The 2021 Takshila Lecture on Architecture & Society


Níall McLaughlin  was educated in Dublin and studied architecture at University College Dublin between 1979 and 1984. He worked for Scott Tallon Walker for four years and established his own practice in London in 1990. He designs buildings for education, culture, health, religious worship and housing. He won Young British Architect of the Year in 1998, received the RIBA Charles Jencks Award for Simultaneous Contribution to Theory and Practice in 2016. Níall was elected an Aosdána Member for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Ireland and as a Royal Academician in the Category of Architecture in 2019. In 2020 he was awarded an Honorary MBE for Services to Architecture. Níall exhibited in the Venice Biennale in 2016 and 2018 and has been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2013, 2015 and 2018. Níall is Professor of Architectural Practice at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. He was a visiting professor at the University of California Los Angeles from 2012-2013, and was appointed Lord Norman Foster Visiting Professor of Architecture at Yale for 2014-2015.

Architectural practice today is pushed to the peripheries of society it claims to serve. After two cycles of rigorously reviewing contemporary architecture from a diverse pool of practices, The Merit List strives to bring forth pertinent discussions on critical issues to a larger audience. The Merit List Jury over the past cycles has been able to articulate some immediate and urgent concerns that the fraternity of Architects and Designers in India must confront.

The Takshila Lecture on Architecture and Society is delivered by an eminent professional / academician that addresses growing disparity between the practice and pedagogy of Architecture in India, and the realities of our social, cultural and economic contexts. The lecture and the following dialogue aims to challenge the status-quo with a conviction that an open and honest conversation on the state of practice will instigate positive change.

The first lecture was presented in 2018 by Prof Neelkanth Chhaya. The lecture was followed by a conversation with Bijoy Ramachandran.

The 2018 Takshila Lecture on Architecture and Society

To mark the opening of the 2018-19 cycle of The Merit List, The First Takshila lecture on Architecture and Society was delivered by Prof Neelkanth Chhaya on August 14, 2018. The lecture was followed by a dialogue with Bijoy Ramachandran and an interaction with the audience.

Transcript of the Lecture

When I was asked to give this lecture, I could not find many contemporary authors or critics who would make sense and I must add that I am going to talk about Architecture in India and Architectural Practice in India. It could apply to other places, but I am focusing on India since that is my experience. Really not very much was found in recent literature, and so I had to go back almost to 1950’s to Jacques Ellul’s book, The Technological Society and Propaganda: Formation of Men’s Attitudes which became so useful to set in a train of thoughts as to what is happening to architecture today-which I will come to in due time. But the other thing that arose in my mind was that why has the architect rarely been a culture hero in our culture? There is Vishwakarma of course who was a god, so we need not consider him but we had King Mayadunne (of Sitawaka) who built a palace that led to a war. Is this what an architect does?

So the closest I could find was the architect of Jaipur city, Vidyadhar Bhattacharya who became a culture hero to such an extent that there are ragas, and bandishes in which his name is mentioned. More recently I could think of only two or three names who came close to being considered as those who did something for society, and therefore could be considered culture heroes. All others were of more limited applications. One could think of Laurie Baker, or Charles Correa, or B.V. Doshi but other than that there are very few who could be considered having an impact on the society as a whole. And this I thought was a very telling fact which we should as architects think about, why is it so? I thought it would be useful to do quick review of what we have been doing since the 1950s- the first phase post-independence (1950-1980) which I would call as ‘Youthful Confidence’.

There is this bunch of young people who start practices all over India- whether in the government or private practices who confidently, adapt and come up with new ideas. They adapt the principles of modernism, look at the context of India, and confidently without any doubt whatsoever, they make some of the finest buildings that we have today. And even the lesser architecture of that time has a kind of confidence which is rare in subsequent times. A confidence that says this is the way a city should be built (Bhubaneswar for instance), this is the way a neighbourhood should be or a house should be. The projects are mostly small or medium, the techniques are mostly engineering techniques and they do not depend much on crafts or artists but on engineering. The budgets are frugal and I think this is a very important thing that the challenge of building with such budgets led to this.

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Takshila Educational Society, formed in 1997, in collaboration with Delhi Public Schools Society established its first Delhi Public School at Patna in 1998, followed by Delhi Public Schools at Pune in 2003, at Ludhiana in 2004, and at Coimbatore in 2012. All are a name to reckon with, a landmark in every sense of the word, and an epitome of good education and discipline. Delhi Public Schools Society is one of the largest chains of K-12 schools in the world with over 175 schools in India and foreign shores. The four K-12 schools of Takshila Educational Society (TES), have a combined student strength of over 11000 and a faculty of nearly 400. The overwhelming response to its institutions from the citizens and students has encouraged TES to reach for greater heights. TES completed a full circle, with schools in India’s East, West, North and South.

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