Indology: Shaping The Contemporary Indian Architecture

Rahul Bhatt, Managing Director, Cherry Hill InteriorsWith a shift of lifestyle in modern India, we witness a massive change in trends pertaining to architecture and design in the society. ‘We’ would mean not just the architectural fraternity present in the country, but also any individual who can perceive alterations in and around his society. In a developing country of ours, where the needs are rapidly growing, the age-old architecture prevalent in India finds itself on crossroads! The UN 2007 declaration on the rights of indigenous people recognized that ‘respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practice contributes to sustainable & equitable development & proper management of the resources.

Reminiscing Beauty from the Past
India started with being the most planned models in the world, creating iconic structures of eminence which are globally appreciated in the world till date. Indian architecture has always been a function of its placement on the map concerning its topographical settlements and henceforth the climatic conditions. Being a tropical country, the development of the architectural characters has always been uneven. We can call it a ‘need-based’ model of growth. The age-old empires ruling the provinces and its rulers have also given a character to their region. In a country with one of the oldest civilizations, revisiting its traditional roots and foundation of Indian architecture is a more ‘sustainable’ way around.

Revisiting Relevance of Architecture with a Cultural Identity
The form of materials & built environment is culture specific,varying with different climatic conditions, availability of material resources and construction techniques which vary from culture to culture. Quoting an example from The Pristine Valley of Kashmir which rests in the heart of the Himalayas and has always been seen as a valley with extravagant beauty. The Mughals planted their symmetrical gardens and the Kashmiri architecture added a further
dimension to the valleys. The spatial structure of Kashmir has evolved as a close fit with the topographical feature and water bodies. The scarcity of leveled terrain in the valley compelled a large chunk of residents to live on water and furthered the creation of floating houses in Kashmir. The abundance of wood & stone made it an obvious choice as the construction material. The thermal response of wood for the valley’s extreme climate was a plus. Kashmiri woodcraft has not merely been a functional craft, it is decorative as well and offers immense scope of aesthetic urge of the Kashmiri craftsmen ship. The ‘Takh system’ & ‘Dab system’ have developed in due course of the construction techniques adapted there.

Stone is considered as the most sacred building material and its availability in abundance made it a vital construction material for Hindu Temples

The Dravidian style of architecture down South emerged and grew during the reign of several dynasties. The central courtyard homes with rooms built all around worked well for the humid weather. The courtyards enabled the hot air to cool-down and move with¬in the household. Typically, in most of the traditional Indian households, the inner courtyard would function as a private yet outdoor space, secluded from unwanted eyes. Stone is considered as the most sacred building material, and its availability in abundance made it a vital construction material for Hindu Temples. The rockcut monoliths with stone and timber ornamentation became the architectural expression with the material resources and the construction techniques.

The 21st Century Indian Architecture
The vernacular building technologies in India are being passed down from generation to generation as they cater locally to the climate material & strong cultural ethos. But over a while a lack of understanding of the material and its appreciation has led to the slow decay of indigenous architecture in India. This contradicts the fact that the beauty & utility of our native architecture has been time tested and survived the ever evolving Socio Cultural & Climatic Conditions. Construction in India is a labor intensive process, and the acute shortage of skilled craftsmen is one of the key reasons for the loss of the rich architectural heritage of the region.

From igloos to bamboo houses from thatched roofs to terraced roofs, people create shelter & comfort in unique structures in response to their locations on the globe. With the examples quoted above from North to down south it is indicative that the culture of a place determines the form of material through their local craftsmanship which is embedded in a cultural and environmental context. The interpretation of the material by the craftsmen and his adaptation of the construction techniques to suit a set of local conditions generate a particular form of material, which is culture-specific. This is the truthful expression of vernacular instincts in design. Developing the skills of the local labor and introducing them to new construction techniques can help to plan new settlements and upgrade the existing ones.