Projects in the public domain are not ordinarily facilitated by a direct dialogue between the architect and the end-user. Instead, they deal with multiple agencies or a singular representative body, depending on the nature of the work. Operating within two distinct frameworks but catering to a public at large, the GKD Crematorium and the Railway Station in Coimbatore designed by Chennai-based Mancini Enterprises Pvt Ltd explore the possibilities in the many constraints and contradictions of privately-funded public projects, where the resulting architecture is an informed alternative that is both, applied and strategic.
Architecture in post-independence India played a critical role in the task of nation-building, a project supported by the State and a significant number of goodwill citizens. Since the wave of a largely ‘privatised’ global economy, the profession like many other service sectors, is inevitably sustained by an industrial commerce. However, this notion has witnessed a change of perception in the recent years with several professionals collaborating with not-for-profit organisations and other institutions operating in the public-private interface, as a means to initiate a design dialogue that holds significant value for a society.
With the dawn of a different kind of architecture in the public domain that is unassumingly responsive to set-requirements by virtue of a diligent design process, it appears that the “fundamental difference between public and private projects is not just defined by the agencies involved but also the amount of trust that is bestowed on the collective vision of the private donors and the architects, by the authorities representing the public. Once this trust is established, the process of design is not really compromised as opposed to the general perception”, clarifies Niels Schoenfelder, Principal Architect.
Addressing the practice of architecture in the public realm, it must be acknowledged that there exists a fundamental difference between ‘architecture in the public domain’ and ‘public architecture’- the distinction primarily being one of the involved agencies, depending on the ownership and monetary source. Set within an intricate web of dynamics, architecture today has resurfaced as an effective design aid in the public realm adopting a different approach to practice by way of collaboration across diverse specialisations. In this new equation where the current economic, ecological and political climates provoke architecture to confront its own priorities and assumptions, how could these broader relationships help to redefine the role of patronage in architecture?
The Takshila Lecture on Architecture and Society is delivered by an eminent professional / academician that addresses growing disparity between the practice and pedagogy of Architecture in India, and the realities of our social, cultural and economic contexts. The lecture and the following dialogue aim to challenge the status-quo with a conviction that an open and honest conversation on the state of practice will instigate positive change.
Architecture BRIO, one of the most versatile amongst emerging practices in India, has been able to create projects with a refreshing sense of newness and surprise. This piece is an attempt to understand the key ingredients of their design process with an emphasis on the act of drawing as a negotiator of ideas.
In 2006, Shefali Balwani and Robert Verrijt established their practice – Architecture BRIO after returning from Sri Lanka where they worked with Channa Daswatte. Their initial projects were designed for Magic Bus – a non-profit organisation and entailed very efficiently resolved simple structures that enable ideas of play and interaction to manifest. Since then, their practice has engaged with works of various scales and typologies with sites in the peri-urban region of Mumbai, across India and South-East Asia. The portfolio is significantly diverse with the common themes that concern tectonics of site, formal and spatial explorations of architecture, critical reading of the programme, systems thinking, and clarity of material and detail that have characterised their work.
Afflicted with bureaucratic hurdles and unsettling realities, the condition of living heritage in the country is grave. At a time when the practice of urban heritage conservation has seen a paradigm shift to ‘beautification’, the meticulous restoration of St John the Baptist Church by Mumbai-based Vikas Dilawari Architects resurfaces the need for patronage in conservation.
Blueprint is a narrative of Gautam Bhatia’s work juxtaposed on his larger cultural projects, and his experiments with complexity and context.
The Building as a Metaphor
A chronicle of work can be many things – a catalogue, a celebration and a critique. This one is an uncanny montage of ideas and images: a personal retrospective into the architectural journey of one of the sharpest spatial thinkers in India.
The architecture of Gautam Bhatia is difficult to reconcile for a casual observer. What are his concerns? What is he trying to achieve? The work itself – as evidenced by the book – is eclectic, diverse and seemingly inconsistent. The projects themselves deal with an array of scales, programmes and situations moving from historic preservation and rejuvenation projects to urban design; From the ‘Palace’ to the ‘Mountain House’.