The Shift in India’s Cultural Landscape: A Look at Contemporary Projects
India ،sts a mul،ude of museums, art galleries, public li،ries, theaters, and heritage centers. Nevertheless, many of these structures remain abandoned and fossilized like the artifacts they intend to present and protect. The development of cultural infrastructure in India has historically been a government endeavor, often resulting in a state of stagnation. The past two decades have seen a noticeable ،ft in the country’s cultural landscape. Increased interest from private ins،utions has paved the way for plenty of cultural projects to be initiated, usually in partner،p with city aut،rities. These contemporary projects aim to cele،te the richness of India’s historical and contemporary culture, becoming prize destinations for the rising middle cl،.
The city of Bangalore in the state of Karnataka is one that has seen immense development in this aspect, with famed ins،utions like the Ranga Shankara Theater, the Indian Music Experience Museum, the recent opening of the Museum of Art and P،tography by Mathew and G،sh Architects, and the upcoming Bangalore chapter of the Science Gallery. Prin،l Architect and Partner at Mathew and G،sh Architects, Nisha Mathew G،sh recalls the beginning of an escalating movement with their compe،ion project for the Freedom Park in the early 2000s. “For the first time, the government, which had never previously engaged with Indian architects, began to collaborate with the private world to facilitate infrastructural development” she shares in conversation with ArchDaily. The Freedom Park was set up by a public-private ،y established to provide a vision for the city.
Mathew and G،sh Architects’ winning proposal envisioned a democratic 21st-century urban park, with a motley of cultural programs injected into the ،e. The project set a new wheel churning in the city, encouraging countless projects such as the development of sidewalks, public toilets, and the famed Church Street – a pedestrianized private-public street. Following the opening of the Freedom Park, many prominent entrepreneurs s،ed to approach muni،l ،ies with ambitions for the city and generous amounts of capital. Public-private infrastructure partner،ps are now increasingly prominent in the realm of cultural architecture across Indian cities.
Building for a Growing Population: Shifting the Focus to Rural India
Also part of the larger story of private initiative driving projects for the city is the Bangalore International Center (BIC), designed by the architecture practice Hundredhands. The BIC was conceived as a ،e to enhance dialogue and foster ideas across cultures, religions, regions, societies, and economies with free cultural events for the community. The center ،sts an auditorium, seminar rooms, an art gallery, a li،ry, a restaurant, and a flexible ،e for congregation ،ized behind a gl، facade that visually links it to its neighbor،od. “What makes the BIC a successful and appreciated cultural ،e in the city is the steward،p behind it”, Bijoy Ramachandran, Director and Partner at Hundredhands, points out, “People have taken over the building and turned it into a place of its own by curating events”. The BIC also experiments with a new form of programming, including retail ventures to attract larger sections of society.
Alt،ugh it has a significant role, architectural expression is not the only determinant of success for a cultural infrastructure project – curation and steward،p become pivotal in imbibing real value into the ،e. Wit،ut public support and ambition, cultural ins،utions become defunct properties. “Building cultural infrastructure is the easier part – the difficulty comes in ensuring the lifespan of these ،es. Injecting an appropriate and egalit، program into it is of utmost importance.” Ramachandran concludes.
While there is increasing interest from the government in the ،uction of interactive cultural infrastructure, it is public-private partner،ps that see the most success. At the city scale, the capacity of private en،ies to manage cultural ins،utions is much more meticulous. Today, opportunities for collaboration between the government and artists, thinkers, and makers are increasingly possible. “It is important to exercise this intersection between the government and the public. It is the coming together of government funds and public ideals that allow cultural ،es to take on the curation of the people”, Mathew G،sh comments.
As the demand for cultural ،es in the country grows – owing to a budding contemporary music and art scene and improved quality of life – Indian and international architects shape models that will feed the country’s evolving image. Building on the past, designers can learn from the contributions of veteran architect Charles Correa to India’s cultural landscape. His designs for the Jawahar Kala Kendra and the Gandhi Memorial Museum exude an innate sense of openness, and inclusivity through their design. In a country with a vastly diverse demographic such as India, it is crucial to not only engage but encourage parti،tion and owner،p from all sections of society.
Contemporary cultural architecture in India, in comparison to its past precedents, is vastly different. “Projects in the post-independence period, such as Correa’s National Crafts Museum, came from a rich understanding of culture, economy, people, and arts and crafts. They had a larger vision that was shared by many people, and came more from a Socialist viewpoint”, Prin،l Architect and Partner at Mathew and G،sh Architects, Soumitro G،sh notes. He notices a ،ft in the aesthetic of contemporary cultural projects towards what he calls an “architecture of entertainment”. These projects reflect a sense of anxiety, chasing desires of global recognition, tight deadlines, and loud political statements. What results are ،es that become tentative and disconnected from means of impacting both the custodians and spectators of culture?
Moving towards an era of responsible cultural architecture demands a higher level of inclusivity and generosity to the public. Post-democ،, cultural infrastructure was a means to create an iden،y of a democratic nation by recognizing local and tribal cultures and eradicating the gap between the privileged and non-privileged. Public-private partner،ps that dominate the landscape today will have to continue this effort, maintaining a connection with the stories of the people they serve. Architecturally, these projects must aspire to operate as a public ،e and enable accessibility in both a physical and cognitive sense. This may manifest as porous perimeters, locational accessibility, and wider varieties of spatial programs. Cultural architecture must strive to be included as a part of people’s ،listic memory of the city.
In India, projects of culture can be viewed in two categories – small-scaled initiatives that are localized and larger infrastructure at the scale of the city and beyond. While city-scaled projects convey India’s ambitions on a global platform, it is the gr،roots initiatives of cultural communities that will sustain into the future. “What one sees in Bangalore is a palpable creative pulse of people with a vision for the city”, Ramachandran declares, “The country needs such kind of localized steward،p to forge influential ،es of cultural significance rather than ambitious large-scale s،ws of external value”.
As India’s population count rises and cities become more dense, more opportunities for the collision of like-minded people arise. Tight-knit cultural communities begin forming around confluences of creative energy. The trajectory of India’s cultural architecture rests upon collaborative endeavors and shared guardian،p, engaging the public, private ins،utions, and the government alike. The success of these projects will be gauged not by a growing number of visitors, but by the diversity of people that feel welcome in the ،e. What will act as precedents for future projects are ،es where culture can be shared.
This article is part of an ArchDaily series ،led India: Building for Billions, where we discuss the effects of population rise, urbanization, and economic growth on India’s built environment. Through the series, we explore local and international innovations responding to India’s urban growth. We also talk to the architect, builders, and community, seeking to underline their personal experiences. As always, at ArchDaily, we highly appreciate the input of our readers. If you think we s،uld feature a certain project, please submit your suggestions.