Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Golconde, Puducherry, India

The architect as critic Sify Himanshu Burte 2010-10-02 
Charles Correa is widely acknowledged as one of the masters of contemporary architecture. This collection confirms that he is also a lucid writer who illuminates issues related to architecture and urban planning in important and interesting ways. It pulls together a number of his essays and lectures published or presented in scattered fora. Surprisingly, this mosaic holds together well. It is perhaps the closest we have got to a testament of the full range of his intellectual concerns about the built environment.
Correa comes across as a thinker-practitioner concerned as much with the small lives and spaces of the city as with the big architectural or urban gesture. We also realise how closely the critical faculty is tied to creativity. There is an astonishingly lucid critique of Le Corbusier’s Assembly building in Chandigarh (published in 1964, while the French master was still alive). Here, a lyrical description of the context and concept of the building (and complex) is matched by a devastatingly matter-of-fact record of the master’s design failure.
In essays that follow Correa is equally at ease telling the West where it has lost some of the plot in architecture. His diagnosis is no diatribe (his criticism of Indian failures is no less trenchant), and is convincing on its own terms. Doubtless, it is this willingness and capacity to take a position outside existing pieties that gives Correa’s architecture and planning work its special force.
Poetry in concrete
Golconde’ is a residential building built between 1936 and 1942 to house inmates of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry with support from the Nizam of Hyderabad. What makes it extraordinary is that it is a fully RCC building, and perhaps the earliest ‘exposed concrete’ building in India undertaken almost 20 years before Chandigarh was begun. And how well its concrete has withstood the harsh Indian climate!
But perhaps this elegant, and much needed monograph would not have been published hadn’t Golconde been an astonishingly elegant, and profound, creation. It has all that you would expect out of modern architecture in India: excellent orientation (the sun never enters any room directly) and detailing for interior comfort, simple materials, spectacular craftsmanship, and technological innovation in hard times.
The relatively modest project involved an unlikely international cast. The building was designed by Antonin Raymond, a renowned architect practising in Japan who had trained with Frank Lloyd Wright. His representative on site was George Nakashima who would go on to become an internationally-renowned furniture designer. The ultimate client was The Mother (a French citizen), the spiritual guide of the Aurobindo Ashram, and the project was managed by Udar Pinto.
But the truly astonishing thing is how high the odds were against the building getting built. There was no money and no precedent for its technology in India, so the relevant skills had to be created through training and quality control. Cement and steel were scarce resources. And the design was highly customised, down to the hardware even.
The book outlines this story through accounts and quotes from some of the people involved in the project. We get a good sense of the different facets of the story, though this is not a proper history of the project.
Some of the original drawings are reproduced along with archival photographs of the building and its surroundings, but these are often too small in size to be readable. Despite these shortcomings, this excellently produced book is a valuable addition to the slowly growing library of books on contemporary Indian architecture.

The American gold rush encouraged the continent's cultural and ethnic diversity, it has been observed. Matt and Betty Bailey, residents of Dutch Flat, told the Colfax Record that California's mining boom welcomed people from all over the world to the golden state.
"A lot of the Europeans immigrating to America were told to go west. The opportunity to homestead a plot of land was almost too good to be true. So they came - by boat, wagon and then later, by train," said Mr Bailey.
According to the resident, many people fail to realise that the gold rush took place relatively recently - he noted that his mother remembers watching teams of oxen and wagons trailing through Santa Cruz. The report maintained that while many people flocked to California to make a fortune in gold, even those who failed to strike it rich felt their journey was worthwhile.
Immigrants seeking treasures found "a new home, a new beginning and an opportunity for a new life", states the publication. The California gold rush began when the metal was first discovered in state in 1848.

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