Architecture And Cultural Identity Cultural Studies Essay

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Why is architecture such a powerful form of expression? What can a country's buildings tell us about its ideas of its own past and present identity? How can we achieve the unique national identity in such a diverse country like India? What is the perceived notion of Indian identity today and how correct is it?

Figure 1: Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi

Source: Myself

The ancient culture of the Indian sub-continent confuses the Indian's choice because it is so vast and diverse. There are people living in India who are still living in the Stone Age and also others who are equally competent and look up to the West. Indians live simulatniously with their beggars, their own satellites and Indian cosmonauts. India is a secular state with tribal beliefs mixed with Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist and Sikh faiths. There is no single faith of religion, and no dominant religious community. So, unlike in some countries, the rulers could not use the weapon of fundamentalism or religion to arrest the crisis of identity.

In architecture, as in all other visual arts, there is a search for identity. As individuals, as social beings we are affected by the crisis of faith, but as architects the search is for a sense of identity in the built form. This search is simultaneously being carried out in two aspects, one, the historical aspect and the other, the contemporary aspect.

"The search for identity in our architecture lies in creating buildings in the contemporary aspect." 2

Two main factors that have been consistently used in architectural theory, to establish the relationship between architecture and identity are the dialogue on symbolism and the idea of the local. In the case of Indian Architecture, both these factors remain inadequate and sometimes inappropriate to throw any light on the relationship between architecture and identity.

Primarily, government buildings of India, which are actually intended to show the nation's identity, are a complete mis-representation. Due to varied influences like the British, the Mughals and the diverese native Indian architecture, the percieved notion of Indian identity is in a complete chaos. A rectangular building with arched windows and a dome on the top doesn't represent India. Then what is it that represents India?

1.2 Need Identification

Todays Indian identity is in crisis. India is so diverse that it doesn't have a single identity. And many foreign influences like the British and the Mughals have changed the face of India. The 'copy-paste' architectrure from the West has also added to the chaos. After independence, when we had to build for our own country, the dilemma of Indian identity has begun. So, what actually is Indian identity? Do the buildings which are intended to show Indian identity really represent India today?

1.3 Scope of Survey

The research would cover only the Indian government buildings built post independence, since it is not possible to include all the typologies, as India is so vast and diverse, both over the space and time. Government building have been chosen for research because, they are the ones which are actually intended to show national/regional identity and are now in crisis. The case studies would include government buildings in Delhi only, for primary research, as Delhi is more convinient and has a lot of post independence government buildings. For secondary research, buildings from other places would be included.

1.4 Limitations of Survey

Defining Indian Cultural Identity would be difficult since there no single identity of India as it has very diverse cultures.

Greek architekton. Arch derives from the Greek term arkhos signifying a principal chief in English. Tekton represents a craftsman or builder. In other words, an architect is a master builder or a person of authority. And, architecture word had been formed in 16th century. Even Kenneth Frampton finds the relationship between architecture and poetic in architectural etymology. Frampton's (2002) essay stated the following:

This in turn stems from the Sanskirt taksan, referring to the craft of carpentry and to the use of the axe. Remnants of a similar term can also be found in Vedic, where it refers to carpentry. In Greek it appears in Homer, where it again alludes to carpentry and to the art of construction in general. The poetic connotation of the term first appears in Sappho where the tekton, the carpenter, assumes the role of the poet. (p.94)

We can imply that a carpenter in Greek was granted the role is more than building a house from the statement. After all, tekton, as a carpenter or craftsman, is a person who joints materials and constructs meaning on the jointed materials. Tekne, which is another derivative word of tekton, signifies art or craft as a creative act which means 'making'. It has same meaning with poet derives from the Greek term poesis. The meaning of the making within poesis is described by Antoniades's (1992) essay stated the following:

poetics has been tackled thus far as "the making" of art through the thoughtful, contemplative path of what is "good," or what would be the promises or subtle difference between the various possible ways of making, with regard to the "good." (p.3)

After all, the connection between architecture and poetics is linked through 'making', which is the creative artwork. Its goal is just not to build simply by joining materials, but complete the intellectual system, constructing meanings one by one. Due to it reacts to sensory phenomena, rather than inherent attribute within architecture, an architecture art is called one type of formal arts, such as music. Therefore, 'making' is same with poetic production acts as contents arts. Kenneth Frampton describes 'making' as 'tectonic', and he insists on that it must be evaluated as an aesthetic value, rather than technological categories. The 'making' of architecture, which is constructing act sublimed into the united arts with parts of architecture as well as various objects joined together. These acts produce details in architecture.

Craftsmanship within detail

A result of the architecture and construction depends on the hands of the workers and they are given freedom in design field. To craftsmen, delivering the philosophy and intent of architects would have been even more important than detailed drawings. Before the 19th century, obviously, architectures were built and constructed by these craftsmen. However, it is difficult to find artistic and experienced craftsman, after the Industrial Revolution. The first architectural theorists, who worried about the decline of craftsmanship and responded to the issue, are John Ruskin, William Morris and others from Arts and Crafts movement. They firmly believed that machine civilization within the Industrial Revolution made craftsmanship disappeared. Rudeness, by respect for their craftsmanship, and hatred for machine and perfect, rather become regarded as the ideal architecture art. In the way, they thought craftsmanship could succeed and would like to make more desirable society. Nevertheless, modern machine civilization did not let them to do. Due to economic considerations, the artisan spirits were replaced to machines. As the result, it conceals the creative spirit which is the craftsmanship. The detail is not the creative art work anymore; instead, it expresses a specification drawing of a production in todays.

Technology of modern civilization does not remove the craftsmanship, but degenerate it. Citing Heidegger's essay entitled "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" in 1954, Frampton (1996) described cultural shock by 'technology':

For Heidegger the problem with technology does not reside in the benefits that if affords but in its emergence as a quasi-autonomous force that has"stamped" the epoch with its Gestalt. It is not primarily the environmentally degrading aspects of industrial technique that concern him, but rather the fact that technology has the tendency to transform everything, even a river, into a "standing reserve," that is to say at one and the same time, into a source of hydroelectric power and an object of tourism.

The technology brought by modern industrial, transformed essential attribute within detail. Modern technology with economic and integrity system, has suppressed inherence attribute of architecture. Expected the expression of craftsmanship, the drawing of architectural detail always comes in to the world through the hands of architects, not detail drafters. This ideal was not actualized by completed construction documents. However, someone who understands its own meaning could blossom the ideal.


To constructor, detail is recognized as a fundamental unit of a plan to construct. However, according to Frascari (1996), "the detail is the minimum unit of signification within the architectural production of meaning."(p.498). Also, Frascari (1996) stated, "the architectural details are seen as words composing a sentence. And, as the selection of words and style gives character to the sentence, in a similar way the selection of details and style gives character to a building." (p. 502). Therefore, the technology of architecture is seen as the construction of a sentence having two meaning; construction and the interpretation of the sentence. Directing appropriate detail, architects create a story of architecture. And it generates fertile detail in architecture. Frascari illustrated Scarpa's architecture as an example of the fertile details in his essay. As a romantic replication about the wall tumbled down in the past, the "ziggurat" motif in the Museum of Castelvecchio forms a text to combine the past and the present. Also, Frascari (1996) stated, "It is construed as a "ruin" loaded with memories before time." (p.511). Furthermore, Kenneth Frampton mentioned Brion-Vega cemetery of Carlo Scarpas in his essay: "Studies in Tectonic Culture the Poetics of Construction in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture". He explained various things about two overlapped circles of Brion-Vega cemetery. The two overlapped circles can be seen as a symbol of yin and yang in Asia. At the same time, the circles can be seen as the remaining traces of the Byzantine cultures. After all, these two arc details are positioned at a joint to connect between God's and human's world. They represent a symbol of delight and happiness. Such as the symbolical two arcs, Detail consists of the whole sentence which is architecture, as a metaphor. Using these metaphors in contemporary architecture is emphasized extremely for creative artwork.


Framption (2002) ,claiming that detail is art of joint, noted the following:

Details can be "material joints," as in the case of a capital, which is the connection between a column shaft and an architrave, or they can be "formal joints," as in the case of a porch, which is the connection between a column shaft and an architrave, or they can be "formal joints," as in the case of a porch, which is the conection between an interior and an exterior space. Details are then a ditrect result of the multifold reality of functions in architecture. They are the mediate or immediate expressions of the structure and the use of building.

In this st1.5 Methodology

The research would be proceeded and elaborated in the following order:

Definition of 'Identity'

Meaning of 'Cultural Identity'

Knowing the historical background of indian architecture

Knowing about the major influences on indian architecture

Percieved notion of Indian Identity today

Primary case studies of Government buildings in Delhi - Indira Gandhi National Centre For Arts, Supreme Court of India, Udyog Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan etc.

Secondary case studies - Karnataka Legislative Assembly etc.

Interviews of architects and government officials regarding todays Indian identity

Analysis of the extract from the research


1.6 Notes and References

1 Enrique Vivani - Farage, The Architecture of Power: From the Neoclassical to Modernism in the Architecture of Puerto Rico, 1900-1950.

2 Khosla, Romi, The Indian experience and search for Some light at the other end, Architecture and Identity, Aga Khan Award for Architecture, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 25th - 27th, 1983.

Chapter 2: The Question of Identity

2.1 Defining Identity The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.1

2.2 Defining Cultural Identity

Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture.2

According to me, cultural identity is a process, and not a found object. It is developed as it moves through time/history and is a result of the living condition of the people of the community.

Questioning India's Cultural Identity

Multiple Identity of India

India is such a vast and diverse country. Its climate, religion, culture and architecture varies from region to region.Foreign Rule by the British, Mughals etc. has added to the diversity of India. India doesn't have a single identity; it has multiple identities.

2.3.2 Diluted Identity of India

The Industrial revolution and the western influences have made the indians to copy paste and have diluted the National Identity of India. The invention of television and internet have made indians open to the international market and made us to follow western culture and architecture.

Notes and References

1 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language.

2 Wikipedia

Identification Of Case Studies:

Primary Case Studies:

Parliament Library, New Delhi

Krishi Bhavan, New Delhi

Ashoka Hotel, New Delhi

Gandhi Darshan, New Delhi

Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi

Tamil Nadu Bhavan, New Delhi

Secondary Case Studies:

Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur

Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalay, Ahmedabad

Vidhan Souda, Bengaluru

Embassy of India Kuwait