Ahmedabad has been a fertile soil for experimentation and explorations, even for international architects. Enterprising entrepreneurs with their avant garde outlook brought into the city world legends in the field of architecture. Not only were these icons invited to the city but they were also entrusted with full creative freedom to realise their chosen visions. No wonder this freedom was equally reciprocated by the designers and the city has unique and most profound collection of edifices by international masters. The city became a canvas for modern masters to come, experience and create their three dimensional art.
Beginning with British architect Claude Batley, Ahmedabad got unique blend of Indian/Rajput architecture with the European. Tagore hall, MJ Library and Vijlighar are some of his creations on architectural landscape. Charles Eames was the other designer who was invited by Gautam and Gira Sarabhai to help set up the design school — National Institute of Design, conceptualise its teaching ideology and design the curriculum accordingly. Engineering wizard and German philosopher Buck Minster Fuller’s geodesic dome was adopted at Calico mill’s showroom way back in 70s. Calico mill’s administrative building design was originally commissioned to none other than American architectural Icon Frank Lloyd Wright. Due to legal and financial issues the sketch design failed to materialise. But visionary patrons of the time continued to invite the best in the field to immortalise their dreams in their city. Two such maestros of the time came and conquered. Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and American Jew Louis Kahn.
Kahn created poetry in brick at the campus of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Brick masonry, considered to be the local material, found very different dimensions through three dimensional structural arches. The city learnt a new way of building in brick and also upgraded its quality of construction, having trained through rigorous and strict construction norms and practices of Kahn. It also gave legitimacy to bare aesthetics of exposed (unplastered) brick construction – alien to the place and people then. However, institutes and residences for half a century then continue to follow these modern aesthetics and outlook.
Ahmedabad arguably is one of the few cities in the world to have four creations of Le Corbusier. As if a book on architecture, the four Corbusier buildings in Ahmedabad take upon themselves the challenge of demonstrating four diverse approaches and outcome of design to achieve the same goal of environmental comfort and signature features. The buildings represent two architectural prototypes – the residence and the public institutions. Although built around the same time at the same place, these structures show remarkable diversity and contrast. Playfulness of the architect and a reward to the city for the creative freedom he received!
Even after Corbusier and Kahn, international architects chanced their arms over this open canvas. French architect Bernard Kohn and American teacher Christopher Beninger had made the city their home for a decade or so and have to their credit numerous buildings in their impressionist years. Bernard Kohn championed the cause of riverfront development half a century ago and Christopher Beninger helped draft the course curriculum for the School of Planning.
From the national scene, even with no lineage to the city till 50s, Pune born architect Balkrishna Doshi (apprenticed with Le Corbusier in Paris for four years) made Ahmedabad his karmabhumi. Noted legends of contemporary India, Achyut Kanvinde from Delhi (Trained in US in Bauhaus tradition) and Charles Correa from Goa-Mumbai (also trained in USA) have numerous trend setting buildings to their credit. ATIRA, PRL, Stadium, Gandhi ashram to name two each respectively.
Thus, Ahmedabad became the laboratory of architectural innovation, research and thinking. It not only has imprints of the modern masters for posterity but has continued to breed new generations of architects with lessons in puritan and thoughtful architecture through institutional set-up.
School of Architecture celebrating its golden jubilee this year is the prodigy of such architectural legacy, further moulding younger minds into ethos it imbibed from the very place and patrons.
Can present day patrons of development dare to dream, envision to explore and endeavour to excel?