Lecture 5. The Politics of Post-Partition Modernism and Nationalism

This lecture examines the how the newly minted nations of India and Pakistan negotiated the questions of national identity and modernism through the language of architecture. In the wake of the Indian Partition in 1947, these nations looked both outward and inward for inspiration, marked by an urge to construct an image of progress, modernity, and nationalism. But, as Salman Rushdie’s celebrated novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), reveals how the traumatic experience of birth complicates the search for identity, architectural inquiries that ensued in South Asia were conflicted, anxious, and exuberant. From Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh in Punjab to Louis Kahn’s Parliament building in Dhaka, from Edward Durell Stone’s Presidency Complex in Pakistan to Mukesh Ambani’s billion-dollar high-rise residence, Antilla, in Mumbai, the Subcontinent’s architectural narrative since independence is too complex to be cohesive. The Marg magazine, a pioneering art magazine inaugurated in 1946, reveals how avant-garde design proponents in India defended modern architecture as “the only appropriate style for an independent India” and provided “enthusiastic support of modern European and American architecture [as] a prominent example of the way in which…urban postcolonial intellectuals supported modern architecture in order to distinguish themselves from the former colonial power.” Yet, while Chandigarh showcased European modernity in India during the 1950s, Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) revealed at the same time the atavistic seduction of a glorified past.


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