Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Thought 2: Modernism, Memory, Architecture and Identity in 'Third World' _ Exploring the nature of Modernity within the context of South Asia

The notion of Modernity and Modernism emerged out of specific concerns within the post-industrial revolution of western culture. However, in the context of the 'Third World', particularly the case of South Asia, these two terms evoke a very complex idea, as they came to being during the middle decades of 20th century through a series of political processes including Independence, Decolonization, Nation-building and Cold war that inevitably resulted in a Crisis of Identity in that part of the world.

The pressure of demography and developments, as well as the socio-cultural and climatic context has resulted in a very specific kind of Modernism. High density and low income complex urban environment have added completely unique dimensions to our understandings of Modernism for this particular piece of land. While standing at the age of globalization, the canonical historiography of the affluence based first world often universalize the idea of Modernity,  I would, rather like to re-conceptualize the political realities of  the third world, that currently remains in the grip of an unjust imperialistic-capitalism.

Through the lens of geo-politics of architectural discourse since 1960, I’d like to explore not only the relationship between architecture and social forces such as nationalism and globalization, but also the inter-relation between architecture and ethics where cultural memory and history as well as the material preference have played a distinctive role. Hence, I finally aim to theorize the relationship between architecture and identity in our case of South Asia, if not global.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Thought 1: Towards a New Language of Modernism_ Following the Footprints of Pierre Jeanneret in Post-independence India

My thesis is about architect Pierre Jeanneret's works in India. The reason why I selected the topic is that I surprisingly noticed that there are some widely believed misconceptions and untrue knowledge about Pierre Jeanneret – his training as well as his contribution as an architect. There are people who assume that Le Corbusier’s cousin Jeanneret, who collaborated with him in only few early projects around 1920’s, was actually an engineer. In fact, after having worked together for some 20 years, due to their discrete political ideology, their partnership finally came to an end. Although neither of them was literary trained as an architect, no one ever dares to raise a question if Corbusier was an architect or not; but in Jeanneret’s case they do.  The topic of Jeanneret hardly had a critical gaze in the history or historiography of architecture so far, rather his name often came as a side issue in most studies on his cousin, who arguably happened to be the most famous, most influential and most written about architect in the history of the 20th century architecture. Thus, quite naturally, the contribution of Pierre Jeanneret has often has been faded away in the giant shadow of his cousin.  Despite some sporadic publications, till today little research has been done in English on Pierre Jeanneret, as an individual architect. The architecture of Chandigarh has been frequently discussed and re-discussed, but it mostly focuses on Le Corbusier’s few monumental building in sector -1. Very little has been written about Jeanneret, either by himself or others. Only a few years back, in 2005, a year before I visited Chandigarh, there was an international conference held at Chandigarh School of Architecture entitled ‘Remembering Pierre Jeanneret’, some of the papers were published in the A+D Journal. Since then, Jeanneret’s works have started to become a fascinating subject matter in academic discussions.

In spite of the fact that in Chandigarh Le Corbusier's architectural involvement was limited to the modification of Albert Mayer’s Initial Master Plan of the city and few monumental buildings at the Capitol Complex, the residential, commercial, educational, cultural buildings and most importantly the mass housing projects had been designed by the other 3 senior architects Pierre Jeanneret E. Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. These three architects hardly ever get any credit for their effort, and remained in Corbu’s shadow.  That is why Norma Evenson wrote in her book:

“…as the city now exists, it owes to Le Corbusier only its skeletal outlines, while the flesh and substance have been created by others.” 

Jeanneret, who arrived in India along with Le Corbusier in February 1951, was appointed as a senior architect along with Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Beverley Drew. In 1954, while other architects had finished their contract of the Chandigarh Capital Project and returned to Europe, Jeanneret decided to remain in India. While the man and wife team of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were associated for 3 to 5 years respectively, Jeanneret was appointed as the first Chief architect and Town Planner of the state of Punjab , and continued to oversee all planning applications and to tutor and practice with the young Indian architects, and eventually ended up staying for 15 years, leaving an indelible footprint in the grounds of the Indian Modernism.

Having encountered all these information, I was perplexed by a series of disjointed questions like how did Jeanneret relate himself to the Ideas of Modernism in earlier phases of his career? And later having come to India, how was he influenced by the local political and cultural set of values? And to what degree the physical manifestation of Nehru’s idea resulted in Gandhian philosophy of asceticism?  Yet, the fundamental question remained, being a European modernist architect, and later having discovered the sense of local cultural identity while working in India, what is the crucial contribution of architect Pierre Jeanneret in translating and interpreting his previous ideas and experiences of the central mission of modernism to a different culture? And to what extent, his interpretation is an extension or contradiction to the conventional one? And how exactly does his effort continue to influence the architecture of that part of the world till today?

My perplexity had to do with my inadequacy of knowledge in tracing the journey of modernism to the Third world. Being a citizen of that particular corner of the world I felt an internal obligation to search for those answers.  Regardless of the fact that Pierre Jeanneret has always been used as a side issue to discuss the works of Le Corbusier, in this particular context of post-independence India, Jeanneret can be considered as the main figure. And therefore, in my thesis Le Corbusier, occasionally and fairly frequently has come as a side issue in most of my chapters, in order to present Pierre Jeanneret in a new light.

This thesis has given me the opportunity to analyze different phases of Pierre Jeanneret’s 45 years long career as an architect, fairly consistently and coherently, and to search for the significance of his contributions in Third world modernism, if not global.

Eventually, based on the series of analyses throughout my thesis, I provided a hypothesis:

Jeanneret, being conventionally considered as a representative of the heroic Modernism, while had the opportunity to work in a condition outside the so-called modern world – in our case India –  he took the challenge to re-assess the venture of modernity as they perceived in the European context. So, the case of Jeanneret is an example of Modernism’s ‘self-assessment’ – if not a re-visioning attitude – which, according to many postmodernist thinkers, is the sole right of the generation after the moderns.