Oh my love, it’s a long way we’ve come;
From the freckled hills to the steel and glass canyons;
From the stony fields, to hanging steel from the sky;
From digging in our pockets for reasons, and to say goodbye;
– U2, The Hands That Built America
I was watching Equilibrium on Star Movies the other night. It’s set in a futuristic dystopia, a seemingly perfect world, where human emotion has been eradicated with the help of self-control and medication. To feel, is a crime. Anything that evokes any emotion, is outlawed. What got to me wasn’t the premise. Orwell had said something similar decades ago, in 1984. No, what grabbed my attention was the landscape. To be precise, the architecture of the city where the action unfolds. It wasn’t too different from any big city in our current world. Big blocks of concrete with miniscule windows, all steel and glass, cold and clinical.
When did we stop making buildings that inspired sighs? Why is it that every modern building you see is eerily similar to a hundred, a thousand others that surround it?
When I first read The Fountainhead I was impressed by its architectural argument in favour of minimalism as opposed to baroque, Gothic revelry. But these days, I can’t help but miss buildings with character. The kind you find in South Bombay, you know. The kind that tourists line up outside, the kind photographers get shutter-happy with. Buildings that seem to be works of art, rather than science. Not just the mansions, mind you, but even the little chawls and tenements, with their arched doorways and latticed windows. Balconies, for crying out loud. Where the hell did they disappear?
I appreciate that space is a luxury in Bombay and I’m sure designing and creating beautiful architecture is an expensive affair. But if the end product is a landscape filled with buildings that seem to have no visible trace of personality, each a product of the one-size-fits-all school of thought, then I guess we’re in for a sad, ugly time.