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In 'Modernist' Hues

Aftab Jalia

By Vikramaditya Prakash
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2012, pp. 176, Rs. 1500.00


The Architecture of Shivdatt Sharma by Vikramaditya Prakash is the first in a series planned to unravel the ‘story of Modernism’ in India. It traces the practice of architect Shivdatt Sharma whom the author introduces as ‘the most distinguished private architectural practice to have emerged from the greater Chandigarh area.’ The author also recently contributed to another compendium on Chandigarh viz. Le Corbusier: Chandigarh and the Modern City, edited by Hasan Uddin Khan and has a personal connection with the city’s early years through his father Aditya Prakash who was involved with the team of architects that worked with Corbusier on numerous buildings of the city. This book however focuses first on Shivdatt Sharma’s contribution to Chandigarh and moves on later to his independent practice. It begins with a generous foreword by Balkrishna Doshi followed by an overarching introduction of Sharma’s work by the author, an interview with Sharma conducted by a student from the University of Tokyo, a reflective essay by the architect himself. The book culminates with a showcasing of 22 selected projects that vary in scale and expression. Towards the end of the book, readers will find a chronology of some additional works and Shivdatt Sharma’s biography to tie up the coverage.   In his introductory essay, author Vikramaditya Prakash appropriately puts Sharma’s work in perspective by drawing astute extracts from India’s changing socio-economic and political landscape of the seventies—a time when Sharma was also reinventing his own practice. The writing lists interesting concepts about the ‘Indianness’ in Sharma’s Modernist vocabulary but tends to labour a point and the reading is further dampened by typos in the introductory note which will hopefully be rectified in subsequent editions. Setting the prelude for exploring Shivdatt Sharma’s works, the author is spot on to remark that just as modernism was perceived to be the face of Nehruvian ideas, it had to later also bear the burden of ‘failed India’ under strained economic and political developments which had shifted to favour regionalist factions and revivalist deliberations in aesthetics. It was under such conditions that Sharma’s career took shape.   Shivdatt Sharma’s practice itself underwent three interesting phases. He began his career humbly under the overbearing presence of Le Corbusier and (the more sympathetic) Pierre Jeanneret as part of the team that created Chandigarh. Soon after, Sharma chose to work at ISRO as Chief ...

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