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Trade, textiles and the making of a city

DISCOVER INDIAN ART
Last Updated : 06 January 2024, 20:13 IST

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By the 1970s, the built landscape of Ahmedabad included structures by some of the most pre-eminent modern architects, including Le Corbusier, B V Doshi, Louis Kahn, Charles Correa, Gira Sarabhai and others. To understand how a regional city in Gujarat came to have Modernist buildings, it is necessary to undertake a journey into the movement of trade and textiles within the larger trend of modernity and modernisation in India.

The post-independence textile boom resulted in the establishment of multiple textile mills and the emergence of a new business class. The newly minted industrialists and millowners — eager to portray Ahmedabad as a modern city — began to commission and invite architects, both from within India and abroad. The Ahmedabad Mill Owners’ Association building, constructed in 1954 and designed by Le Corbusier, is the first such building. Corbusier also designed the Sanskar Kendra in the city. In 1964, Vikram Sarabhai and Kasturbhai Lalbhai invited Louis Kahn to design the campus of IIM Ahmedabad.

Indian architects such as Gira Sarabhai, B V Doshi, and Achyut Kanvinde designed multiple structures in the city. Influenced by the works of Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright, these structures saw modernist architectural trends being incorporated into traditional building methods. This intermingling of styles may have arisen partly as a reaction to growing nationalisation in the wake of independence and the drive to retain a national identity, and partly due to the limited availability of modern materials such as steel, which led to a preference for more indigenous building materials such as brick and wood. The transmutation of Western architecture into South Asian contexts required the designs of the former to be seamlessly incorporated within the spaces of the latter. Thus were erected structures such as the Calico Dome, designed by Gautam and Gira Sarabhai and inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes; the ATIRA campus, designed by Achyut Kanvinde and inspired by Walter Gropius; Amdavad Ni Gufa, Premabhai Hall, and Tagore Hall, designed by B V Doshi; and the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya designed by Charles Correa.

This incorporation of the traditional and the modern was also evident in the residential structures constructed during this period, which attempted to reconcile the changing social structures of the South Asian family within a Westernised, modern space. These houses prioritised the nuclear family over the joint family, in direct contrast to the communal designs of the pols in the city.

So it was that the multi-storeyed structures of the pols were replaced by single-storeyed, low-lying structures, the central chowk replaced with garden settings, and the heavily ornamented façade characteristic of the pols replaced with modernist design elements. Examples include the Manorama Sarabhai House and Shodhan House designed by Le Corbusier and the Ramkrishna House designed by Charles Correa.

Today, Ahmedabad straddles architectural polarities — from the traditional constructions of the Old City’s pols to the modernist vocabulary of the architects of the late-twentieth century — a testimony to the impact of trade and commerce on the aesthetics of a place.

Discover Indian Art is a monthly column that delves into fascinating stories on art from across the sub-continent, curated by the editors of the MAP Academy. Find them on Instagram as @map_academy

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Published 06 January 2024, 20:13 IST

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