A full-page advertisement for luxury apartments that appeared in a newspaper not so long ago showed a young couple lounging under beach umbrellas at a poolside, sipping cocktails. The image, which could well have been shot in Rio or on the Riviera, seemed to project a “successful” couple for whom luxury was not a long-term hope but a routine expectation.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The apartment that they were endorsing was a five-bedroom condominium set in a 12-storey structure in suburban Bangalore, with an apartment each to a floor, an open plan, a jacuzzi, bar, two kitchens, two servant quarters, a separate service entrance, heated terrace pool, barbecue, solarium, central air conditioning and complete service backup—all for Rs5 crore.
So it came as no surprise to learn that in the India of 9% growth, five of the 12 apartments had already been booked. Insisting on the exclusiveness of his venture, the developer had added a rider to the ad: “By invitation only”. In a country where shades of caste and status add premium to any idea, this could only work in his favour. By conducting interviews for admission, he had elevated the project from a mere apartment to a fancy club.
Since the conception of these luxury homes, there has been an economic slowdown. Some of the early investors have withdrawn, the troubled developer has dropped the “By invitation only” clause and the price by a whopping Rs2 crore. Putting the construction on hold has, however, not dampened his entrepreneurial spirit; he is now focusing on leather bags, a family business.
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Many essays on architecture have, in times of plenty, been directed towards excess: fanciful space, new material, structural assemblies that seem to defy gravity, an attraction for the loud and supercilious. In many ways, the slowdown has been a much-needed corrective of that goal, a turn from instant and aspirational ideals to long-term and value-based ones, for both builder and buyer. And the demise of some of these credit-culture excesses—in architecture at least—has resulted in an increased awareness of our surroundings, our neighbours, the climate; increasing our capacity to assimilate and be an integral part of the landscape once again.
To see the slowdown as a breakdown is, therefore, a perverse sort of pessimism. Certainly it is the expected response when mortgage payments are due, when excessive debt for luxuries rears its ugly head and leaves us fearful and restless. Yet resilience in times of crisis has often been an effective antidote. And many of the intelligent builders who didn’t have the backing of a family business have farmed out into more inventive architectural territories. It is hard not to be impressed by their resilience, just as it was easy to be repulsed by their earlier greed.
The headlines and glossy spreads in architecture magazines don’t tell the real story. But there are many new and inspiring ones, among them a low-cost house in suburban Lucknow that is powered entirely by solar energy, a textile factory in Gujarat that uses desert wind to power its looms, a low-budget hotel in Rajasthan where guests sleep in underground courtyards, a riverside retreat built with stone walls but with a tent as a roof—a light device that rolls away on pleasant spring nights.
Even in the hills, the building of individual vacation cottages is now viewed as wasteful and uneconomical. For the occasional summer retreat, an enterprising builder has created The Verandah House (beyond Ranikhet, on the way to Almora), where private apartments are built around a common verandah used as a shared living room. In many instances, the absence of conventional luxury has been replaced by the attractions of design innovation and economy.
Is it then possible to redefine Indian lifestyle in the context of lower budgets and a slowing economy? To find that luxury exists not in excessive air conditioning but in lying in a courtyard looking at the stars. Or in sharing a verandah with friends. In the search for relevant Indian solutions, is it too much to hope that the slowdown could prove to be a transition to a more inclusive and comprehensive way of living—a way few could imagine during the fiction of Incredible India?
A baby elephant separated from its mother dies. A cheetah eats a little gazelle. The father of two bear cubs bleeds to death after a close encounter with a walrus tusk. Such scenes would not stand out in a wildlife documentary. But the G-rated ‘Earth’ (releasing 22 April) heralds Walt Disney’s return to the nature genre. Made by the people behind the successful Discovery Channel miniseries ‘Planet Earth’, the film focuses on three animal families struggle to survive over the course of a year. The producers tried not to anthropomorphize, but the animals are characters with story arcs devised to tug at the emotions. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Swedish sculptor Kent Viberg shows off his latest project, the world’s smallest art gallery, squeezed into an old phone booth in Nymolla, southern Sweden, in this photograph dated 13 April.
Viberg got the idea from New York’s 2.5 sq. ft Wrong Gallery and plans to set up similar galleries in several towns in southern Sweden. AP
Think twice before ditching that old Ikea bookcase. It might be a museum piece. The Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, is showing the first exhibition devoted to Ikea furniture. Called Democratic Design, it features Billy shelves (right) and Ogla cafe chairs, alongside permanent exhibits of design classics. Ikea’s concept is to make design available to everyone, using mass production and self-assembly to keep costs down. Founded in 1943 by 17-year-old Swede Ingvar Kamprad, the company started by selling nylon stockings, stationery and watches. It only started producing its own furniture in 1956. Bloomberg
Freelon Adjaye Bond, in association with SmithGroup, has been chosen to build the first black history museum in Washington, the Smithsonian Institution said on Tuesday. The architectural team beat five competitors’ designs. The $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture, established by an act of Congress in 2003, will sit on the National Mall. Construction, expected to last up to three years, is scheduled to begin in 2012. The winning design is a six-level cube with a stone-clad base topped by a “corona” of bronze-tinted glass, its shape inspired by an African king’s headdress. AFP
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