Tadao Ando’s Mumbai Visit

Architect Tadao Ando had visited Mumbai a couple of months back and unfortunately, I had give his lecture a miss. But this event and the visits of architects from elsewhere have generated an interesting mix of debate in the architectural fraternity here in India. More on this a little later.

Tadao Ando is a Japanese architect whose work has been primarily in Japan and his volume of work carries a distinct style specific to him. He is highly regarded for his extensive contribution in the field of architecture and has bagged several notable prizes. His style of creative use of lighting and maintaining natural settings giving a Zen kind of outcome are hallmarks to his work.

The most unforgettable example that comes to my mind is of Church of the Light in the City of Ibaraki, Osaka which Paul Goldberger in Why Architecture Matters explained about as ‘a simple rectangle of smooth concrete, sliced through by a freestanding wall set a fifteen-degree angle to the rectangle, as if it were a huge panel that had been swung on hinge’.

He explains his reaction of being in Church of the Light as something transcending a spiritual quest. And while experiencing religious buildings he mentions something profound on the effect that Architecture and built environment can have: “Ultimately this is a space that has been created to tell us that for all we know, there is something we do not know, something that we will never be able to know.”

Church of the Light by Tadao Ando

Recently in India, few notable Indian architects have been opposing the entry of foreign architects as it threatens their work share which they think should ideally belong to them. Now, this is both disturbing and conservative in my view. Ideally, let there be a fair competition to strive what is best for India. We can’t claim ownership of territories in a globalized world. This also limits excellence.

Let the stakeholders have a sound process in place of deciding and ultimately figure out what is best for them. How can we force it top-down? I see it as a great opportunity for the built environment in India to improve and excel their local practices in terms of quality, process and outcome. We are currently sitting on a huge deficit of skilled workers in built environment and we cannot afford to reject the talent pool that is coming to India from other parts of the world. Instead, we have well laid out policies which are inclusive in job generation for Indians and foreign workers and drive towards quality.

With what the world is today, where major chuck of opportunities lie with developing nations, it will be quite natural for businesses to go towards the source of opportunities. Either the gates are closed or shut. Partially open gates are still open gates. And this is the message Indian Community of Architects is sending out to the world, ‘that we do see the need of your expertise but we feel threatened by your competence and hence our reluctant approach in welcoming you’. We are being tyrannical in our approach here.

Tadao Ando was in Mumbai looking for an opportunity in architecture and he will probably be working with Godrej Group on a residential project. But that is all there is to it so far.

But given the current architecture scenario, there is so much scope for architecture and design work that we don’t have to hoard and mark territories. There is room for local architects, foreign architects and hybrid architects much the same. Whatever those terms have come to mean. I say this because I do not understand their correctness in this architecture context in our eroded identity where we have come unstuck from our roots, for better or worse, we don’t know yet.

What we lack is a vision of a overall city, a holistic urban plan, our architectural aspirations. Once we have that cleared, the rest of the smaller pieces of this jumbled puzzle will be easier to put together.

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