The Changing Culture of Architecture in Modern India


Pearl Academy of Fashion, Jaipur, India. Designed by Morphogenesis.


The changing culture of architecture in modern India, both as a lifestyle and as a profession, has been eye-opening. In terms of lifestyle, we never predicted the extent to which architecture and design could affect us as well as the society and culture we live in, nor did we predict how deeply symbolic of our beliefs and attitudes they’d become. As a profession, the huge wave of development and technology that caused us to try and ape everything that didn’t belong to us, has made us question and search for our own identity and provoked us to revisit the solid traditional roots and foundation of Indian architecture.


The 'Architect' in Architecture

The ‘architect’ has evidently lost the authorship and exclusivity s/he once possessed—an observation that might be visible not only in India but in the profession worldwide. Today, the collaborative role of architecture instead rests on developers, clients, various consultants, and foreign firms, somewhere subduing the voice of the architect.

Speaking for the profession in India, it is imperative that the role of the architect be acknowledged more strongly, especially in the planning of cities. The Indian government’s massive Smart Cities Mission, which aims to develop 100 sustainable and citizen-friendly cities all over the country, has done very little to include architectural voices into the conversation. Same goes for our heritage structures that are being replaced by modern structures despite resistance shown by architects.

As a result, architects are making efforts and are regularly creating platforms that can give way to solutions to better architecture. Practitioners such as Karan Grover, Rahul Mehrotra and Naresh Narasimhan have begun to assume the role of activist. In addition to certain professional bodies like the Council of Architecture, Indian Institute of Architects and Indian Institute of Interior Designers, a lot of cities have very active architects’ groups who meet, interact, disseminate, and share their views on the profession and issues surrounding it. Numerous international architecture conventions are also creating opportunities of increased visibility. Here, major discussions on burning topics such as sustainability and the green movement, integration of urban planning and architecture, and the role of architects in the planning of cities, are being explored. These conversations about how architecture professionals can better society are also beginning to include conversations with planners, governmental bodies, environmentalists, citizens and psychologists.

Women’s participation in the field is definitely growing worldwide, but particularly so in India, where they are contributing to architecture and planning in a myriad of ways and are holding authoritative positions. This is a far cry from the gender-biased profession architecture was in India even a decade back. Needless to say, on many forums, it is the women who are initiating changes.


Kirloskar Institute of Advanced Management Studies, India by Christopher Charles Benniger Architects. Photo by Ramprasad Akkisetti and Deepak Kaw.


Goa Institute of Management in Sanquelim, Goa by Somaya & Kalappa Consultants.


The Need to Look at 'Cities,' Rather than just 'Buildings'

Many of India’s major cities are experiencing issues of infrastructure, basic planning, and sanitation, though they receive little attention. While smaller cities are proving to be great examples, there is still a need to look at urban planning from scratch. India does have a few architects such as Christopher Charles Benninger, whose focus has been to integrate architecture and urban planning. Numerous architects in the country have realized that working in silos and for their own buildings alone might not work. Many are beginning to look at the larger picture within their cities, and rather than focusing solely on individual projects, are seeing the need for architecture to engage with cities.

Considering how architecture can affect the socio-cultural imprint of a city, the social responsibility of an architect is being profoundly displayed

Considering how architecture can affect the socio-cultural imprint of a city, the social responsibility of an architect is being profoundly displayed by a handful of architects in the country such as Brinda Somaya, Pratima Joshi, PK Das and Abha Narain Lambah, who are working on community architecture and are passionately involved with restoring or conserving heritage structures. Then there are architects like Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri, Bijoy Jain and Girish Dariyav Karnawat whose works have not only brought forth the immense resource of ’craftspeople’ that we have in the country, but has also helped in uplifting these ‘treasures.’

Architects are joining in social movements and demanding public dialogues to curb the disconnect between what people want and what is being offered to them. In terms of safety and security, architects like Neera Adarkar are bringing into focus the ‘gendering of spaces’ and concepts such as ‘eyes on the street.’ There has also been a surge of non-profit organizations in the country, who are not only voicing their opinions on the degradation of design and cities, but are physically working on solutions. Through this, citizens are able to participate in building their cities like never before. Now, there are even opportunities for citizens to participate in and provide feedback for master-planning, a recent example being Bengaluru.

Yellow Train School by Biome Environmental Solutions. Photo by Vivek Muthuramalingam.


Volontariat by Anupama Kundoo Architects. © Deepshikha Jain


Wall House by Anupama Kundoo Architects. © Javier Callejas


The Shift in Design Sensibilities

The growing economy and population has led to enormous housing needs, driving the extent of architectural work and creating massive opportunities in the country. It is also one of the reasons why the number of foreign architectural firms working in India has increased. In the aftermath of cities burdened by the lack of infrastructure, the opportunity to design and make a difference in India has become immense. This has also led to the increasing number of Indian architects, who, after receiving their architectural education overseas, have returned to India to practice and be a part of the shift the country is going through.

An influence from the West, glass and designer-shaped buildings began as design statements some years back, but are now shunned by responsible architects for their out-of-context implementation. Indian architecture is seeing many explorations. Though globalization is widely influencing the architecture being built in India today, the need and anxiety to localize is also fiercely felt by many.

Glass, steel and aluminium might remain as ‘fashionable’ materials, but there has been a shift in sensibilities with the revival of Indian crafts

Glass, steel and aluminium might remain as ‘fashionable’ materials, but there has been a shift in sensibilities with the revival of Indian crafts and the use of natural and alternative materials such as brick, mud, clay, bamboo, wood, stone, etc. Significantly, many architects such as Krishnarao Jaisim, Neelam Manjunath, Sathya Prakash Varanashi, Chitra Vishwanath, Anupama Kundoo, Yatin Pandya, Dean D’Cruz and Samira Rathod are innovatively bringing forward these materials to create statements. India can also take pride in its legends like Didi Contractor, an 88-year old woman, whose training in architecture has not been formal but come from Didi's empirical knowledge attributed to her wide reading and exposure to the field. Even at this age today, her work with mud and clay have revealed how we all should turn to nature for our answers.


Shadow House by Samira Rathod Design Associates © Edmund Sumner


House on Pali Hill by Bijoy Jain's Studio Mumbai. © Helene Binet


The concepts of sustainability and ‘going green’ have become commonplace though some architects and real estate builders use these terms more so as marketing gimmicks rather than as a mandate for responsible design. Discussions around the two have taken center stage at architectural forums, conveying the urgency felt by architects and planners in India to correctly interpret and use them.

The importance of context, sustainability, nature, and creating an architecture that is true to our culture and cultivates an ‘Indian identity’ has gained much credence. The works of legends such as Charles Correa, BV Doshi, Raj Rewal, Laurie Baker, CN Raghavendran, Shiv Datt Sharma, among others, have long represented Indian architecture on international platforms. Today, a lot of younger contemporary practices in India have joined them, such as Sanjay Puri Architects, Mathew & Ghosh Architects and Morphogenesis who are making waves overseas for their futuristic thinking that rests on a traditional ethos and the core tenets of a contextual, responsible and resourceful architecture. Apart from globally positioning themselves at expos, biennials and award competitions, Indian architects are doing a fair amount of work overseas too.


The Institute for Integrated Learning in Management by Morphogenesis.


The Street by Sanjay Puri Architects. © Dinesh Mehta


The adaptation to technology has also been appreciable with advancements being successfully integrated in design aspects. India’s emerging architects have exemplified a lot of fresh work that could be grouped under ‘contemporary Indian sensibility'—a sensibility that takes the roots and ethos of Indian architecture and integrates them into contemporary vocabulary. The step towards bold and experimental architecture has already been taken, for example, in the work done by Malik Architects and Planet 3 Studios. Many are involved in a critical reinterpretation of how buildings and spaces should be.

For many architects in the country, architecture is not merely about the ‘aesthetics,’ it is about functionality

The re-conceptualisation of spaces has been a revelation too. There are several architects such as Sanjay Mohe and Sandeep Khosla who have focused on the spatial experiences of the built environment. For them, as for many others, it’s about designing buildings as spaces, and not merely ‘objects.’ Even once forgotten spaces like kitchens and bathrooms are now seeing makeovers as they become spaces of immense significance. For many architects in the country, architecture is not merely about the ‘aesthetics,’ it is about functionality, about a ‘way of living’, about how the profession can affect us.


Bamboo Symphony by Manasaram Architects.


MPavilion 2016 by Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai. Photo Credit: John Gollings.


What the Profession Also Needs

Changing lifestyles have transformed the meaning of architecture for many. The perils of technological exploitation, excessive virtual networking leading to failures in proper communication, the dependence on patrons and well-travelled clients, and the diminishing importance given to culture and heritage are the challenges facing architecture in India today. There is lots of information available, but is it being converted into knowledge? While changing lifestyles have impacted architecture, it is important for the profession to ruminate on how it can in turn make a lasting impact on transforming lifestyles.

The profession’s woes also have a lot to do with architectural education in India, which has been deteriorating over the decades and could use an overhaul. Though the field has a lot of well-acclaimed academics in India, the unexpected proliferation of architecture schools and the easy path to licensure have been huge sources of consternation in India, as has the curriculum and faculty. So much so that a small number of firms have even taken upon themselves to hold smaller academic programs, and train students themselves.

The role of Indian media in architecture and design, has also remained very limited. There are very few people in the country who have taken it upon themselves to make a difference to architecture and cities through writing. Though the subject of writing on architecture has seen much growth in the past few years with people expressing their interest towards it, one would like to see the Indian media getting into more participatory roles and becoming an analytical weapon in making everyone realize how architecture and planning can affect cities.

To conclude, Indian architecture is in a state of flux where we have everything—explorations, opportunities, experiments and evolved sensibilities—and a step in the right direction could yield great results and maybe help in re-discovering what we have lost. The need of the hour is to not be carried away with what is happening around us, but to understand our needs, our expectations, our roots and work towards an architecture that adapts to changing lifestyles but stays true to its values and identity; that communicates to people and shapes our society; that helps in building memories and gives us buildings and spaces that can sustain till posterity.


Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta (www.apurvabose.com) is an author and award-winning architectural journalist from India. An alumna of the Chandigarh College of Architecture, with a diploma in freelance journalism from the U.K., Apurva has spent the past 12 years writing about the A/E/C industry, bringing every aspect to the forefront. While she is working towards making architectural journalism a mainstream profession in India through her various initiatives, she also wants to highlight journalism as THE medium to talk about, critique, and create a demand for better architecture for society.

Her recent book, "ARCHITECTURAL VOICES OF INDIA: A Blend of Contemporary and Traditional Ethos" (published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK), brings out the voices of 19 illustrious architects from India across generations, conversing through dialogues about the core issues and perspectives around architecture. These voices bring to the forefront unique and inspirational journeys, varied design philosophies and building typologies, the evolution of architecture and a reflection on the new role that architects should play, and the state of the profession in India and globally. More information on the book is available on http://www.apurvabose.com/book/


* Article was originally published on Feburary 15, 2018, 9 AM EST on https://archinect.com/*

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