When India's 'STARicons', Charles Correa, Raj Rewal and Mahendra Raj descended on the stage for the climactic session of the Z-Axis Conference, there was roaring applause from the ecstatic 1K audience who had sprung to their feet at the Kala Academy in Goa. The coming together of these stalwarts who have shaped modern Indian architecture, needless to say, was a sight and moment to behold! (B V Doshi, who couldn't make it, was missed).
This session of this annual conference that was organised and curated by the Charles Correa Foundation brought an exceptionally fantastic culmination to the many ideas that had been conceived, seeded, disseminated, exchanged, and argued on for two days in March 2015. Themed 'Great City, Terrible Place'; this international platform, a no-holds-barred, honest and at times controversial medium, discussed 'cities' and the very role of an architect to define, through their interventions on the earth's canvas, the purpose of urban development.
Titled Z-Axis, the conference probed further in depth, into the third dimension of the discipline, which was reflected by its fascinating spectrum of speakers, representing consummate practices from diverse geographies and probing into various architectural theories, concepts and contexts. The conscientious audience of architects and students, bestowing the conference their complete dedication, didn't hold back from articulating themselves, either through astounding applauses on stunning concepts and rib-tickling anecdotes, or through challenging questions.
Cities the world-over are facing challenges (similar and some unique) in their planning and execution. The speakers, with their intense commitment to their subject and engaged with cities in different capacities, primarily spoke about their projects that reflected on their diverse approach on 'bettering' the cities. Prof Rafael Moneo, the key-note speaker echoed the relevance of 'context' and 'identity' of architecture and highlighted 'continuity' and 'maintenance' as the key words essential for the 'future of cities'. Ton Venhoeven rephrased cities as 'urban networks', and elaborated on the need of a 'circular economy' and a 'model-shift policy'. Christopher Benninger's projects were steered towards architecture that worked in cognisance of the urban environment.
Brinda Somaya traversed the growth of Bombay to Mumbai, and elucidated her 'Architecture of sensibilities' through projects, that involved a 'sense of place', 'belonging', 'equality' and 'infrastructure'. Santiago Cirugeda voiced the 'rebel' architect's 'political' and satirical views on architecture and urban governance, and vehemently rooted for the citizen's position in their own cities.
Kunle Adeyemi's impactful talk showcased a 'rising Africa' where his projects tackled the issues of extreme urbanisation, and left many wondering if they were doing enough for their 'developing countries'. Alfredo Brillembourg's powerful and affirmative talk focused on 'people' as the biggest resource for a city, besides 'thinking for the poor'. Bimal Patel's 'optimistic' talk of 'cities for the better' got a little controversial when he stated that “there was lots of political will to better the urban scenario, but lack of technical and managerial skill to translate this will”.
While David Adjaye's 'classical architecture' featured some exceptionally stimulating project concepts that stood as 'blocks in the cities', Peter Bishop elucidated on the 'strategies for a fluid world', introducing the term of ‘liquid modernity’ and urging everyone to break the rules in city planning! Simone Sfriso's works in the suburban areas revealed the true meanings of 'sustainable architecture', debunking the word which has been 'overused and abused'.
Madura Prematilleke led an extremely explosive and (brave!) talk on his observations of the political state of Sri Lanka in regard to the creation of urban spaces. Prem Chandavarkar's intense talk (replete with economic data) on the culture of cities touched upon the Right to the City, History of Human Rights and the Cultural Memory of a city.
The panel discussions offered food for thought, by coercing and compelling the eager spectators and sporting presenters to make honest confessions and blunt revelations. Deftly moderated by Pratyush Shankar, the discussions were efficiently steered away from encroaching non-relevant aspects to the theme.
Some pertinent suggestions/views that came up through the three days included, educating and making communities into active stakeholders, the need to invent 'urban metabolism', to NOT leave the issue of planning in the hands of 'politicians' alone, to take in cognisance 'whom you are building for', the importance of logic (and not the visual or vision!) of architecture; the need to have intersection of memories; decentralisation and democracy being 'messy', 'logic' and 'biography' defining practices, architects behaving as catalysts for urban transformation, and the need for architectural criticism to become mainstream.
The Climactic Section, moderated by Riyaz Tayyibji, preceded by a book launch on master architects, brought in a lot of respect, chuckles and knowledge with the great icons who shared their collective memories, their practices, their views on cities, challenges in architecture and their enthralling interactions with fellow architects.
An incredible networking forum saluting the spirit of architecture, the conference focused on content, shifting perspectives, encouraged thinking and confrontations and doubled up as a bridge between students and professionals. For everyone back home, the most encouraging words came from Correa himself, when he said, "It is wonderful to work in India where you can raise a lot of questions through your works. You may not find the answers to those always, but you have a chance to grow. Let your work nourish you!"
Ar Apurva Bose Dutta