Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Response to: Why build out of context?: Infosys Campus, Mysore- an opportunity missed

I forget what I was searching for when I came across Why build out of context?: Infosys Campus, Mysore- an opportunity missed, yet another modernist whining about a building that doesn't conform to their dogma. Having a point of view, and time on hand, I banged out my essay length reply (rant?) but couldn't post it, so here you go:

I find it funny when modernist architects, whose stock in trade is to import the rather poor aesthetics and climate unfriendly design patterns of Northern European architecture from the second half of the 20th century, complain about the lack of contextuality of neo-Classical styles. 
If by context you mean references/resemblance to existing historical buildings, you should have seen the Lalit Mahal Palace (now a hotel) in Mysore (on the left). With its central dome fronted by a colonnade, it has a striking familial resemblance to the Infosys Education Centre (on the right).

Also, why are the Indo-Saracenic and Art-Deco styles you talk glowingly about so contextual ? Indo-Saracenic is nothing but Gothic Architecture with a few local references thrown in. Gothic is the style of Europe's great cathedrals. The local references were usually elements of Islamic Architecture  such as the bulbous domes. So a style born of the fusion of a European architecture with a Persian sensibility is contextual, but this building with its more rigidly classical palette is not! Doesn't sound logically consistent to me

As for Art-Deco (not that the Market visible in the linked video looked Art-Deco to me but anyway) Art-Deco, with its cousin Art-Noveau, was refined in the ateliers of Brussels and Paris before being exported to warmer climes like Miami and Bombay. So it is as much an import as any of the other styles.

I am not saying there isn't a problem with the Infosys campus. The minor problem there is of aesthetics. The 'classical meets mundane modern' of the Leadership institute is ho-hum, although an improvement over just modern mundane. The blob architecture of the Infy Dome is just silly. You will see far sillier examples in the Bangalore campus with buildings that resemble front-loading washing machines and pyramids, but as a modernist you may find that to be 'innovative urban architecture'. The neo-Classical Education centre could have been much better with architects who had a better handle on classical form and proportion, and a client willing to spend more on the detailing and material instead of cheaping out with concrete and plaster. Its tragedy is that it combines ambition with sloppiness, the ambition being for grandeur rather than excellence. It still is the one building on this campus that people will least regret building 50 years from now.

The bigger problem is of urbanism. This again is a gift from the great minds of modernism like Corbusier whose urban design breakthrough was to recommend the demolition of downtown Paris and its replacement with widely spaced towers. Pity the Parisians ignored him, his genius solution would have rid them of the millions of pesky tourists who infest their city in springtime and distract them from the pleasurable contemplation of their croissants. As a result of this ideology, most modern architects design buildings like they are being built in the middle of corn fields. Your profession, since the takeover of the modernists,  isn't taught to understand the urban fabric, the context (yes, this is the correct use of the word) in which they are building, the street grid that they must integrate with and add to. Your tribe doesn't understand how to design for continuity in the street wall, how to organize communities around spaces like squares and plazas, to give primacy to the pleasures of people over the demands of automobiles.

If you look around the Infosys campus on Google Maps you can see a dense tight grid of a residential neighborhoods on different sides. A 100 years ago, the architect in charge would have designed this facility in a way that would knit the neighborhoods together, with the massive GEC building as the focal point, fronted perhaps by an urban plaza, with streets radiating out to the various neighborhood clusters. Today, we can't think beyond building a gated enclave cut off from the neighbors and cutting off areas on the north from those on the south by forcing huge detours on people traveling between the two. You can say that clients ask for this, but the reason they know no better is that they are advised no better and, more over, this image of the utopia that is a sanitized anti-urban campus is the received wisdom that has been blessed by modernists starting with anti-urbanism of the cult of Corbusier. Please don't say Chandigarh - that is just suburbia constrained by the resources available to India in the 50s when we couldn't afford to build American style freeways.

ps. Calling the dome Byzantine - man you are just embarrassing yourself.
It could be called many things - Neo-Classical obviously, also called Greek Revival, like the US Congress building. Baroque, perhaps, like St. Paul's in London. 
The closest point of inspiration I could find was the Academie Francaise building in Paris, a Classical building with a curved facade like the Infosys building, although with enormously better detail and finish. 

But by no stretch of imagination is this a Byzantine styled dome - that is what you see on the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque or any of Sinan's other wonderful mosques that dot the Istanbul skyline.