Archive

Tag Archives: RIBA

Inês Nunes is a PhD student at University of Coimbra, Portugal and is investigating, “The Social Within the Tropical: Jane Drew and Minnette de Silva designing an inclusive modernism in the tropics”. Here’s an update on a recent visit to the RIBA archive.

“My dearest, darling Jane”: unfolding Fry and Drew Papers

In a conversational tone, Maxwell Fry addresses Jane Drew from the ‘remote’ mid-1940s Accra. “Darling Max”, she replicates. Their correspondence, a lively itinerary from West Africa, India, Iran, or Mauritius, belongs to a treasure chest named Fry and Drew Papers. It is accessible, along with unrivaled archival material, in the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London).

Love notes handwritten on hotel letterheads, diaries displaying candid reflections about life, and memoirs manuscripted on paper bags are entangled with professional-wise material. Included are lectures and articles revealing narratives about architecture, extraordinarily illustrated with colourful drawings or sharp pencil sketches. Both are complemented by miscellaneous data: postcards, press cuttings, administrative files, address books… The characters gain life in every opened box. Their voices echo through calligraphies, signatures, ideas.

In its uniqueness, Fry and Drew Papers are an overwhelming resource regarding the life and work of both architects and an efficient record of the dynamic of their global scope partnership. Even so, it excels. Flexible and embracing enough to accommodate diverse interests and aims, unpublished personal letters, diaries, and autobiographies provide captivating details to any enthusiast – for instance, Fry’s diary was only made accessible in 2021. Furthermore, the archive is a source of knowledge about British historiography and significant architectural thematics: the MARS Group, the Modern Movement, Tropical Architecture, and Chandigarh are noteworthy.

Overall, the research was a privilege and the expectations were exceeded. My deep gratitude to Dr. Shireen Mahdavi for supporting this endeavour. The wealth of these primary sources allows an experience that couldn’t have been more rewarding. By immersing in Fry and Drew’s universe, how inspiring becomes their lifetime of respect and companionship, the robustness of their practice, and the profound vow to “produce towns and housing that will be loved, lived in and cared for” (Drew, F&D/27/2).

Congratulations to Roy Khatchadourian, University of Liverpool [M.Arch 2016], on winning the 2016 RIBA Dissertation Medal for his thesis, A Juxtaposition of Ideological Expressions: Evaluating the urban transformations of Yerevan (Armenia) during 1915-2015. 

img_0528

Roy Khatchadourian being awarded the Medal by Alan Jones and RIBA President Jane Duncan

The dissertation discusses the contribution of Armenian-Russian architect Alexander Tamanyan (1878 – 1936) and his substantial work in Yerevan during the 1920s. The research investigates his attempts to create a ‘National architectural style’ and rejuvenate the country.

Following the Soviet occupation in 1920, a recently formed independent state was forcefully ended. However, its nationalistic ambitions were not completely inactive throughout the foreign rule; Tamanyan’s 1924 masterplan for the city was deeply rooted within the nationalistic rhetoric. Over time, it was widely used as an emblem to the city, presumably due to its rich political allegories and nationalistic ‘drive’. Through it, efforts were made to overcome a difficult past, by erasing specific histories from the city and replacing them by the enhancement of other selected memories.

After being forgotten for some years, Tamanyan’s efforts were revived after Armenia broke free from the Soviet Union. This was made evident in large developments within central Yerevan, acting as the ‘completion’ of Tamanyan’s vision. The Armenian diaspora, particularly from Russia and USA played an important role in these works, importing with them ideologies from abroad. Therefore, this dissertation discusses 3 phases within the recent urban transformations of Yerevan: Pre-soviet (1915-1920), Soviet (1920-1991) and Post-Soviet (1991-2015).

Architects Journal article with further details.

‘Charles Correa India’s Greatest Architect’

This review was originally published (without the photographs) in the JSAH Journal, Vol 73, no.1, March 2014.

 

‘Charles Correa India’s Greatest Architect’ exhibition featured at the RIBA, London, as part of its ‘Out of India’ season, that also included numerous events running throughout the summer. Film screenings, discussions, a symposium with Charles Correa, and a lecture by the great man himself will subject the work to an extended period of interrogation where proper debate can ensue.

India has become something of a hot topic, with recent high profile visits made to the country by Prime Minister David Cameron, coupled with numerous television programmes and radio broadcasts, trade delegations and educational visits; the UK is hungry for all things Indian.

DSCF0426 DSCF0427

The exhibition at the RIBA forms part of this renewed interest, but was largely triggered by Correa’s decision to donate his personal archive of over 6,000 artifacts to the RIBA – the largest single donation to their collection by a non-British architect. This fine array of drawings, models and written ephemera spanning from 1958 to the present, promises to be a most valuable resource to scholars and students, and for those unable to visit London, has been digitized in its entirety (more about this later). Correa is at liberty to give his work to whomever he pleases, but the choice of a British Institution, and a Royal one at that, may raise some eyebrows and probably came as a shock even to the RIBA. Correa was born during the colonial era and his work has consistently looked to develop an architecture that was modern, firmly entrenched as Indian, and certainly not European. Despite this, Correa felt that the RIBA would look after the work and ensure that it is properly catalogued and preserved – a feat that sadly would be difficult to achieve in India (a visit to the Chandigarh City Museum demonstrates how Le Corbusier’s drawings have been treated…)

DSCF0429 DSCF0430

The exhibition, designed by David Adjaye and curated by Irena Murray, is spread over two floors with the lower level including a series of timber plinths painted in the delightful hues of paprika, turmeric and saffron invoking the Jawahar Kala Kendra project. It is a dramatic introduction to the work that leaves one expectant of something really special but sadly the exhibition fails to do justice to this enigmatic architect. Architecture exhibitions are peculiar affairs, not least because the architecture rarely features in architecture exhibitions, instead, we see the machinery created as a result of, or to enable the production of, the artifact in question – what Correa calls the trail left by a snail. The gap between drawing and architecture is especially apparent when viewing Correa’s work; the buildings and spaces (‘the empty centre’ in Correa’s parlance) really need to be moved through, set against an open sky and as Adjaye describes in the catalogue, absorbed through the soles of the feet. His work is not really captured by a rendered elevation or static photograph, nevertheless, considerable pleasure is gained from studying his sketches that go someway in connecting us to the person behind the drawings. Through the pencil lines and coloured crayons we can discern something of the architect who made the marks – but at this exhibition we are not even looking at the actual drawings. Instead, they are scanned reproductions on mountboard. Perhaps this would not matter if they were not so grossly enlarged to the point that they are pixelated. I found this to be most distressing, as when viewed in the catalogue (which is excellent and highly recommended) they look wonderful. As the original drawings could not be displayed due to the lighting at the RIBA it might have been a better idea not to show any at all, or just to reproduce the images as the small drawings that they are, rather than distorting them in this manner. The photographs are more forgiving, but some of them are also pixelated and not really of exhibition quality. Despite these distractions, the models go a long way to make things better. The Hindustan Lever Pavilion model in tropical hardwood is spectacular and still a radical design despite being over fifty years old, and the model of the Kanchanjunga Apartments stands at over 6ft tall putting the apartments at eye-level and immediately showing the vantage points and interiors. The housing section is the real strength of the exhibition, and arguably of Correa’s career – from the ‘Tube House’ and one-off houses in the Ahmedabadian brick and concrete style, through to the courtyard houses of Belapur and the PREVI experimental houses in Peru he has demonstrated how to design dwellings. It is these schemes, along with Correa’s analysis and proposals for Mumbai that put him up there as one of India’s greatest architects (what will the RIBA call the exhibition if Doshi follows suit with his archive? India’s Greatest Architect 2?)

DSCF0432DSCF0436

The rest of the content I found lacking and slightly predictable; I was hoping to see some of the less well-known designs, or greater analysis of some of the larger projects. For example, the confrontational LIC building in Delhi is sadly missing from the exhibition – how does that building fit with Correa’s objective of site and context, for instance? In many ways the designer and curator have played it too safe, and other than the outstanding project in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Po-Mo British Council building in Delhi we are not shown much of the playful later work.

The digital archive interface has been carefully crafted and as well as including the entire collection of drawings contains photographs of the models, buildings and scans of magazine articles and books that discuss the projects in question. The digital archive should have played a central role in the exhibition and broken away, at least in part, from the static mode of exhibiting and the passive role of viewing an exhibition – it was the perfect opportunity to project all of his work in a small space and to use the displays to critically examine the work, and perhaps to further explore why Correa might just be India’s greatest architect.

DSCF0431

The catalogue: Irena Murray, Charles Correa India’s Greatest Architect (London, RIBA Publishing, 2013), price £9.95