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From the astounding minarets of the Taj Mahal to the strategic beauty of the Red Fort, from the intelligence in the planning of the Harappa civilisation to the towering townships in the new age; Indian architecture has been on a dynamic journey from the ancient to modern.
They say that what we leave behind is something that we take forward; a strong foothold of culture, heritage and community is what the Indian Architecture has retained and fine-tuned over the years. Taking a stroll through these glorious years, let’s look at some of the finest works that have evolved and paved the foundation for the new-age architecture and its design finesse.
Dating back to 3300 BCE, the Harappan Civilization has played a pivotal role in shaping the new-age architecture. With its well-planned grids, road hierarchy, impeccable drainage systems, use of traditional materials, multi-storeyed homes and clearly defined layouts, the city is no less than a work of art.
With cities like Mohenjodaro and Harappa exemplifying the use of every system as a functional element; serving a specific purpose, it became an epitome of reference for the coming years in the architectural journey for India. Therefore, It is still considered one of the most progressive cities in the history of Architecture.
Discovered around the 3rd century BC, monoliths became a standard of glorifying the prowess of a kingdom. Rock-cut architecture is a reference to the structures, buildings or sculptures that are carved out from a single piece of solid rock, right in the location where it stands. Indian architecture has a lineage of such historic rock-cut architecture in the form of detail-oriented sculptures, structures and entire buildings. Many Indian architectural rock-cut elements are under UNESCO world heritage sites.
The Ellora caves in Maharashtra, the Shore temple in Tamil Nadu, Panch Rathas in Mahabalipuram, Masrur temple in Kangra Valley, are a few examples of the astounding rock-cut heritage that the ancient architecture of India beholds.
The history of Indian Architecture is incomplete without its iconic temples. They form an important aspect since they developed in almost all regions of ancient India. However, temple architecture has seen a diverse set of architectural styles accounting for the changing geographical conditions, climate, ethnicity, history and diversity. The Dravida and Vesara style was seen in the south, whereas the Nagara style became a Northern staple.
Apart from this several regional styles in the Kerala, Himalayan and Bengal regions developed due to their dynamic geographical and cultural symbolism.
In the Northern style, the sikhara (rising tower in the Hindu temples) remained the prominent feature whereas, in the Southern style, the Gopurams (huge gateways that form the enclosure of the temple complex) were the highlight. The Kandariya Mahadev Temple, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh are examples of the Nagara Style of temple architecture. The towering Gopurams and the extensive Mandapas (porches) of the famous Thanjavur temple in Tamil Nadu are some of the finest examples of the Dravidian style of Architecture.
The Badami Cave temple in northern Karnataka or the Group of Monuments in Pattadakal comprising the Virupaksha temple are some of the iconic temples dating back to 500 CE. The Jagannath temple in Puri and the Sun temple of Konark reflect the Kalinga style of temple architecture.
The mediaeval period in the evolution of architecture in India saw an eccentric growth in detail-oriented design with massive scales. With the entry of Muslims into the Indian context, several new elements and features, as well as techniques, were introduced. This created a blend of traditional Indian architecture merging with Islamic design elements forming the Indo-Islamic Architecture.
This architecture brought in two prominent styles namely - the Imperial Style and the Mughal Architecture. The imperial style was derived from the Sultans of Delhi with astounding palaces having humongous domes and decorated arches with embellishments. Mughal Architecture was a merger between Hindu and Islamic Architecture prominently from Central Asia, Islamic, Arabic, Persia, Turkish architectural styles.
The Qutb Complex in Delhi, the Quwaat-ul-Islam Mosque, Taj Mahal in Agra, along with the Red Fort, Jama Masjid are some of the exquisite marvels of Indo-Islamic Architecture.
The British Indo-Saracenic Architecture in the 18th Century was a strategic way of turning the rich Indian architectural heritage towards the service of the Raj. The British looked upon the Indian architectural heritage and targeted it to be a culmination of showcasing their prowess by placing themselves in the line of the heritage empires in India. However, the Indo-Saracenic architecture took major cues from the ancient Indian architecture for its appearance and took references from Western architecture for its function. This blend of Indian forms merging with the functionality of western architecture formed an iconic set of structures that are state-of-art.
The architecture further grew when it took references from the Gothic style; surface decoration, arches as gateways, ornate forms, vaulted roofs, scalloped arches, overhanging eaves, open pavilions, and pierced arcades were some of the staple elements of this style.
This style continued till the early 20th century for several colonial-style buildings in India, some of the early examples are the New Palace of Kolhapur (1881), the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai.
The advent of the 20th century saw a growth in the economy as well as the population, this, in turn, created a high demand for housing. Globalisation and a migratory population led to a shift in Indian architecture from a holistic point of view. The free Indian population saw a sore in architecture in the 1950s. A country that was entangled in the British raj saw a surge in opportunities, the architecture thus became a reflection of that emotion.
The British reign introduced a style of architecture called modern, which was heavily influenced by the Tudor style and South East England's vernacular. This amalgamation of Indian and European influences gave birth to Indo-Saracenic architecture. Most structures built by Colonial rule incorporated both English traits and characteristics from Indian culture, using materials like bamboo, red stone, timber, cotton fibre and more. While modern design embraced these durable materials, it maintained its Indian folk elements.
The Art Deco style played a crucial role in defining the modern exterior and interior architecture . Free from the imposed expertise of the British colonial architects, the commission of designing a modern India was given to the swiss-french architect Le Corbusier, who played a core role in creating a monumental set of architecture with his masterworks. He brought in a stark, massive and minimal set of architecture in the city of Chandigarh. Corbusier positioned modern Indian architecture on a global map. By the mid-1950s, modern architecture started flourishing in its prime.
In the 1970s,Indian architecture worked closely with a modernist design language. The works of Richard Neutra, Louis Kahn, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Eames, Jane B Drew found their way towards India in the 20th Century. Balkrishna Doshi’s work with Louis Kahn to develop the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad created a new role for architecture that was based on pure inherent order and geometry.
Charles Correa started developing his works with structures like Kanchanjunga apartments in the 1970s, the art centre in Jaipur in the 1980s and several other prominent works during the later decade. Architects like Anant Raje, Raj Rewal, Laurie Baker, and many more played a pivotal role in the evolution of architecture by taking cues from the ancient to define the modern.
The CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad initiated a calling for sustainable architecture in India. With the 2004 draft for National Environmental Policy receiving several criticisms, the matters of environmental concerns became a highlight. Even the consumers understood the vitality of having habitable green surroundings that ensured sustenance.
This gave rise to a new style in architecture that placed the environment right at the centre. Several architects like BV Doshi, Charles Correa, Nari Gandhi, Laurie Baker, worked towards a common goal of orienting structures that thrive on sustainability allowing conscious innovations. Futuristic and sustainable architecture developed in the city of Auroville started receiving global applause, which accounted for the growth of awareness towards nature.
Green building certifications like IGBC (Indian Green Building Council), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Griha, helped in taking this message of ‘Going green’ to a diverse user group, right from the designers to the inhabitants.
Even today, several architectural firms and studios like Biome Environmental Solutions, Hunnarshala Foundation, Made in Earth, Trupti Doshi Architects, are working towards practising sustainable architecture as a way of life. Structures like Suzlon One Earth, Pune (Platinum certification of LEED), Patni (i-GATE) Knowledge Center, Noida ( LEED Platinum rating), Infinity Benchmark, Kolkata (LEED Platinum level certified green building ) are a few examples that highlight the eccentric possibilities of sustainable architecture in the Indian context.
Parametric Architecture is said to be the next revolution after the Industrial revolution. Computational design methods, robotics and automation have become a crucial part of architecture in the new age. With the 3d printing industry planning to build an interplanetary architecture, the new age is all about going digital.
On a global scale, this growth is in an uproar, however, Indian architecture has seen a blend between the past and the future forming a unique school of thought. Architects and designers are closely embracing cutting edge technology but are forming traditionalist interpretations of the same.
Architectural firms like PMA Madhushala, Cadence Architects, NUDES studio by Nuru Karim and many more are constantly exploring dynamic forms that are deeply embedded in biomimicry with an environmentally conscious approach.
Globalisation is also leading to an increased verticality in the cosmopolitans with towering skyscrapers and multi-use buildings, the future is in buildings that have ‘tech’ as a keyword in them.
Starting from the Harappan civilization to the monolithic architecture, that seemingly floated into the Indo-Islamic language followed by the British era, the changing dynamics of modern India to the foothold of sustainability and now heading towards the future; it has indeed been quite a journey for India and its Architecture.
This dynamic path over centuries is a testimonial of the eccentricity and eclectic architecture that India has to offer. Being adaptive as well as resilient to many new architectural styles, the evolution of Indian Architecture has always been a merge between the past heritage with the current dynamics; this is one phenomenon that has never changed.
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