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Arc. 388R
Methodologies of Architectural History
Prof. Anthony M. Alofsin.

The Works of Achyut Kanvinde.
A Case of Interpretation and categorisation.


Achyut Kanvinde attended Harvard Graduate school of Design in 1945 becoming the first Indian architect to have studied in America. Later he would be often termed as one of the doyens of modern Indian Architecture. In 1947, the year India became independent from British colonial rule; he came back to be appointed as the Chief Architect of CSIR. After a prolific period of eight years when he built a host of works, mostly new industrial laboratories, he resigned in 1955 to form Kanvinde and Rai, one of the most influential and productive architectural practices of India. His works have been much discussed in India and often emulated and he has himself received much personal recognition and professional accolade. However neither in the international architectural discourse nor in the standard 20th century architectural historiographic literature have they been even mentioned. It is even more intriguing to find that they have rarely been discussed in the publications of last few decades when there was a spurt in the interest in non-Western, regional architecture and built work from the Indian subcontinent were noticed for the first time outside India. Moreover in the actual cases that they were discussed they have been interpreted as per the predilection(s) of the author(s) and categorised to conform to one or the other of the prevalent architectural movements. They have not received the critical attention that they deserve.

It would be quite presumptuous to even claim that this paper in some way can correct this anomaly or ignorance if it may be called so. Even to trace either Kanvinde’s architectural expression or its evolution appears too broad a task. Hence what this paper aims to do is to present for the first time Kanvinde’s works in the political and social context which shaped them as it was observed that they have been always discussed in terms of their abstract physical and aesthetic attributes. For the same reason, special attention has been given to Kanvinde’s works from the first 25 years of his professional life including the ones ignored till now in non-Indian publications. Some specific methodological decisions were taken as the study proceeded as it was seen that they clarified the situation in some way. Hence attention has been given to some persons thought critical to the said contexts. Secondly, it was also found that there were clear differences in the descriptions and interpretations of the works in Indian and non-Indian publications. These have been discussed here. Here it is to be clarified that what is meant by Indian publication(s) is that they primarily were a part of the national architectural discourse, their audience being Indian architectural professionals and students. It has been illuminating to think how the audience of any architectural discourse determines the contents. Finally, The report alludes to some broad approaches of further study. With all these caveats in place, it is further acknowledged that some of the contentions in this paper are conjectures based on materials available; their role is just to complement the aim of this study: to challenge the established notion of Kanvinde’s works and make a case for a comprehensive and critical appraisal.

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