Materials to Build India’s Identity
Upon becoming a sovereign country, free from British Rule, the people of India found themselves faced with questions they had never needed to answer before. Coming from different cultures and origins, the citizens began to wonder what post-independence India would stand for. The nation-builders now had the choice to carve out their own future, along with the responsibility to reclaim its identity – but what was India’s identity? Was it the temples and huts of the indigenous folk, the lofty palaces of the Mughal era, or the debris of British rule? There began a search for a contemporary Indian sensibility that would carry the collective histories of citizens towards a future of hope.
In the pursuit of a revived identity, history provided clues. Context, climate, craft and sustainability formed the pillars of traditional Indian architecture and provided precedents for new cities and structures. A fresh style of architecture began to emerge at various nodes of the country, synergizing modern methods of construction with vernacular technologies. Architects and planners began to express this cultural identity as a reminder of shared values to inspire the national spirit.
Pioneers of Modernist Indian architecture like Charles Correa, Raj Rewal, and BV Doshi developed a ‘grammar’ of building elements, motifs and materials. The grammar slightly bent rules across the country to accommodate cultural histories and climatic concerns of individual contexts. Indian architecture sought identity through local materials with modern techniques. Deeply meshed with cultural and climatic significance, the following materials continue to build contemporary Indian architecture to this day:
Jaali is a local term for “perforated block”, and comes in the form of brick, cement, terracotta and wood units. Borrowed from the Rajput and Mughal eras, the intricate blocks create beautiful patterns of light and shadow while ventilating indoor spaces. The play of solid and void has become a cultural symbol of contemporary Indian architecture and plays muse to designers in the country.
MAC Community Center / Made in Earth
Avadh Shilpgram / Archohm
Sharana Daycare Center / Anupama Kundoo Architects
With the growing demand for sustainable architecture across the world, vernacular earth construction has gained prominence in India. Several local architecture practices are exploring the possibilities of Earth as a building material in the forms of rammed earth, water and daub, earth and straw, compressed earth bricks and more.
Sunyata Eco Hotel / Design Kacheri
Hamsa’s House / Biome Environmental Solutions
Oxide is a natural material that gives an earthy, shiny and colorful finish to any surface of choice. The technique was brought to the country by the Portuguese and Italians through trade. Local artisans further experimented with the material to arrive at methodologies that suited the locational context. The practice is popular in the southern regions of India.
Shikhara House / Wallmakers
The traditional lime plaster technique is witnessing a revival in India, prized for its breathability and aesthetic qualities. Lime artisans have perfected the eco-friendly method over generations, using special mixes and tools to prepare and apply the material on surfaces.
THE YELLOW BOX / TRAANSPACE
Mud and Don
The plaster makes use of locally sourced mud and cow dung – an ancient Vedic mixture. It is known to have better insulation, water-repellant and antiseptic properties. The practice is common in villages in India and is being revived and experimented with, in the cities.
Jetavan Spiritual Center / Sameep Padora & Associates
This native roofing system is one of the earliest recognized vernacular architecture forms in India. Thatching involves using locally available dry vegetation to protect the interiors from water and climatic conditions. The material finds itself in contemporary architecture as a meditative, natural, and humble element.
TreeVilla at Forest Hills / Architecture BRIO
India is home to an extensive range of stones like granites, marbles, sandstone, slate, and limestone. The material has been in use from the earliest temples to modern-day luxury houses, offering interesting textures and patterns to a building’s material palette. Locally available stone is cost-effective and creates a regionally-unique aesthetic in architecture.
The Raw Abode / The Brick Tales
Although uncommon elsewhere, wood is a popular construction material in the Himalayan region. The material is vernacular to the area, where temples were constructed with wood for practical and religious reasons. Wood is well suited to the climatic conditions of the Northern regions. It is otherwise used for its aesthetic qualities in other parts of the country.
Villa in the Woods / Studio Lotus
India is the second-largest producer of Bamboo in the world and houses many artisan communities trained in bamboo construction. Traditional building practices vary across the country along with local landscapes and climatic conditions. Famous in the Northeast region of India, bamboo is finding a role in experimental projects across the country.
Avasara Academy / Case Design
The Atelier / Biome Environmental Solutions
Post-independent India was fueled by the desire to grow into a prosperous nation. A symbol of modernism, concrete came to indicate ‘progress’ and is used for its cooling properties and minimalistic finish. Le Corbusier pioneered the use of concrete in the country, his visions still deeply ingrained in the minds of local architects.
Shreyas Retreat / The Purple Ink Studio