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Form follows Fitoor (What about Bhadra?Or Let’s not talk about CEPT)

October 8, 2017

Almost Five years ago, I started writing this draft, tentatively titled ‘What is conservation? And what about Premabhai? I’d put down the words:  Contectual response; Parking; Ghosts; Mammoth, monolith, problems, use

I vaguely recall it was prompted by the brouhaha over conservation, and I probably meant to compare the designs of Premabhai Hall designed by Dr. B. V. Doshi, Architect, founder of School of Architecture and VSF, and the bank by Hasmukh Chandubhai Patel, architect, the HCP in HCPDPM, in context of insertions that happened in Bhadra Fort and changes in it’s surroundings during glory days of Ahmedabad Modernism (judging by the tags I had selected: Ahmedabad, Architect, B. V. Doshi, design, New Premabhai Hall, Old Premabhai Hall, Premabhai Hall, what does an architect do?).

Now I sat down to write a post that I meant to title “Let’s talk about Bhadra” and midway I changed the title. I got thinking about it again because of the numerous concerns being raised about yet another new building at CEPT Campus. And about it being a travesty.

Any change looks terrible at first. In campus, we should not talk of Gufa, and in Connought Place, of the LIC building, both of which shocked architects at the time when they sprung up.

Flashback: What happened to Bhadra area? A: Architects had a field day!

In 1970s, two significant architectural offices ran from here. Those were the heydays of Bhadra area. A lot got constructed, and some trends were set that dictated the fate of the space in and around the fort.

Two banks, now People’s Co-operative Bank, and UCO Bank, operated from the zone, with Bank of Baroda not far along the Teen Darwaza route. The bank building with subtle, unassuming facade, shows a response to the surroundings, its only noticeable feature? Two columns. It does not attract attention standing next to Premabhai Hall that is easily comparable to an alien ship in the surroundings. The response the hall shows to its surroundings by clawing out a space in its section is at a floor that we never visit. The mammoth hall didn’t work then, it doesn’t work now.

Bhadra fort, with a history of Muslim (Fort), Mughal (Serai), Maratha (Bhadrakali) and British (Prison, Clock) and Modern insertions, the ASI office by GoI, the pigeon hole office building which replaced some of the original Bhadra footprint, has weathered and witnessed architectural equivalent of a massacre before a precinct redevelopment that students forever criticise when they do a case study was envisaged.

The humble bank in Bhadra Square has a big brother – or two. Just outside is perhaps the first high-rise of Ahmedabad: Another bank building, made in phases, the State Bank of India by Hasmukh Patel. And right opposite Siddi Sayyid Jaali that is the symbol of Ahmedabad, even if rarefied and gaudily decorated at present, Central Bank of India (1972). That bank is another case study in how to relate to the context. Next to it is the glass facade hotel designed by two SA Alumni a few years ago, not worth wasting words on. Nothing that surrounds it including the House of MG (A heritage hotel now) opposite, has shown a registrable response to Jaali for whatever reasons. Hence this Mosque, and the Jaali, serve as traffic rotary and don’t have much of a presence till a light is shone on the facade.

Design is not what it does, but also what it doesn’t do…       

Jobs may not be my favourite Contemporary, but he did profess an idea we all recall often: DESIGN IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS AND FEELS LIKE. DESIGN IS HOW IT WORKS. In our esoteric exchanges about authenticness to time, space and principles, there is not enough about how the user will experience and use the design. I would normally lament the energy wasted by some of the profession’s foremost brains in pulling up the top 5% for their little mistakes, and never on pulling ‘up’ the stinky lot that is making buildings and public spaces in an indiscriminate manner, both in visual-functional sense, and ethically.

‘Who is discussing Command and Control Centre building being put up in the august company of Sanskar Kendra (that we so paintakingsly saved from being blemished by AMC)?’ The Command and Control Centre in it’s new location, is still bang next to Sanskar Kendra-undoubtedly a Modernist Heritage- but is anyone paying attention to it?

The laissez faire is a personal folly too, thinking ‘What is the point going after the angles and red aluminium panels on some 1000 seater Auditorium in the vicinity of all the nice corporate buildings that we should thank god of architecture for, or Extension to a club designed by another heavyweight who is well respected in the fraternity for his design integrity and sense?’ Both the new buildings are designed by architects, who, no doubt  learnt a great deal about how to put up a building during their making of these. It is easier to attack what is designed around Kankaria, but the Lake Edge at Vastrapur, or Saijpur or Redevelopment around Polo Temple, or a modern complex of buildings in the name of one Mahatma are too lame to talk about.

What happens on the sacred north lawns?

In last Six years, North Lawns were mostly used for photo ops, and not one student/ teacher has mentioned the weather measure that stood there, serving a real purpose. Once the institution started providing conditioned environment, the uses of North Lawns are only going down. (In one of his interviews ‘A Confluence of Nature and Architecture’ the man behind North Lawns, Architect Doshi, talks about Air conditioning: “The way architects think is changing… You don’t adjust with the variation of the day, but we create buildings with constant light and climate. And we are making buildings for a specific use, not as part of nature.”)

CEPT-07.jpg

(North Lawns from North; Image from: https://www.architecturaldigest.in)

Now one can not imagine having the sort of discussion that happened when students called Prof. B V Doshi to explain his design for the amphitheatre. Half the lawns were filled with students with hurt expressions about how his newest building will kill the spirit of the central open space of the campus. He defended his proposal to students and fellow professionals demanding a justification to make a change in the campus when things were working perfectly…  It was the kind of debate that the amphi was supposed to have but never did.

No doubt the SA building next to it has architectural merit, and it gets a spatial character on account of these mounds, but on the other side the quality of space towards ramp was incidental, not designed. Campus-scape evolved with time, and the sense of space people remember from first 25 years was as much chance as modern design.

Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) has prided itself in changing the idea of Architecture – from a technical discipline to a ‘Design’ discipline. But even if you accept the hindsight that Prof. Doshi and his contemporaries developed a starting point for the next generation to construct and express India’s Modernity, then that in itself is a huge contribution.

Intentions, not only results. Journey, not only destination…

At the time when Indian Architecture’s central figures (Or their next generation) is writing their versions of what happened, and therefore inventing themselves, this is the politics of architecture – not to bring up the real issue. A vast number of present buildings are being designed by structural designers and contractors in whose offices architects get thousands of rupees to make 3D views.

But CEPT has not been taken over by the president’s company as decried by some 5 years ago. The new commissions have gone to an alumnus (Rahul for Library) (Dilip for Auditorium, interiors and repurposing of studios), or to ex-SA faculty (Jayesh for the building by SBST students), or to a subject expert (Rajan for the Green building) or a co-founder and teacher to many architects (Christopher for Academic Hub).

Think about how the SBST building had to be renovated even when it is one of the more recent buildings. About the old days when admin building was renovated, canteen was designed, SID Workshop came up. Every time something functional was added, Aesthetic was diluted… Cut those who tried some slack.

Now, if I take a legit potshot at a hotshot, is it ok to be famous because of it? I the infant terrible. Of course in one’s own tiny yard of Architecture. We must beware of what we do: The young professionals already know to question everything, let’s not set precedents where they get a signal that it is ok to answer nothing.

Christopher Benninger Book_Advice

Time for Letters to Not so Young Architects?

CEPT graduates who attended universities abroad and prefer to mention only their second Alma Mater in their profile know well that, however profound, SA had a lot left to do – in terms of facilities, buildings, and how to function as a campus. If  some folks will actually invest time to teach the students and young professionals about how to put together a decent building, it will be a big service to the nation. I hope they raise a better generation than us, who raised more cynics and fence sitters than any previous generation.

If your souls are burdened it is only by the sum total of the entire profession’s actions. Architects who suggest unsustainable technologies without knowing about cost, those who can’t see the user’s need or limitations in their arrogance, those who accepted or channeled work to their offices using CEPT’s name, and those individuals who nearly ran the once beautiful institution to ground with their self importance, carelessness or greed… Those are the demons within our selves. So go out and build.

Must end with a submission: This post is not about one building in particular. There have been too many and rather lengthy reactions to the proposed design for the Academic Building by Christopher Benninger at CEPT University Ahmedabad, and it is good to see the architectural fraternity enthused about something after long. If I find time to go through the proposal, the critiques, and still have any words for Christopher I will put them up here. Till then, I end this rant with a feeling that I will definitely revise this, and a joke:

From Christopher I expect a funny take I found on ArchitectureLive:

‘Architect’ aghast at a design: I don’t really agree with your concept and approach. I think you should..

architect Magdalene:

Have I done justice to the journey? I can change the goal as long as I am walking...

Sab ka apna apna nazariya hota hai

 

Note:

The post I wrote about new CEPT Library two years ago is @ https://wordpress.com/post/architectureindeed.wordpress.com/4151

For drawings of Premabhai Hall by VSC, see Architexturez website, and for more on State Bank building, HCP website.

Details of Bhadra’s redevelopment are @ http://worldarchitecture.org/articles/cevzg/exclusive_

Doshi’s interview ‘A Confluence of Nature and Architecture’ @ https://thewire.in/79459/a-confluence-of-nature-and-architecture-an-interview-with-balkrishna-doshi/

Dhoshi’s ongoing Retrospective in China is covered @ http://www.notey.com/@artradarjournal_unofficial/external/18252574/indian-architect-balkrishna-doshi’s-first-retrospective-in-china-at-power-station-of-art-shanghai.html

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