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Why is the study of Modernist architects and architecture required?

Updated: Jul 4


Itika Atri, Falak Vora, Pranjal Maheshwari, History of Modernism, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, History, Modernism, Modernist, Modern, Movement, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

“Dad…”

“Yes, my child?”

“I was wondering… How did I come into this world?”

“Ah… Well, you were given to us as a blessing by the Almighty.”


Well, science sure did have a different explanation. A logical answer, perhaps. But, that was not what our parents told us, was it? The narratives of both solutions are contradictory (of course). But, regardless of what we believed initially and what we know now, most of everything we learned, we did so by raising questions.


The origins of things and events have always interested humankind. Throughout history, we have inquired the What, When, and the Where?

Why? How?


Curiosity has been a strong driving force for us as a species. It all started with our inquisitiveness. Humans formed a society and built the world around them. Curiosity drove primitive men to discover fire and invent the wheel. Somewhere between, they started documenting their findings. First, as images, then later as symbols bound by the logic of language. Our knowledge grew with every generation and we kept on asking questions. And today, we are in the era of 5G internet, ready to fly to Mars!


So here we are, you and I, asking another set of questions.


Why should we study Modernist architects and architecture?


Can we not go on with our lives without this knowledge?


Well, the answer is No.


Why? You’d ask. (See! Always curious!)


To understand the importance, we would first need to answer simpler questions. For instance, what is Modern? Modern, as a word, has multiple meanings and applications. We use it as an opposite for ‘old,’ as a synonym for ‘new.’ But it also describes something advanced. Modern, as in newer advancements that are different from the old.

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Curiosity pushed us towards progress, tremendously so in the technology sector. Thanks to digital media and new mass communication platforms, the world is available to us at our fingertips today. These rapid developments have led to the creation of intelligent devices and robots with thinking capacities of their own. As a result, the domain of man and machine is already merging, redefining ‘modernism’ with ethical dilemmas, dilemmas unforeseen even two centuries ago.


But modern is not just about technology; it is a way of thinking. It is about detaching yourself from all you know and beginning afresh. That is Modern. Becoming up-to-date with the present and everything that is ‘not old’ is Modern. This is how it was conceived and preached when it gained popularity as an art movement in the late 19th century. It started, like all big things and global movements, in the Global West. The world, then, was taken over by industrialisation. It was the time when the idea of freedom of thought and expression sold more tickets than the freedom itself. Modernism was (is) an inevitable consequence of that thought.


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The movement took over the rest of the world as the colonisers showcased, preached, and fed these ideologies to the colonies. Although it became a global movement, its translation was heavily Eurocentric. The ‘modern’ way seeped into our thoughts, penetrated our lives, and reflected in all the arts– painting, music, sculpture, and architecture.


Paintings became abstract, more distant from the traditional forms and ways. Interpretation became individualistic. Buildings were stripped bare of unnecessary ornamentation and beautification. Simplicity was the motto. Less was more. Modernity became a means of liberation, to free one from the shackles of the past. It was like the Modernists wrote a whole new textbook, attempting to answer questions that were otherwise not aptly answered, like where did you come from?


Modernity turned out to be a lie. What was monumental then seemed like a hoax later. The thought was a mere image that wore the mask of inspirational ideologies—an image made of all modern, glossy materials. In the name of modernisation and globalisation, the world was painted in different shades of grey. In an attempt to make it look ‘civilised’ and relevant to the times, there was excessive use of steel and concrete everywhere, making everything monotonous. This architecture became the ‘International style,’ which shaped the new upcoming cities.

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These modern cities were heating up on the inside due to rising temperatures. It took us a while to realise that we might have set ourselves on fire. Eventually, we had to open our windows to let in the fresh breeze. Despite the efforts to exclude everything pre-modern and its ideologies, we found relevance in its existence. We adopted the ‘new’ with the ‘old.’ We tweaked the modern, even if only slightly, to fit our needs. The International style started differing from one region to the other. It then accommodated the local weather, the customs of a place, and the materials available. In other words, the placelessness of the International style was adapted regionally to form a new, unique style of architecture.


With multiple contributions from various fields, architecture has moved beyond singular critiques and geographies. The developments in the IT sector with the fourth Industrial Revolution added another layer of sophistication to our buildings. The built environment became more adaptable, digitally and mechanically, and constantly redefined itself to accommodate the cultures that occupied its spaces. However, all this happened in isolation. And here we are now.


What we lacked was a shared vision to bind the whole idea together. One that did not favour only one part of the world. As a result, new, ‘modern’ problems emerged. Political events like the World War, Neoliberalism, the failure of Socialism, Communism, and its collusion with Capitalism brought irrevocable changes as a consequence. Social movements like urban migration, consumerism, economic and social inequality too gripped this new, global world. Moreover, the aftermath of the last century was so adverse that the world is still reeling from its after-effects, one of which is climate change. All of this affected the way everyone lived and directly impacted how we built, even today.


Without a larger picture, the meaning of architecture is reduced to the gimmick of a consumerist culture. Now that we have realised this, what do we do?


Itika Atri, Falak Vora, Pranjal Maheshwari, History of Modernism, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, History, Modernism, Modernist, Modern, Movement, Zeyka, Zeyka India, Architecture, Interior Design, Home Renovation, Construction, Tech, Design, Project Management Consulting, Architect, Architects, Interior, Interiors, Interior Designer, Interior Designers, Modular Wardrobe, Modular Bathroom, Modular Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, Bedroom, Kid's Room, Pooja Room, Garden Design, Landscape Design, False Ceiling, Balcony, New Delhi, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad

If these global concerns are reflected in architecture, then the built environment will foster an inter-relation to the socio-political-cultural-economic context, a connection of sorts. We can use this said connection to change the situation and make it better. But first, we have to try and understand this connection.


In an attempt to do just that, let us look back again. Let us try and understand what shaped the world we see today by investigating this history. Let us look into the projects and thoughts of the past to understand how we arrived here– where architecture stands in utter placelessness. Once the dots connect, we might even have answers to other critical questions that plague our time.


Eventually, through this process, together, we hope to realise architecture as it is and architecture as it ought to be.


Together, let’s find where we come from!



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About the Writer Pranjal Maheshwari is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He has interned at Rethinking The Future (RTF), India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha, and Sandal Kapoor Associates.


About the Editor Falak Vora is an architect, architectural historian, writer and essayist. She is a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL), UK and Sarvajanik College of Engineering and Technology (VNSGU), Surat. She has experience working at Aangan Architects, Eternity Architects, Wall Space Architects, Studio i!, Guallart Architects and The Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (UPCT).


About the Illustrators Anonymous


Itika Atri is an undergraduate architecture student at the Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology (DCRUST), Murthal (Sonepat). She is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer. She has experience working as an Architectural Journalism Intern at Rethinking The Future (RTF).






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