Ar. Brinda Somaya - Somaya & Kalappa Consultants

Brinda Somaya
Architecture has always told us stories about what has gone before. In the archaeological sites, when one tries to decipher layers of history of a bygone civilization, one can connect the stories of the lives of the people who lived in these layers to the architecture of the place. So, the significance of architecture to talk about the culture of the people cannot be underestimated whether one is talking about Pompeii or Mumbai.

Architecture as a formal practice is a relatively recent phenomenon. When we see architecture as an occupation of the people, we realize that lifetimes have passed in building a civilization and its products – from the great temples to universities, towns, forts and so on. And in this occupation, one can read the history of human development – the passion and spirit of the people of a civilization.

From the very beginning of history, architecture has been a collaborative practice. From the first civilizations to the Sistine Chapel, many people are involved in creation of the work. This practice has now seeped into collaborative works of art as well when you look at public installations, large murals and many conceptual works by contemporary artists.
Years ago, newspapers had critics who used to discuss art exhibitions and sculpture. What I think is lacking in our culture now is the real, high-quality architectural criticism

Bombay House Fort MumbaiBombay House, Fort, Mumbai
The influx of technology and the access to quick information has also changed the way people look at art or architecture. Everything is reduced to the image that is transmitted by Google in a fraction of a second. While information has become accessible, we no longer have the time to assimilate and analyse.

What I think is lacking in our culture is the real, high-quality, architectural criticism. The glossy magazines just show pretty pictures and just like art, there is no serious coverage of architecture in mainstream media as well. Once in a while, you find a good piece on architecture in the journals. We don't have people like Ada Louise Huxtable who had the courage and intellectual sharpness to criticize the works of Le Corbusier. Years ago, in a conference in Goa, I had proposed to other architects that let's have a genuine critique of each other's buildings. While everyone agreed in the conference, everyone changed their minds once we went back to Mumbai.

Our search for excellence and standards has itself come into question. The change in the world around us has contributed to this shift in thinking. To do anything well, a commitment of time is needed. This can be in the form of intellectual thought, commitment to work and process. If one doesn't devote what is required, one is going to create something mediocre. This mediocrity reflects in your work as the number of projects become exponentially more and the attention to each much less.

At the same time, I would like to say that there are many good buildings that we see now, even though in isolated instances. Young firms in India are doing much creative work and one can see a pedigree of such practices across India. I do think that this work does not achieve a substantial mass. For example, see what restoration of a few buildings a decade back in Fort has done through a cascading effect – areas like the Horniman Circle have seen a complete renewal, building by building. And if one wants a critical mass of good work, I do believe that education is where one has to look.

India & The WorldIndia & The World: A History in Nine Stories

Years ago, newspapers had good critics who used to discuss art exhibitions and sculpture in great detail for the public. Every show opening had a very particular coverage and that was our opportunity to frame an opinion. Now Bollywood dominates.