Architecture throughout the world in recent decades has experienced a changing relationship with its past. The collapse of confidence in Modernism as a panacea, as the ready and reliable solution, came from its tendency to universalize at the expense of local and particular needs, felt especially by architecture’s users, and from the loss of diversity in expression. In some extreme cases the desire to recover regional or historical elements has led into atavism; but more often the attempt has been to graft onto the continuing mainstream selected elements of restored identities. Hence the variety of Post-Modernisms, and the ‘abstract’ or ‘critical’ regionalism, that are by now commonplace. These new approaches are highly sensitive to the forms, the textures and even the materials of historical and regional building systems. But for the most parts the borrowed qualities are rationalized afresh, they are redefined within the context of a Post-Modern philosophy; and there has been some reluctance to engage with the organizing logic – with the theory – of those original systems. This article addresses this pressing global issue, taking at the ground for discussion the development from Pre-Colonial to Post-Modern Ahmedabad.
Founded by Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1412 AD, the city had been home to the Muzafarids, Mughals and the Marathas, before the British East India Company took over the city in 1818. The fortified walled city consists of twelve gates, 189 bastions and over 6000 battlements. It was mainly a center for trade in textiles in the fifteenth and sixteenth century until Shah Jahan came along and recognized the picturesque Architecture of the city. Early in the sixteenth century, under Ahmed Shah, builders fused Hindu craftsmanship with Persian architecture, giving rise to the Indo-Saracenic style.w71
The Siddi Saiyyed w72 Mosque, one of the most famous mosques of the city is built in this style. It is entirely arched and has ten stone latticework jallied windows on the side and rear arches. This jailw73 is 16 feet in size and stands 20 feet above the ground, believed to be completed in six years by the continuous efforts of 45 artistsw74 . The rear wall is filled with square stone pierced panels in geometrical designs. The two bays flanking the central aisle have reticulated stone slabs carved in designs of intertwined trees and foliage with a palm motif.
The old city of Ahmedabad is in itself an example of excellent town planning. Situated in south of Sabarmati river, a Pol is a typical housing cluster of the old city established during the divided Mughal-Maratha rule by the residents due to tension between Hindus and Muslims. The streets were very narrow which helped them during attacks by the enemy. All the streets had sloping roads which lead to the riverfront as a measure of natural drainage. Chabutra was a unique pole like structure for feeding birds, usually found under banyan trees in all the Pols which suggest that the people had learned to live in harmony with the nature and other creatures.
During the freedom struggle of India, Ahmedabad served as the home of many prominent nationalists like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel. The Indian independence movement developed roots in the city when Mahatma Gandhi established two ashrams – the Kochrab Ashram near Paldi in 1915 and the Satyagraha Ashram (now Sabarmati Ashram) on the banks of the Sabarmati in 1917. In 1947, Ahmedabad was the focus for settlement by Hindu migrants from Pakistan, who expanded the city’s population.
By 1960, Ahmedabad had become a metropolis with a population of slightly fewer than half a million people, with classical and colonial European-style buildings lining the city’s thoroughfares. After independence, modern buildings appeared in Ahmedabad as it emerged as a mega city, crazy mix of Architectural styles, some bordering on the bizarre, others contemporary and cutting-edge, but all combining to create a unique urban landscape that includes commercial and residential buildings, fountains, gardens, under bridges and lakes.
The oldest society in Ellis bridge area, on the western side of the river, was Pritam nagar Society. The bungalow of Sir Chinubhai Baronet is unique. Because the construction has mixed Gothic style, the bungalow looks like a palace. The bungalow of Seth Mangaldas Girdhardas Parekh has European style.
The city boasts of having four buildings designed by the legendary architect Le Corbusier, including the privately commissioned Sarabhai Villa (1955). The house was sited and designed to catch the winds in summer, but to be penetrated by the sun in winter, thus minimizing its mechanical needs. The brise-soleil cuts off the sun in summers, and the roof garden cools the rooms. The roof gardens were Corbusier’s way of giving back to the nature. Another brilliant example of this climate responsive Architecture can be seen in the Mill Owner’s Association building (1954). It is oriented to catch the prevailing breezes through its openings on east and west facades with reinforced concrete brise-soleils and adjustable blinds while the North and south facades are blank with exposed brick work.
Later Charles Correa started blending of the old Architecture with the modern one. He designed the new building of museum in 1964 of Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, keeping in mind Gandhiji’s residence ‘Hridaykunj’ and other buildings. B. V. Doshi returned to the city from Paris to supervise Le Corbusier’s works. Mahatma Gandhi Labour Institute designed by him has a semicircular ceiling and elevation that look impressive at the first sight. Amdavad-ni-Gufa (1992) is a creation of well-known painter M.F. Hussain and Doshi collaboratively. It is an underground Ferro cement structure with optimally structured roof shells in china mosaic protruding over ground. Sangath, his office is a passive design which reduces greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere. Use of diffused sunlight in the studio, and partly sinking it into the ground assures comfortable temperatures at all times. Construction of vaults and covering it with broken white china mosaic, which is insulating and reflective in nature brings the heat gain through the roof down to zero.
From being Shah Jahan’s inspiration to build the Taj Mahal, the city has seen its Architecture evolve into the post-modernist form. Take Pelican, a 10-storey tower on Ashram Road, built by N.G. Patel, a leading city builder. Light maroon in color, it is in the shape of a space shuttle that looks poised for launch. Rivera, another commercial building, makes use of aluminum strips to form appealing geometrical forms. The city’s craze for funky design extends to public spaces as well. The one that literally stands out is the giant fountain shaped like a tap at the Law Garden crossroads. The tap appears to be suspended in mid-air with no visible connections or support and yet water flows from it in a constant stream. A clever design conceals the pipe carrying the water to the giant tap. Not just in Architecture, the city has also witnessed a revolution in building materials. From being known for its intricate sandstone jails and marble artwork, to brick and cement construction. What is also in demand, however impractical it may be, is the extensive use of glass for the exterior look, despite the fact that glass traps heat, leading to higher temperature inside.w75
The city has come a long way since the pavement of marble, wooden facades, calligraphies, cunning craft and workmanship, beauty of color and harmony of form. It had its moment with the internationalism, where architects believed that simple, unornamented buildings could lead to clean and efficient cities. The roots of Architectural revolution in India can be traced back to this city, from beautiful aesthetics to bare walls of highly functional buildings. While some believe that it is the best city to be living in, the fact that it is also one of the highly polluted cities in the entire country cannot be overlooked. Although in the current year, about 70-80 green buildings are at various stages of certification in the city. What one can hope is that the number increases in the coming years. With the increasing sensitivity on the pressing global issue of pollution, a fast forward city like this one is bound to change for the better. We, being the future architects of the nation are expected to learn from the great examples of Corbusier and Doshi and make amendments. As it is said by Gandhi ji “be the change you wish to see in the world”. But we need to wake up soon, or else there isn’t going to be a world to change.