Homage to Our Land












Remigius de Souza


There are no statistics available about the share of architects’ participation in India’s development projects carried out by the public and private sectors, or his share as a policy maker at local, regional, national or institutional level. Needless to say this share implies his professional skills and none other, e.g. equity holding in a company etc. it could be anybody’s guess in the wave after wave of westernisation, globalisation, Hindutwa, free market and so on, if ever it was widely guessed by the Indian Institute of Architects or the Council of Architecture ever since their inception. And in spite of all these waves, now the consumerism and ecological concerns and environmental revolution are taking off.


            Architectural education provides studies in aesthetics, history [of architecture] , technology, building services  humanities, town planning etc. during its course.  Project briefs for design exercises are given to the students by the faculty. These generally require data and requirements of the project. However rarely the ‘selection of site’ for the project is part of the study in any of the areas: histories, humanities, technology, design, town planning… any time during the course from foundation level to graduation. For example, it is never investigated during the study, why Stupa at Sanchi was built at the particular place in the historical context.


            Classical view of the ‘patronage’ continues to groom the budding architects even during the postcolonial era; now the patronage has been taken over by the corporate society and, of course, the state. The private patronage continues. 


            Recently there is an interesting trend developing in the market. The wave of ‘Vastu-Shastra’ is gathering momentum. It seems it shall continue for longer time than the ‘Ganesh-idol-drinking-milk’ episode. Such events are needed to shake the people who are caught up in the work without a break. Many consultants in ‘Vastu-Shatra’ are mushrooming to meet the demand / to create the demand in the market. Hopefully someday they shall find their place in the yellow pages. Yet it is important that for whatever reason people are reviving their interest, ‘Vastu-Shastra’ also deals with site.

            Presently the interest in ‘Vastu-Shastra’ is limited to the private patronage one of many likely reasons could be either real or imaginary fears abut the failures of a project or to guard against the failures. For example, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), Gujarat has created a storm of opposition and the controversy, which is spreading across the globe.  The other project that came under criticism and was abandoned was the Silent Valley Project in Kerala.


The success (failure) of a project, whether because of influence of celestial bodies in heaven or the ground realities, needs to be historically considered. We cannot ignore that a building, whether a shelter or a mega-project, is an expensive commodity. Generally there is no re-visit to, or ‘evaluation-after-completion’ of a project irrespective of its magnitude, at least a public project. It is doubtful if one sees the project in its antiquity. Have we finally lost the quality of timelessness? This is perhaps because there involves a waiting period. Instead there is rush to distribute awards and medals almost in every field.


It is doubtful whether from the beginning of (modern) formal education in architecture in India if the ‘selection of project site’ was ever on the curriculum or in the informal agenda. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons why the architectural profession has remained on the periphery of the corporate society alike untouchable cast, however sophisticate may it seem to be, and does not become the part of the mainstream. It remains as a service class. Architect is educated to serve the patron and his interest whether at a local or a global level, while chewing the   holy affirmations such as ‘Architecture is mother of arts’ etc. in reality the Market Economy is the mother of all arts.


       It is no surprise, therefore, in spite of great pressures of development exerted on the land, people, resources, social values, living traditions, ecology, environment etc. the issue of selection of a site for a project, or in other words, the appropriate used of land is still not on the agenda of architectural education. The reason is the apathy of the profession itself. We have witnessed that a street vendor, s slum dweller (or a slum lord?) have a keen sense of selecting a site. It is observed that a rat also is selective while picking up a place for hole in the coconut grove; so also a weaverbird selects s place for its nest. This, of course is not done impulsively on an ad hoc basis.


Within whatever existing curriculum is being followed at various institutes, the following broad based criteria could be used for the appraisal of site selection.


      Table 1: Criteria for site selection

      Set 1: Context                    Set 2: Reference

● Local community                         ● Space-time

        ● Anthropology                              ● Priorities

         Environment (ecology)               ● Equitable distribution of Resources

         Regional                                     ● Ghettos of Development

         Historical                                     ● Energy costs

        ● Technology                                ● Revitalisation


(Note: These are not pairs for matching. Each of these is to be examined with rest of the parameters back and forth. No terms such as ‘economy’ are used here which are elusive and could be subjected to manipulations.)


An illustration to conclude

Project: Use of photovoltaic Solar Panels for Electricity


It is nice for the experts to advocate alternative technology and energy sources. But who shall practice it? Not in the villages and forest areas as is advocated. It is appropriate to use it in the cities, for servicing and maintenance, both are available there. These fixtures could be fitted, to begin with, in the exhibition grounds (e.g. Pragati Maidan at New Delhi), public rallies (organised by political parties etc.), public festivals (e.g. Ramlila, Ganesha Navratri etc.), industrial, commercial, residential establishments in the cities; the ‘ghettos of developments’ in the rural and notified backward districts; followed by lighting for streets and public places (as their maintenance is generally worst) in the cities.

      This action is expected to reduce load on the public exchequer (?), thermal and hydro power plants and encourage ‘assembly of fixtures establishments’ at cottage level and finally decentralisation.    


Or alternatively in brief


It may be made compulsory to supply photovoltaic solar panels with every television and computer set manufactured, instead of advocating and advertising about alternative energy sources in the media. ■



Remigius de Souza

69, Sultan Bldg 243 S B Marg Mumbai 400028 India.

1 Published in The Journal of Indian Institute of Architects, August 1996 P 33-34.