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Theory and Criticism
 
India's concept of architecture?
To me India is a land plentiful, a dynamic and spiritual center. It is amazing after so many thousands of years that a civilization is still going. Every Indian I've met, has a profound pride of his/her land. Each is at the same time very thoughtful and intelligent. Something about India. Something can be learned and since this an architectural forum, I will ask questions accordingly.

What concepts and ideas does India and Hinduism implement in the architectural landscape?What are its traditional architectural forms and urban planning of a city? How does it cope with the modern architectural expressions? What are its traditional influences? What role does the religious building have in an Indian society? Does caste play a part in the designing of a city/building? Are some of its architectural ideas similar to Islamic ones? What is Indias' take on Architecture? Enlighten and teach me,if it is not too much to ask.

I don't expect for you all to answer all these questions, I will also do my own research but perhaps you can plant the seeds of understanding. I'm ignorant, teach me.
Abdul Basit Mukri
Responses
 
India's concept of architecture?
Hi Abdul,

Your topic deals with a pragmatic range of queries and concepts ranging from designing of a house to that of a whole city. But then this is actually the true picture of architecture, that it caters from one single dwelling unit to the whole congloromate of habitations.

I am a student of architecture in India right now and hence my views might not be that accurate or that wide as that aspired by you. However, I do harbinger a similar interest of research on Indian architecture.

I think there are two often confused, yet different categories of architecture: traditional and vernacular. Traditional refers to the age old philosophies of architecture which are more often "time-proof" they have their basis in the religion and traditions... and hence are time proof. Vernacular, on the other hand, is the local architecture and is more social based than religious and hence more liable to change.

Therefore on the account of the fact that traditions are hard to change... The traditional architecture is now most suited to religious buildings,where still we profess "Sthapatya kala... ", or the traditional Indian architecture and art(kala). And the verncaular architecture is the contemporary style. Architecture is the reflection of any regions' society. And as you know, India has been a melting pot of several cultures, several religions.. like Hinduism, Aryans, Dravidians, Islamic, Christian, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. And so Islamic architecture is as integral part as any other style. However, its content thus keeps on increasing and decreasing relative to the geographical region, like it may be more visble in the regions of erstwhile Mughals and Nizams and Nawabs.

Well, that was just a brief picture... However, I am very interested to share more on this topic and hear more from you. You can e-mail me at vidhu_saxena@rediffmail.com

All the best,
Vidhu Saxena
India's concept of architecture?
Hi,

The main factor that plays a part in designing buildings in India goes by the name of Vastu Shastra [an Indian version of Feng Shui]. Vastu Shastra is an ancient art of designing buildings based on vedic texts. This is sometimes used as well as misused to design buildings as well as their features. For e.g there is a particular place to locate the master bedroom in a home, likewise a particular place to locate the storage water tank, etc.
Mansoor Ali
India's concept of architecture?
Hi there,

The age-old Indian treatise on architecture i.e. Vastu is lot different from Feng shui..

Vastu is based on the cosmic energy of the universe and the magnetic energy of the earth. It deals with the designing of houses, keeping in mind the dir, which receive the maximum solar enrgy, which have maximum ventilation and the dir of the flow of magnetic lines of earth. And it's lot different than Feng shui, which basically talks about the corrections and additions in a house to rectify any mistakes.

However, vastu in contemporary times is a little hard to implement in tandem with the functionality of a house because it was written in the times when the houses were independent units having lots of open spaces and all four sides open. Not like today when the plots are as cramped as possible.
Vidhu Saxena
India's concept of architecture?
This is in response to Mansoor's posting. The main factor influencing building design in India is economics, and fortunately climate sometimes. Aesthetics and ease of construction (materials, skills etc) play next important roles. Vaastu Shastra plays a role to a miniscule superstitious or revivalist percent of the population. In the last decade it grew in popularity, much like Feng Shui masters emerged in every rich Indian suburb.

As Vidhu points out Vaastu Shastra might be relevant to many design contexts but is usually difficult to implement in legal, byelaw and commercial criteria based constructions. It would be wrong to say that the shastra is the most important factor in Indian buildings (lesser so in settlement design)
Danny Cherian
India's concept of architecture?
Abdul,

To start from the top, India is a multi-cultural and multi-religious region. It is now difficult if not impossible to identify Hindu or Islamic cities within it, though the founders of some cities might had relegious ideas translated into settlement design.

Caste rarely plays an obvious role in modern Indian cities. It plays a role in small towns or villages but most Indian metropolises are modern (though poorly) planned settlements.

Your questions can take some time answering, and have been asked by Alexander, Timur and Vasco de Gama alike. Do come down and experience India and it cities. Words are remakably insufficient.
Danny Cherian
India's concept of architecture?
I agree with Danny on the influencing factors of Indian architecure, however as far as the conytemporary planning and designing is considered, I fail to understand how "caste" is the "obvious" reason because it's the social and economic reasons which affect the most. Also, since nowadays the scarcity of land is pushing forward the concept of apartments, the individuality is now slowly relegating to the interiors.

Moreover for vastu, even I agree that it may not be that much relevant in todays' terms.
Vidhu Saxena
India's concept of architecture?
Dear friends,

Well, like in other ancient civilizations, Indian Architecture is an ever evolving environment to live in.
It has a plurastic identity, rich in diversity, expressing creative and constructive contribution of its people belonging to different religions, castes, classes, regions and areas.

Vastu Shashtra is the art and science of Built Environment. While some orthodox practitioners would like us to believe that it is a dogma frozen in time, it is by its very nature and composition an ever evolving art and science. Vastu Shashtra is nothing but Architecture in Sanskrit.

At a given time, a society and culture believes in certain practices and theories. These get incorporated in the body of knowledge of that period. There are people who have faith in a given interpretation and practice, they are free to follow that. While there are others who may be critical and wish to follow their rational thoughts and new ways of conceiving and making of their living environment, they too are free to evolve their architecture.

In Indian context, these different faiths, beliefs and ideologies co-exist to create a rich tapestry of built environment. The practices vary from the most orthodox to the most unconventional, yet in a democratic society and polity these have their own spaces.

Indian Architecture or Bhartiya Vastu Shashtra continues to evolve in many a direction. Architecture and Evolution!

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
India's concept of architecture?
Hi Akhtar,

Your response has really generated a lot of interest in me, for I am also studyin vastu as one of my subjects. I do appreciate its principle of respecting natural forces. But yes, I still say that I find its application in present context a little different... I would be very glad if you can further elaborate on its contemporary application.

Thank you,

(Wishing all the members of Archnet a very happy diwali, enjoy!!)
Vidhu Saxena
India's concept of architecture?
Hi,

First of all my half baked response seems to have drawn a lot of flak. To begin with I know that Vastu & Feng Shui, are as different as chalk & cheese happen to be. Vastu is based on the scientific use of the 5 basic [physical] elements in building design & layouts, while Feng Shui deals more with the concepts of faith & belief. The main point of mentioning Vastu as an Indian version of Feng Shui was to give a foreigner a rough idea about the nature of Vastu; it was like telling him that Coke is a soft drink just like Mountain dew happens to be another kind of soft drink.

Secondly, I shall keep my views confined to Bangalore city, the place that I have lived in all my life. Vastu, Feng Shui, Yoga, Ayurveda, Reiki, etc are all being revived here. People of all faiths are following these ancient arts of building design, healing as well as exercise. We can consider that we are having a Renaissance of all these sciences in Bangalore right now. In the last couple of years at least, we have had clients who have specifically asked us to do their architectural as well as interior layout based on Vastu. At first we thought that it��s a FAD that will die out soon, but we were wrong. Vastu consultants & experts have sprung up in all streets & lanes of Bangalore. Maybe there are a lot of Quacks too in this field but people still want architects here to use Vastu.

During the initial stages it was a real bore to design stuff using the Vastu Purusha Mandala, etc. But as we designed a truth dawned upon us. The truth was had we become so much engrossed in aping the western culture that we were now neglecting our very own ancient treasures [Vastu, Yoga, etc]. At some point we thought why does Yoga have such a huge following in the West; where as in India people are shifting to aerobics, etc. We employed the same thought with respect to Vastu & we found that it can really work. I don��t think that poor, illiterate or superstitious folk are using Vastu for we have had highly trained IT professionals, some of them who have returned to India after years in the Big Apple as our clients. Infact I even get to hear from others that most people who use Vastu are rich, highly educated & have a modern outlook. There was even an instance I heard where the CEO of a European IT firm employed Vastu for his corporate office interiors.

So we wonder whether Vastu could be India��s loss & the West��s gain like in the case of Yoga, etc. It might be difficult to employ Vastu as mentioned having to take care of bye-laws, aesthetics, etc but it��s possible. My HOD had once said that the words difficult & impossible must not be listed in an architect��s dictionary or else he would never be able to design anything new. In the same vein, Vastu can work for apartment blocks too. 6-7 months back we designed a 96 flat residential unit in the Suburbs of Bangalore. We had to consider the overall site Vastu, the whole building Vastu as well as the Vastu of each & every individual apartment involved. When we began, the task looked difficult but we managed to do a good design as it wasn��t an impossible task. Infact my friend who was the senior consultant for the above mentioned apartment project is now designing a 200 flat residential unit with the same Real estate developer again using Vastu.

As for Abdul; there are a lot of factors other than Vastu that you can consider. But these factors are similar to that which you can find in other/developing nations. These could be rapid urbanization, economics, climate, natural features, availability of water resources, etc.

Regards.
Mansoor Ali
India's concept of architecture?
Danny I just might take you up on your suggestion to visit India. Vidhu, I appreciate your interest and input to the question posed. And Akhtar your argument is wishful at best, although I do value what you have to say.

Any philosophy coming from the past, I find myself inclined to. People of the past were much more thoughtful and responsible as human beings. Todays philosophy is much like a chicken running without its head. As soon as the head is cut off from the body it is put into trauma, trying to make sense of life it once knew very well. Modern day philosphies are very much like this trying to find solutions to life but forgetting it has no head(a good one that is). Misosophy running amuck, trying (and not trying) to make sense of this reality we call, "man on earth". Using your mind is not the ultimate means to providing a solution to a problem. Rationalizing is what has gotten us in this mess. Using it as the ultimate source of wisdom is wrong because never did one mind ever find all the solutions to all the problems faced on earth. "I know that I don't know."

Vaastu Shastra is an ancient philosophy of Architecture, it can be evolved but it would envolve someone who is well grounded in this philosophy.(learning it from scratch wouldn't hurt as well) Literally it means Architecture but what it probably meant was architypal architecture, where meaning/Atma/Allah/God is the ultimate ends to it. Now of course architecture can be understood in many ways and each is not necessarily right/wrong but the best philosophy and style of architecture is the one that evokes meaning into peoples lives.

How many architectural philosophies out there take God/meaning into consideration? Not many! Islamic Architecture, Vaastu Shastra , or Feng Shui(1) are architectural philosophies that do so. Now most modern architectural expressions may lay claim to this as well but realistically few succeed in doing so.

Criticizing the modern architect is not my favorite passtime but more architects should follow the examples of Mansoor. In fact if creative new thinking and practice that uses past philosophies is incorporated into modern lifestyles, it can work as Mansoor has sited. So look into Vaastu Shastra, Islamic Architecture, Feng Shui and other traditional methods and be inspired!

Looking forward to hear your responses.

Happy Diwali and Eid Mubarak!

1- Japanese, Chinese and the ones less known, help us to understand the traditional methods of your past architecture and philosophies.
Abdul Basit Mukri
India's concept of architecture?
Hi,

Here's wishing Eid Mubarak & Happy Diwali to all. Dear Abdul be my guest whenever you come down to India. I also would be grateful to anyone who can help me in avoiding all the funny characters that appear whenever I type anything in MS Word & then cut & paste the same thing on archnet.

Regards.
Mansoor Ali
India's concept of architecture?
Dear Abdul Basit Mukri,

Well, it seems you are a learned one who wishes to learn more in the art and science of Vastu Shashtra and other ancient practices and traditions in architecture.

I have nothing against ancient faith, beliefs and practices. But surely one has a right to examine, evaluate and evolve. It is a human right, indeed!

When astrology was accepted as a science and mixed with other disciplines in Vastu Shashtra, it solved some immediate problems and created many more for the future.

It would be erroneous to label Vastu Shashtra merely as a philosophy. It may have many components of several philosophies, practices, sciences and arts and crafts.

I do agree with you that reason and rationalism may not be adequate to understand and critically evaluate ancient practices and faiths. Indeed, there are several other ways.

But God has given each one of us knowledge, wisdom and insight to comprehend reality of the universe and blessed us with ability to develop tools and techniques, ways and means to evolve new knowledge and chart out the future path.

The ancient knowledge can not be misused by some quacks who act like sole selling agents and loot unsuspecting clients in the name of the ancient texts. I have equal respect for really learned people, ancient or modern. I would like to be critical of anything that raises a question in my mind, ancient or modern.

If my view is construed by you as mere wishful thinking, so let it be! Feel free to criticize me!

Eid Mubarak! May God bless you!
Akhtar Chauhan
India's concept of architecture?
Salaam Akhtar Bhai,

I didn't mean to insult you in any fashion, it was just to be provacative. I know you are an educator in the field of architecture and you help mold the thinking of a new breed of architects. Islamic Architecture, Feng Shui and Vaastu Shastra are forms of architecture, rarely practiced by the modern architect, I know. However I believe that it still has relevancy in the time we live in, even if it be a bastardized form of it. Sure their a sellouts that use these ancient traditons for their own benefits but any form of it will help remind people of "meaning". Truth/God/meaning are not the criteria of modern architects and clients, so when an opportunity of its propagation of it arises, well, "there is no such thing as bad publicity".

Design and architectural forms are infinite but some are lasting/meaningful. The simple fact that you have charlottetons prove that people are searching for this,"meaning". That is why I propose that you and other educators can learn and teach this kind of authentic form of architecture. Bring it back upto date with a creative, new approach towards it. If you, as a responsible educator don't do this, others(charlottetons) will, sending mankind even more into an oblivion of confusion and despair. Aping the west is not part of the eastern tradition, we have a rich history that still has something to say. Seek it and you shall find it!

Eid-Mubarak to all at ARCHNET(who celebrate it)

Mansoor I'm flattered by your offer. Whenever if I'm India, I'll make sure I come and visit you. Danny as well.
Abdul Basit Mukri
India's concept of architecture?
Dear Abdul,

No, I do not take criticism / comment in a negative way. To me it is an opportunity to think / rethink..!

I believe that we have a continuous ever evolving tradition of architecture, i.e. Vastu Shashtra.
In fact I bring out a newsletter once in a while which I have named it as
Vastu Vikas ( Architecture + Development). Whenever I have been asked whether I believe in Vastu Shashtra and do I practice it? I have always answered in affirmative and explained that to me Vastu Shashtra is the philosophies, arts and crafts, sciences and technologies of architecture.

I have used these concepts in interior design, architectural design, landscape design, urban design and urban planning. I have also lectured on the subject and have been featured in several debates and a tv programme
( I do not know if Zee TV ever broadcast the programme in North America as it was meant to be).I was fielded as a moderator between a Vastu expert and a Feng Shui practicener! We have had several sessions on its meaning and relevance in Indian Architecture in contemporary times.

This is just to make you feel at ease with the discussion. Let it take its own course, it is enlightening in so many ways!

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
India's concept of architecture?
It's great to see that the reality of Indian architecture has finally taken full circle.. The original topic now seems to have been zeroed down on the vastushastra..(for the non-indians, recently we have a movie also bearing "vastushastra" as its title).

Apart from vastu, the original topic also questioned about the value of religious buildings in contemporary times.. and the effect of caste system.

Architecture has always been the reflection of the society. There were times when religion and caste dominated the trends of the society and hence the mosques. The mandirs became the examples of the best architecture. In fact, when we study the history of Indian architecture for the time period prior to Mughals, we only find cave temples of Buddhism, temples with towering shikharas of Dravidians, Khajuraho, Orissa, etc. The truely social architecure is covered only by reconstructed images. Then came the Mughals and the royalty of the badshahs was reflected in not just the various mosques and tombs but it also took the shape of palaces, and even cities (Fatehpur Sikri.. an exquisite example) and as I discovered on a recent visit to Sikri. The architecture has overtones of Dravidian and other Indian styles too... That's the Indian version of eclectism. And, as mentioned by Mr. Prashant, the Rajputs also borrowed the style after Mughals. There was a radical change due to two important factors: the invasion of British who unlike their predecessor failed to mingle with the society they ruled. And also the industrial revolution, which completely changed the lifestyles of the people all around the world. And hence evolved the bungalows and the colonial style. The aforesaid "disassociativity" of the British was clearly reflected in their architecture too.

As now for the fist time... The Indianism was relegated to just outer faces, the arches, the brackets, the domes, and not in planning. And this suddenly detached our dwellings of their Indian spirit and this caused the disconjunction in understanding the true Indian architecture.

I am fortunate enough to have seen both styles namely "haveli" style and the "bungalow" styles very closely and also lived in the apartment style.

On the one hand, the bungalow style still seems me to be little alien and I find it hard to adjust with it. The haveli is almost 100 yrs old, although a little outdated in the quantitative terms, still holds good in the quality; quality of spaces, their order in planning, their visual aspect... They all are still appreciable. The apartment style, however, is different, as it is compact and is good for the fast moving lifestyle, which is essentially aided by modern gadgets.

I hope that now the discussion might become more pragmatic than just vastu.

Belated diwali and eid wishes to all,
Vidhu Saxena
India's concept of architecture?
I think indian Architecture needs a lot of understanding.I if there are some Practicingarchitects who are reading this then they would understand the need of more Ex-posure to the field of Architecture.As i was Studying in Aurangabad, i slowly came to know that people there want too much out of a minimum amount of money they would spend on building their home, they don't give a damn to Aesthetics,Elevational aspect etc. people are still not ready to count money on "sensible architecture". There is one drastic truth which hampers us architects; 'people preffer a Contractor insted of an Architect to design & build their homes....I mean this is the last think i would like listen from anybody....

So you see things are not as good as they seem for we architects...& if there is someone who can change this 'Mal-Practice' is nobody but architects like us who think this is seriously unacceptable...The only thing is we need to get united for this...

What do you say.....??
Vishal Kuberkar
India's concept of architecture?
I agree with Prashant that architecture doesn't have to be expensive to look nice and efficient. If architects in India are not easily approachable than it is the duty of the architects to change that. How about joining leagues with contractors and slowly exposing yourself to common clients? To be honest, Architects are made for the rich and wealthy. The problems you speak about in India are the same we have in Canada. Everybody is not interested or can afford a customized home or building but I think it is the duty to give common folk a living dwelling they can be proud of.

In Toronto we have a thing called subdivisions. Population is growing rampart here and in the suburbs you have cookie cutter homes going up like wild fire. Most of these homes are architecturally inferiorly designed. It doesn't have to be that way but they are. Now architects have designed these homes but it is the builder/contractor that orients the design and budget. I think by improoving relations with real estate moghuls/builders/contractors, would considerbly improove the quality of buildings put up.

Manufactured homes don't have to be ugly! If just a little extra thought were put in by all involved this could change. In fact it would be well recieved and appreciated by the dwellers of these homes(and very profitible for builders). Everybody can't afford customize homes but that doesn't mean quality has to be sacrificed. With just a little more thought and less greed(not much) the common home will forever be indebted. So lets work towards this.

Anyhow, it is a wonderment that peoples problems all over the world are pretty much the same. Prooving that we are all in it together and that really there are no differences, we are all human. Indians, Canadians, Americans, Africans, Europeans, Asians, South Americans, Middle Eastern, Island Folk etc., working collectively and cooperatively will help improove everybodies situation. So let's try to make it work!

Thank You,
Abdul Basit Mukri
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