If you have to form a match the following question for your kid, there are not many Indian options to pit against architecture. The only name that rushes to your mind is Raj Rewal, known for his post colonial ‘monuments' not only in Delhi but also in different parts of the world.
Rewal has promoted a coherent and harmonious development that is in sync with the climate and culture of the place. When others were rushing for cubicles and glass effect, he kept traditional Indian craftsmen involved in contemporising traditional architectural art forms. His dialogue with the heritage continues as he creates courtyards in public buildings as the meeting spaces for the employees to have a dialogue.
“Unlike music or painting, architecture is a public art and deals with utilitarian objects. I think some of the best architecture of out times tends to have poetic elements as well as being utilitarian. The havelis of Jaisalmer are one of my biggest inspirations. They taught me how to keep the interiors cool in scorching heat.” He is pained to see developers are investing in glass. “Glass is for colder climate. Its transparency is nullified in hot weather as you to have to cover it with heavy curtains. As you shut the door to nature, the cost of air conditioning goes up substantially.”
Time to amalgamate
Isn't architectural heritage losing out to rampant globalisation? “It seems globalisation and the market economy is promoting banal architecture. The need of the hour is to amalgamate the essence of traditional wisdom with the technophilia of our times to create humane and sustainable architecture. Malls are fine but I miss the symmetry of Asian street bazaars, where shops attract you with the placement of goods.”
He cites the timelessness of Fatehpur Sikri's construction systems in stones, which he says are lighter than masonry structures elsewhere and can be compared to contemporary reinforced concrete building where the walls are redundant and the loads are carried on columns.
Rewal believes there is an ethics of architecture. “The scare of global warming is looming large and architects should bear special responsibility and energy efficiency should be a major concern. In most of the projects, I have been involved, we were able to reduce electrical power utilisation by about 10 per cent by adopting traditional sun control systems like courtyards, roof overhangs and deep set windows.” It is for these remarkable concerns that French Embassy invited him as a chief guest at an exhibition called Architecture = Sustainable, which is organised as part of the ongoing Bonjour India Festival.
A man of eclectic tastes, who took the road to success from Hoshiarpur, Rewal could well have been a painter. He even went to School of Art in Delhi for six months before joining the School of Architecture. He chiselled his art in London's Architectural Association School and nurtured his senses while exploring the theatre scene in the cultural centre of those times. “Theatre had an influence on my architecture. I even worked as assistant stage manager. There I learnt how one can convey big meanings through small things.”
Of course, the idea of enlightenment inherent in the design of Parliament Library with light percolating through the mandala is a case in point. “Our Sanskrit texts define rasa with reference to performing arts. I feel architects too should have a potential to express a variety of sentiments through architecture otherwise the work becomes devoid of character.”
Rewal carries a passionate relationship with his creations. “It hurts when I find the building is not well-maintained. And it happens most of the times with public buildings. Sometime they add new structures without informing me. We also tend to forget that the thought ‘cleanliness is next to godliness' emerged from this country. Take Benaras, it used to be a great city. Now its beauty is marred by filth. Somehow aesthetics has not become part of our democratic values.”
With Commonwealth Games round the corner, it is pertinent to ask the man who designed the Asiad Village about the new look of the city. He prefers silence but goes on to say, “At that time an open competition was organised and my designs were selected by experts and peers in the field.”
The craze for foreign architects is increasing, but Rewal sees it as more of a fad. “There is no harm in inviting foreign architects if somebody is offering a unique design suited to your needs. After all we are also invited to design in different parts of the world. But there is no point in buying an idea which one has already sold in another part of the world. It is happening more often than not as some of our developers, who are architecturally illiterate, are happy creating copies of what has been done in the West. In these cases form follows finance!”