Thursday, July 26, 2007

Changing skyline

Changing skyline


Considered the capital of India Inc., Bangalore is widely perceived as the symbol of contemporary India..

Photo: A. Srivathsan

Radical posturing: The building focusses attention on its form and eccentricity.

Bangalore has the comfort of being a background city, wrote Prem Chandavakar, an architect practising in the city for more than 20 years. Reflecting on its architecture, Prem felt the city never had to face the pressure of either being the metropolis like Mumbai or suffer the angst of a national city like Delhi. This was about 20 years ago.

A tectonic shift has occurred in the urban landscape since then. Bangalore is no more the idyllic pensioner’s paradise or the bucolic garden city. Pushed to the forefront, it has emerged as the newfound capital of the India Inc and is widely perceived as the symbol of contemporary India. Architecture makes this shift more visible.

As you walk along St. Marks Road, a white disarranged Rubik’s cube hits your eye. In a street held by plaid and graph paper facades, this aluminium building is diagonally serrated and the planes pop out irregularly. One quick look is not sufficient to comprehend the building. With some effort, it may be possible to arrange the planes in the mind. It seems that the objective of the design is accomplished — the building is engaging and stands out. Its sedate colour is deceptive. The building focusses attention on its form and eccentricity. What it wishes to exhibit is not affluence but its willingness to experiment and, if possible, seduce you by its novelty. Considerable money has been spent to fit the building’s image with that of the city — a happening building in a happening city.

The 130-year-old Bishop Cotton School, on the opposite side, dramatises the contrast and the times. If one building is firmly encased in solid stone, the other is wrapped in thin and gleaming aluminium. The stones used in the school are local, while the aluminium sheets in the mall were customised, specially cut and imported from China’s Hunter and Douglas factory.

This is not just another story of changing times. It is about a peculiar angst in the manner in which the city expresses its sense of contemporaneity.

Of many cities, the relative level of experimentation and investment made on design is visible in Bangalore. This is attested by the increasing recognition for Bangalore-based architects. Architecture extensively needs patronage and it has found it in Bangalore, many say.

Just as Ahmedabad’s mill owners enterprisingly commissioned the French architect Corbusier and his disciples in the 1960s, Bangalore, it seems, is the hub of new architecture. If the architecture of New Delhi conspicuously addressed the making of a nation state and is immersed in the politics of style, Mumbai reflected the metropolitan modern. The armature of modern architecture thus spun around Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
New axis

All this is changing. A new architectural axis is emerging with Bangalore as its fountainhead. The mushrooming of multinational architectural firms and internationally trained architects has brought new kinds of practices to Bangalore.

The phenomenal construction boom and pressure to get instant buildings has certainly affected architecture. The production mode has changed and new benchmarks are in place. Buildings are more or less completed on the drawing boards and the classical idea of architecture being completed at site is no more. There is a unanimous agreement amongst architects on this.

Architects like Prem Chandavarkar attribute their architecture to the critical practice they are engaged in than to reasons of novelty or the zeitgeist of place and time. Prem thinks that their firm does not produce emblems, but builds buildings for habitation. Sanjay Mohe, an award-winning architect and mentor to many upcoming designers, agrees but gently reminds that architecture always desired to embody the cutting edge ideas.

In that sense, to see architecture as aspiring to embrace new ideas thrown up by the changing city is not new, he says, but his clients have changed. They are widely travelled and exposed to larger range of ideas. Their exposure and pride rubs off on the buildings. The wide range of building materials supports the changes in aesthetics.

Walking around the city, one cannot help notice that a host of existing buildings are shedding their old skin and wrapping themselves in imported aluminum panels and glass. The city is hopelessly anachronistic, says Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect. No two parts of a city or two cities have the same sense of contemporaniety. Bangalore is no different. It will inevitably become an “emporium of styles’” and may not help provide a visual order. But, on the other side, it attests to flourishing multiple ideas.
Young views

The views of two young architects educated and trained abroad shows the many Bangalores in the making.

Vijay Vivek Shankar — educated in London and worked with Zaha Hadid, the international avant-garde architect — designed the Rubik’s cube on St. Marks Road. Digital design techniques and contemporary architectural theories inform his work. He emphasises that his buildings challenge some of the entrenched ideas of architecture. In the process, a strong and attractive form emerges as a by-product, he says.

Bijoy Ramachandran is from MIT, Massachusetts and worked in the U.S. for a few years before starting practice in Bangalore. His architecture functions within a strong and stubborn framework of the city. Buildings fit the street like neat boxes and form and facades respond to the street context. These two young architects are at two ends of the spectrum. While the city’s image may not have forced their buildings, their decision to camp here speaks for the kind of architectural turns the city has taken.

Sitting at a restaurant on St. Mark’s road, I looked at the white Rubik’s cube. The building’s radical posturing was only on the outside. Inside is a simple box designed for an exclusive mall dedicated to wedding objects. No matter what the architects said, the novelty they produce is best patronised only when in the service of consumption.

The waiter wanted to know if I was an engineer and whether that is why I kept staring at the building. He was all admiration for the new architecture. As I stepped out, the board in front of a nearby Kerala restaurant read “We are going global to make this world a nice place to eat and live.”


At Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 5:23:00 AM GMT+5:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

please provide links to the original article's location, so that we may see the photos accompanying the articles. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

At Sunday, September 9, 2007 at 3:34:00 PM GMT+5:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting things going on in Bangalore. Has Vivek Shankar got a homepage? I was not able to find anything...

At Sunday, September 9, 2007 at 3:35:00 PM GMT+5:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting things going on in Bangalore. Has Vivek Shankar got a homepage? I was not able to find anything...


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