Today, the rapidly-developing country of India is one of the key places in the world where architecture could have the most impact; in spite of this, there has been little critical reflection on the country's architectural landscape, and architecture has struggled to assert its value to the wider population. Currently, the country's first major architectural exhibition in 30 years is taking place in Mumbai, curated by Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote, and Kaiwan Mehta and running until March 20th. In this interview, a shortened version of which was first published in Domus India's December Issue, Mustansir Dalvir sits down with the curators to discuss their exhibition and the past and present of Indian Architecture.
Looking back to the time architectural practices first began to proliferate in India, one sees that they always operated within an ecosystem of practice, academia, and association. We can trace this to the 1930s, when the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) was set up, which in turn emerged from the alumni of the Bombay School of Art. Teachers at the school were the most prolific practitioners in the country, and students made the easy transition from learning to apprenticeship, to setting up their own practices. Even patrons, largely non-state (in the penultimate decades before independence) aligned themselves with the architects in a collegial association. The Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects and their annual lectures became the mouthpieces of collective praxis, as the many presidential speeches show. Everyone knew what everyone else was doing, knowledge flowed centripetally.
In the years after independence, these bonds became looser as the nation-state became the chief patron. While private wealth and industry provided steady work for architects all over the country, the IIA still continued to remain the platform of discourse and dissemination – an internal professional rumination, largely distanced from changing politics and culture in the country, especially from the seventies onwards. While students of architecture did briefly take political stances during the Emergency, practice remained unaffected.