‘We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us” (unquote Winston Churchill)
Nation building is the process of the conception of a country that functions, encompassing the bits of a non-functioning one. It’s an evolutionary progression, not revolutionary, as it takes a long period of time. Despite the movement of people from the present to the future, they continue to maintain links from their past, which is what paves the path for this evolution.
The beauty of the term ‘Nation building’ is that, it itself has the word ‘building’ in it. It emphasizes how architecture stands as a witness to the past, which further strengthens the foundations of the cultural reclamation and growth and reflect the indigenous identity and authenticity of a place. This term is not just a concept, it’s a sentiment having numerous interpretations to it. Under a broader perspective, it means the cohesion of the people, as national entities.
Architecture provides one of the most basic yet vital human needs, shelter. The efficiency of habitats for the citizens defines the stability of any society on the basis of the welfare and security. Not only this, architecture, in many ways, provides solutions for the problems of the present living scenario, yet taking care of the problems that may arise in the future. It should be what binds the people to their cultural heritage ad gives them a sense of connection like tales from their childhood. (can change this) It identifies the people of all colours as a cohesive society.
We have grown up, contemplating and understanding the concept of unity in diversity. This palette of cultures in India, gave birth to various architectural styles that beautifully co-exist, which can be rightfully understood by the phrase ‘The art of independently creating together’. (this still needs work) With a rich history embarked with various colours, the hues of pride, glory, the shades of defeat and the struggle, India houses several architectural styles. Every state adds to the colour palette in its own way.
From Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, to highly developed provinces of India, from the Stupas and Monastery’s, to highly ornate Hindu Temple Architecture, from the wonders of Mughal Architecture to the palaces and forts, the buildings co-existed harmoniously complementing each other. (still needs work) Post Colonialism, a chaos was in order, an identity predicament, a dilemma whether to adhere to historical precedents or move forward to times of new ideas, techniques and visualizations which bought up the need of nation building. This was succeeded by the influx of modern architecture. Quoting the example of Chandigarh, modern architecture came with foreign architects who carried their architecture ideals to our country. This formed the crux of another dilemma. After a long journey towards independence through the routes of self-reliance, was it acceptable to pave the path to a modern nation on the basis of architectural ideals of a foreign county?
Nationalism, a widespread and relatable sentiment, in the first flush of freedom, was sought to be expressed through Revivalism in all forms of cultural expression, including architecture. Now this landed Indians in a state of doubt. The building styles born of the Modern Movement and the colonial experience were perceived as foreign and hence anti-national. On the other side, there were a handful of intellectuals and architects who argued that monuments should be viewed in context of their times, that they were not be imitated and modern India required modern architectural symbols and forms to express the dynamism of free people on their march to economic development.
The solution to this quandary does not lie in siding with the historians or the intellects, it was the golden mean path amalgamating both. A progression towards building an independent Nation cannot be made by being under the constant influence of a foreign source, be it the Britishers during colonialism or the ‘Modern Architecture’ by foreign architects, in fact it turns out to be a hundred steps backwards. In a cultural context like our own, what we would require is an outlook that respects the traditions of our country, but is motivated to move forward. (can still improvise) This might involve the Indian Kaarigars, well aware of the regionalist needs, in context of culture and climate both. Embracing these ‘Kaarigars’ and their vernacular approach could be an exemplary solution that could lead us from a developing nation, to a developed one.
The Modernist movement brought a rapid shift of philosophies, building Chandigarh based on those was one of the examples. This led to the development of the city, what was left behind was the unification of Punjab and Haryana and their cultural standing. Corbusier, after travelling across the world had developed a series of trademarks and beliefs, but did it suit the context of India?
The brutalist approach involved the use of exposed concrete in a city like Chandigarh, that experiences humidity and extremely hot summers was not the best solution. The planning and development of Chandigarh has been done in isolation, not keeping in mind the immediate context, the surrounding regions. In a city with principles completely different from the rest, how is it supposed to bring together the nation as a whole? Bhubaneswar, being another example of the same was planned by Otto. H. Königsberger, Delhi by Lutyens and Baker and so on. These are examples of the constant influence of the foreign on the native India that is known for its rich tradition and past, the diverse architecture as a trademark, common historical stories making each style distinct, suiting their instant surroundings yet wrapped up in a tricolour flag.