Buildings without Borders

By  Staff Writer

We wrapped up a fascinating interview last week! From our seats in Chennai, we reached out to our interviewer who happened to be half a world away, a new and intense experience for us as a small-time indie organisation. That really made us think – about how the world as we know it isn’t as small as it was before, with technology shrinking the logistics of communication ever-so-often.
And thus, keeping in tune with our shtick of lightweight thought-provoking tidbits every Monday, we thought: hey! this Monday we could take a closer look at a buzzword that’s been thrown around a lot in the last 3 decades or so – you guessed it – globalisation. The phenomenon that’s ‘making our world smaller’ and ‘bringing us closer’.
“Where globalisation means, as it so often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.” – Nelson Mandela

The more we dug and the more we read, the more our opinions were honed with nuance. The advancements in technology and consumer benefit (the smartphone in your hand right now being one of the most telling assets) and the consequent impacts on humanity and the Earth itself (endless discourse on industries and their avarice) are two sides of the same coin – a coin that’s arguably a necessary evil that may need to be kept in check if humankind is to progress into a better future.

2005 study by Peer Fiss and Paul Hirsch found a large increase in articles negative towards globalisation in the years prior. In 2008, Greg Ip claimed this rise in opposition to globalisation can be explained, at least in part, by economic self-interest. Which makes sense, considering many economic, cultural, social and technological marvels of today were brought about due heavily in part to a difference in value of currency, physical and intellectual labour.

But here’s the thing: we aren’t economists or sociologists. We’re a ragtag bunch of Architects! How does the procedure of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture affect our buildings? That last question might have been needlessly rhetorical. Global vs. Local is a complicated issue that can bring any architectural discourse to a boiling point.

You see them in every city – towering, repugnant glass behemoths reflecting sunlight and adding to the urban heat island while devouring electricity to run their air conditioning systems. Our nation rushes to embrace the ‘modern’ while turning it’s back on a rich past and cultural building knowledge to draw from. Our environment and micro-climate demand close inspection and introspection of tried and tested methods rooted in our history/culture/archaeology, as with other Eastern and Asian countries where the Sun is often not our ally. Instead, our metropolises are dotted with shiny steel monstrosities as symbols of our coming-of-age or our arriving modernity; erstwhile people on the streets may see them as alien and intimidating.

What can we do as architects? Context is king. The allure of steel and glass may tempt our sense of aesthetic but it’s up to us not to sway. Your client might pester, bolster and demand another ivory tower or sprightly citadel, and they may well abandon you for the next designer that comes along. We won’t judge you (or at least we’ll try not to) if you don’t pass up these projects if you’re in need of a big break or need to get out of a tight spot in terms of finance, but if we don’t play an active part in molding our culture, greed may win with its knights in shiny steel and glass armor.

On that note, what happened to the concepts of new-age eclecticism and realising a reinterpreted and uniquely Indian style of modernism for our 21st-century building language? We’d love to see a large-scale urban establishment that has really bent or even broken the norm. Know any? Let us know in the comments!

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