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Bridging the gap between the vernacular & the contemporary
PAWANPREET KAUR  30th Sep 2012

Author Aishwarya Tipnis at the book launch

major problem confronting urban planners today is the widening disconnect between contemporary architectural practices and the cultural contexts in which they are set. At the recent release of architect Aishwarya Tipnis' book, Vernacular Traditions, Contemporary Architecture, some of the capital's most notable architects and urban planners discussed ways and means of bridging this gap between traditional architectural wisdom and contemporary methods.

Heading a panel discussion on 'Relevance of Vernacular Traditions in Contemporary Architecture,' architect and urban planner Ashok B. Lall pointed to a growing gulf between the makers of a building and the cultural imagination that should drive it. "Unlike in the past, the patrons, designers and tradesmen of today are ideologically disparate, more so from the workers on a construction sites who do not contribute at all in terms of imagination," he said.

For Delhi-based French architect, Stephane Paumier, cities like Gurgaon and Noida seem to be developing a new language of their own but this process is largely inorganic. "The mass-production of buildings we are seeing in these townships is a far cry from the traditional wisdom of India. Just using a bit of timber here and a bit of terracotta there will help achieve nothing," he said. Urban designers, he felt, need to articulate how the principal of building a small house with locally-available material can be applied for mass-housing. "Architecture must speak to everyone and be energy efficient and sustainable at the same time," he said.

One of the root causes of this disconnect, felt Vaibhav Dimri of Anagram Architects, was the failure of architecture schools to instil this sentiment in their students. "While students of regional colleges still base their work in their cultural context, this is largely missing in the metros, especially Delhi, which was designed as a beacon of modern architecture and thus failed to get a character of its own. Our students need to realise that the imposition of cultural context on a project has to be very emphatic," he rued.

Added Lall, cautioning, "Often, just the opposite happens. Students tend to think that it is hunky-dory to assume that all was well in the olden times and that they can simply replicate those practices. But that, too, is not correct as we don't have the rhythm of olden times. As a society we need to address these principles and there is a lot we can learn from Aishwarya Tipnis' book."

Published by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Vernacular Traditions, Contemporary Architecture sheds light on the dynamic nature of vernacular architecture traditions in India, their evolution in tandem with the socio-cultural environment and the transformation in building traditions as seen in recent times. Through select case studies, illustrations and in-depth research, the book builds a case for the need of sustainable architecture that can be achieved through the wisdom of vernacular methods. "This book is an attempt to bridge the gap between the past and the future, the vernacular and the contemporary," said Tipnis.

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