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It has become wearisome, this eight years’ worth of near-identical conversation in professional circles, news reports, court cases built around the Hall of Nations, always with a referent in some entrenched branches of studies in Architecture: heritage conservation, for example. At the same time we know this type of a building tends to transcend definitions – the narrow confines – created around it by recent discourse.It seems possible to ask about it beyond the ‘little requirements’, as Le Corbusier would have called them, engendered by preservationists, bureaucrats and lawyers, after all, these set of buildings is ideal candidates for architectural speculation, for one, it is bare featureless even, and by this virtue – the building seems to ‘fit’ everywhere, like the monolith, from 2001: A Space Odyssey; – and for another, it inverses the categories – the division of labour – obtained by the Architect’s Act in 1972. This set of buildings demonstrate the possibilities of a weak architecture and strong design, how Mahendra Raje’s engineering design overwhelmed Raj Rewal’s architectural ideas and weak analogies – they enable us to rearrange our familiar categories, the ways in which we have seen it fit to conceive of architecture as a practice.
“Only those who play are serious“, Le Corbusier tells us in his last essay, in Nothing is Transmissible but Thought, there is a game of the house. There is a sustained allusion: the work of architecture be returned to the stuff of life, insists the senior Le Corbusier, asking after his students – how they have fared and adapted – just as, meandering through in the pack-donkey’s way, a young Le Corbusier required Architecture that was seized from the stuff of life. Buildings in their corporeality tend to distract us from this play, certainly when our conversations are governed by sub-disciplines and minor branches of architecture – those in retention, in a dialectic with the past. “… those mountain climbers, gamblers, golfers … they do not play” says Le Corbusier, and architecture remains a non-affirmative art and an architect’s responsibility to his art requires the works of architecture be liberated from the narrow confines and little requirements, be dissociated from chance: the site and the building.
This is the case then, where do we put it?
In the first, we put it in unfamiliar situations. Amit Srivastava and Gauri Raje want to locate it inside fantasia, archæological sites and storybooks; Ray, Rahman and some others situate it in the contemporary and politics – just as the ‘steel frame’ of India that such architectures once supported seem to be melting away, and modernization – ‘modernization’ – is no longer co-terminus with modernity and ideas about progress that were self-evident. Shubhra Raje and Sinalli Ratanlal focus on other sites of national pride, to see if the generic, large-span solutions created by Mahendra Raj to reconcile engineering requirements with conditions of labour obtained in the 1970s ‘fit’, if there is a language. Shubhra and Vrinda Jhariwala locate the buildings in a context without a place, in literature and cinema. There is an alchemy about architecture at times, some want to make these buildings edible, others, wear them. The constants assumed by conservationists and lawyers – the buildings and the site – have been turned into variables, they can be transposed it becomes easy to extract the stuff of architecture.
Next, as there is already a density to it, with more and more people creating images, and we can look for nomothesis, and we are starting to ask what principles does this establish? What are the generalised understandings?
— Shubhra Raje and Anand Bhatt