Oscar & Ponni Architects Question Traditional Vs Modern Architecture

There continues to be a tendency to consider innovative building technology as the hallmark of modern architecture because tradition is commonly viewed as the antonym of modernity.

Our generation has been trying to discover the common thread in which the fabric of Indian Architecture has been woven in the past; and its significance for our times’ - Raj Rewal, 1984

Durability in Traditional Building

Before attempting to answer this question, is Modern architecture less durable than traditional, and if so, is this a result of ideology, practice, or both, a more basic question has to be asked, or, put another way, a basic assumption has to be questioned. Many of the criticisms implicit in the above examples assume that a building upon completion should be just that, complete and that with routine maintenance painting, cleaning, etc. should last many years; a further assumption is that if it is a work of “architecture,” and not merely “building,” it will last considerably longer.

We may or may not have a deep-seated need to believe in the transience of contemporary buildings, but there is ample evidence that we do have a deep-seated need to believe in the permanence of traditional buildings, and we have developed a tendency to overlook those instances when these works fail to meet our expectations. While a great deal of Modern architecture has deteriorated more rapidly than might be expected, a great deal of traditional architecture has done no better.

Modern Home Exterior Designs-Durability in Traditional Theory

Jeeva Velu International School

Durability in Traditional Theory

The idea, important buildings should be not only durable but also permanent is so integral with the Western idea of architecture as to escape notice, except by those critical of Western civilization.

In this conventional wisdom, true architecture, as opposed to building, is the construction of monuments elevated to art, and must be as permanent as the ideas it represents. The length of time during which architectural objects are calculated to endure confers on them an impression of durability which can hardly be attained
by any of the sister arts.

Durability in Modern Theory

If there was no consensus in the 19th century as to what constituted good construction or the role of durability in architecture, there has been no less a lack of unanimity in the 20th, and the same three sometimes contradictory ideas are found in our own 21st century as well:

  • That good construction equals minimal material
  • That architectural form is temporal
  • That architecture is the expression of permanence through solidity and mass, regardless of the quantity of material required

Modern Home Exterior Designs-Durability in modern construction practice

Sastra University

Durability in Modern Construction Practice

Perhaps because of its technological origins, Modernism has been slow to recognize that the practices of modern construction and Modernist theories of the building not only rarely coincide but are often diametrically opposed. Modernist theoreticians and Modernist practitioners, regardless of stylistic affiliation, tend to embrace the “solid, honest” character of a traditional building, disdaining the typical procedures of the modern construction industry, which tend toward layered and thus veneered assemblies. Yet a number of factors—specialization of building components, the need for fireproofing, and the decline of the load-bearing wall in favour of the curtain wall—have made layered construction commonplace and in many instances mandatory.

The most critical factor in recent years has been increased environmental requirements. Highly sophisticated environmental controls, particularly those that create conditions of air pressure, temperature, and humidity that differ greatly from the surrounding natural environment, also make far greater demands on the building envelope than has traditionally been the case. All these factors have pushed modern construction techniques away from the solid and monolithic wall toward the layered and veneered.

Although contemporary architects have been both slow and reluctant to recognize the fact, the adoption of the veneered wall has been largely beneficial to building construction and performance. The development of the rain screen principle and the greatly increased thermal and vapor modifying capacities of the insulated cavity wall make it significantly superior to its traditional counterpart; in fact, the veneered wall is inferior in only one aspect, the structural, a role in which its performance requirements have in any case been greatly diminished. In layman’s terms, it is a system that does not seek a perfect wall, but that assumes leaks, condensation, and other problems will occur and plans accordingly.

The obvious solution to the altered nature of modern construction is to alter the nature of construction methodology: to recognize the need for sophisticated long-term maintenance and for the replacement of parts, to acknowledge that, whatever its imagery, a Modern building is a complex piece of equipment and must be treated accordingly, and to place architect, contractor, and user in a long-term relationship.

Modern Home Exterior Designs-Vernacular building

Proposed R.C.S Resort at Havelock Island (Andaman)

Vernacular buildings across the globe provide instructive examples of sustainable solutions to building problems. Yet, these solutions are assumed to be inapplicable to modern buildings. Despite some views to the contrary, there continues to be a tendency to consider innovative building technology as the hallmark of modern architecture because tradition is commonly viewed as the antonym of modernity. 

Currently, building technology and sustainable design are considered as fundamental to the growing field of contemporary architecture. Practising architects have a challenging responsibility to design buildings that are environmentally sustainable with the change in the global concern regarding the use of energy and resources.  This new responsibility has prompted a sensible shift in trend from a biased preference of eye-catching, institutionalized building forms to more organic, humble, yet energy-efficient vernacular forms.Tecpro Corporate Office, Chennai

Tecpro Corporate Office, Chennai

A number of practitioners are also inspired by building traditions, given that the local vernacular forms have proven to be energy efficient and “green,” honed by local resources, geography, and climate. However, given the diversity of vernacular architecture in the global context, the techniques or technology-based research on vernacular architecture remains surprisingly limited beyond performance-based examples.

This limitation stems from multiple factors, one being fundamentally hinged on the conventional notions of “traditional” and “modern” in the discourse of architecture. In the discussion of vernacular architecture, ambiguities arise from the meanings of certain terms and concepts. The words “modern” and “traditional” are often considered as being in fundamental opposition to each other. One tends to suppose that vernacular architecture is a kind of traditional architecture, distinct from modern architecture.

The Architect’s Role

Anyone familiar with the present state of the construction industry and the architectural profession will realize that the idea of long-term systematic maintenance and architect/contractor responsibility falls between the utopian and the naive. Many architects worry that their scope of services is being increasingly limited not expanded. While some centralization has taken place in the construction industry, the idea of long-term warranties beyond material guarantees is still a limited and specialized area. As with many architectural dilemmas, the problem is ultimately financial and one over which architects have little control.

Open Courtyard

Raghvan Residence, Chennai

Modern architecture also had an aspect of self-reflection and self-criticality, so that it was meant to always question its premises and improve. Traditional architecture, at its worst, is just that - blindly following tradition, doing thing a particular way because that’s just the way it has always been done. As a result, traditional architecture feels familiar and comforting, but that doesn’t make it necessarily appropriate or the best solution.

Modern architecture in turn will often seem jarring because it is trying to change things and critique itself. It is meant to be ever changing and evolving. The best modern architects copied scale, proportions, organizational principles, movement patterns, lighting strategies, and more, from the best of classical and other traditional architectures.

The difference between modern and traditional comes down to the use of materials. Traditional architecture was limited by the materials available, timber, stone and cast iron. Modern architecture has at his disposal not only those but steel, glass, plastic and concrete. Steel has replaced cast Iron due to its increased strength. Because traditional architecture had those limitations, that restricted design due to spanning distances and weight loading. With steel and concrete, weigh loading can be reduced and span can be increased. Traditional buildings tended to be confined space and dark.

view of courtyard Courtyard View in Raghvan Residence, Chennai

Since the use of stone limited window openings resulting in less light. Modern materials can make the most of Light by having far greater area unsupported. Also, space can be increased because walls can be thinner but carry the same or more loading. This permits more buildings in less area.

Today’s designers have begun along a radically different path, inspired in part by nature. This new generation of architects has a vision of buildings which do more than shelter us: they will nourish us, keep us healthy, help maintain mood, and boost productivity. The relationship between humans and buildings would, in effect, benefit from a kind of synergy, with the building taking an active interest in our well being.

Traditional architecture is rigid to the use of materials, we have very few options when it comes to choose materials for a traditional structure examples stone, timber, iron, clay, sand and cement. Whereas modern architecture it has vast options from aluminium to glass steel to concrete.

The best recent architecture in India may contain relevant hints for the developing countries. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the uncritical adaptation of Western models is no real solution, as these are often inadequate to climate and culture: the results tend to be alien and alienating. But the answer does not lie in the superficial imitation of local traditions either, as this fails to update what is substantial about the past, and does not address what is pressing in the present.

The hope is to make a relevant synthesis of old and new, regional and universal. The best recent Indian work is so challenging because it is open to the tests of the future as well as the grandeur of the past.

About Oscar and Ponni Concessao

Architect Oscar Concessao and Architect Ms Ponni Concessao husband and wife team completed the B.Arch Degree from the Regional Engineering College, now NIT Tiruchirapalli in 1986, and 1987. After their graduation in India Oscar went to the USA on a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, Norman and did his Master’s degree in Architecture in Urban Design in 1987. Ponni also followed to the USA, with a Tata scholarship and completed her Master’s in Architecture from Cornell University in 1989. Both Architect Oscar and Architect Ponni have done their advanced professional studies specialization at Harvard University. Both Oscar and Ponni have been conferred with Honorary Doctorates from the University of Malaysia and Universita of Milano for Modern Architecture and Architectural Science. They both worked in New York City with leading architects specializing in Skyscrapers, Institutional buildings, Hotels, Hospitals and Stadiums. To know more about them, please visit: http://www.ociarchitects.com/profile.asp

This article was first published in SURFACES REPORTER MAGAZINE, April 2018. The print copy can be Subscribed at  http://www.surfacesreporter.com/subscription

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