the experience to understand new ideas. 

It is my understanding that Corbusier flirted with fascist regimes precisely because he understood that centralised power systems were the only place where he could find the concentrated capital to finance his enormous urban plans. However, Corbusier would have no qualms in rehashing parts of the Plan Voisin for the left-wing government of 1935 and presenting it as social housing, his insalubrious Block No 6 (referring to slide 03). 

His political oscillations have of course tainted his public reputation but they also strained his personal relationships to breaking point. In 1937 he would lose his partner, engineer, and cousin Pierre Jeanneret from his practice, and his furniture collaborations with Charlotte Perriande would dissolve for similar reasons. 

That Corbusier had a difficulty, was challenged, (to use the politically correct terminology of our time) with external dialogue does not exclude that he was deeply engrossed in an inner dialogue with his own ‘small, still voice’ within. In fact, Corbusier talks about this often and in many ways, saying that we should ‘involve’ our ‘own self in every question’ and suggesting that there is an internal poetic conversation that drives what he calls his ‘Patient Search’. Tributaries to this search are his travels that stimulate his engagement with material cultures from across the world. Corbusier will often ruminate about these engagements as his adventures and explorations. [It is interesting that he calls them adventures and explorations, similar kinds of engagements Gandhi refers to as experiments. It is interesting that an experiment requires a kind of closed or controlled environment and that environment for Gandhi is the body; but perhaps that is another discussion.]

Corbusier would often ruminate about these engagements as his adventures and explorations by which he could be referring to a transatlantic voyage or equally to a focused study in the confines of his Cabanon, of what he called ‘objects of poetic reaction’, shells, stones, and other flotsam that he may have picked up from the beach at Cap Martin or simple everyday objects around his studio or home. 

Perhaps of his early publications, it is only ‘The Poem of the Right Angle’ that gives us an inkling into the working of his inner world. His ideas of radiance, “lines spurting out as if produced by an explosion” the potential with banal material to make our modern world radiant. It is this mythopoetic internal conversation that drives him to develop the Plan Voisin through the contemporary city Ville Contemporaine for three million to the Villa Radieuse which as Flora Samuel says “is closer to a theogony than a town planning guide”.

Since 2002 a series of books have been published with Corbusier’s personal letters to his family, mentors, and closest friends. There are more than 6000 letters, of which about half are to his mother to whom he wrote at least once a week for over 50 years. He had an intense and complex relationship with her often trying to convince her that he, and not his elder brother Albert was the great one of the family. In these letters, there is often a very different Jeanneret from the public Le Corbusier we know. In a letter to his mother in 1954, he writes, “I will wake up every morning feeling in the skin of a fool… old nitwit Corbu is a funny guy who will snuff it in a madhouse”. He was acutely aware of the split between his inner and outer selves that caused him to fluctuate from flaunting his artistic ability to the likes of Mussolini, Picasso, or Einstein to bouts of extreme insecurity that was never public. I believe it is for this reason that he completely separated the two in forming his new identity as he moved to Paris. He writes to his mother, “Le Corbusier is a pseudonym, Le Corbusier does architecture alone. He is an entity released from the burden of flesh. Charles Edouard Jeanneret is a man of flesh and blood who has experienced all the radiant and desperate adventures of a rather turbulent life.” 

This split – this disintegration that Charles Edouard Jeanneret gives form to in creating the public mask of Le Corbusier is driven by the needs of vocation. He was not the only one who would do this. Mies would add ‘van der Rohe’ a pseudonym with connotations of Dutch nobility which reshaped his persona and identity. 

We are now so accustomed to this split that we tend to justify it effortlessly, the divergence of our inner and outer worlds is accepted as what the world requires of the professional, the specialist, and the technician. Ashish Nandy points out that it is this technician and not technology that Gandhi rejects. He also rejects a world that demands technicians, a world he refers to as modern civilisation which follows a Western scientific and secular worldview that leads to a consciousness that isolates cognition from feelings and ethics, and partitions Man from the subjects of inquiry emotionally. This is the state of the technologist, whose individuality is robbed of the possibility of salvation through a personal search. For Gandhi, a modernity without the possibility of transcendence is an amoral modernity. For Gandhi, the possibility of transcendence is embedded in the correct enactment of daily practices toward spiritual liberation and not in an external longed-for utopia. Utopias lead directly to violence. 

And there is violence. That ordered beauty of Paris could not have been achieved without violence. Without the lives of the hundreds of thousands on whose deaths it was built. We walk the boulevards of Paris in awe, almost forgetting to ask – where has all the diversity gone? 6 million Jews, 9 million others. To order diversity requires immense violence. That ordered beauty of Paris could not have happened without displacement that only forty years earlier had been caused by Haussmann and Napoléon III blasting through the medieval fabric of Paris. Marshall Berman writes, “alongside the glitter, the rubble: the ruins of a dozen inner-city neighbourhoods the city’s oldest, darkest, densest, most wretched and most frightening neighbourhoods, home to tens of thousands of Parisians-razed to the ground. Where would all these people go? Those in charge of demolition and reconstruction did not particularly concern themselves. They were opening up vast new tracts for development on the northern and eastern fringes of the city; in the meantime, the poor would make do, somehow, as they always did. Haussmann’s boulevards transform the exotic into the immediate; the misery that was once a mystery is now a fact.” 

For many of Corbusier’s generation, Hausman’s actions were heroic. Andre Morizet would be the first to write a thorough and complete account in praise of the Haussmannisation of Paris in 1932. Robert Moses, Haussmann’s most illustrious and notorious successor, would write a decade later – “Let it be said to Baron Haussmann’s eternal credit that he grasped the problem of step-by-step large-scale city modernisation.” The new construction wrecked hundreds of buildings, displaced uncounted thousands of people, and destroyed whole neighbourhoods that had lived for centuries. “But it opened up the whole of the city, for the first time in its history, to all its inhabitants. Now, at last, it was possible to move not only within neighbourhoods but through them. Now, after centuries of life as a cluster of isolated cells, Paris was becoming a unified physical and human space”.

When Corbusier arrives in Paris, he is completely drenched in this spirit of violence. Remember he arrives in 1917 when the first World War is in full swing. Who would think of arriving in Paris at such a time when it was being regularly bombed by Zeppelins and Big Berthas, history’s first long-range cannons. On one such night, Corbusier runs out into the streets during a raid challenging destiny to take him. There were many radicals who had openly wished for the bombing of parts of Paris during the war so that these could be rebuilt with a vision of the new. The furious enchantment of war was not restricted to Paris alone. This radical aggressive fervour had gripped the whole of Europe at the time. Marinetti’s futurist manifesto reads: “We want to glorify war – the only cure for the world – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, and the beautiful ideas which kill.”

As tragic irony would have it that many of the futurists would succumb to war. Most did not make it to their 30th birthday. You see the thing is that by this time Corbusier is getting very uncomfortable and it is at this point in the dialogue where he gets up and says, “Mr. Gandhi I do not agree with you”. If according to you, a technologist is one whose individuality is robbed of the possibility of salvation through a personal search, then I, Le Corbusier have proved you wrong. I have always proudly proclaimed myself and the world knows this that I am a technologist and yet I am totally committed to a personal ‘Patient Search’. 

To this, Gandhi asks Corbusier to sit down, leans across with an impish smile, and asks very softly, “but Jeanneret, are you really a technologist?”

The official word out on the street, planted by Corbusier himself is that he was a technologist. In ‘Toward an Architecture’ he famously valourises the engineer, the ocean liner, the aeroplane and the automobile.  There are beautiful photographs of these, some carefully cropped for maximum visual effect. In 1935 Corbusier would write a beautiful book titled ‘Aircraft’. He was commissioned to focus on and present the industrial design of the aircraft, but he chose to widen his subject to aviation as a cultural and social phenomenon. The book captures the enthusiasm of the aerial age, opening with the ecstatic feeling of flight, progressing to the symbolic value of the aeroplane as the epitome of modern engineering and technology. And when it does get down to the machine, he talks about it in terms of the ‘cleanliness of function’.  Finally, Corbusier ends the book with a text on the emergence of the bird’s eye view. “The Bird’s Eye view Man will use of it to conceive new aims. Cities will arise out of their ashes” 

Now the thing is that I come from a ‘khandaan’ of automobile enthusiasts, the motorcycle, the car, the plane, all these machines are the toys that we play with from youth, and when I say we, it is not a gendered we. We are technicians, mechanics even, and the way Corbusier talks about vehicles is not how we would. If there is one thing that is incongruous here it is the absence of the internal combustion engine, the mechanics of propulsion, the how-it-works angle of things, the get-your-goddamn-hands-dirty angle to things. I have no doubt of Corbusier’s enthusiasm for the machine but it is an innocent one akin to mine in my growing up years doodling cars and bikes in my Hindi textbook without the reality of having to change a flat tire 180 kilometers from the next town.

I understand that ‘Toward an Architecture’ has its own rhetoric and that the automobile is presented accordingly, but even when Corbusier enters a car design completion in 1936, there is nothing mechanical about it, nothing technical about his entry. He approaches the problem through anthropometry to suggest an architecture for the car. 

Gandhi’s Story with the machine could not be more opposite. In Hind Swaraj, he is scathing in his critique of the machine. He agrees with Corbusier that it is the ‘symbol of the modern age’ but adds that the ‘machine is a great sin’ for what is does to the psychology of man. He tempers his view gradually across his life and at one point admitting that the Singer sewing machine is amongst the most useful things ever invented. Strangely in the 1870s the American Singer company had sent a marketing person across to India to look at the sales potential in the country, he had returned with the view that India was culturally not ready for the insertion of their machines and hence there was no market for it here.

In 1908 when Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj, his views though provocatively stated were not very different from those of many others. There were two British attitudes at the time one “that the machine could be used as a tool for the social and cultural improvement of India and the slightly countervailing view that introducing technological advancements into India was inappropriate, undesirable, and impractical. George Birdwood a member of the medical services systematically extolled the virtues of India’s traditional crafts and looked upon the intrusion of modern machines into the Indian countryside as a kind of blasphemy, an aesthetic as well as the technological disaster that risked exposing India to the worst excesses of Britain’s squalid and socially divisive industrialisation. In a remarkable guide to the Indian section of the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1878, Birdwood eulogised India’s village crafts while expressing “great dread” at the prospect of India being swamped by Western manufacturers”. So as misplaced as Gandhi’s views may seem in the context of our time or in comparison to the historical context that Le Corbusier found himself in, his views were really quite the order of the day. We must also remember that the kind of machines that were to modernise India are not the grand machines of Le Corbusier’s ‘Toward an Architecture’ – the aircraft, the liner, and the car, they are what David Arnold calls ‘Everyday Technologies’ – the sewing machine, the typewriter, the bicycle, the gramophone and later, the radio. These are domestic products that start their transformational action from within the privacy of the home and would then dramatically transform the cultural landscape. 

In continuation with his experiments with materials, Gandhi would move from food, timber, and leather to cloth. He would be introduced to a 10-spindle Charkha by Shrimati Ganga Ben Majumdar who had discovered it in Vijapur in the former Baroda State and now in Mehsana District in North Gujarat. The rest as they say is history.

We all know that Gandhi transformed this machine from an everyday economic tool to one of social and political significance. In this, he and Corbusier are much alike. They both understand the symbolic potential of the machine in the modern world. Gandhi also understands the relationship between this symbolism and design. He organises what is arguably India’s first design competition first in 1919, and then in 1929. The competition brief was for “a portable charkha that spins at least three pounds of even and well-twisted yarn in eight hours. The charkha must be made of parts capable of being manufactured in India, and must not cost more than Rupees 50.” It should be noted that at that time a Singer sewing machine would cost about Rupees 60. In 1919 the prize money for the winning entry was Rupees 5000 but the mediocre responses that trickled in led to a recalibration in 1929 for a prize money of 1 Lakh Rupees. This is where Gandhi is extraordinary; he did not just pass judgment on the entries. As we know Gandhi himself is spinning every day. Through this practice, he develops a twelve-spindle charkha and the portable “Yerawada” charkha that allowed him to spin while traveling – a portable spinning wheel, or what we can in jest call a ‘laptop charkha’. Gandhi understood the complete modern relationship between movement and work. This is not all, Gandhi makes some highly technical changes and innovations to the Charkha which improve the aerodynamics of the wheel to achieve a finer yarn and more yield.  He is not an inert user of the machine; he is a tinkerer, an experimenter and in this Gandhi has a far more intimate relationship with the machine than Le Corbusier. Not an argument you would easily accept after reading both Hind Swaraj and Toward an Architecture. 

When one questions Corbusier’s public commitment to the machine, one starts seeing things a bit differently. In his book ‘Précisions‘, in the American Preface, Corbusier gives one of the most evocative descriptions of flying over South America. “At 500 to 1000 meters altitude, and at 180 to 200 kilometers an hour, the view from a plane is not rushed but slow, unbroken, the most precise one can wish: one can recognise the red or black spots on a cow’s skin. Everything takes on the precision of a tracing: the spectacle is not rushed but very slow, unbroken. Along with the plane, it is only the steamer at sea or the feet of the pedestrian on the road that can give what may be called sight at the human scale. One see and the eye transmits calmly. Whereas what I call inhuman and hellish are the sights offered from trains and automobiles and even bicycles.” 

The automobile, hellish and inhuman? The Aeroplane and Liner valid only for their association with walking? It is clear that it is not the machine or the technology that excites Corbusier; it is the potential for movement, and with movement comes speed. And there is a right speed and that right speed is the speed of walking. Elsewhere Corbusier says “An architecture must be walked through and traversed, architecture may be judged as dead or living by the degree to which the rule of movement has been disregarded or brilliantly exploited”.

This is not surprising when we remember that Corbusier’s father was an avid mountaineer and that Corbusier’s youth was spent walking in the Jura landscape, but it does raise the question, ‘where is this love for walking in his cities?’ Having organised his urban proposals to the speed of the automobile what is the site of this ‘right speed of walking’? This is where Corbusier as he often does goes back to history. In the modern conception of the city “the street is the indelible print of the city”, but an earlier renaissance conception looks at the building as the basic unit of urban development. After having distributed the infrastructure as a necessity of modern life, it is the building that Corbusier returns to, to embed his intimate conception of walking with the idea of the architectural promenade. To come home then is not to return to the static idea of shelter but to an environment that allows you to live at the right speed. Part of what he calls, ‘Savoir Habiter: the right way to live.’ 

 We must now look at Corbusier’s houses in terms of speed, of how quickly or slowly we move through them. We have been looking at this in our office and here are some of our initial studies. Compare the manner we are shot through the vertical urban block at Garche and the more languid movement at Savoye. Notice how the path of movement at Garche is not allowed to leak, lest it loses its spatial pressure and slows the flow. This explains why after making the grand gesture of the patio towards the garden, the dining room does not open onto it in a significant manner. Contrastingly at the suburban Savoye, a relaxed body moves upwards while the eyes are excited by dynamic, diagonal vistas that allow lines of sight to spurt outwards as one moves to the terrace garden. In both houses, we inhabit a topography of movement, like walking in the hills, not in the plains. The composition is of movement and speed, and not the spaces of function, and these take on more complex forms in Corbusier’s public buildings. With this, it is absolutely clear to me that Corbusier is searching for an intimacy with movement, with speed and not with the technologies that create it. 

This leads me to ask whether walking and this intimacy with movement in any way leaks into the other areas of Corbusier’s urbanism? By which I mean that do we sense that there is a desire for intimacy at any other level in his urban plans? Surely from our geographical, political, and economic juncture in history today, we cannot criticise Corbusier for the megalomania of his proposed utopias. In the ninety years since, we have built larger with less thought and certainly little social content. How then without hypocrisy can we look at what I can only call prophecies of urbanism? (Referring to Slide 13) To the right is Mumbai’s proposed Coastal Road plan.

I think partly the reading of Corbusier’s proposals have been based on the assumption that I mentioned earlier of the building as the unit of urbanity. This leads us to read, as most of Corbusier’s critics have, of the proposal composed of buildings that are ten kilometers long. But our experience of urbanity tells us a different story, it tells us that buildings problematise the clear lines of infrastructural relationships. One has to only experience the space under the Mumbai flyovers or under the Bangalore metro line, where life is steaming. This is not a ten-kilometer-long building with a highway on top of it. This is a ten-kilometer highway inhabited by a building (referring to slide 14). 

I think partly Corbusier himself is responsible for this singular reading as he largely presents his urban plans from above, that excitement of the aerial that he just cannot let go of. But when you imagine seeing his proposals from below and imagine the porosity with a longing for the pastoral, you recognise a diagram for inhabitation. A strategy for making the far thing near. Intimacy. Once again, he uses the building; architecture as the site and the tool for making the city intimate. Corbusier is not alone in this but what separates him from the likes of Sant’Elia who also give architectural form to infrastructure, is the porosity that he achieves. Without porosity, there can be no continuity of inhabitation.

For Gandhi, walking has a very different importance. He first becomes aware of it as a means to economic thrift and physical comfort in London. From living at twelve pounds a month, he is able to reduce his costs to three pounds a month by walking everywhere through the city. Walking the city allows him to become familiar with it. He writes a guide for Indian students coming to London and advises them to walk to counter the weather. In South Africa, the racial restrictions on a bicycle and vehicular use for certain people makes walking a political act, which Gandhi develops into the Great March of 1913, a precursor to his most famous act of walking to Dandi.  The march is a political walk with a community of people. Whereas for Corbusier, walking is an individual experience, for Gandhi it has public consequences. Later in life, when Gandhi is politically marginalised and retreats inwards, he looks at the ability to walk as an indicator of health. 

It is clear to me that the dialogue between Gandhi and Corbusier is a dance of movement from inward out and outward in. If Corbusier is the master choreographer of intimacy, Gandhi is its finest mechanic. While Corbusier understands and wants to control the impact of the environment on behaviour, Gandhi understands that by controlling one’s behaviour, one can transform the environment. I think it is important here to say that I am still clarifying what I mean by intimacy. For now, I understand it as a relationship with the world with an inward trajectory toward the self. This returns us to the idea of the self and the internal conversation one has to have to become a modern individual. For both Gandhi and Corbusier, the place for this conversation is their study. For both of them, the office is a separate place for worldly relationships. For Corbusier, the study and the studio was where he wrote and painted, and where he clarified before heading to the atelier. Gandhi’s routine started at 4 AM and would have several returns to the study interspersed with his other responsibilities at the Ashram. 

This is Hriday Kunj in Ahmedabad at the Sabarmati Ashram (referring to slide 17), his study (referring to slide 18) which is a room on the verandah; interestingly he finds this ostentatious and too large. That is his house Bapu Kuti at Wardha, which was much smaller (referring to slide 19), in which the study is under a loft (referring to slide 20 and 21) which gives it incredible intimacy and from where he is able to look out. The relationship with the outside is important to both Corbusier and Gandhi. The continuity of space from the inside to the verandah to the outside of the Ashram, which is treed. Different degrees of inside-ness and outside-ness. That is the plan of the Ashram at Wardha (referring to slide 23).

This is Corbusier’s Cabanon at Cap Martin (referring to slide 26). 3.66 x 3.66 cubic meter wooden prefabricated cabin that he made and lived in. Interestingly both Corbusier and Gandhi use these spaces for the last fifteen years of their life.

What is interesting is that Corbusier attaches the Cabanon to a restaurant of a friend. And the various activities that you have to perform in daily life are distributed over the entire landscape of the site. He only works and sleeps at the Cabanon itself. He has got (referring to slide 28 ) what you see in the top right-hand corner, his workshop which is where he goes to make things. He eats at the restaurant. There is a toilet in the cabin but there is no bathing space. There is a shower outside so he bathes outside. We know that both Gandhi and Corbusier when they used these spaces, were often naked. Corbusier would paint and work naked, and Gandhi, it was well known that while he was bathing or in the toilet, he would dictate letters to his secretary and his biographer. Anybody could walk in while he was in the toilet to talk to him about important political matters. And it is really interesting that a man who comes from a Baniya family, over the course of his life becomes completely comfortable and at ease with his body.

That is the site of the Cabanon and that is the site plan (referring to slide 29) that you can see, Eileen Grey’s E-1027 is there as well. That is the site (referring to slide 30)

At the beginning of the book Modern Architecture: A Critical History, Kenneth Frampton identifies two general indicators of modernity for architecture, the first is the “sudden increase in man’s capacity to exercise control over nature”. The second is the “fundamental shift that took place in human consciousness”. It is on the first point, man’s capacity to exercise control over nature, therefore technology and material culture, that most architectural history is centered. The inner and the outer are rarely considered together, in fact, the reading of history seems to exaggerate the distance between the inner and the outer. The inner and the outer are rarely considered together which is why I think that it has been very difficult to articulate an ethic for modern architecture. I do not mean a personal ethic. I mean the ethic of the profession. Like the practice of medicine has the ‘Hippocratic Oath‘ and the practice of law has the concept of Justice.

If Corbusier were to take Gandhi’s challenge from Hind Swaraj to define a professional ethic, the ethic of architecture would be to create an intimacy in the physical world. Only a building with that intimacy with the physical can claim to be architecture, only one who can create this intimacy is an architect. We know that Gandhi by altering his behavior could inhabit a jail, a house, or as a temple as he did at Yerawada. He understood that the banal matter, as Corbusier called it, could be inhabited in different ways in order to create new relationships. Whereas Corbusier would put the onus on the building to create these relationships, to be radiant. Gandhi would put it on the rituals of inhabitation that one had to change. But one had to change to be intimate with the physical world.  

By this ethical definition, we would have to call both Corbusier and Gandhi, architects. However, Gandhi had a larger project, Satyagraha the search for truth, to find his maker, a oneness with the world, an intimacy with the entire universe, perhaps that is why we have called him the Mahatma. 

I would like to end with a return to the pedagogical method of Anant Raje. Raje believed in the ethic of architecture and as an educator assumed that it was as important to transmit this ethic to the student. He is remembered as a taskmaster who drilled the skills and the rules of the game into you, but if you played hard, you would find a way to make his programs yours. It was through this play that you understood intimacy, and it was where the possibility of you becoming an architect lay. Correa, Doshi, Kanvinde and others may have been more prolific, but Raje will be remembered as the conscience of his generation of Indian modern architects. ♦


Riyaz Tayyibji is a practicing architect and partner at Anthill Design, Ahmedabad. He is also actively involved in architectural documentation, research, and academics. He has been an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Architecture, CEPT University, and the coordinator of the Gandhi Heritage Sites Mission to document the buildings made by and related to the life of M.K. Gandhi. He has curated exhibitions on the architecture and urbanity of Ahmedabad and has published a guide to the city’s architecture. He is now the project lead for the Ahmedabad World Heritage City project, NIUA (National Institute of Urban Affairs).


FRAME is an independent, biennial professional conclave on contemporary architecture in India curated by Matter and organised in partnership with H & R Johnson (India) and Takshila Educational Society. The intent of the conclave is to provoke thought on issues that are pertinent to pedagogy and practice of architecture in India. The first edition was organised on 16th, 17th and 18th August 2019.

Organisation and Curation: MATTER
Supported by: 
H & R Johnson (India) and Takshila Educational Society

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