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Golconde (The Introduction of Modernism in India)

Golconde (The Introduction of Modernism in India)
Item Code: NAM569
Author: Pankaj Vir Gupta and Christine Mueller
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9780979553448
Pages: 105 (Throughout B/W & Color Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 10 inch X 10 inch
weight of the book: 715 gms
About the Author

Pankaj Vir Gupta and Christine Mueller are the founding partners of vir.mueller architects - a multidisciplinary design practice encompassing architectural research, education, and practice. The work of vir.mueller architects emphasizes the integrity of material and craftsmanship, establishing a fundamental relationship between the physical environment, and the art of making architecture.

Educated at the University of Virginia and at Yale University, Pankaj Vir Gupta has lectured and taught at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University, and the University of New Mexico. In 1999, he founded Reading India, a study-abroad program for architecture students, focusing on the architecture of India. He is a licensed architect in the United States, and a registered member of the Council of Indian Architects.

Christine Mueller received a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture (Magna Cum Laude) from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Master of Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. She has taught at the University of Texas in Austin, the Boston Architectural Center, and the Career Discovery program at Harvard University.

A graduate of Princeton University and of Columbia University's Avery School of Architecture and Planning, Cyrus Samii spent his formative years in Iran. He returned to Tehran to engage in a study of the city's architecture. Formerly Planning Director for Sante Fe and for Espanola, New Mexico, he serves a nominator for the Aga Khan Award for Excellence in Islamic Architecture. He recently completed his first novel, The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness.


The documents in this monograph focus on the singular presence, careful articulation and rich space that Golconde defines. They record and bear witness to a significant, albeit overlooked, building of the modern architectural canon. Rather than a dogmatic reiteration of principle, Golconde is a generous and carefully wrought illustration of modern architecture. As the many photographs demonstrate, here we find a building whose order is not its principle characteristic, but rather a means towards a more serendipitous end. Character is in a large part given by the vicissitudes of nature and a life lived in and around it. One can see in the documents a facade constantly in motion as its array of asbestos and cement louvers adjust to the subtle variations in breeze. Similarly, the changing course of the day is registered in daylight casting across crushed seashell plaster walls and black stone floors. As in Nakashima's now celebrated furniture, beauty is defined in the eccentricity of natural materials and their subtle manipulation.

With the benefit of some historical distance, it is now tenable to reconsider modernist accomplishments with a view to refreshing our own contemporary agendas, and to identify and rescue principles of action that characterized the modern. In its innovative and forthright use of technology, generous regard for local conditions of climate and circumstance, dexterous embrace of particular program, carefully wrought craftsmanship, and essential modesty, the experience of work such as Golconde requires a considered critical review.


When Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry in April 1910, he did not plan to stay for-more than a year or two. He had, to be sure, left his political life behind him. Government repression, in the form of ordinances and prosecutions, had shut down the activities of the Nationalist Party that he had led. An arrest warrant had been issued against him. Before it could be served, he left Calcutta on a French ship bound for Pondicherry. There he stayed in a small apartment that local sympathizers found for him. For more than six months he hardly set foot outside his room. This enforced solitude suited him well. For the last three years, his main interest had been yoga, the cultivation of inner capacities through meditation and other spiritual techniques. In Pondicherry, for the first time in months, he was able to devote himself to yoga to the exclusion of everything else. When he learned towards the end of 1910 that the case against him had been dropped, he put off his return till he had completed his sadhana or practice of yoga. He thought this might take two years. This stretched to four, then ten. Eventually he realized it was impossible to set a deadline. He remained in Pondicherry, absorbed in yoga, for the rest of his life.

Aurobindo left his first apartment at the end of 1910 and found a house in the ville blanche or French part of town. He could not stay here long. Lack of funds meant that he and the young men living with him had to move three times in the next three years. Wherever he set up house, he made a point of living as a "householder:" paying rent, buying food in the bazaar, generally avoiding the ascetic way of life. Asked by a friend around this time whether it was true that he was practicing sannyasa or asceticism, he answered sharply: "The Yoga I am practicing has not the ghost of a connection with sannyasa. It is a Yoga meant for life and life only." The purpose of his Yoga was not to escape from life, but to perfect its powers and capacities. For this, it was necessary to be active. Any work could be useful to the yogin if it was done with the proper attitude. Aurobindo therefore never insisted that those who followed his path had to pass their time doing "spiritual" things like repeating mantras or meditating. "All life is yoga" was his motto.

Aurobindo himself needed solitude for his practice, but he did not impose this way of life on others. The young men who stayed with him played football, studied French, wrote poetry, and roamed about the town. He did not give them lessons in yoga, because he did not think that yoga could be taught. Each person's push to practice had to come from within. Eventually, most of those around him found their way. He meanwhile was engaged in his own special type of experimental psychology, observing the movements of his consciousness and recording his experiences in his diary. When he read the Vedas and Upanishads, he found that many of his experiences were prefigured in those ancient texts. Before long, he began to write commentaries on the Rig Veda and Isha Upanishad; but he wrote also on a variety of other topics: philosophy, sociology, political science, and literature. Between 1914 and 1920 he published the equivalent of ten or twelve books in the pages of a monthly journal. But from 1921, he began to decrease his outward activities. He saw less and less of the men and women who regarded him as their guru. Finally, in 1926, he retired completely. His little community of seekers would be looked after by Mirra Alfassa, a Frenchwoman he had acknowledged as his spiritual partner and given the name "the Mother". This was the beginning of what is now called the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

The Mother had grown up in France during the Belle Epoch. A talented painter, she exhibited in Paris salons, and knew Rodin, Zola, Cesar Franck and other artists and intellectuals of the period. But her primary interest was not art but spirituality. In 1914 she met Aurobindo in Pondicherry, and recognized him immediately as her spiritual master. After passing the years of the First World War in Europe and Japan, she returned to Pondicherry in 1920. When, six years later, Aurobindo asked her to look after the people who had gathered round him, she went about it with characteristic energy and an eye for harmonious organization.

Under the Mother's direction, the Ashram grew from twenty-five members at the end of 1926 to a hundred-fifty in 1934. The lives of the disciples were focused on yoga, but this did not mean a flight from life. Everyone spent the better part of the day working. There was a community kitchen, a building department, an automotive workshop; but there was also a library, an embroidery department, and dozens of full and part-time writers, artists and musicians. The Mother gave special attention to the artists. Under her direction they executed large paintings on partition-walls, and separate works on canvas and paper.

The Ashram's first spurt of growth came to an end in 1934, when the Government of French India asked the Mother to stop buying and renting properties. If she wanted more rooms for members, she should build her own houses. This put an end to new admissions for a number of years. Then the Ashram received a sizable donation from the ruler of the state of Hyderabad. The Mother decided to use the funds to build a dormitory. Her secretary, Phillipe B. Saint Hilaire, asked his friend Antonin Raymond, a Czech-American architect then based in Japan, if he wanted the commission. Raymond accepted, and work soon began on the building that would be given the name Golconde. The Mother took an active interest in its design. The spacious halls and quiet gardens of Golconde doubtless owe something to the houses and temples she had known in Japan. The simple furnishings and general lack of clutter were influenced by her ideal of the yogic life: full without excess, beautiful without ostentation.

By the mid-1940s, the Ashram consisted of some four hundred people. Many of the newcomers arrived during the war; some brought their children with them. The Ashram was now a much different place from the quiet, compact community of ten years earlier. The Mother started a school, and taught some of the classes herself. She also encouraged everyone, young and old alike, to do daily exercise or sports. People were as likely to see her at the tennis courts as in the meditation hall.

But the basic pattern of life remained the same. Both she and Sri Aurobindo felt that traditional spiritual institutions tended to crush the spiritual impulse they were meant to foster. For this reason they avoided encumbering the Ashram's life with rules and timetables that everyone had to follow. People could structure their personal lives as they saw best, joining in collective activities whenever they wished, but never under compulsion.

By the time Golconde opened its doors in 1942, most of the houses in the neighborhood had been bought by the Ashram for use as lodgings and workplaces. Raymond's modernist structure somehow managed to blend in with its plain colonial neighbors. Sixty years on, the Ashram consists of around fifteen hundred people from all parts of India and many foreign countries. Only a handful of them live in Golconde, but the building remains a model of the physical environment that the Mother envisaged for all members of the Ashram, in which simple accommodations and beautiful surroundings provide space for the practice of a life-affirming yoga.


  Acknowledgment 2
  Preface 3
1 Introduction 5
2 Project History 15
3 An Architecture Made Explicit 31
4 The Legacy of Golconde 79
  Credits 96


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