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.


  1. Callasso Roberto, 2002.