|Introduction - Modernity & Tradition|
|Kamil Khan Mumtaz|
Most of the essays in this volume were originally presented as seminar or conference papers, and as such, have been published elsewhere. They are being re-presented here without much re-writing, and more or less in the sequence in which they were written over a period of some thirty years. In this format the essays may be read not only as a chronicle of the gradual shift in my own positions on architecture - from a committed “modernist” to a believer in the essential value of traditional wisdom -, but also as a reflection of the currents and under-currents within the mainstream on the larger canvas of architecture, not only in Pakistan, but within the region and at a global level. From these changing positions the issues of modernity and tradition have been examined against such questions as development; economic, political and cultural domination; national liberation and identity.
Form in Architecture, written in 1967, goes straight into some fundamental questions in the universe of architecture, and Pop Architecture, written a year later, looks at the specific dynamics of the regions’ recent architectural history. Both these essays were written from the typically modernist position of functionalist determinism. The following decade was a period of intense political activism. A period richly rewarding in experience of the local culture and rural society, but barren in terms of writing architecture.
The papers written in the nineties continue to explore the issues of tradition and modernity in the contexts of the building crafts, architecture and urbanism. Thus Future Directions, critically re-examines the modernist perspective, and argues for the continuing relevance of the traditional viewpoint in contemporary architecture, while Traditionalism distinguishes between heritage, ethnic fads and fashions, and genuine tradition, and Crafts in Islamic Architecture focuses on the intimate relationship between crafts and metaphysics in the traditional perspective. Similarly, Vernacular, Religion and the Contemporary Expression traces the shifts in the architectural discourse in the region, from the traditional perspective to the modern, and the return to traditional bases for design in the contemporary literature and in the work of some of the leading architects in the south Asian region.
Architecture in Cities: present and futures contests the prevailing notion of an emerging uniform global culture. It presents Lahore’s urban dynamics as representative of similar Third World cities in which the dissipation of traditional society has been accompanied by an atrophying of building skills and design principles. In the urban context again, Habitations compares the dream of the modernist Utopia with the realities of the world at the end of the twentieth century. It presents continuing poverty, and environmental degradation, as the collateral damage of “progress” and calls for alternative strategies and criteria for development. Third World Cities, questions the relevance of the current discourse in the technologically advanced ‘north’ to the realities of most Asian, African and Latin American societies of the ‘south’. The City - Economic: Cultural, and Political Dimensions, analyzes the systems of control and manipulation, the de-humanizing role of technology, and exploitation and domination in the relationship between individuals and human collectivities.
Finally, Fifty Years takes stock of the achievements in the field of architecture in Pakistan since independence, including the contributions of the professional architects, the role of the client, and the state of architectural education in the country.
The scope of these papers has ranged from building crafts on one hand to urbanism on the other. Inevitably, these discussions have touched upon such fundamental questions as the function and role of architecture in society, and the still larger questions of man’s role in relation to his environment and life on this planet. Indeed, modernity and tradition have been treated in this collection not as a question of this or that style of architecture, - one set of building forms as opposed to another - , nor as a question of relative position in time, - the old as against the new -, but as a question of two different world views, rooted in two fundamentally different philosophical positions.
The modernity project has been part and parcel of modern European history. The history of its political economy, its science and technology, and particularly its philosophy. From Descartes through Kant and Hegel to Marx, Heidegger, Husserl and Derida, European philosophy has moved from speculations on the nature of God to rational analysis of the nature of Man. From intuitive and inspirational experience of the abstract to phenomenal experience of the concrete. From idealism to dialectical and historical materialism. From faith and vision of a heavenly kingdom to altruist ideologies of a utopian fraternity of Man, to phenomenalism, existentialism and pluralism. In this process, European Philosophy has reduced the Truth, from the Absolute, self evident Cause, to a logical postulate, then from a mental construct to a relative personal truth, and finally to a meaningless game of semantics.
At the same time modern science began by reducing Man, made in the image of God, to man the thinking animal, then proceeded to de-sanctify his myths and archetypes to the level of the collective sub-conscious, bringing his loftiest emotions and profoundest thoughts down to the level of animal sensuality and sexuality.It then proceeded to assign even these animal reflexes and responses to the machinations of molecular chemistry and genetic codes.
With each stage in this downward spiral, European man’s penetration into the depths of the material, physical, phenomenal world has been reflected in his art and architecture: from the inspired cathedrals and icons of the Middle Ages, to the Humanist harmonies and proportions of the Renaissance; from the calculus and perspective of the Baroque; to the analytical and scientific theories and machine aesthetics of the Modern Movement; and from the iconoclastic puns and sensual delights of the post-Modernists to the nihilist anarchy of the de-constructivists.
Of course there have been other developments as well: secularism; the nation state; democracy; the new social contract. The spirit of inquiry, the scientific, empirical method, the rapid development of the means of production, and the means of communications, not to mention the means of destruction coercion, exploitation and domination, which have enabled man not only to ‘conquer’ nature but other men as well, and to acquire much material wealth. Indeed, these are the achievements which have been held up as proofs of the efficacy of modernity, spurring man on to ever greater ‘conquests’ and acquisitions.
Naturally, all of these “developments” have had an impact on the non-European world. But this impact has been largely superficial and has neither penetrated sufficiently into the deepest layers of these cultures nor transformed them to the extent that it has the West. Under an often deceptive veneer of “modernity”, these cultures have retained much of their “traditional” values, beliefs and social behaviour patterns.
If our understanding of “truth” is subjective, and relative to time and place and if its representation requires a language and symbols operative in a given collectivity, then for art and architecture to be relevant and meaningful, it must represent the “truth” as defined within its own specific cultural context, and in so doing must employ a language which is operative in its own specific culture.
What then is the truth as defined within “our” specific culture? And what is the language which is operative in “our” context? The quest for an appropriate response to these questions has taken me, as a practising architect, to a marvellous voyage of (self-)discovery - the journey charted by the present collection of papers