Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Corporate architecture

One of the things about post-reform India is that companies have spruced up their looks and environs. Go to the Bandra-Kurla complex in Mumbai and you get at least a faint whiff of Manhattan, with ICICI's headquarters standing out. Among campuses, Infosys must be one of the stars, each one meticulously designed and spectacularly well-maintained. But those who are more sensitive to architectural style than I am have a different view, and this is the subject of an Outlook feature, which is interesting read.

The main point is that many of our organisations seem to want grandeur in their buildings but are not very concerned about whether it is rooted in Indian sensibilities or the Indian environment. For instance, there is a readiness to go in for glass buildings regardless of whether these energy efficient or even aesthetically pleasing. ( In passing, Outlook must be among the very few in the media willing to take pot-shots at Infosys):

This September, two supposed marvels of institutional architecture were unveiled before the public. The first, in honour of the fast-approaching Commonwealth Games, was a Lutyens-style makeover—large white pillars and incongruous purple-black glass—for the Ajmeri Gate side of New Delhi railway station. The second was the spanking-new addition to the Infosys Mysore campus: the classical Greek architecture-inspired Global Education Centre-2 (GEC-2). Inaugurated by a radiant, admiring Sonia Gandhi who said she wouldn’t mind “bunking party politics” to study there, it was hyperbolically proclaimed by Infosys chief mentor Narayana Murthy to be “the largest monolith classical building of post-independent India”.

The GEC-2 might win the awe of its young executive trainees, and the New Delhi railway station the glancing attention (or dismay) of those hurrying through it, but these two buildings nevertheless throw up a few questions about the practice of institutional architecture in India. Is imitating the architecture of the past—including colonial styles intended to intimidate and subjugate us—really the way to engage a contemporary public? Why does institutional architecture in India invariably entail ransacking the past and reducing it to a bunch of carefully traced out columns and pediments? Is it possible to adapt historic references to modern uses in a responsible, low-impact manner?

Here is what one of the critics has to say about Infosys' latest wonder:

The GEC-2, to Burte, is a missed opportunity for Infosys to provide a counterpoint to the wasteful, power-guzzling, glass-faced cut-rate copies of Singaporean skyscrapers that have now become synonymous with IT sector buildings. “This overblown rhetoric is a letdown considering what we know to be Infosys’s progressive work culture, and their emphasis on a knowledge economy,” says Burte. “A low-impact, climate-sensitive, energy-efficient, sensible building; a vision of sustainable corporate living and working, would be commensurate with the image we have of them.”
Another critic concludes that our latest buildings are a comment on national character:

“Right now, we see ourselves as second-rate; our approach is just to play catch-up to other cultures—the Chinese, the Europeans, or Lutyens. It’s about time we followed our own instincts.”

3 comments:

Partha Pratim said...

Cannot agree anymore with the last line. Originality is so challenging and is firmly established by all that our people do - be it films, songs or architectural design.

Chaullee Chaulker said...

our own instincts?
where would they come from?
Vijaynagar in Karnataka?
Its all the same, only the diction changes. Go through our scriptures in Vedas and the current use of solar path software for building orientation is the same what we use to do in technicques of Vasti Shashtra.

The problem is the materials used that me not be suitable for us that there suitability in Europe in colder climates.

rupa bose said...

This reminds me of Parkinson's other law: that an organization about to fall will build grand structures. He actually used the example of Lutyen's Delhi.

I hope it's not true in today's India.