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Reflecting Changing Aspirations

Aftab Jalia

By Jaimini Mehta
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 155, Photographs 144, Rs. 1250.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 8-9 August-September 2011

This is an intense book but then rarely does a book that indulges in architectural theory make itself so lucid and strong-footed. Setting the stage for declaring the emergence of Post-Rational Architecture, Jaimini Mehta eloquently traces the vocation's transition over its recent two hundred and fifty year-old history. Why two and a half centuries? Mehta observes that the Age of Enlightenment set the ball rolling for cultural modernity in the 18th century and architecture can, by no means, be seen in isolation in reaction to this movement. The theme central to this book is not 'modernity in architecture' but a close examination of events which have slowly transformed modernity's blandness and in fact sensitively adapted them to the various cultural milieus that architecture finds itself manifesting. Therefore, the 're'-thinking of modernity is in-evitable. The author first identifies the problem that leads to the present state of architectural education—namely the severance of engineering from mainstream architecture. He sets a definite date that formally marks this fated event—the founding of the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussees by French architect and structural engineer Jean-Rodolphe Perronet in 1747. 'Until then', writes Mehta, 'the term "Architect" implied both a builder, well-versed in the craft of construction and engineering, as well as an artist.' Thereafter, the inseparable twins of building became long-lost cousins, estranged by academia. This 'first crisis of confidence', that few historians have deemed significant, led architecture into an 'epistemological obstacle' which was later addressed by a number of architectural historians and academicians who tried to create a unique position for architecture in society. Now that engineering was understood as something that dealt with number crunching and the tangible and finite components of the building while the architect was relegated to the visionary and aesthetic realm, it was time to render an academically supported creation to elevate the profession beyond its sheared role. Thus, the stage was set for the rise of the Rationalist movement. And it obviously doesn't end there. Much like his contemporary, Kenneth Frampton, Jaimini Mehta's research is methodical, deploying plenty of epistemological and architectural jargon wherever necessary while drawing upon art history, philosophy, and social studies to support his findings that the Rational movement didn't do enough to justify architecture's broader role. And although seeds of dissatisfaction were sown throughout the Rationalist movement, the evolution of the Post-Rationalist emerged as a response to the dearth of context sensitivity ...

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