Architecture without Architects

Please post your reading response for Vikram Bhatt’s “Alternatives for a Developing India,”  due October 17, 24 hours before class, here by replying.  Prof. Bhatt will be coming to class on Friday morning. Please be prepared to ask him questions. Thanks!


10 thoughts on “Architecture without Architects

  1. Alternative Architecture for India is based on a discussion between the realities of a third world country such as India, experiencing a high rate of urban development, and the work of architects, designers and engineers in response to the needs of the urban poor living with serious underdevelopment, mostly in regards to infrastructure.

    The text is divided by headings: activists and consultants, human settlement programs, architecture without architects and appropriate technologies. Each section discusses the efforts of various groups or individuals to respond to India’s need for infrastructure of all types. The text questions the way in which projects are carried out in places that require such high levels of development. It is noted that change is occurring is these places, including India, rapidly and that typically, goals are created by entities conducting development, whether government or private, to instill a western lifestyle into the place. The text questions whether developing countries such as India should be striving to replicate the ideals of first world nations or whether they should maintain a level of their own unique urbanism. In addition the text questions the role of architects in relation to this process asking “to which aspect of this reality should the architect apply his skills”. The text outlines an atypical role for an architect, by Western standards, where budgets for individual structures are so low they cannot compensate an intensive design process.

    Bhatt discusses two paradigms in which architects have achieved certain levels of success working in developing nations, as activists, or as consultants. Bhatt makes a clear distinction between the two, stating that the work of a consultant would benefit larger groups of people while stretching limited funds most efficiently. This paradigm is best exemplified by the New Bombay urban development plan, which proposed a possible solution to the large scale issues of transportation, congestion and sanitation, the proposal was created by a consortium of architects working on their own terms, eventually bringing the plan to the municipal government. In contrast the activist-architect works at a small scale, also with limited funds but completing projects at a more involved level. Christopher Alexander and his housing project in Mexicali Rosa is a good example of the activist paradigm where the positive impact is limited to the extent of individuals and families involved in the project. Based on the widespread level of need described in developing and third world places it seems that an architect can more successfully contribute to the improvement in quality of life by working at a scale that impacts a large group of people in need as opposed to impacting a smaller group in a larger way.

    In addition to the way in which architects work in developing nations, project types are also discussed. It is stated that housing is the building typology in highest demand, and that the role of an architect in the process of designing low cost housing is not in the design of the structure itself, but in the provision of building blocks on which the residents can construct their own dwelling. It is shown that in the past this sites-and-services strategy often results in communities more related to a slum than a neighborhood where little effort is placed in urban design, with the result being a standardization of what is considered the most cost effective solution to housing the poor. A similar example is given by Hassan Fathy in his writings Architecture For the Poor, Fathy sites a case, early in his experimentation with mud brick construction techniques where a client demolishes a modest, but well built mud brick structure, utilizing traditional Egyptian vaulting techniques for a cast in place concrete structure that provided fewer amenities, for a higher cost. In this case the client felt the latter design projected a more modern aesthetic, which was more desirable from that point of view. In the case of low cost housing in India a return to a more traditional vernacular may be necessary when the cost of typical building materials such as dimensional timber, steel, and concrete are far more costly than native materials such as locally made mud brick. In this case the issue may be more related to the loss of traditional building techniques in urban centers where globalized approaches to construction are favored. In the same book, Fathy also discusses the sequence of events that lead him to re-discovering traditional methods of working with a local material. In a small town in provincial Egypt, Fathy was able to locate a crew of masons able to work with him on later projects, in this particular region of the country masons were only needed in larger towns because in more rural areas everyone knew how to build with this ancient material.

    Based on the information presented, it can be interpolated that economics and the impact of a globalization on developing countries has lead to a widespread migration from rural to urban areas and in addition from rural to urban lifestyles. This migration has created large stresses on urban centers and the result is a lack of building stock of all types. A similar issue was created at the beginning of the 20th century during the industrial revolution in western countries. The construction typologies that responded to this crisis in western countries have developed into the construction techniques used in globalized architecture. As noted by Hassan Fathy, these materials and techniques do not always make sense in every part of the world, especially areas that cannot produce these materials locally and are not able to accumulate these materials at a reasonable price. A renaissance of readily available materials in developing countries with deficits in building stock could be a viable solution.

  2. Kevin Botchar

    Striking to me – though possibly subtle to others – were the comparisons or the inherent connections between Vikram Bhatt’s writing on India’s development and Jeremy Till’s ‘Lo-fi Architecture’. In essence – though the former regards a form of activism in architecture and the latter questions the ‘dependencies’ of Architecture and its processes – both oscillate in one way or another between the omniscient architect, the social architect and the relational network of ‘actors’ surrounding them and their respective or collective physical impacts on given cultures. Inquisitions concerning the value of the architect, the subjective ideas of ‘progress’ or the segregation versus coupling of the rich and the poor, all in reference to the urban development of cities, have been occupying my thoughts for some time and have been mentioned or thought about in some way in Bhatt’s writing.

    Once again, the controversial subject of the value – or ‘place’ – of the architect in the context of urban development and progress was examined. In fact, as Bhatt mentions, if our desire to represent, as architects, a ‘Third World’ architecture becomes a mere simulation of spontaneity, then our value as designers in the architectural process becomes questionable. It reduces itself to a ‘professional’ copy of somewhat primitive dwellings. Similarly, if there is intent from governmental authorities and planners to create essential infrastructures and services able to support dwellings for the poor – which the construction of these dwellings would be left upon them – then where do the architects fit in? Are we thus, by default, purely in service of the elite? How are we to aid these moneyless people without private or public funding? Of course, architects can assist governmental departments in designing new formulas for mass housing or urban development. But these slow ‘All talk no action’ efforts, I believe, are largely out of reach for the people they are intended for.

    Another way of counterbalancing this would be by ‘doing it ourselves’. That is getting up and taking action into our own hands. In fact not many people do (I personally am not, for the moment) and when they do, it is mostly for disasters, like the ‘Architectes de l’Urgence’ for example, not necessarily for people living in continuous precarious conditions. Affective at a small human-like scale, these practices as Bhatt mentions are generally “limited in the scope of their efforts to the immediate communities with which they work.” But in the wake of a ‘do-it-yourself’ movement (because often when too many people with too much power try to resolve problems, it tends to slow down considerably due to ideological clashes or administrative set-backs) as Bhatt mentions, it seems to be the most appropriate way of propagating “new skills and technologies to smaller communities who in turn will most likely influence other communities through each other’s examples.”

    Here were the two vastly oppositional ways of ‘helping’ others through architecture. And both fit right into one of the architectural polemics of our day. Since all of these efforts (big or small) are for bettering the conditions of others, it seems logical to debate my next subject: that of progress.

    In fact, my primary argument – or make that a rhetorical question – is the following: do architects, through the decisions they make, have a palpable impact on the progress of the urban fabric and living conditions of a city? Or ‘how’ do they have an impact, how can they have more impact? Of course, the architect is not deciding de facto the direction in which the city is evolving; a certain elitist hierarchy exists. He is merely trying to make with what is left up to him, or is used as a consultant in regards to what the government should do. He is part of a larger, global network. When Bhatt states that “there is a stage at which a global culture ultimately takes root”, mentioning afterwards devices such as “communications, transport, industrial technology and international trade”, we cannot help but link these concepts to the western – and global – way of living. In fact, this does not represent every culture’s reality and notion of ‘progress’. Progress, in the Third world, might not be described in the aforementioned devices. This is where architects could have an influence. As role-playing analyzers of urban, cultural, social, economical and political systems through the lens of architecture, couldn’t there be ways of enhancing the values of cultures instead of diluting them in a constant ‘global progress’? How can architecture promote a culture’s singular differences and qualities and not universal assets of globalization?

    Lastly, issues and solutions regarding segregation or amalgamation of the various economical classes are inconclusive and, in my opinion, subjective. We tend to want to mix everyone together, to force the poor and the rich to live with each other. The fact remains that, and this has happened in France for example, the upper classes do not always want to physically mingle with the lower classes. Indeed, it is quite common that by utilizing the political power of currency, the poor can be driven out of specific urban areas in order to favour the rich. But another idea we might often ignore (maybe because it speaks of morality) happens to be the opposite of the latter. Maybe the poor don’t want to be close to the rich either… Seeing the major differences in the respective living conditions might revolt one party or the other. One might feel less desired than the other as well, thus creating constant social tensions. Could it be possible that these seemingly depreciative segregation scenarios are totally natural? I would like to clarify that I definitely DO NOT prone the separation of the poor and the rich. But, to my eyes, it might be possible that these manifestations are natural and that a viable solution could be for the governmental authorities to give the necessary supportive infrastructures and services to those who cannot afford them on their own account. The two poles occurring in separation could be pulled closer together through the medium of urban planning and governmental aid without automatically mixing them per se…

    To cut a long story short, who are we to decide what are the right or wrong conditions in which different cultures should live in? Maybe the rich want nice villas and private estates, maybe some don’t. Maybe the poor are attached to their precarious living conditions, maybe most want a ticket out of there. Contradictions occur. One thing though is for sure, and as Bhatt rightly points out, architects leaving responsibility for architectural design to the users acts as a voluntary censorship that appears to imply a loss of faith in the profession’s capacity to address the real issues. Keeping this in mind, maybe we should take massive steps forward in trying to change the world in solving all of mankind’s habitat problems because everything seems to be at a critical standpoint. Or maybe we should take a step back and analyse the multiplicity of situations for what they are, all the while trying to attain a deeper understanding of each of them and their ‘raison d’être’. Maybe then will we be able to propose an ethical decision. The fact is I am too uncertain and maybe not radical enough to see things clearly one way or another. This might seem a little sceptical and rough on the edges but, at this point in time, I surely don’t know. I am still full of questions and uncertainties.

  3. Both Bhatt’s text on modern developments in India and Ruesja’s text on the Mexicali Experimental Project emphasize the importance of understanding, in the context of an urban or housing development in Third World countries, the specific needs, the unique culture and the reality of the local community’s use and production of space.
    The list of failures in urban and housing developments is, sadly, very long and definitely not limited to examples in the Third World. The Pruitt-Igoe project in St-Louis and the Cabrini-Green project in Chicago are examples of such failures in the Western World. The specific needs of the communities were addressed inappropriately by architects, planners and agencies that were not foreign to these communities’ culture, and the solutions totally missed the point.
    It is easy to see how much more difficult an already very complex problem can become when the ones responsible for bringing a change are not completely informed of all the specificities of the future beneficiaries of this change. Many urban developments in the Thirld World were planned and designed by foreign actors.
    If understanding the present context of the community is a very difficult task, foreseeing its future, resulting from the outcome of the development project and from the broader and independent context of the country or world, is quite extraordinarily hard and probably impossible.
    However, many large-scale housing projects seem to appear quite confident that they have managed to predict this future. Is it that through their significant scale, they are actually trying to shape it, impose it ? The Pruitt-Igoe project has shown that such rigid planning is powerless against the great force of real living, of habits, of the spatial imaginary. There was a dissonance between the planned “performance” of the project and its real use, the way it was appropriated. In the end, the project lost.
    As a possible solution to such an overly rigid planification, some organizations in India have devised what are called “sites-and-services” : a basic plot layout with essential services scattered evenly throughout the site. These infrastructural propositions, although providing flexibility for the construction of dwellings, have often disregarded the “socio-cultural dimensions of domestic and communal life”. It seems that through their systematic and standardised ideals, they are aimed at providing “immediate” relief to a housing problem, not at stimulating and generating economic, social and cultural growth. As Bhatt explains, these “sites-and-services” often end up with “a quality of environment only superior to most squatter settlements by virtue of their functional services”.
    Christopher Alexander had high expectations for the Mexicali Experimental Project, yet with the years, his efforts and his bilateral architect-owner construction system, as well as all the other innovative and alternative concepts for the project were powerless against the established habits and the reality of the culture of the area.
    Different architectural strategies have been used to address the problems of poverty and of insufficient access to resources in Thirld World countries, and many seem to have failed in bringing significant positive change. I think that the reality of poverty (in terms of material resources) has implications on so many aspects of one’s life that it becomes a cultural identity. I highly doubt that we can understand how extreme poverty can change one’s notions of well-being, of happiness, of need. I think many of us would imagine the difficulties and needs of Thirld World people through the frame of our present condition, which is probably very far from how they really live them. I think it is very important that agencies of change try not to orient the evolution or the development of Third World countries on the basis of foreign values and ideals. I think that any real, in-depth amelioration of living conditions will have to grow from within the communities, from within this “culture of poverty”.

  4. For an architect to promote change, he must carry with him different layers of knowledge, experience, and responsibility in order to react to the needs and challenges of a continuously transforming world. Consequently, morality becomes embedded in the act of constructing a built environment. The morality of an architect or an architecture becomes possible through an intense combination of aesthetic values, societal benefits, integrated urban design, sustainability and social justice. However, this morality can only exist through the power of a vision.

    In “Alternatives For A Developing India” by Vikram Bhatt, the notion of progress in under-developed countries, specifically India, are described as undergoing a “catalystic transformation.” Consequently, the role of the architect in this dynamic socio-economic landscape has changed: “the range of problems they address is dramatic and often entails responsibilities other than planning for the physical environment.” But what happens when the architect loses his singularity in the ever-expanding sea of concerns? The architect no longer acts as a single person but as a network of committees of politicians, consultants, economists.

    And what happens when the architect not only loses his vision but his identity? The democratic people-oriented development, described by Bhatt in the text, rids the architect of his role as the form-giver; a role as an architect that he has been allotted. The transfer of responsibility of architectural design to the user makes me wonder what happens to the existence of morality in the act of building if the architect acts merely as a “skilled organizer.” India is now finding itself at a crossroad between the sentimentality of for the rustic ideal in planning of new settlements and providing a familiar footing from which to move transitionally forward towards a different future in the search for collective solutions and identity partly due to its independence from colonial rule.

    Somewhere in all of this, the architect must re-emerge and somehow create a socially responsive architecture so that the role of the architect does not have to be censored, but also that the architecture does not censor the people it is intended for. All in all, the present reality is that there is an ongoing search for an architecture that enhances the quality of life of a fast-moving society. In order to do so, architects must create an architecture that is socially responsive to its current context, but also to the context that is yet to come.

  5. Vikram Bhatt’s insightful article clearly illustrates the complexities and contradictions inherent in the rapid urbanization of third world countries. While many governments present a forward-looking Western ideal of progress and economic growth, the poor and impoverished seem to be forgotten, while they continue to grow in number and become an increasingly relevant and desperate problem for governments, designers, and citizens alike. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing, and the architect is stuck in the mix of dealing with the social and ethical implications of development.

    Bhatt’s article presents many complexities concerning the role of the architect and designer in the development of third-world countries, many of which can be connected to previous lectures and readings of this course. There are many obvious connections that can be made to last week’s articles by Till and Yaneva concerning the controversies associated with architectural design. In these social issues confronted by the architect, there are many actors calling the shots, and the role of the architect is only one small factor in a very large process. Bhatt distinguishes two ways in which an architect can intervene in his article – as a consultant to developers, thereby affecting a larger population; or as a local architect involved directly with the project and community, thereby affecting only a small population. With architect as consultant, the government and developers put forward an all-encompassing design that presents an ideology meant to solve all the problems of the impoverished. But as has been seen in the past, large-scale developments presenting a single-minded vision have failed spectacularly (recall the Pruitt-Igoe fiasco, or urban renewal in Manhattan, and many American social housing developments in the modern era). With this method, there seems to be a disconnection between the government and the users, and the architect is bound and limited by the economic situation and the desires of the government, and possibly hindered in providing an ideal solution. In the other extreme, where the ‘architecture without architects’ scenario is implemented by providing the citizens with the necessary resources to build their own communities, the development may lack a broader vision at the urban scale, as the desire for every citizen to meet their own needs may triumph over the desire to meet the needs of the community. In this case, the expertise of an architect may help in organizing an overall scheme, but again, this only affects individual communities rather than making an impact at a larger scale.

    Among all these concerns, we can witness the current urban development of India, as we studied a few weeks ago with discussions about the gated communities, the right to the city, and the racialization of space. For a government looking to compete on a global stage, the economy is of utmost importance for increasing power and wealth. This is implemented by investing capital gains into real estate, turning a profit, and then reinvesting. These ideals are made manifest in India through the gated communities; in North America, it appears in the forms of suburbs and high-rise condominiums. Developments like these are much more profitable to the government than investing in social housing, and are more desirable for economic growth; they cater to those with disposable income, and thus increase spending. This also perpetuates the problems of class segregation (and often racial segregation) within cities – those who can afford a higher quality of life will move to a wealthier neighbourhood, and will not want to mix with the lower classes. As much as we would like to hope that this inequality does not exist, it’s a reality in almost every city. This touches upon the example given in Bhatt’s article of Charles Correa’s housing development in New Bombay, which advocated a mixing of classes and equality among typologies. Bhatt himself questions the viability of such an idealistic view, stating that a more economical scenario that caters to the slightly wealthier would be a more likely outcome. All this is to say that in these situations, with an architect as consultant, there are a multitude of social forces that hold the sway in, and the architect has very little power in the ultimate outcome.

    There is no solution that I can propose at this moment, nor a method that I feel might be more effective. The general purpose of this response, and my reaction to the article, is to highlight the complexities of dealing with these issues, and of working with the countless actors involved in the decision-making process. How can we, as architects, navigate through these complexities? How can we come to an ethical solution that benefits as many actors as possible? Is it even possible to satisfy all parties involved, or will the actors who hold more power (or money) in the decision-making process be the primary benefactors? As Bhatt concludes in his article, there is no quick, easy solution to the social issues plaguing India; it will be a slow process that will evolve over time, and will include changes at every level, from the government, to architects and designers, to the citizens themselves.

  6. Andrew Brown,

    Two important questions are raised in the piece “Alternatives for a Developing India” by Vikram Bhatt and they remain relevant more than twenty years after the piece was written. The first is whether those parts of the world which are developing rapidly today might diverge from the model of Western modernization, resulting in new forms of society and of cities. There is potential for emerging countries to learn from, rather than follow in the footsteps of developed modern democracies. The second big question raised in the piece is based on a critique of the rural model as the ideal on which to base new low income housing developments. These two questions are related. If newly developing countries like India were to follow expand based on the ideals of the village, the process of growth and development would look fundamentally different there than it has in the West. But at the same time, using the village as a model might be an antiquated ideal, or very quickly become just another form of suburbia.

    The capacity of the Architect to improve the situation for the poor through housing in India is ambiguous. Bhatt presents two clear avenues for potential involvement. The first is through getting down and dirty at a local level. This option presents a satisfying hands-on approach for the architect, on the ground and directly involved with the people and the work. Yet this kind of activism is limited to a very local scale while the problem is at the scale of the nation. The second avenue is to work at arm’s length, intervening at the level of policy. This option has broader effects and potentially allows the architect to effect change at a large scale. It is also the point in the process where the community, because of a lack of expertise, cannot advocate for themselves and so the Architect’s understanding of the system is genuinely useful. However, this pushes the role of the Architect away from directly creating Architecture in favour of designing policy.

    Whether India and other developing countries are fundamentally different than the West and therefore present an opportunity to build a “third world” in a new way is questionable. The hope that the mistakes of the West might not be repeated was optimistic. The powerful imagery of the American Dream, of large houses, shopping malls and cars has seduced abroad just as it did at home. The differences are in an even more pronounced division between rich and poor.

    But there is certainly much to be learned from the rural village as a model for new housing and for empowering communities. For example, Bhatt’s case study of Correa’s Artiste’s Village presents a hybrid of the urban and the ideal of the village. The project is utopian when compared to the brutally dense and homogenous urban centre of a city like Mumbai. Correa provides a strong social commons, a public space of the community expressed in the shared courtyards between houses. It is also made for a variety of people and income types. It is therefore the anti-gated community. It may be suburban in its homogeneity of housing program, but its scale of densely packed small homes, pedestrian streets and common squares give it an urban quality. Though it is not a new project, the Artiste’s village presents an optimistic vision for housing development with an attempt to use space to empower residents.

  7. Professor Bhatt’s Alternatives for a Developing World comments on architects desire to propose low cost solutions for slum dwellings and in effect on lifestyle/way of life for people living in these communities. Bhatt provides a critique on Baker, who promotes low cost solutions across wealth divides, stating that this can be a reductionist and idealist approach, which at once create a false nostalgia from outsiders on “rustic” rural living and promotes an ideology that might not be suited for these type of dwellings and the way of life of the people who live there. Ideological preoccupations on development by “first” and and by “third” world professionals and governments are discussed at large, raising issues of idealism and a false sense of nostalgia placed on “rustic” rural developments and ways of life. Here we consider, what should be preserved? What way of life, as expressed and promoted through development projects, low cost technologies, professionals, should be kept? Who should decide?

    Connecting this work to the film shown in earlier weeks of the class on the Gated Communities in Gurgaon. What would be interesting is to hear Bhatt’s updated view on Alternatives for a Developing World in light of increasing globalization, gated community lifestyles and design, low cost development and the implications on those living in slum dwellings on the periphery. In the film, we saw that there is a push to in live a clean, technologically advanced and protected towns for wealthier and highly educated segments of the population. We saw that these developments further the divide between the poor and the wealthy because of many cultural reasons, but particularly expressed through the built form of the community.

    Temporary slums are constructed as these gated community developments are constructed. Bhatt’s work documents more permanent rural or periurban dwellings, as well as the interventions are promoted by outsider architects and researchers, those who are promoting the use of minimal and “off the grid” technology and materials. Increasingly, as shown in the film, there is a loss of rural productive land because of these gated communities. An interesting follow up to Bhatt’s work might include conversations and observations of the occupants and the dwellings in these temporary settlements that are established because of these large scale development projects.

    Many of the people who live in these temporary accommodations are the same people who are building the large residential, commercial and institutional complexes. It is assumed often from a professional perspective that, although there is a certain level of local and vernacular knowledge to the built form, the occupants of these slum dwellings, do not have access to knowledge about development on a larger scale. So, what of the construction workers who acquire a certain level of knowledge about construction, the built form and “professional” design expertise? The rustic rural way of life is missing and newer technologies are used in the gated communities, with little resources being considered for the temporary dwellings of the construction workers. Could Baker’s low cost housing benefit both the temporary dwellings and the gated community development in light of the poor quality of both of these housing types? Are the activists in these gated communities who attempt to “educate” and “help” the occupants of the temporary slum dwellings a part of the Gandhian movement that Bhatt refers to or is this an expression of western or globalization way of development? Discussions with Bhatt about the current thoughts on “development” and construction in India in contrast to his earlier research might answer some of these observations.

    Jaimie Cudmore

  8. What is the moral right of the architect to decide for thousands of people?
    But in the context of a developing world where you see the physical world around you degrading, is acting morally really any better? When issues are so large and so complex as they are in India, is it realistic to think that planning and design can do any better for the day-to-day life of any citizen?
    When confronted with such a challenge, one has to consider the impossibility of a single building, or even a urban plan, to “save” and resolve all the problems of the community.
    Could we imagine buildings as actors of change? Could building really help to forge a better reality?
    A first instinct is to think that the practice of architecture is so deeply rooted in a “self reflective” design approach that it will never really be a mean to serve other and larger causes than its own field. Often, even as students, we are confronted with knowing if architecture really even matters to people other than architects. If we strip it down from any historical or aesthetical meaning, we are force to wonder how architecture really affect the life of all of those who are not part of the selective “design circle”.
    Another problem when thinking about architecture in India, or any other “developing” country as we like to call them, is directly related to this categorization. When asked to design for countries of the “Third World”, the premises already implies some pre-established conditions and we base our approach and constraints to design on certain assumptions. Does architecture in India indubitably needs to follow those principles and how can we allow it to become anything else? In other words, how can we really see a problematic if even before studying it we are already adopting a frame of analysis and understanding?
    It is true that “developing” countries share a lot of practical design constraints, but at the same we need to address the moral component of a design build on the idea of “helping the other” and simplifying a complexity of practices, beliefs and cultures into the one “Third World” category. In some ways, there is an over simplification based greatly on the dominance of capitalism to classify realities based on their economic success, while disregarding the complexity of each situation. By this categorization, different design standard systems are established for disadvantaged masses without necessarily even realizing it. After all, building in “Third World” countries deserve to be qualify as “Architecture” as much as any project for some famous competition.
    In the light of that we have to ask ourselves if those countries really need to be “helped” and if is it fair to think that way ? Maybe we need to readjust our ideals of “success” and “progress” to envision a more accurate and adapted future for cities of “developing” countries.

  9. Bhatt, in “Alternatives for a Developing India” discusses the position of the architects within the evolving processes of Third World countries. By introducing the realities of underdevelopment, through several case studies from India, he questions the essence of the contribution that architects made to the process of change.

    It is undeniable that architecture, as an active agent of change, brings effective solutions to the problems of Third World – utilizing the skills of the architects themselves. What Bhatt argues is the existence of a wide range of parameters which directly affect the design and pose challenges to practicing architects. In order to act in accordance with the set of standards the Third World, architects need to consider the factors such as funding, resources, methods, materials, “creative rethinking of tools” etc. At this point, the author asserts that even though these alternative standards -ensuing the ruling out of the “accepted” norms- have the danger of encouraging amateurism, they can provide us some insight to a certain degree, which is a minor but strong issue to underline within the text. However, if the search for alternative interpretations is exaggerated, instead of taking an objective stance to developing countries, architects role in the process of development -as a designer- remains blurry. Where exactly should architect stand, between unique and universal, in a world globalizing so rapidly?

    The examples that Bhatt presents -planning of New Bombay and human settlements program- clearly indicates that economic, social and political aspects of the proposals impose architects more liabilities than the physical planning of the built environment. Especially when economy becomes the primary concern, skills of architects become apparently insignificant due to the cost effective efforts. Bhatt, by criticizing the user initiative housing that gives the individuals the opportunity to meet their original needs, underlines that “for the sake of economic priorities social cultural dimension of communal life is being ignored”, which eventually ends up with ghettoization. What the author suggests, at this point, is that a complete cross-section of users should be considered in design, instead of single target group planning strategies.

    Many of the community action groups in India demands assistance of architects in order to utilize their skills for the sake of the poor; however architectural quality of the work is not satisfactory due to economic constraints which also trigger constraints on creative architectural thinking. When the architect takes a background role -as a “skilled organizer” and decision maker rather than as an “elite form-giver”- and transfers his ideas in action via users themselves, he underuses the potential of his profession. Therefore in the end, by referring to utilization of appropriate technologies in Baker’s work, Bhatt suggest that there might be a compromise between social responsibility and architectural creativity when the architect becomes more flexible in manifesting his commitments in producing “naive and shallow” architecture. “The change must be introduced through the system itself”.

  10. In ‘Alternatives for a Developing India’, Vikram Bhatt tackles the complex and extensive matter of building in the context of a ‘Third World’ country. With substantial economic, political and social issues, what is the architect’s ethical responsibility when he intervenes in a ‘developing’ nation? Additionally, what is the designer’s duty toward the people? As we read in Jeremy Till’s ‘Architecture Depends’, the architect’s role is shifting from a detached ‘top-down’ approach put forward by an enlightened creator to a mediator of conflicting visions. When Bhatt discusses housing within the broader issue of human settlements in India, he acknowledges that “the architect’s ability to preconceive the complex set of relationships between people, their physical environment, and the influential parameters of economics, culture and tradition, is of greater consequence.” [1]

    The incredible complexity of the issues at hand in countries such as India causes many difficulties during the design process for housing and basic facilities. “The architect’s challenge is as much to find a relevant avenue by which to apply his skills as it is to innovate effective solutions.” [1] ‘Third World’ countries are changing rapidly, and all clues hint at the emergence of a new form of society – far from Western standards. This metamorphosis taking place seems to be wandering from the path marked by modern democratic precedents, and has lead to a questioning of the architect’s place in the development of these parts of the world.

    It is of the utmost importance that designers involved in these areas understand their unique needs. A solution is only possible by embracing cultural differences, potentially in a community driven ‘Think-Tank’. Although I find the result of the ‘bottom-up’ design strategies of the 1960s markedly underwhelming in comparison to the desired outcome, the notion does parallel the inherent communalism of traditional Indian culture. This approach provides an impending solution, albeit somewhat incomplete. “The ideal of democratic, people-oriented development runs contrary to the concept of the architect as an elite form-giver. The reaction is to transfer responsibility for architectural design to the users themselves. The architect assumes a background role as a skilled organizer who can translate their ideas into action.” [1]

    However, this answer is imperfect since the challenge is to ‘help’ while remaining neutral – finding innovative solutions to complex social problems – while planning the built environment for a country in constant evolution. Some would argue that it is impossible for the architect to operate as an unbiased actor – simply receiving and applying others’ contrasting ideas – because the designer’s occupation involves a translation from the abstract to physical realm. This rendering is expressly the architect’s task and therefore leaves a portion of ‘self reflection’ in the design process. Consequently, there must be constant negation between all actors: political, economical, and social – not a simple survey of the community in the pre-design phase. Only then can we minimize the promotion of a singular vision within an architectural project. As part of a network, the architect has the difficult task of planning the physical environment of a dynamic socio-economic landscape in an ever-changing network of actors.

    1 Vikram Bhatt, “Alternatives for a Developing India.” In Contemporary Indian Architecture: After the Masters, edited by Vikram Bhatt and Peter Scriver. 89-97. Ahmedabad: Mapin Pub. Pvt. Ltd., 1990.

Comments are closed.