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Since 1st March, 1999
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The Loneliness Of A Long Distant Future: Dilemmas Of Contemporary Architecture By Romi Khosla, Tulika, Rs 750

The book under review contains six essays which reflect upon the critiques of modernism. By reinterpreting certain key issues that have cropped up in the post-modern situation, Romi Khosla sets out in search of “a new ideal”, a new future. The book seeks the ideals of modernism and the traditions of ancient lore and synthesizes them. For an Indian audience, the book is important because it relates to the kind of situation that exists in the subcontinent and the questions that have been thrown up in the last 55 years since independence.

The first essay, “Abstract & Ancient Futures”, highlights the modernist and the traditionalist ideologies, as manifest in our contemporary setting, and looks at where they have come from. So the concept of the “ancient future” is explored. This is seen as a construct of identity placed in the past and the “abstract future”, which is located within the framework of a rational, though often unrealized and therefore intangible socio-political project.

The next essay, “Countermodernism”, proceeds to identify the ancient futures and constructs which are being propagated in parts of the developing world. The political rhetoric of these regions has begun summarily rejecting the modernist agenda as a symbol of Western imperialism. History and the achievements of the past are made into icons around which “nationalistic” identities are constructed and hardened. This is achieved by selectively developing sites of historical buildings and choosing the associated technologies as artefacts of a rich past to be revered and made instant components of a desired aesthetics. The arguments are illustrated by rich descriptions of the author’s personal experience of such phenomena in Tibet, Nepal, Samarkand and India.

Given the presence of craftsmen with traditional skills and technology in Indian society, it is important to utilize and develop these resources to generate a new aesthetics. The essay, “Awarding Architecture”, discusses the Aga Khan Award for Architecture which has established itself as a platform for an alternative architecture driven by more social and humanist concerns. It has focused on innovative uses of technology to create a better environment for all and has returned the discussion of architecture to the centre of the real world we live in.

“Museums for Another Future”, deals with the role of the state and the use of one of its institutions, the national museum. The essay reflects on the manner in which a museum “collects” and so becomes a storehouse of objects from the past, which are placed out of their original context. Khosla also dwells on “who” chooses to put “which” object in the museum and manner in which this affects our impression of the past and history. . The museum often becomes an apparatus used by the state to exercise its control over the cultural lives of the people.

The author then proceeds to look at two design problems. The first he locates in central Asia, which is currently witness to a long drawn out battle between Israel and Palestine. After conducting an in-depth analysis of the whole region from a geographical and geological standpoint, he is able to suggest a novel plan to integrate the two states into a single geo-political entity sharing resources, manpower and technology while retaining their distinctiveness at the same time. The second design problem pertains to the rebuilding of war-ravaged Kosovo.

The book is interesting as it identifies certain issues and ventures to provide novel solutions. Khosla also endeavours to make his readers self-critical and rational in their responses. The merit of the book lies in the fact that by projecting certain resolutions to problems, it provides the basis on which a serious discussion can be undertaken on the issues involved.

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