Intervention by Riyaz Tayyibji: 18/01 — Three Presentations on Internationalism and South Asian Architecture, 1957-1967.

I am most interested in the question of ‘intimacy’ in the modern works of architecture. Particularly Indian architecture.

I know this about intimacy, that it cannot be without material and the body. It cannot exist in a world of ‘ghosts and mirrors’, even less in one of image and simulacra. In a world built on ideas what intimacy is possible? I find the idea of ‘building a nation’, a phrase so much a part of the Nehruvian Ideal a curious one. It renders the verb ‘building’ as an idea, akin to the idea-word ‘nation’. But it is not. Building is a real act. An act of using hands, of shaping material, of physics. How do you ‘build’ in a country that has traditionally considered those who use their hands, culturally inferior to those who ideate? How do you build in a country that has in general had an aversion to materiality and more so to touch, and particularaly to the touch of the body. How do you build in a country that has a scale of association linked to the materials that you are allowed, and not allowed to touch, that decide your social position and stature? Nehru came from that strata of this society that had little imagination of materiality at all. His Ideal nation is then one without the imagination of material. Was then his promise to architects bound to fail? In the absence of a discourse on materiality, was the domain of the architect bound to collapse into the narsicism. Minds that are like mirrors. But then what freedom did Nehru dispense with his promise to architects? Was it the freedom to ideate without material? Is this every architects wishful ideal?

Along with the ‘hit on the head’, perhaps some thought about the hands, some re-alignment of attitudes to the body were equally required. Not in an institutional sense: you cannot have a machine to undo what machines would only exaggerate. It needed the reconstruction of the idea of the ‘domestic’, that shadowy space that fell in the penumbra of the industrial sun that Nehru loved so much.

Perhaps Nehru should have paid more attention to what M.K. Gandhi was doing. Gandhi was systematically building a praxis with materiality at the centre. From spinning to weaving, leather work to growing food an experimenting with an ‘intimate modernity’ in the imagined space of the village. The village is then not to be sentimentally conserved, an idyllic domain of the noble savage, it is an archetype of intimacy. Full with a liturgy, ‘that weave of word and gesture, that aura of controlled destruction, that use of certain materials rather than others’. The Namaskar can only have authenticity if it is part of this liturgy.

Footnotes

  1. Callasso Roberto, 2002.