Monday, 21 September 2020

Mechanisms For Social Engineering

Updated: September 4, 2010 2:27 pm

The writer, Charles Correa, a major world figure in contemporary architecture, covers a great many topics in this book. In fact, the book is a collection of essays and lectures, written and delivered over a period of five decades. The book explores the architectural and urban issues related to India, from the house as a machine for dealing with the country’s often hostile climate to the metaphysical role of architecture as a “model of the cosmos”. Divided into four parts—architecture; planning; education and ideas, and the new landscape—the book argues that our habitat responds to the overriding parameters of climate, culture, and financial resources and that the physical environment should accommodate notions of inclusion and diversity, and that priceless quality of synergy, which characterises a city.

                The essentially pluralistic and life-accepting qualities of India surface time and again throughout this collection, evoking the shade of a great banyan tree, which stretches out to protect and nurture the endless diversity of India— hence the book title “A Place in the Shade”. We live in a world of manifest phenomena. Yet, since the beginning of time man has intuitively sensed the existence of another world: a non-manifest world whose presence underlies—and makes endurable—the one he experiences every day. Thence in one chapter, the writer points out that the principal vehicles through which we explore and communicate our notions of this non-manifest world are religion, philosophy and the arts. Like these, architecture too is generated by mythic beliefs, expressing the presence of a reality, more profound than the manifest world in which it exists. In a chapter on the ideal cities, the writer underlines that cities, since the beginning of time, have embodied the dreams and aspirations of a society. They represent a kind of Platonic idea of what life could be. Thus, we have Sri Rangam, an island on the Godavari river in Tamil Nadu, seven concentric rings with a sacred centre—a model of the cosmos, no less based on the ancient vastu-purush-mandala of the Vedic seers. But sadly today, we have lost all this. Grappling with our cities today, we have become overwhelmed by the sheer dimensions of the problems in the developing world—by the growth of vehicular traffic, the shortage of municipal services, the ever-increasing numbers of squatters and so forth.

                Elaborating on the making of the Mahatma, the writer emphasises Gandhiji’s story is a journey from the mundane world of survival in which we all live, to the highest plane of human thought and existence—a truly extraordinary saga fuelled by an ever-growing awareness of the moral issues that are inherent in our lives. This is what made him such an incredible human being.

                Reverting back to the importance of architecture, the writer stresses that cities have always been unique indicators of civilization—all the way from Mohenjodaro to Athens, to Persepolis, to Peking, to Isfahan, to Rome. One can have great music created during rotten times, even painting and poetry—but never great architecture and cities. Why is this? Primarily because they both require two essential preconditions: first, an economic system, which concentrates power and decision making in the hands of a few; and second, at the centre of that decision-making, leaders with the vision, sensibility and political will to deploy these resources intelligently.

Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi, India

By Ashok Kumar

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