What is our Legacy? – Discussion 3

If the whole of history were to be made into a cartoon strip, most definitely the buildings would do most of the talking, as architecture has always been a mirror and a manifestation of the thoughts of a society at any point of time.

Our work and lives too goes down into the comic strip, for the future to learn from, criticize and laugh at! And if we were to add a title to the architecture that we’re creating – what would it be? What is the identity that we give ourselves through our architecture?

This was the topic that came up on our discussion table this Tuesday.

An argument was that identity is an evolving chain and that the duty of the architect is to merely respond to the need of the hour and that very activity would, in due course of time lend a new identity to that place.  It was pointed out that the city of Calicut has been on a process of continuous evolution, forever changing…yet to this day not succumbed to an identity crisis, for every new development brings with it, a novel character.

Yet , at the present course of development , with the stronghold  of modernism over us and the increasing need for the local architects to attach themselves to the international bandwagon and correspond to an international style ,  are we creating an architecture of facelessness ?  In the face of this universal language of architecture, what happens to our valuable vernacular? What happens to the architecture that reflects our culture and is deeply rooted in our past?  What happens to the architecture that gives our cities a unique identity that defines it and makes it stand apart? What happens to architecture that the people can relate to and which lends to a place that intangible quality that endears it and bonds it to its residents?

While one group believed that the any building, whatever the style, which responds to the climate and respects the nature creates its unique identity.  A building that fits into its surroundings and creates minimum footprint is the need of the hour and such a building, will definitely have a character that stands apart.

It was pointed out that this argument leaves out a very important element – the culture and tradition of the area.  Any building that does not respond to the culture of the area is spiritless.

So how do we keep the delicate balance between responding to the universal architecture climate while keeping true to our traditions? How do we remove ourselves from being awed by the advancing technology while not returning to the nostalgic historicism?

This bought us to a discussion on the critical regionalism.

Critical regionalism is an approach to architecture that strives to counter placeless-ness and lack of identity in Modern Architecture by utilizing the building’s geographical context.

However, a common interpretation of this attempt to reconnect with the past is often a “glib” and merely “visual” imitation of the vernacular using the modern materials. In Kerala, one so often finds gables that are a more a decorative feature than placed after an actual understanding of the real principle behind it.  It was agreed that this mere “visual” recreating of lost forms is mere creating soulless buildings and cannot be a solution to the problem of lost identity.

It was discussed that reinterpretation of the past should happen in a more “tactile’ manner, i.e., that through sense of touch, through experiences. An understanding of the quality of spaces and the reinterpretation of those in tune with the present needs and using optimal technological methods is what that may define crucial regionalism.

Ajay quoted the example of the  Kala Academy in Goa by Charles Correa. Correa captures the spirit of Goa through his “ Kala Academy “ , where the mass is spread horizontally and organized around an innovative ground plan with an open street going through the entire building. Murals on the high walls turn visitors into actors as they walk around – a tribute to “tiatro”, a form of Konkani Theatre. Portuguese influence, the sun and the sea. Everything is there in this building..

Does it “look” like Goa or “feel” like Goa?


Vinod quoted the Kandalama hotel by Geoffrey Bawa,, the  elegance of which is almost an apt example for “building the site” . The spatial narrative of the spaces is remnant of the local architectural language and the understated-ness of the building forces the user to look at the surrounding – the building is mute while the environment is alive.

Tadao Ando and his distinctly Japanese architecture was pointed out during the discussion as an example or the “regionally modern”. Like he says “I am indebted to Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe, but in the same way, I take what they did and interpret using my vision and experience”.

 Is critical regionalism really the path ahead? Should that be the heading that our future generation will place over the cartoon strip that defines our times?

 What do you say?

PS : Thanks to José Lourenço of “Goan Architecture” for the pictures and information regarding Kala Kendra.

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