Building nation without Architects?

Nation building is a diverse term. It can be referred to as politics, culture, economics and architecture to name a few forms. An article by Associate Dean Harris Mylonas from George Washington University, states that nation building is the process through which one can achieve harmony between the boundaries of a modern state and those of the national community. This supports our understanding that nation building is a process which revolves around our society, urbanization and the built environment. It aspires to ameliorate living standards of people, especially the poor and provide systems and opportunities to help them succeed. Nation building finds its definition from transformations as little as an individual’s evolution of thoughts to enhancement of their surroundings. 

Architecture is a medium through which these ideas of development become a reality. It is a representation of our society that reflects our history, values and beliefs. We, humans, interact with this built environment on a daily basis. In the past, these spaces were carved out by people themselves based on their belief systems while today, these spaces may be designed by architects and are based on everyday activities. Although, the ‘architect’ is certainly underappreciated in society when a client along with a contractor, an engineer and a carpenter constructs his house. Then why utilize an architect? All you need is a person with some sense of design and a team of people who can build. We keep seeing people hiring a draftsperson to create a set of drawings for construction of the homes they’re happily living in today. A collective process like construction has moved to other entities and shaded the role of an architect. But can the world really ‘evolve’ without an architect? Can we really build our nation without architects?

Over a period of time, we’ve seen a significant change in the everyday lifestyle of people, their relationships, activities, economy, climatic conditions and so forth. These changes directly impact design and the built environment. Hence, architects respond to these human conditions and their needs through architecture. This provokes powerful change in society and is much more than just about the aesthetics of a surrounding. Not only do architects investigate the current circumstances but are also perceptive in their response. By creating awareness between the common people, an architect fills the void between the experience of existing in a space and actually living the space. Laurie Baker, a British-born Indian Architect, respected every individual’s choices and their perspectives. Keith, one of his clients living in Canada, wanted to start a new life in India and Baker was able to provide him with a space which reflected his lifestyle and made him restful in moving back to his country. Likewise, Aravindh and Priya, client of Biome Environmental Solution Pvt Ltd, came in with a similar perspective when they wanted to build their house. They believed that an ordinary house would only lead to ordinary lifestyles. By blurring the boundaries of indoors and outdoors, reinterpreting the concept of courtyard in an urban location and creating personal spaces, the architects were able to provide the client a place they could believe in, felt comfortable and connected to nature and could call it their home. Such projects are excellent examples to portray how architecture influences people and their minds. A healthy mind positively influences our thought process, reduces anxiety levels and keeps us in a good spirit. As a result of which, one naturally becomes responsible and compassionate and so do their actions. Colin Ellard, who researches the psychological impact of design at the University of Waterloo in Canada, consistently found that physiological state is the one that impacts your health and stimulates growth. Even though sometimes the architects are bound by certain limitations, they ensure people appreciate the space, built environment and get a sense of pride and achievement which makes them a better person and ultimately a better citizen.  

The skylight effects that the indoors change with changing light and colours of the sky through the day – Biome Enviromental Solution Pvt Ltd

Given the responsibility that the profession holds, it has always been important to recognize issues that prevail at various levels in a society. Understanding these issues becomes the foundation that determines the role of architecture in development of a country. The level of detail into which one needs to look may vary for a country like India where life’s active even at the street level. As a third world nation, we face issues like illiteracy and overpopulation which gives rise to mass migration, inequality and unemployment leading to need of affordability and resulting in deteriorating infrastructural conditions. These realities have directly or indirectly shaped the role of architecture. Since history, an architect has not only thought about design and aesthetics but also about economy, sustainability, preservation and even the future by continuously improving the cultural landscape of the society. This is not something that is needed or expected from an architect but is an instinctive action as a result of the comprehensive education they receive. They have tried to provide more than what’s obvious driving the nation to stability.

At present, low income projects that are meant to replace the slums have become centers of misdeeds and vandalism. This is due to the increased role of private sectors, fiscal incentives and concessions leading to provision of poor and dark spaces, whether designed by an architect or an engineer. It lacks understanding of social structure, openness to people’s eyes and ears resulting in anti-social behaviour. An effective design can ensure prevention of such activities and promote good mental and physical health of the users. Not only does this improve the quality of life but also results in increased efficiency. Moreover, the selection of materials and supporting force is also a very important decision. Architects like Balkrishna Doshi, Charles Correa and Laurie Baker are a few of such people in India who have distinguished themselves by committing to sustainable practices to create affordable dwellings without compromising with spatial quality. Projects like Belapur housing, Aranya housing and Chengalchoola housing are great examples to understand how architecture can help relieve the torments of India’s poor and bring a sense of identity while appreciating the tradition. Use of local labor and materials not only benefits the local economy but also offers the local community numerous opportunities to earn a livelihood. It helps the community to uplift their identity and culture while developing their skills. Such projects are significant contributions to nation building as they cater the basic right of shelter provided by our Constitution.

Affordable housing projects in India

“I have never doubted that in a country like ours any of us has any right to squander or waste, or use unnecessarily money, materials or energy.” – Laurie Baker

Through their work, these architects have not only turned the spotlight towards India and its architecture but proved that by integrating the built environment with fundamentals of nature and humanity, one can positively influence the lives of people, especially the underprivileged. Another example of such influence is seen in projects like Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh or Yellow Train School in Coimbatore. Strategies like water harvesting, waste management and daylighting makes these spaces affordable in the long run. Not only do these projects celebrate the local culture and traditions in a modern way but also provide the kids with a healthy and engaging learning environment. Such spaces encourage children, especially in rural areas, to be regular at schools and gain life-long learning. But as we observe, these kinds of projects are few in our country. Truth of the fact are reasons like a client’s unwillingness to try new things, their limitations and sometimes lack of awareness. Either the people who have personally experienced such spaces or who are inclined to take an extra step towards achieving such engaging, dramatic and enhanced spaces or who keep themselves updated with current design trends are the ones who would involve an architect for their projects. As a consequence, we observe very few of these projects around the country.

The school provides a quality teaching environment, previously unavailable in Ladakh, and responding to the specific cultural needs of the people – Arup
While a learning space is created we tried new to stretch our boundaries of exploring the ecological issues. The entire roof’s water is harvested and stored as well as recharged. The building is completely accessible by a ramp. It is day lit and ventilated passively – Biome Environmental Solutions Pvt Ltd

But when we look at a larger picture, one realises that the role of architecture is limited and is bound by policies and laws. The demolition of the Hall of Nation revealed the attitude of authorities towards architecture and the architect had no power over it. When a developer wants to accommodate a certain density per land area, an architect is left with only two choices – either denying to compromise with the spatial quality to achieve the requirements, which might lose him/her a client, or designing to meet the needs while maintaining the quality of life. Charles Correa, who saw Mumbai as a place of hope, enjoyed designing cities where people could easily live, work, play and commute. He envisioned an idea of a large and independent new city, but this was never executed due to denial from higher authorities. These cases clearly show how architects, capable of bringing much more than what’s expected, are bound within the set of roles written for them. Here, one is not trying to state that architects are better than urban planners in designing the city. Chandigarh is the best example to support that. When famous French architect Le Corbusier was invited to model the city of Chandigarh, the planning succeeded for the administrative centers and an organised grid pattern layout but failed in public transport design, which is a basic factor in planning of a city and catalyst of urban growth. Though the master plan embodied some of the latest European concepts of that time, it forgot to accommodate the cultural value, traditions, character and vernacularity of Indian architecture. 

Through these examples, it’s important to recognize the possibilities and opportunities that stand in front of architects given the chance to go beyond what is defined for them. Their involvement in decision making at various scales would result in deliberate innovative surroundings. Maybe, if people around the country were more aware or if architects were involved in comprehensive projects like city planning, our nation would be a result of a thoughtful design which celebrates life at an urban scale and at human scale.

Architecture is the very mirror of life. You only have to cast your eyes on buildings to feel the presence of the past, the spirit of a place, they are a reflection of society  – I.M. Pei

Architects, through their innovative solutions and functional design perspective, can mold and transform the life of an individual, a community and a nation. Moreover, every project is a part of a region and as designers, we can give back as much as we take from that region. Our contributions can be as small as appropriate passive strategies to build larger facilities like a sustainable school in a remote rural region. The message that one sends out through their projects is what represents a nation and helps in building an identity.

Written by : Riddhi Panchal and Neha Rampuria

Keywords : Architecture design, Nation building, Built environment, Sustainability, Affordability, Evolution of Architecture


(2017). Nation-Building. obo in International Relations.                         
doi: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0217

Correa, C. J. A. and Community (1983). “Urban Housing in the third world: The Role of the architect.” 45-49

Tewari, Saurabh. “Laurie Baker.”

BBC Article – The hidden ways that architecture affects how you feel

1 Comment
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